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Archive for the ‘Random Stuff’ Category

Many on the other side of this case make the argument that the amendment limits their freedom of speech.  They say that it means that they cannot “speak their piece” in support of or in condemnation of a political candidate or party.

I would respond that of course they can, and legally.   At any point in their private or even public life they can, just not as the representative of the nonprofit’s opinion.

Or, if being able to speak openly in support of a candidate as the leader of their church, is extremely important to them, then they should just rescind their own non-profit status and talk openly about it!  Being a non-profit is not a right, but a privilege that appropriately comes with some restrictions and some accountability.

I would go so far as to say that if they believe God is calling them to speak openly in support of a candidate, or in opposition to one, as a non-profit entity, they are obligated to follow God’s leadership and do so!   Fortunately, our laws provide for a completely appropriate and legal way to do that – don’t be a 501(c)(3).

Also, the way the law is written makes it clear that we, as pastors, are still completely free to speak and teach what we believe the Bible teaches.

I looked and in the most recent elections, I could find no mention of Hillary Clinton nor Donald Trump in the Bible.  However, I believe that the topics of abortion, divorce, infidelity, homosexuality, greed, paying taxes, loving enemies, hospitality, war, and the rejection of racism (along with almost every other aspect of life in America) are dealt with in scripture.

I see nothing in the law that restricts in any way my engaging with those topics openly from the pulpit.  More importantly, it clears my table to stay focused on “Christ and Him crucified” (I Corinthians 2:2).

I also feel confident that I do not want other religious leaders or “religious leaders” allowed to back a specific candidate by name under tax protection as a non-profit.  I think every pseudo-church that gives out licenses now will be accepting money then.

The good news that God loves us and has paid the price to adopt us is too important a message; we must be careful to not create the atmosphere of “Christianity and…” that CS Lewis warned us against.

I grant a point to those who are concerned about this law that it will become the restriction of biblical, moral, spiritual and life-topics, because they also happen to be political issues.

That eventuality, I would stand against to the death.  However, none of these are restricted in the current law.

On the other hand, I can imagine a day when what I see as protection is repealed.  I am approached by a generous person wishing to donate money to a valuable mission or project of the church, but also wants to make sure that I mention a certain candidate in an upcoming sermon.

This may sound nefarious, but this donor would know perfectly well that I support the platform of this politician, so why wouldn’t I?

At South Spring,we do not accept donations with strings attached in any way, so this would fall apart with us, but the pressure could be impressive.  Especially when the election seems close and the issues are life and death – which they are.

I prefer not to have to be regularly disappointing goodhearted people’s pleas for me to engage with politicians by name.  Passionate, well-intentioned people can get pretty desperate when they are afraid of what is happening to their country.  Further, even in the church, some people are present for poor motives or personal agendas.

I am convinced this is a small minority (and I am in this world every day), but that minority can be loud when they are on the warpath.  I prefer the world in which they have one less agenda issue to bring to me.

I do not think that pastors or churches should seek to be a-political, but I think the boundary of ALL non-profits being held to the standard of not supporting a specific candidate is reasonable.

Sadly, not all churches are as above board as mine about accepting donations.  Since churches do not file the complete paperwork for 501(c)(3) to the IRS that other non-profits do, some churches could support candidates financially as well, and it would be very hard to track.  I would hope that no “church” would do this, but I have to wonder if the temptation will be too strong for some to avoid.

I understand the complaint. There are times when being careful about this guideline seems restrictive – and is restrictive, but I see these restrictions and every bit as much a protection to speak freely as a limitation from doing so.

Perhaps some see this as an infringement on their rights, but as I understand it, so long as the enforcement isn’t ever abused (e.g., a pastor gets sued by the state for either voicing what they believe the Bible teaches about a topic that happens to also be a political one, or that they get sued by the state for voicing their opinion of a candidate in the church parking lot or foyer in a private conversation), then I see the amendment as allowing me to focus on the moral and eternal issues that it is my calling to focus on, without the distractions of people’s political agendas.

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Political issues

In general, I am a big fan of Christians being motivated by our faith to be involved in protecting the liberty via the political system.

I think it is vital that we understand how and why things work – even if they are not directly connected to scriptural issues – like raising or lowering taxes or gun control.

This conversation about the Johnson Amendment is an example of that, not a departure from it.  I think there are many excellent reasons for us to have an overt discussion on issues of freedom of speech from the pulpit and how that is matched with the protections offered by being a “non-profit.”

Non-profits and donations

Religious non-profits and churches in particular have a few advantages offered them over regular businesses.   The main one is that when people donate to a nonprofit (of almost any kind), the donor does not pay taxes on the money that they give away to a non-profit.

However, that also means that the person CANNOT delegate a specific person or political cause that the church should use that money for, nor can the donor receive any product or service directly for that money.

A person can donate to church and not pay taxes on that money they donated.  However, if a person pays for their kids going to youth camp, they do still have to pay taxes on that money (as income), since they are receiving a service directly for that money.

Sometimes it is a fine line, and the responsibility to manage these funds legally and morally are a big deal in churches.  A lot of energy goes to getting it right, so that those who give are able to avoid paying taxes on the money they earn that they then donate.

As most of you know, I am the Lead Pastor of a Baptist Church in the city that must be the little diamond on the rodeo cowboy on the buckle of the Bible belt.  It may seem odd that I would choose to write an article expressing my concerns, alongside many secular groups about repealing the Johnson Amendment.

As a Christian Pastor and someone who passionately holds to reasonable faith in Christ, I obviously disagree with nearly every aspect of the agenda of the secular organizations.   It isn’t my intent to strengthen those agendas on the whole.

In general, I am encouraged by that influence of Christianity in the USA, not concerned. I am a little concerned the direction that some Christian leaders are taking this issue.

The Johnson Amendment

When LBJ was a Senator, the amendment was passed on the US tax code prohibiting all non-profit (501(c)(3)) organizations from endorsing or opposing political candidates.  Specifically, it adds to the definition of such groups the phrases:  “…and which does not participate in, or intervene in (including the publishing or distributing of statements), any political campaign on behalf of (or in opposition to) any candidate for public office.”

I am under the impression that it didn’t draw much controversy at the time of its creation, and that does not surprise me.  The value of that addition to pastors is evident to me.

I am more surprised at the attention it has gotten recently.

Last year at about this time, Trump signed an executive order calling for the Treasury to be lenient in enforcing this amendment.  It is a law and the president cannot overturn a law by himself, but like Obama did with many laws, he has ordered the executive branch not to enforce a law – or at least to be lenient – or at least not to prioritize this amendment.

I don’t pretend to be an expert on legal matters, and I am not an expert on the Johnson Amendment, but I have never been troubled by it.

I have always assumed this rule was pushed into place by pastors and leaders of non-profits, so imagine my surprise when I see other pastors fighting to have it overturned.

We wrap up with Part 2 next week.

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Here in Tyler, Texas, we have a school named “Robert E. Lee Highschool”.

It is really a pretty good public high school.  Like all public High Schools, it has its share of kids from all kinds of backgrounds, issues, ethnicities, social levels, etc.  Like most public High Schools, this is one of its great strengths.

For the Christian family who chooses public school, any school is a mission field.  Christians are first and foremost, ministers.  We minister in our marriages, with our kids, our friends, workplaces and schools.  This is true of any school – homeschool, Co-ops, Private schools and public.  Any of these can be the right choice for a family, so long as the ethic of ministry is kept forefront.

As Christians here in Tyler, we are now facing a question that we might should have seen coming years ago.   The question, on the whole isn’t new.

The school was named in the late 1950’s – during the early days of the de-segregation movement.

At one point, the Rebel was the school’s mascot and a claim to fame was the giant (second largest in the world) Confederate Battle Flag (incorrectly identified as the “Confederate Flag” on Wikipedia) that the football team ran onto the field under.

In the early 70’s, some African American students were unwilling to run in under the flag and it was retired.  At about the same time, the “Rebel” name and confederate paraphernalia was dropped.

The new mascot was the “Red Raider” (I cannot find adequate background on what a “Red Raider” actually is meant to be, but I still wonder as to the close connection to several confederate groups that were called “raiders” – usually attached to a leader’s name.  (some seem to think there is a Native American connection, but I can find even less evidence of that).

I think like most conversations about things that matter, this topic needs and deserves more than the 2 minutes generally authorized in the town hall meetings and certainly MUCH more than memes and short FB and twitter posts allow for.  Real people are and were complex.  Even political issues are and were more complex than a meme allows for.

Consider the distinction between remembering something (or someone)

The in-depth discussion this topic deserves, at least my side of it,  at the local and national level begins here.

 

https://www.newyorker.com/news/news-desk/what-is-it-like-to-be-a-black-student-at-robert-e-lee-high-school

https://tylerpaper.com/news/local/robert-e-lee-high-school-s-history-reveals-complicated-past/article_5b539cf7-385f-534a-85cf-f75c7e9f2042.html

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Robert_E._Lee_High_School_(Tyler,_Texas)

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What is meant by “nature” or “essence”?

I am not a trained philosopher, so any input on here for this topic from a philosopher is appreciated. However, I like to take challenging concepts and explain them so that almost anyone can understand them.

In order to do that, I often find that foundational concepts have to be explained first.

This idea of essential traits and accidental traits is one of those foundations.

In the most basic sense, an essential trait can be said of something that if that trait were to change, would change what that something is.  An accidental trait is one that can change without changing what something is.

To illustrate:

I can draw an object.

What is this?  A circle.

 

 

But what if I draw one on the other side of the page?  Now what is it?

Still a circle, because LOCATION is an accidental trait of a circle.  Its location can change without changing that it is a circle.

 

Now I draw a blue one.

Now what is it?

Still a circle. Why?  Because COLOR is not an essential trait of a circle.  COLOR is an accidental trait.  Changing color does not change what it is.

 

 

Circles can have a lot of different accidental traits.

Now, I am going to draw one more circle.  This time I am going to draw it with four corners.

 

Now what do I have?

A circle with corners?

No.  Now we have a square.  Why?

Because ROUND is an essential trait of a circle.  If you change it’s ROUNDNESS, you change what a you have when you are dealing with circles.

There are other things for which shape does NOT change what they are, so shape is not an essential trait.

This is a circle.  One of the simplest concept we can tackle.

Imagine if we decided to discuss the essential traits of a chair, or a world or humankind or an individual person, or even God?

 

The compiled traits of essential traits is correctly called that thing’s “Essence” or “Nature”. Something’s “nature” is the compilation of traits that are “essential” to it.  “Nature” is another word for this concept.

 

Any of us could debate for hours the essence of God, or even something as simple as a chair.  We could also debate where essence comes from. These are questions that divide the metaphysical views of philosophy, like “postmodernism”.

 

It should be apparent that many of the conversations that we think are political are actually conversations about essence.  Is a fetus a living human being with the rights that come with being human?  What is a male or female?  What are the essential traits of “marriage”?  What is the definition of “consent”?

In theological articles, this has importance… does God even have accidental traits?  Could The Trinity have been “broken” when Jesus was on the cross?  What does it mean that “God is Love?”  Think about how this concept is vital for conversations about the nature of suffering!

I except that many of my other articles will reference back to this one.

 

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Give Gifts

“The supreme happiness of life is the conviction of being loved for yourself, or, more correctly, being loved in spite of yourself.”

                Victor Hugo

 I am not writing this because I think I am God’s gift to women.  I have just done hundreds of hours of counseling with women and I hear how they see things.  Then, I interpret them for the men out there so you can know too.

Consider this insider trading or something – but the legal kind.  By making good use of these hints, I have been able to express the love, appreciation and affection I feel for my wife and daughters in ways that are clear to their ears.

There are Four main things to remember when giving a gift to a woman.

What every gift (including dates, by the way – anything you pay for is a gift, but more on dates later) must say can be summed in the statement:  “I know my wife and I am thinking about her even when she isn’t around.”  Or to put it more succinctly, “I know my wife and I remember her.”

1.  Know your wife –This is a major key!  The more that a gift communicates intimate knowledge of her – things that only you can know – the better the gift is.

See, for men and women (but. I think women in particular) it actually is the amount of thought and preparation that counts.

In therapy, I often hear about dates and gifts that husbands thought were huge flops, but the wife was overjoyed with!  The thought and effort is what made it so good.

Once when I challenged a husband to take his wife on a special date.  So, he remembered that she had always wanted to visit a restaurant just outside of town and there was a concert he knew she would enjoy.  When he came in after the date he was crushed – they drove way out to the restaurant only to find weeds growing in the parking lot.  It had been closed for months!  Now they had to rush back to town and ended up eating fast food.  They got to the concert to discover it nearly sold out and they hadclosed to get seats not next to each other, if I remember correctly.  They ended up sitting at a coffee shop to discuss their individual experiences of the concert!

He was almost too embarrassed to tell me about it.

She came in a few days later and described the same date as one of the best events of their marriage!  She loved it and gushed about him taking her to the restaurant she had mentioned long ago – and never mentioned to me that it was closed!  Then she was so impressed that he had researched the concert and she loved it, and she loved debriefing everything after the coffee shop too!

Why was their experience so different?  Because their definition of what made a good date was completely different.

His was: did it go as planned?  Was it a date he could brag to others about it?

For her, it was:  “Does he know me well, and was he thinking about me when he planned it?”

So, how do I learn about her?

Imagine that I decided to buy some flowers for my wife.  Now, say I wasn’t sure what kind of flowers to get her, so I gathered together a bunch of my buddies for ideas.  One says “roses”  another says “daisies” and another says “carnations.”  Whose input is best?  None of them are any better than another.  However, this is one person in the world who can tell me exactly what kind of flowers my wife would prefer (and I don’t mean her best girl friend, though I will mention her later in gift giving).  Answer?

My wife.  (incidentally, this analogy works well for explaining why all religions aren’t equal either.)

Only my wife knows what kind of flowers she likes best, right?  But how uncool would it be for me to call her from the store, “Hey, honey, what kind of flowers do you like?”  If you don’t know, then you might need to do exactly that, by the way, because it is much cooler than not getting any or getting something she hates, but there is a better way.

Listen and learn.

Earn a PhD in your wife – become the world’s expert on her!  It might happen this way… you get her a rose and bring it home.  She loves it, but mentions that tulips are her favorites.

Don’t be offended (“see, I get her flowers and she still criticizes me.”)  Grow up, and take note.

Hmmm.  tulips.  Got it.  She is just helping you be great at what you are obviously trying to do – love her – so don’t be offended.  Maybe she says “Roses are my favorite – especially the yellow ones.”

Good job with roses. Next time, remember, yellow, like a Vogon Warship, or a bulldozer is yellow.christmas-gift-ideas-for-wife

Women will generally make comments about their favorites all the time.  Watching TV, commenting on other women’s things, (BIG HINT) when she shops for other people’s gifts or sees other people opening gifts!!!

Also, make it a habit to shop with them and listen.  Stop whining, and don’t sit in the middle of the mall in one of those husband benches – go with her and begin to understand what she likes best.  Here are some areas where any great husband must know her favorites:

Know her favorites, and weave them into the gifts.  Here are some examples of favorites you must know:

Colors

Animal (real and stuffed)

Candy and/or chocolate bar (avoid any large amounts of sweets if she is seriously dieting, but a tiny reminder might express that you love her just the way she is)

Board game

Flower (still more on flowers later)

Soft drink

Restaurants (and meals at those restaurants)

Movies

Books

Jewelry (favorites stones, metals, and symbols)

Magazines

Personal feature (and least favorite)

Wine

Least favorite chore

2.  Listenand don’t wait.  When she notes something that catches her eye – go back and get it asap if you think it is something that will be meaningful to her.  I am telling you that this is one of the most important skills for getting good, meaningful gifts (for anyone).  Do not wait until it is near an important date to get a gift.  If you are out and spot something that she might like, go ahead and get it.  You won’t regret it.

Give yourself plenty of time to purchase gifts – if you have done #1 – it should not be a problem.  Be sneaky about things – know her better than she even knows herself if you can get away with it.  The best is when she had mentioned something to you and then forgotten it herself!

Also, I am sure you would never forgot a birthday, anniversary or other special occasion, but if you did, having a small stash of gifts hidden in your closet that is a good gift rather than a lame gas station gift or (cringe) the old “hey, I gotta run a quick errand uhhh suddenly today…”  Put all important events on your calendar, your work calendar, your phone, and anywhere else you can put it.  Make sure your friends have them on their calendars too, and that they remind you!  Remember, we are all in it together!

3.  Know what each gift means to her – if the thought counts, then it is not the gift, but the message it sends that is valuable to her.  Do flowers say “I have screwed up again, please forgive me?”  or do they say “I was thinking of you and wanted you to know how special you are to me.”  (if it is the former, then you have taught her that meaning and you need to begin to give them to her randomly when nothing is wrong, or you lose flowers as a gift)

Know what meaning she attaches to different things and communicate the right thing.

Remember – no strings attached, or it only communicates “he wants something from me” and then you have shot yourself in the foot.

Let me reiterate this – if a gift is merely meant to put her in your debt, or to put things out of balance so that she has to work to bring things back into balance, then at some level she is going to feel that you are trying to prostitute her to something.

4.  A gift should communicate “He thinks about me when I am not around”.    This is why her favorite drink that you pick up at a gas station on the way home is worth as much as a big gift in her heart!

Even when filling the car with gas, he thinks about me.

When you are on a trip, you typically should bring something back for her that communicates well on items 1, 2, 3, and therefore will communicate #4.  I was thinking about you when I was on my trip.  See?

Often, bringing a gift for a child can encourage a wife as well, by the way.

So, listen so that you can know.  Use that knowledge to tell her you love her all of the time.

Here are some ideas that have been gathered over time!

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The First Life.

Often, theistic views (design, creation, fine-tuning) are disrespected as somehow based in something irrational.

I wonder.

Let’s look at one small consequence of the alternative.

Imagine the first life.

The first life from lifelessness: Somehow a non-living thing came into the spark of life. Not sure how. So far under the most precise and controlled conditions with the energy and resources and intellect of the world’s best scientific community, we have not managed to accomplish this once.

Not just failed in a boiling cauldron of mud, not in the salt water off the coast of a volcanic island, not in a dark cave… in the climate controlled, chlorinated, clinical environment of the lab.

However, the theory is that somehow, in some kind natural environment, life came from something lifeless.  The evidence is that this happened more than 3.45 billion years ago.  (fossils have been found to be dated around that time) So, whatever happened, it happened the first time within the first billion years or so.

That life didn’t die instantly, as one might expect. It didn’t wink out just as quickly as it winked in. We know now how fragile life is, especially at the microscopic level… but this first hardy soul survived.

It seems more likely that this life winking into existence would have needed to have happened a few billion times before one survived past the next micro-second.   But, apparently, one of these little lives survived. And not just survive, but thrive!

Somehow that first life had to find nutrition. There were no predators – that must have been a relief, but still there was no system on Earth to reward or encourage life either… but now it had to find nutrition somehow. Photosynthesis is a crazily complex system of organs and chemical reactions, so it must have taken a long time with a boatload of positive mutations to come into existence… no way this first life had something like that. However, somehow, it found a way to sustain its existence.

And then, perhaps most impressively, it didn’t die alone! Somehow that first life had to figure out how to reproduce… all in one life span. It had to survive long enough to reproduce itself – all in one generation, since obviously no evolution could have taken place yet.

It had to not die instantaneously.

It had to sustain and grow.

It had to reproduce.

All alone, without help or protection… in a hostile world where no life had ever existed before… and no reason to exist beyond chance.

And we have never seen it happen again since; we have never been able to cause it to happen intentionally ever again. Perhaps we will someday. Perhaps one day we will bring life from lifelessness in a lab.

And then we will have shown how, with enough energy, intelligence, resources and intentionality, life can come into existence.

So, am I ok to believe that it is rational to believe that this first life was not all alone?

Can we respect the belief that it was Shepherded intentionally into existence (teleology) and sustained intentionally (providence) and crafted (design) to accomplish what it has accomplished?

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The uncommon life

Popular historian and self-proclaimed former Christian-turned-atheist, Dr. Bart Ehrman, in his debate with Dr. William Craig, clarified that a historian’s job is not to tell “what” happened, but what was “most likely” to have happened.

He goes on to explain why that makes it impossible for him to hold to the idea of a historical miracle.

If the historian is looking for what is most likely to have happened, then he could never accept a historical miracle since miracles are never the most likely thing to have happened… “by definition.”

I can totally see his point. Though, first, I do not agree with his definition of a miracle being “unlikely”. I am not sure what evidence he would have for the rarity of miracles.

It is a common definition that miracles are when God defies “natural law”… however, I am not certain that GK Chesterton wasn’t right about natural laws being somewhat miraculous themselves:

 “It is possible that God says every morning, “Do it again” to the sun; and every evening, “Do it again” to the moon. It may not be automatic necessity that makes all daisies alike; it may be that God makes every daisy separately, but has never got tired of making them.”   (G.K. Chesterton, Orthodoxy)

Maybe even natural processes are fundamentally miraculous. I talk about the difference between “how” and “who” (or even “why”) in part 4 of a series of articles about creationism’s relationship to scientific discovery.

Though not anywhere near as well trained in history as he is, I am very well trained and even more experienced in human lives.

In this, I have come to accept an oxymoron… and an apparent (though not literal) paradox.

It seems that everyone has an “uncommon” life.

In the last 20 plus years of doing counseling, I have heard hundreds of people’s life stories. In my effort to understand before seeking to be understood, or even before just being able to effectively come alongside people, I actively listen to them tell their life story.

When it comes to life stories, kid, I’ve flown from one side of this galaxy to the other, and I’ve seen a lot of strange stuff, and everything I’ve seen leads me to believe that there’s one all-powerful Force governing everything. (with apologies to Han)

I have come the conclusion that everyone’s lives are bizarre. Nutty coincidences that often hardly seem coincidental.

Everyone’s lives are filled with these “coincidences” that strain even the most credulous person’s sensibilities.

In fact, I would go so far as to say that maybe the most unifying factor in people’s lives is that we all have experiences… often defining experiences… that are extraordinarily unlikely.

In my experience most people who can stomach the concept of a miracle believe that they have experienced them.

It seems that everyone has experienced million-to-one odds… and been the one… in multiple experiences!

Our lives are extraordinary and somehow, thus, common. More next week. (**** Link to follow).

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