An Open Letter to the Candidates and the Nation

On November 3, America will choose a President.  It may be our existing President Donald Trump elected to another 4-year term.  Or it may be that we elect former Vice-President Joe Biden to a term.

I’m not good at making political predictions, so I won’t even make a guess.  What I do want to do is to address both candidates.  And I want to address the citizens of this nation that I love.

To Donald Trump and Joe Biden:  I ask you both to win or lose graciously.  Our nation has been deeply divided, and it will be the job of both the winner and the loser to help restore peace and unity.  Please show respect to your opponent and accept the election results without bitterness, anger, or accusations.  A nation such as ours requires that we abide by the will of the voters and it requires, when it occurs, a peaceful transfer of power.  Win or lose, we need both of you to show respect for the nation, the voters, and the election process.  You have within your power the ability to further divide us or to promote healing.  Be wise and peaceful in your victory or defeat. 

To the winner:  I won’t agree with you on all issues, but I will accept you as the leader of our nation.  When I disagree with you (and I will, since I am a man of many strong opinions), I will do so respectfully.   I will pray for you, for I want you—for the good of the nation—to be successful.  You will be my president, whether your last name is Trump or Biden.  I won’t play the game that so many people play, “He’s not my President; I didn’t vote for him!”  You will be my President.  Please do your best to be a good, honest, and strong man of faith, prayer, integrity, peace, and wisdom.

To our citizens:  Accept the reality that whoever wins the election will be our President.  Feel free to disagree with him, as long as you can do so respectfully.  Pray for him, for the job he has been elected to do may be the toughest job in the world today, and we need him to succeed.   Please drop the threats to leave our country if you don’t get your way.  And drop the hints of a revolution or a civil war if your candidate doesn’t win.  As Americans, we don’t agree with each other on many issues and that is our right. Nevertheless, I still believe that—no matter who our next President is and no matter which party is in power—the United States of America is a country worth loving, serving, protecting, and respecting.  We all need to act that way.

We have been a deeply divided nation; I don’t want that to continue.  For peace to prevail, we need the cooperation of President Trump, Former President Biden, and all Americans.

Pray for peace.  And act peacefully.

Respectfully,

Pastor Jack Marslender

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The Christian and Voting 2020

I vote.  And I encourage you to vote.  But let me state right up front that I am not going to tell you who to vote for.  I don’t endorse candidates and I don’t endorse parties.  I know some pastors endorse candidates directly, and I know many more who do so indirectly, by saying something such as, “No honest Christian can vote for candidate ‘X’ or for any candidate in party ‘Y.’”  I won’t criticize those pastors, many of whom I deeply admire for their work for Christ.  But years ago, I made the decision not to endorse candidates or parties.  I want to be able to speak truth to both parties.  And that’s harder to do when you support one or the other.

And both parties need a hearty dose of truth more then they need my endorsement.

Before I get into the specifics of how I determine as a believer who to vote for, let me remind you that Christians are citizens of two kingdoms.  Don’t take this as unpatriotic—for it’s not—but my first loyalty as a Christian is to the Kingdom of God.  After that, I am loyal to the United States of America.  I love my country deeply.  I love my God more.  Whenever there is a conflict—and there are always conflicts between God’s kingdom and any earthly kingdom—my priority is the Kingdom of God. 

If we try to unite God’s Kingdom and an earthly kingdom, it will backfire.  It has been tried many times in the Christian era.  The Roman Catholic Church and the Roman Empire tried it.  Several of the protestant reformers in Europe tried it.   Some of the separatists who came to America in the 1600’s tried to set up a theocracy and let the church rule the state.

It has never worked.  And it never will. 

Though we like to say—I do as well—that we are “one nation under God,” we cannot say that we are “God’s chosen nation.”  We operate best when we recognize that church and state are separate.  “A free church in a free state” has long been the ideal.  We can and should influence the state for good, but we cannot equate the two.  No state has ever operated completely by God’s principles.  No state ever will.  There will always be conflict. 

My first priority is God’s kingdom; my second is our country.  When I get the two reversed, God’s work suffers, and I become over-political and under-Christian.  I am afraid that this happens to far too many believers during election cycles.

Despite my prime commitment to God’s Kingdom, I work hard to be a good citizen of the United States of America.  I follow her laws, respect and pray for her leaders, pay my taxes, participate in the customs and holidays of our country, honor those who serve the nation and her communities, and I vote.

I don’t take my vote lightly.  I spend much time in research, reading, evaluating, listening, and praying before I vote.  I have never voted by party loyalty, which has frustrated many of my friends who have great loyalty to a party.  I do examine all candidates in the light of Biblical teaching on leadership.  At least in my mind, I look for three broad things in a candidate—character, competence, and core values.  Let me explain:

The first thing I look for is Character.  To get my vote, a candidate must convince me that they are a man or woman of character.  They must speak the truth, have a deep level of integrity in both their personal and public life, treat people with love and respect, have high moral standards, have a long record of compassion and generosity, and keep their word.  (I’m not looking for perfection, for it does not exist in this world, but I do want to know that past mistakes and sins have been admitted to and repented of.)  It helps if the candidate is honest and open about their family life, their personal morality, their finances, and their business life, for public action is based on personal character.

In the last election, I heard many objections to putting such a high premium on character:

  • “I’m not voting for a pastor, I’m voting for a President.”  Sorry, but Biblical standards of leadership apply to all people, not just pastors.  You cannot so easily dismiss Biblical teaching.
  • “All have sinned and all men are flawed, so you can’t hold it against them.”  Of course, all men have sinned. Of course, all men have flaws, but that does not negate in any way the Biblical teachings on honesty, integrity, morality, love, or any other virtue.  Continued sin or a pattern of sin that is unadmitted and unrepented of indicates a serious character flaw.  We can’t use a legitimate Biblical doctrine (“all have sinned”) to justify continued ungodly behavior—and especially not in a leader. 
  • “God can use an ungodly leader for His purposes.”  That is another great example of taking a doctrine out of context to justify voting for an ungodly person.  Of course, God can use anyone for His purposes, and there are many kings in the Old Testament and people in the New Testament to illustrate it.  In the New Testament era, for example, God used both King Herod and Judas for His eternal purposes, but I wouldn’t vote for either one of them for any leadership position.  Interestingly enough, I heard that line of thinking, that “God can use an ungodly leader” to justify voting for both Clinton and Trump in the last election.  If you carry that position too far, then why are we voting anyway, since God can use anyone?
  • “I’m voting for the platform, not for the candidate.”  Sorry, but platforms aren’t on the ballot.  Only people are on the ballot.  This is a nice sounding statement, and I understand why people say it, but it isn’t completely honest.  In the American republic, we vote for individuals.  (For example, I am a strong believer in a balanced approach to budgeting.  It’s nearly always been in the party platform of at least one party and sometimes both, but once in office, it is usually forgotten.)  Platforms are an attempt to get votes but they don’t make policy; people do.

There is a reason I put character first in my list.  I believe that it is the most important Biblical qualification for leadership.  It is the first thing I look for in a candidate in any race, from local school board member to president.    

The second thing I look for is Competence I also want to know if the candidate is competent to do the job for which he is running.  Does he (or she) have the necessary skills, talents, temperament, and experience to do the job?  If I’m voting for a school board member, I want to know if that person has a solid operating knowledge of education, districts, schools, budgets, teachers, and student needs.  If the person is running for a legislative office (Senator, Representative, etc.), I want to know that the person knows how to get things done in a legislative body. Can he or she work with others who disagree?  Is the person a good communicator?  Does the candidate have the intelligence and perseverance to work through the long process that turns an idea into a bill and see it through to become a law?  Is the person an independent thinker rather than just supporting the party agenda?  Does the candidate have the emotional stability and self-discipline to handle disagreement and even anger?

And, of course, if the person is running for President, there are more necessary skills than any one person can possess.  So I want to know if the candidate can attract and work with top-quality people who know their field of expertise such as the military, the economy, intelligence, housing, medicine, business, education, justice, international trade, diplomacy, etc.  Does the candidate have the temperament and ability to listen to, recognize, and accept good advice from experts?  Can the candidate communicate effectively to all Americans and set a positive leadership tone for the country as a whole?  Is the candidate able to pull an increasingly diverse group of citizens together in times of crisis?  Can the person handle both the domestic and international issues that a president must deal with?  Can the candidate make—and stick with—the tough decisions that will benefit the country over the long years even if the decision is unpopular?  Does the candidate have the right balance of compassion and toughness?

Character is the first essential, but character without competency—the ability to do the job at a very high level—will lead to disaster.  There are multiple examples in American history of men of good character who simply weren’t competent enough to do the job.

I’ve made a promise to myself and to God.  I won’t vote for a candidate who doesn’t have the character and the competency to do the job.  It doesn’t matter to me what party they are a part of or even what their platform is.  If they don’t qualify in those two areas, I will not vote for them.  I will not vote for the “lesser of two evils” if neither of the “two evils” has the character or competency necessary to do the job.  Occasionally, but rarely, this means that I could not vote for anyone in a race.

The third thing I look for is where many start: Core Values.  I need to know whether the core values of the candidate are close enough to my core values. The “core values” I’m talking about are deeper than a candidate’s “platform.”  I want to know what the candidate really believes and what they will really work for based on their talk, their voting history, and their track record.  It’s easy to say what you will do during the election cycle; it’s much tougher to do it when you’re in office.

For that reason, I’m a skeptic on party platforms.  Too many candidates say whatever it takes to get the vote.  We see it in the “dance” of most politicians.  Democrats participate in what I call the “Democratic Shuffle.”  They “move to the left” in the primary to get the party loyalists and then “move to the center” to get the independent voters.  The Republicans do the “Republican Shuffle” by moving to the right and then back to the center.  It may get votes, but it just leaves me thinking, “Who are they?” and “What will they stand for—and work for—once elected?”

Still, though, I look at their platforms to see if their stance on issues aligns with the Bible on issues such as abortion, the economy, the environment, fair wages, family, immigration, justice, poverty, race, and world peace.  I want to know if they have a plan to deal with our huge deficit, with cleaning up our air and water, and with solving a coming Social Security crisis.  I want to know their thoughts on fair tax rates.  I want to know their thoughts on police, the military, government regulations, the border, and what to do with “Dreamers.”  I want to know their thoughts on economic fairness and how to solve the huge poverty issue in America.  I want to know how they will work with other world leaders and what they think about our role in international affairs and world issues.

I’m pretty sure I won’t agree with any candidate on all the issues—I’m far too opinionated for that.  But I do want to know that a candidate has a consistent track record on the issues and that they have done enough thinking, talking, praying, and working that I can be sure of their stance.  I don’t expect to agree on all issues, but I do want to know what their core values are.

So that’s what I’m looking for in a candidate.  Is the candidate a person of high moral character?  Is the candidate a competent leader?  And does the candidate have core values that align closely enough with mine that I can vote for him?

I believe that we hurt the cause of Christ when we support, campaign for, endorse, and promote candidates who don’t meet these standards.  We often complain about the poor quality of candidates.  We may have inadvertently contributed to that by our willingness to endorse candidates of low character, incompetency, or with core values that don’t come close to aligning with the Bible.

Understand that I am not speaking for-or-against any 2020 candidate by name or implication.  And I am not speaking as a member of any particular party.  I am speaking as a Christian and a citizen of the United States of America who deeply loves our country.  The political process often frustrates me, but I will continue to seek and vote for leaders of good character who show every indication that they are competent and have solid core values.

So I am doing my best on all levels to find candidates that meet these standards.  And I encourage you to do the same.  These standards are needed by our leaders if we really want to be “one nation under God.”

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Politics For Believers

We are now deep into election season, which seems to get longer every year.  It’s easy to get cranky and frustrated—and maybe even more than a little bit angry—during political season. As a matter of fact, candidates want us to get angry. They know that an angry person is more easily manipulated and is more likely to vote.  

But what frustrates me the most are not the issues and statements of the candidates.  What most troubles me are the lies, the filth, the innuendos, the out-of-control anger, and the name-calling by believers who know better—but who allow the anger of the moment to justify their unchristian behavior.

I don’t like having to cringe and hang my head because of something said or posted by a fellow follower of Jesus.  But as a pastor who wants to be fully committed to Jesus, has a deep love for his country, and has a real interest in the political world, I see that it is happening more often.

Don’t get me wrong.  I want believers to be involved in the political process.  Think through and pray through the issues—from a Biblical perspective.  Share your opinions—respectfully.  Volunteer for a candidate or a party—after you’ve done your homework.  Run for office yourself.  Vote. 

But do it all in a way that honors Jesus.

Let me carefully suggest some guidelines for believers in Jesus who want to be involved in politics:

  • Refuse to use putdowns and to call names.  Feel free to tell me what you like about Candidate A, but don’t tell me that Candidate B is an idiot.  Feel free to tell me why you disagree with Candidate B, but don’t tell me he is stupid (or worse.)  If you can’t debate respectfully—don’t!
  • Refuse to post or repost or quote anything you haven’t verified.  One of the reasons there are so many lies on social media is that we are too quick to repost something.  Remember that when you repost something, it goes out under your name.  If it is a lie and you haven’t taken the time to verify it, you become a liar. 
  • Refuse to attempt to align Jesus with any political party.  Jesus refused to align Himself with any of the philosophical/political parties in His day.  (He was not a Pharisee, a Sadducee, an Essene, or a Herodian.)  It is wrong to try to align Jesus with any political party in our day. 
  • Refuse the temptation to become so political that you become first-and-foremost an evangelist for a party or a candidate.  Believers are first-and-foremost evangelists for Jesus, and if others don’t see that, we lose our voice as Christians.
  • Refuse to allow your party to dictate your thoughts, attitudes, and beliefs.  Our thinking on the issues of today (race, war, taxes, the economy, the environment, disease, the role of government, violence, etc.) must come from the Bible. 
  • Refuse to allow a friendship or a relationship to be broken because of politics.  (I’m tired of the, “If you believe this . . . go ahead and unfriend me” posts that are popular on Facebook.)  Honestly, I have many friends I disagree strongly with—from the extreme conservatives to the extreme progressives.  I can debate with them and strongly disagree, but I can also still love them.
  • Refuse to act or to state that “all is lost” if we elect Party A.  Do we not believe that God is still God and that He can work even through ungodly people?  And hasn’t He done so numerous times throughout history?  If we honestly believe that the soul of our nations depends on any one election, we overvalue our votes and undervalue the power and sovereignty of God.
  • Refuse to offer simplistic and shallow (but unfair) historical parallels.  (I’ve seen posts and memes comparing President Trump to Hitler.  From the other side of the aisle, I’ve seen the same comparing Vice-President Joe Biden to Hitler.)  As intelligent believers in Jesus, we should raise the level of our debate above the junior high level and show some respect to our current and potential leaders.
  • Refuse to be unfair.  (If you say that something Candidate A said 25 years ago isn’t relevant because they’ve changed, then apply that same standard to Candidate B.  If you see character flaws in Candidate B that disqualify him from office, use that same standard for Candidate A.)

Understand where I’m coming from.  My commitment to Jesus—if I’m a Christian—has to override my commitment to any candidate and party.  And so therefore, I must live in such a way (even in politics) that gives honor and glory to God and that follows His standards.

I respectfully ask the same of every believer in Jesus.

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Finding Truth on the Internet (or anywhere else!)

Like many families with school-age children in the 1960’s and 70’s, my parents bought a very expensive but very helpful encyclopedia set. It had 30 volumes and came with 10 years-or-so of annual supplements that provided us with new knowledge and corrections. It became for us (after the Bible of course) the “standard” of truth that we all agreed was an acceptable solver-of-questions, referee-of-arguments, and source for school papers. Even though we knew that scientific answers were changing rapidly and history was being lived right before our eyes, we accepted it as a fair and unbiased statement of facts.

When it comes to faith, I still have an ultimate standard in the Bible. And I spend a lot of time praying that I will understand it correctly. But when it comes to scientific, historical, medical, or political truth, there is no such accepted standard upon which we all agree anymore.

So I am deeply concerned about our ability to know and understand the truth—on nearly every subject in the public eye. Politics, medicine, religion, science, and any number of other subjects are increasingly pointed and polarized, with news articles, social media posts, videos, and newscasts giving half-truth, partial-truth, their-side-of-the-truth, altered-truth, made-up-truth, and untruth. It’s often hard to find the truth in the mix of opinions, slants, and lies that surround us on a daily basis.

And I want to know the truth. I’ve spent much of my life studying the Bible and applying those truths. But I also want to know the truth about the coronavirus. About climate change. About vaccines. About the accusations against politicians. About the age of the universe. And about a hundred other things.

In recent weeks I’ve read the truth and the lies about the coronavirus, vaccinations, and other medical issues—and sometimes wondered what was true and what was false. I’ve read the truth and the lies and the exaggerations about President Trump and Vice-President Biden. I’ve read the truth and the lies about Christianity, Islam, and churches. I’ve read the truths and the lies about racism, murders, crimes, and other current news articles.

It frustrated me, but unfortunately, I’m finding that many people like to live in a world of untruth. They don’t want truth. They want their opinions confirmed and validated and they will seek out a source of news, or science, or medicine that will conform what they already think. Having a ready source of distorted truth is easier than thinking and trying to understand.

Discernment, the ability to judge between opinions in an effort to find the truth, is a lost art.

Unfortunately, this seems to be exceptionally true in the Christian world. We have purposely and understandably put our blinders on to keep out that which is false. The net result, though, is that in our blindness we are heavily influenced by a small number of opinion makers—many of whom may be wrong.

And we have forgotten how to think for ourselves.

But for those of you who want truth and are dissatisfied with the lack of it all around us, I offer you six steps to find the truth on the internet, or anywhere else.

STEP ONE: Seek the truth. If you are just looking for someone to validate your already-formed opinion, that is always easy to find. But if you really want to find the truth, it will take some digging, some reading from both sides of the aisle, some deep thinking, and some discernment. 

For example, if you already have the opinion that President Trump is one of the greatest presidents in history, I could point you to hundreds of articles and videos that will confirm your thinking. If you already have the opinion that President Trump is one of the worst presidents in history, I could point you to hundreds of articles and videos that will confirm your thinking.  But the truth may be far more nuanced, and if you want the truth, you will have to go deeper, look at both sides of the argument, and wade through the opinions and exaggerations of a multitude of modern newsmakers. You would also have to have a good grasp of United States history as well as a good understanding of Biblical principles of leadership. It would help to have a better-than-average grasp of business, science, international affairs, political science, economics, political ethics (is there still such a thing?) and much more.

It’s easy to form an opinion. It’s much harder to find the truth. And on any given subject, it takes hard work. Truth only comes to those who really seek it and put in the work to find it.

STEP TWO: Read everything with skepticism. Every writer, speaker, and newsmakers has an opinion, a bias, and a point of view—so anything said is coming from a certain perspective. It is necessary to understand that perspective and have a healthy level of skepticism about anything that is said—even if that word comes from your favorite politician, pastor, musician, or commentator.

For example, Fox News has a pro-President Trump and pro-Republican bias. And CNN has an anti-President Trump and pro-Democratic bias. Remember that. See through it. And figure that into your thinking.

I’m not criticizing them. I’m just pointing out that it is healthy to be skeptical of any anti-Trump thing said on CNN and any pro-Trump thing said on Fox. Other news organizations have built-in biases as well, from the far-left to the far-right. I’m not saying that you can’t find truth in these places; I’m just saying that you have to account for the bias before you accept their version of truth.

By the way, it’s true of me as well. If I were to try to give you an accurate comparison/contrast of Christianity and Islam, you would recognize my bias. I would try to be fair and accurate, but my bias is there. It is real. And I don’t deny it. I’m a believer in and a follower of Jesus, so clearly I have a built-in opinion. Someone seeking truth might want to balance my words with a Muslim speaking on the same subject, and I would have no problem with that, for (and here is my bias) I believe that someone who has heard both sides of the argument will choose faith in Jesus.

Extend your critical thinking to all sources. Some news agencies (AP for example, and to a lesser degree USA Today) do a decent job of being fair and unbiased in their news reporting, but not in their commentaries. Skeptics and critical thinkers, though, will look for the bias, account for it, balance it with bias from the other side, and use discernment before concluding that they have found the truth.

STEP THREE: Fact check everything. Unfortunately, most people lie on a regular basis. And those who don’t lie can and do make serious mistakes. The only solution for us if we hope to find the truth is that we fact-check everything we read.

For example, I listened to two news radio stations yesterday. One said that the United States has tested far more people for coronavirus than South Korea.Less than ten minutes later, the other station said the EXACT opposite. Both inundated me with numbers, statistics, and expert opinions. Both cannot be right. If I want to know the truth, I have some real research to do.  I haven’t done it yet, so I’ll withhold my judgment.

Here’s another example. I have heard all of my life that “Republicans are business-oriented and so the stock market increases more rapidly when a Republican occupies the White House.” It seemed to be accepted truth, but I decided to fact-check it for myself. I set up a spreadsheet covering the last 10 presidential terms, recording the Dow Jones averages at the beginning and ending of each term. I now know the truth about stock market increases for the last forty years, for every president from Reagan to Trump. 

I won’t share my data in this blog, because I’m not promoting Republicans or Democrats.  (But feel free to email me if you feel you must know.) Instead, I’m encouraging you to do your own fact-checking before you accept what anyone tells you is “true.” Your opinions will be better-informed and more likely to be true.

(And, yes, some people have told me I’m a little obsessive in seeking the truth, but I’d rather know for sure than accept what someone told me—even when it seems to be widely accepted as true.)

STEP FOUR: Seek informed opinions. Some opinions are much more informed than others, so seek the opinions of those with expertise in that area. If you seek scientific truth, seek the opinions of scientists with a great reputation for honesty and professionalism who have published in established scientific journals. If you seek medical truth, find it in doctors who have done thorough research and whose work has been peer-reviewed.  (That means that other medical researchers have thoroughly read and reviewed the opinion before it was published.) For history, seek the input of thorough historians who have researched in primary sources. For preachers who claim to know what the “Greek” really means, ask them to read directly from a Greek New Testament.  (Don’t ask me; I can’t do it quickly enough to satisfy myself or my Greek professor—Dr. Mike Baird.) There is a reason why I don’t use much Greek or Hebrew in my preaching. I’m not an expert in either language.

You get the idea. In every field of research, there are those who have done their homework over many years. They aren’t perfect in their understanding of truth, but their opinions must be carefully considered and not easily rejected without real evidence.

Today, unfortunately, we tend to look at the wrong things. “This video has gone viral and has been viewed X times” means nothing in the realm of truth, other than people watched it. “My friend read this article and really likes it” tells you nothing about the article, even if you really like your friend and think he is wise. Is the author credible and does he have expertise in his subject matter?  Is the article or video peer-reviewed by other experts?

We often enjoy conspiracy theories which go against the flow of accepted medical, scientific, or economic theories, but there is a reason why the accepted theory is the widely accepted theory. Usually, it’s because the accepted theory has the weight of scientific and medical data and research on their side. Don’t be quick to accept the new and the exciting without reading the accepted theories. 

You may have a different opinion than I do—and I won’t criticize you for it—but there are many scientific reasons why vaccines are considered to be safe and effective, why climate change appears to be human-caused, why a diet high in fruit and vegetables is good for you, and why the universe is billions of years old.

Don’t automatically buy into the argument of those who contradict widely accepted theories without first reading and understanding why the accepted theory is so widely accepted. Always seek the opinions of those who are accepted leaders in their field.  It’s an important step in finding truth.

STEP FIVE: Read both sides of an argument before you form an opinion. I get a lot of flack for this one from my politically oriented friends. I firmly believe that if you want to know what’s happening in politics today, you should listen to both Fox and CNN and maybe three or four others to get all sides of an argument. I want to hear directly from “the other side” of whatever issue I’m thinking about. It’s not enough for me to hear “my side” tell me what the “other side” is thinking or saying.  They don’t usually get it right.

If I only listen to “my side,” I’m not really thinking. I’m just seeking validation for what I already believe.

There is a big political race going on in my state (Arizona) and I had heard repeatedly that one of the two candidates wants to “take our guns away.” I was more-than-surprised when I heard him say when asked about it, “I probably own more guns of more types than anyone in this room, and I intend to keep them.” I’m still not sure I agreed with his overall stance, but at least I heard it from him, and his stance was much more nuanced than what his critics were saying. 

Here’s another example. I grew up attending many classes (in Baptist Churches) on denominations and cults, and so I thought I had a pretty good idea of what Lutherans, Episcopalians, and Mormons thought.  It wasn’t until I talked to a Lutheran, an Episcopalian, and a Mormon that I had a good handle on their beliefs. I had the general facts right—but not the nuances and emphases. I told a Mormon acquaintance, “But you guys believe this, one of your prophets said so.” His answer caught me by surprise, “I’ve been an active Mormon for 20 years, and I’ve never heard that. I don’t know if he said it or not so I won’t dispute it, but that is not at all what I’ve been taught.” Obviously, I’m still a Baptist and not a Lutheran, Episcopalian, or a Mormon, so their arguments didn’t convince me. But I am a better Baptist because I’ve heard their beliefs directly from then.

I was recently criticized by a well-meaning friend when I said that I wanted to talk to a transgender person. (My friend just said, “You don’t have to talk to one to know that they’re wrong.”) My motivation is simple—I want to hear their story directly from them. I want to be fair and know if my assumptions about their thinking are right or wrong. I have an opinion, but it is only fair to listen to their point of view. I will be better informed if I do.

STEP SIX: Be willing to change your mind when new evidence arises. Let me tell you of an experience I had in a class at the University of Arizona.  (Sorry, Sun Devils, for mentioning the school. I hope you won’t stop reading.)  I had always been interested in space, so when I needed a science course, I jumped at the change to take an introductory astronomy course.

It was a big class in a big lecture hall. On day one, the professor came in, introduced himself and gave the standard talk about the course, the syllabus, the expectations, and the textbook. He pointed out that the textbook had just been published and that he himself was the primary author. We were duly impressed that someone with his credentials would be teaching the introductory course.

He shocked us, though. He said, “Let me show you what I think of the textbook.” He held it gently for a few seconds, and then threw it noisily into a metal garbage can he had placed on the platform. “New research in the last year has shown that many of my theories are wrong. I will change them in the second edition, but by the time it is published, much more may be wrong.

I was impressed that an expert would be willing to change his opinion when new evidence arises. But that is exactly what wise people do.

So seek truth. Search for it. Don’t just accept what your friends or heroes say. Don’t watch the latest video on social media without a critical eye. Don’t listen to your favorite commentator or politician or friend or musician or celebrity or pastor and automatically believe that they know the truth.

Truth will only be discovered when the real work of seeking it has been thorough and honest.

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Religious Freedom in the Parking Lot

Many churches have used their church parking lots as a drive-in worship service.  The concept is pretty simple.  People drive to church, stay in their cars, and listen to the worship service over loudspeakers or on their FM radios.  It is one way of doing church while trying to maintain social distancing.

We talked about having a ‘drive-in’ church at ABC, but when our governor issued a stay-at-home proclamation, we decided not to invite several hundred people to leave their homes—even if they stayed in their cars.  We have led our worship services over video, allowing people to both worship and stay at home.

So though I didn’t think it wise to host a drive-in church, I am frustrated that ‘drive-in’ churches have suddenly become a legal and even a constitutional issue.  Some states and cities have started to issue warnings and even $500 tickets (at a church in Mississippi) for those in the church parking lots.  Other have threatened to force those who drive in to church to quarantine for 14 days.

Here is my own opinion:  It’s currently best to worship over a live-feed or over video. 

But, on the other hand, I believe that the states and cities who are issuing tickets to those at drive-in churches are dead wrong—unless they apply their logic to all parking lots.

The first of our Bill of Rights prohibits the government from (among other things) establishing religion or prohibiting the free exercise of religion.  It is one of our most cherished freedoms.  I do not believe that even in a health crisis, a government can pass a law or a proclamation aimed at limiting churches.

They can—at least for the short term—prohibit all groups of more than ‘X’ number of people.  Those laws aren’t specifically targeting churches, even though they impact churches.  If they apply equally to all groups (sports, schools, governments, clubs, etc.), they don’t violate our Freedom of Religion.  But if a law says, “No churches shall meet,” the law would be unconstitutionally prohibiting the free exercise of religion.

And that’s why I believe that prohibitions against church drive-ins are unconstitutional, at least in the way they are currently structured and enforced.

A government can, in the interests of health, prohibit more than “x” cars in a parking lot, if they apply it fairly to all parking lots.   But the states that are ticketing cars in a church parking lot aren’t doing the same to cars at a grocery store, a lumber yard, a restaurant, or even a golf course.  I believe their actions are therefore unconstitutional, because the law (or proclamation or executive order) is targeted or enforced only at churches.

Please understand where I’m coming from.  I believe that governments have the right to issue short-term proclamations aimed at maintaining the public health.  And I will support them and abide by them.  For that reason, I have decided not to invite people to our church parking lot. 

But I do not believe that governors or governments have the right to pass a proclamation aimed only (or enforced only) in church parking lots.  It’s more than an issue of fairness. It’s a basic tenet of our Freedom of Religion.  

And I am unwilling to surrender that freedom.

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Why Did We Close?

Like most churches (but, unfortunately, not all), we have decided to close our doors through at least April 30 or until the stay-at-home order by Arizona Governor Doug Ducey expires.  We are not holding any classes or services and none of our groups are meeting—except for various online settings.  Our office is closed, and our staff is working out of their homes.

We were not required to do so!  The letter of the executive order allows an exemption for churches, and we could have insisted on staying open.  We chose instead to follow the spirit of the order, so it is appropriate for us to share our thinking.  There are two primary reasons why we chose to close:

  • We did so as an act of love.  Loving people is one of our core values.  To show love to all our members and guests we chose to close up to remove the chance of anyone getting the coronavirus from us.  This virus is far too easy to pass on inadvertently.  We don’t want our staff, our members, our attenders, or those in any of our ministries to get the virus.  It’s love in action.
  • We did so as an example to others. We understand we are called to be “salt” and “light” to our community. In addition to sharing the gospel, this includes setting the right kind of example to our members and those around us. We wanted to set an example of both love for others and obedience to the government.

I have talked to some pastors who feel that government has no right to ask a church to close their doors.  (If the government singled out churches, I would agree—but that’s not what’s happening.)  I’ve talked to some pastors who feel that the need for public worship and spiritual growth and health overrides the need for physical health.  (I think that is reckless and maybe even arrogant on the part of the pastor.) I’ve talked to pastors who believe that God will protect their members if they choose to gather and worship.  (I think that is a gross misinterpretation of the Bible. We are called to live with wisdom.)

We know that not everyone agrees with us—every church had to make this decision on their own—but we honestly believe that we have made the right choice.  We believe that our members will stay with us and look forward to returning as soon as we are able.  We believe that our members will continue to give generously as they always have so we can continue our ministries and come back strong when we do re-open.  We believe that our members are strongly enough committed to Christ that they won’t suffer spiritually in the meantime.

I actually believe that this time of trial (and the extra prayer that results) will lead our members to an even deeper level of spiritual commitment.  That, I believe, is part of what James 1 teaches us!

That doesn’t mean this is easy.  I’m tired already of preaching to a camera.  Our worship team misses meeting and working together.  We all miss the sense of fellowship and teamwork that meeting together gives us.  We love serving our community, and most of that ministry has been temporarily curtailed.

But I trust God for all things.  He will bring us through this temporary trial, and we will be stronger for it!

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A Plea For Truth

“”I don’t know if this is true or not.”

I know it’s not true, but I wanted to get people’s reaction.”

“I just reposted it.  It’s not my job to verify it.” 

“I know it’s not true, but it’s funny!”

“I’m not sure whether it’s true or not, but this guy shouldn’t be elected.  All is fair in politics.”

These are just a few of the responses I’ve received when I’ve pointed out—mostly to close friends and some from other ministry leaders—that their social media posts aren’t true.

And, honestly, they are all pathetic justifications of dishonesty and a direct violation of the ninth commandment, which states, “You shall not give false testimony against your neighbor.”

Some of the people I’ve talked to justify their dishonesty by ignorance.  (“I didn’t know.”)  Some justify their violation of God’s commandment because of humor.  (“It was funny.”)  Some justify their deceit because the lie didn’t start with them.  (“I didn’t say it.  I just reposted it.”)  Some justified their violation of God’s command against false testimony because they wanted to start a discussion, or because of politics, or because of laziness.  (“I didn’t check it out, so don’t blame me.”)

You know the kind of posts I’m talking about.  You’ve seen them.  Posts about birth certificates, tax rates, and crime rates.  Altered pictures and manipulated videos.  Misquotes.  Innocent pictures claiming to be incriminating.  Medical misinformation.  Altered statistics.

And the worst part of it?  They are epidemic in the Christian world.  I’ve had to “hide” or “unfriend” many holding responsible positions in the church because of their continued dishonesty and their repeated justification of it.

It’s time that all Christians and especially Christian leaders read once again the 10 commandments and pay particular attention to commandment number nine.  “You shall not bear false witness” includes everything we post on social media.

So if you don’t know it’s true and you haven’t personally verified it—don’t post it or repost it.  If it’s not true but it’s funny—don’t post it.  If you want to get other’s reaction—post something you know to be true.  If you are tempted to repost something, verify it first.  If you repost, it is now posted under your name and you are responsible for the content.

We cannot claim to be preachers of truth and lie about other people.

Speak truth.  And only truth.

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Before I vote

Questions I Ask Before I Vote

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As a pastor, I do not publicly endorse candidates, nor do I share my party affiliations publicly.  I’d rather be known as a follower of Jesus than a supporter of ‘Candidate X.’  In the same way, our church does not endorse a candidate, and we try to keep political arguments out of the fellowship.

But that doesn’t mean that we don’t have strong political opinions.  And since we do, we want our faith to inform our politics.

Since my faith comes first in my life, I work hard to look at politics and politicians through the eyes of my faith in God and in the Bible.  As a result, I spend a lot of time thinking, praying, studying the Bible for insights, and talking with trusted people.  But it is hard to vote Biblically when candidates don’t tell you where they stand on important issues—or when they tell you one thing and do another when they are in office.

So I have some serious questions I consider before I vote.  I hope you think through these same questions as well—and more—before you vote.  The following questions all have a Biblical basis.  Unfortunately, not many of these questions are addressed in a campaign, so I have to work hard to discern the answers to these questions from political candidates before I decide who to vote for. 

Here are some things I want to know about a candidate before I vote: 

  • Do you believe in a balanced budget and prudent spending?  (See Proverbs 27:23-27.)  I usually hear—but only from the out-of-power-party—that spending is out of control and we need to balance the budget.  This seems to be forgotten once in office.  Do you believe it enough to do something about it?  And if so, how would you (1) cut spending, and/or (2) increase taxes?
  • Do you believe in religious liberty for all?  The first amendment to our constitution guarantees all Americans the freedom of religion.  Do you only believe in religious liberty for Christians?  Or do you only apply it to members of minority religions?  And what does freedom of religion mean to you?
  • What do you believe about war and peace?  All Christians desire and pray for peace, but we also know that war is sometimes necessary.  When it is appropriate to use military force or to go to war?  What is your plan for promoting world peace?  How involved should we be in wars in other countries?
  • Do you practice personal generosity by giving to churches, charities, and those in need?  (See 1 Timothy 6:17-19.)  I believe that the values of your public life should be evident in your private life, so can you show (via statements or tax returns) that you are personally generous and charitable?
  • Do you believe in protecting the environment?  Or, to use Biblical terms, do you believe in good stewardship of our air, water, land, and resources?  Who should make decisions on what is appropriate—the government?  Businesses?  Individuals?  What do you believe is an appropriate way to be faithful stewards of our planet for the next generations?
  • Do you believe that, to use a Biblical phrase, a “worker is worthy of his wages?”  How do you apply that to the concept of a minimum wage?  Should we have one?  Is the current $7.25 federal wage sufficient?  If not, what should it be?
  • The Old Testament says much about foreigners living within the land of Israel.  For example, Exodus 22:21 says, “Do not mistreat or oppress a foreigner, for you were foreigners in Egypt.”  Does this concept have any bearing on current immigration laws, asylum seekers, border issues, dreamers, etc.?  What should be our stance on immigration?
  • Both parties believe in caring for and protecting underprivileged and under-represented people, though they talk about it in different ways.  What is the government’s role in caring for seniors, widows, the homeless, the mentally ill, and the poor?  And do you believe in extending that caring to the unborn? 

Obviously, there are no perfect political candidates, for all are human and all human beings are imperfect.  Still, though, I use the Bible as a standard for my faith and politics, and these questions—and many others—are important to me!

I am a man of faith—an imperfect one, of course. But my faith is important to me.  So I work hard to make sure that my politics are informed by my faith!

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Happy Thanksgiving From President Lincoln

We trace the history of Thanksgiving in the United States of America to 1621, when the Pilgrims celebrated their first harvest in the New world.  It was a three-day feast attended by 90 Native Americans and 53 Pilgrims. 

It was celebrated by our nation on-and-off from 1789, when President Washington proclaimed a National Day of Thanksgiving.  President Jefferson chose not to celebrate it, and its celebration was intermittent and celebrated on different dates in different states until the time of President Abraham Lincoln. 

In 1863, in the midst of the civil war, Abraham Lincoln proclaimed a national observance of a day of Thanksgiving. His proclamation is a beautiful statement of how to be both thankful and prayerful in the midst of tough times.

 I encourage you to read the following proclomation prayerfully and carefully.  It is a significant and Godly statement of a man who was grateful to God for the blessings of life while maintaining a humble, repentant, and prayerful heart.  

The year that is drawing towards its close, has been filled with the blessings of fruitful fields and healthful skies. To these bounties, which are so constantly enjoyed that we are prone to forget the source from which they come, others have been added, which are of so extraordinary a nature, that they cannot fail to penetrate and soften even the heart which is habitually insensible to the ever watchful providence of Almighty God.

In the midst of a civil war of unequalled magnitude and severity, which has sometimes seemed to foreign States to invite and to provoke their aggression, peace has been preserved with all nations, order has been maintained, the laws have been respected and obeyed, and harmony has prevailed everywhere except in the theatre of military conflict; while that theatre has been greatly contracted by the advancing armies and navies of the Union. Needful diversions of wealth and of strength from the fields of peaceful industry to the national defence, have not arrested the plough, the shuttle or the ship; the axe has enlarged the borders of our settlements, and the mines, as well of iron and coal as of the precious metals, have yielded even more abundantly than heretofore. Population has steadily increased, notwithstanding the waste that has been made in the camp, the siege and the battle-field; and the country, rejoicing in the consciousness of augmented strength and vigor, is permitted to expect continuance of years with large increase of freedom.

No human counsel hath devised nor hath any mortal hand worked out these great things. They are the gracious gifts of the Most High God, who, while dealing with us in anger for our sins, hath nevertheless remembered mercy. It has seemed to me fit and proper that they should be solemnly, reverently and gratefully acknowledged as with one heart and one voice by the whole American People. I do therefore invite my fellow citizens in every part of the United States, and also those who are at sea and those who are sojourning in foreign lands, to set apart and observe the last Thursday of November next, as a day of Thanksgiving and Praise to our beneficent Father who dwelleth in the Heavens. And I recommend to them that while offering up the ascriptions justly due to Him for such singular deliverances and blessings, they do also, with humble penitence for our national perverseness and disobedience, commend to His tender care all those who have become widows, orphans, mourners or sufferers in the lamentable civil strife in which we are unavoidably engaged, and fervently implore the interposition of the Almighty Hand to heal the wounds of the nation and to restore it as soon as may be consistent with the Divine purposes to the full enjoyment of peace, harmony, tranquility and Union.

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Respect at the World Series

I’ve sung this song before, but it needs to be repeated.  RESPECT—in American culture—is sorely lacking.

The latest issue that led to this blog is the booing of the President at a World Series game and the crowd chants of “lock him up” that occurred in Washington D.C. on Sunday, October 27. That is a complete lack of respect for the President.

I’ve heard all of the excuses, explanations, and rationalizations.  I don’t buy them, but here they are.  You will hear them:

  • It’s democracy in action.  Every American has a right to share their opinion.  I agree that every American has a right to speak their mind.  You disagree with the president?  You have a right to say so.  Blog. Tweet. Debate. Post. Vote. Speak up. Write letters. Find a crowd and speak. Run for office. But do it all respectfully.
  • He started it at his rallies with cries like “Lock her upand other disrespectful remarks.  One person’s disrespect is never an excuse for mine—or ours.  We are all responsible for our own actions.  “He started it” sounds like something I expect to hear in a preschool class, not from adults.
  • We have a right to stand up to what we perceive as wrong.  Of course we do.  And if we see anyone doing wrong—a president, a senator, a governor, a mayor, a pastor, or a police officer—we have the right to speak up and take appropriate action.  Petty and disrespectful chants in a baseball stadium are neither appropriate nor respectful.

Our nation is strongest when we can learn to stand up for our beliefs respectfully. 

Am I defending the President? 

No.  I am neither defending him nor accusing him.  It’s not about Donald Trump the man. 

What I am saying is that the office of the President demands a level of respect whether we agree with him or not.  If you know me, you know that I apply this to other leaders as well. I apply it to this president and the previous one. It applies to senators, congressmen, judges, governors, mayors, teachers, police officers, referees, and pastors.   

As the Bible says (in 1 Peter 2:17, NIV), “Show proper respect to everyone, love the family of believers, fear God, honor the emperor.”

That verse is often quoted, but we need to do more than quote it. We need to live it.

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