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Love Is a Piece of Cake
A cake shop has been in the news lately. Sweet Cakes in Oregon made national headlines when a same-sex couple levied a lawsuit against it for refusal of service.
This is where the story gets interesting.
In the state of Oregon, same-sex marriages are legal. The couple went to the cake shop to order a wedding cake for their upcoming union. The cake shop said no on the ground of their religious beliefs — or as they put it, "standing on the word of God."
This sparked raging debates on whether a business has the legal right to discriminate solely based on their religious beliefs. Investigations have been held, feelings have been hurt, Scripture has been quoted and misquoted, and Facebook rants have been posted.
Franklin Graham has now added his two cents, starting an online donation campaign to help with the bakery’s looming legal fines — its actions violated the Oregon Equality Act of 2007, which states that persons cannot be denied service based on their sexual orientation.
In Graham's plea he stated that the shop owners were being "persecuted" for their religious beliefs. But this is not called persecution — this is called being held to a standard of decency, tolerance, and love. These are tenants Christ wanted his followers to imitate.
Most Christians would throw a fit if a bakery, store, or other business denied them service because of the owner’s religious beliefs. There would be lawyers on the phone, news crews outside the establishment, and more Facebook rants about how our society is slowing losing its “Christian heritage.”
Isn’t interesting that some Christians are ok with denial of service to this same-sex couple in the name of business/religious liberty, but wouldn’t want to the tables to be turned on them?
Just because 78 percent of Americans identify as Christian does not mean we all see eye to eye. But is Christianity truly “persecuted” if it comprises more than three out of every four people in a society?
What people are mad about is that their version of Christianity is not the norm or the most accepted one anymore. Many Christians see same-sex marriage as a nonissue. Many church denominations have had intense and productive conversations about homosexuality in the church. Some are still divided. Many people, churches, and denominations need to hold more conversations, prayer, and discernment. The United States and the Church have a long way to go until full equality is achieved.
The issue with regards to this bakery is not their religious liberty, Christian persecution, or even the right to practice one’s faith. It is the notion that discrimination is wrong.
In this war of words many are not seeing the real issue, which is this — discrimination, even under the guise of religion, is still discrimination, and it is against the most basic and fundamental teachings of Jesus Christ.
An Apology to the Church
I have a confession to make. I have not always been very fair with the church, and for that I apologize.
In an effort to share my love and passion for my faith, I have picked and poked and criticized the church, and maybe that is a bit unfair. I have been a minister going on six years, and during that time, I have been the best and the worst that the church can offer.
I have a certain understanding of the way a church should operate, and when I do not see that being played out in the communities around me, it makes me upset: upset about the way God is presented, upset about the droves of people who will miss out on a life-changing relationship with God, and upset that I cannot change everything.
It's difficult for me as a young minister to slow down and be reflective in the face of impending decline and danger of closures for many of our congregations.
It's not easy being a minister today, and I guess it’s easier to take out my frustrations on the church instead looking for that 'silver lining.'
But I have a come to the conclusion that maybe all is not lost.
It Was Like This When I Got Here
A lot has been written about the decline of the mainline church over the years. Numerous theories have been passed around. Nearly every pew-sitting faithful Christian in America has her or his own opinion. As a minister I have heard a lot of these complaints from the masses; the request is simple. They want the church to be the center of social and political life as it seemed to be in the 1950s and 1960s. They want the pews packed with people, the nursery overflowing with babies, and the church to have the same level of particularity that it did years ago. The church today finds itself having to share time and attention with the rest of the world. Because of this (and numerous other factors), the church for the most part has seen the number of people attending the hallowed halls of a church house begin to decrease.
In an effort to find a culprit for the shrinking size and popularity of church, a scapegoat has been named and they are "young people today” — a catchall term for people under the age of 35 (or thereabouts) who have seemingly left the church en masse.
They are vilified as the sole reason and cause for the church to not be busting at the seams with people. If only those "young people" could just stop being so selfish on Sunday mornings and just come to worship God at 11 a.m. like people have been doing for years, the world might be a better place.
15 Things the Church Needs to Do In 2015
It's that time of the year again, when we stand on the precipice of a new year and look forward to what is in store for us in 2015. Last year, I wrote 14 Things the Church Needs to Do in 2014, and many of them are still true for 2015. However, given the events of 2014, the church now also has a monumental opportunity to provide healing, justice, care, and compassion in new and exciting ways — ways I believe are important for the church in the upcoming year.
3 Reasons I Wouldn't Send My Daughter to a Christian School
In the past few months I have come to a rather substantial conclusion: I cannot slow down time. Try as I might, my oldest daughter is now four and a half and is practically sprinting her way to "big kid school." My wife and I have been discussing this next phase of our daughter’s life. Sadly, school districts are falling into massive debt, being subjected to low performance in the classroom and even apathy in educating the next generation. Schools have become too focused on state test scores and benchmarks and have removed the art of learning from many classrooms.
Now private schools are becoming more mainstream, offering alternatives to public education, more flexibility, and more opportunities to the students. For many private schools there is a common element: they are associated with a religious group or Christian denomination. These schools started out as an extension of the ministry of the church as a way to respond to the needs of the community. But over time many popped up as a rejection of the educational system and their "removal" of God or prayer the school. Many parents see disconnect between the mainstream educational system and their Christian households.
But I see a certain danger in some of these Christian alternatives. It might sound counterintuitive for an ordained Christian minister to say, but there are a few reasons I would not send my daughter to some Christian schools.
Stop Taking Attendance
At a church I used to serve there was a well-intentioned person who after every service would tell me how many people were in attendance. “We had 47 today, Preacher,” he would say. I could hear the disappointment in his voice when he would have to tell me a low number like 35. A smile beamed across his face when we had more than 50. No matter the number, he would tell me without fail.
In every church that I have ever visited or served there has been an emphasis on the number of people that attend the morning worship services.
After years in the ministry, I have come to the conclusion that the church needs to stop taking attendance — immediately.
For many churches the process of collecting attendance is to get an accurate account of people in worship, to measure how many people occupy space in a pew. Some churches have notepads in the pews so people can fill out their information and place it in a designated area. Others have a volunteer to manually count the people in attendance. No matter how small or big the faith community is, an attendance is taken. Some congregations publish the number of people in their church bulletins or have it on a sign in the sanctuary to compare last week to this week.
For too long churches have measured their ‘success’ and ‘failures’ on the number of people that darken the door on 11 a.m. on Sunday morning. The quickest way to get people to wring their hands in worry is to tell them that numbers in worship have dropped. Visions of the church closing its doors will run through people’s minds inciting more and more anxiety.
It’s no secret that the church in the American culture is not where most Christians would like it to be. The church that was once the central hub of the community is now a place where a subset of people goes on Sunday mornings. The church has been in a decline for some time, and I believe this has caused us to become more inward focused. As the church began to experience decline numerically, the church’s reaction was to try making everyone left happy — from the ministers and worship leaders to the custodial staff. The boat was not rocked, things stayed the same, a course was laid, and no deviation would be acceptable.
Look at the Picture
Last week amid the closing of the Olympics, the national debt, and the latest pop culture ‘news,’ this photo was published that encapsulates the volume of pain and suffering that is happening in Syria. For years, the conflict in Syria has gone through its ebbs and flows; it has been in and out of the media’s attention. Even though thousands of people have been displaced and families have been forced to eat animal feed, this is not worthy for American front-page news. Sadly, travesties around the world, or even in our backyard, are categorized as “out of sight, out of mind.” Too often we are consumed by other things than those outside of our limited purview.
When I saw the photo of the suffering of the Syrians, I was shocked; I was shocked that so many people were in line to get food, shocked that despite their best efforts there is not enough food to go around. I felt sad for the people who, by no fault of their own, live in a country that is being ravaged by war, violence, greed, and power struggles. I felt embarrassed for all of the times I whined and complained about my own “problems.” All of them collectively wouldn’t even begin to compare to what people are facing in Syria at this very moment. I wanted to find a way to do something, to raise my voice for them ... anything.
Perception Is Reality
Let’s face it: we are an opinionated society.
We have entire television channels and radio stations dedicated to the propagation of one particular way of thinking. Some people like this channel because they are “more liberal” while others like this channel because they are “more conservative” and the rest of the world falls into the trap that we can be objective (read: ‘fair and balanced’).
We seek out opinions from everything from a new toaster to the new medical center in the area. We want to know people’s experiences about something before we waste our time, money and energy on a futile venture. If a product on Amazon has too many “one-star” reviews I am not going to purchase it. If my friends or family members have a bad experience at a restaurant or store then I will think twice about going there myself.
Sharing our opinions or perceptions is never easy. They can be met with great disdain or hostility. ESPN prides itself on these conflicts. Its marketing plan is to put four talking, opinionated heads in a room and ask a question that none of them can agree on like “Who is the greatest basketball player of all time?” or “Is Tom Brady overrated?”
Some of the greatest conflicts in the world’s history have been over difference of opinion. Governments have been shut down over difference of opinion. Trying to “change” someone’s opinion is hard if not impossible; for some people the “damage” is done and there is no turning back.
The church is not immune to this to this.
Rethinking 'Faith Like A Child'
We don’t give children enough credit. They are infinitely smarter than we think. Children figure out things that most adults have trouble comprehending. I truly believe that my daughter came out of the womb knowing how to operate an iPad. She gets that finger swiping and she can navigate the world of apps and photos with more precision and understanding that people 20 times her age.
In the Gospel of Mark, we find these words of Jesus: “ I assure you that whoever doesn’t welcome God’s kingdom like a child will never enter it.” (Mark 10:15--Common English Bible). This verse is referenced when someone speaks that followers of Christ should have “faith like a child.” Generally, this is defined as “simple faith” or “faith without question.” This, however, is a misguided understanding.
14 Things the Church Needs to Do in 2014
With 2013 gone, many people will be contemplating how 2014 will be different from the year gone by. Some people want to lose weight, read more, travel the world, or stop biting their nails. New Year’s resolutions are supposed to give us tangible goals to better ourselves for the year to come.
Resolutions, however, are not just for people. I believe that there are 14 things that the church needs to do in 2014 if it is to thrive, grow, and be relevant in the 21st century.
There's a 'War on Christmas' -- Just Not the One You Think
The American Family Association has been tracking major companies to see how they promote Christmas. It came up with the “Naughty or Nice” list where it has examined different company’s websites, circulars, commercials, and stores noting how many times they use the word “Christmas,” if at all. According to the association’s website, “If a company has items associated with Christmas, but did not use the word “Christmas,” then the company is considered as censoring “Christmas.” Its research has uncovered that if you shop at Radio Shack, Barnes & Noble, Family Dollar, and Foot Locker (just to name a few) then you are part of the problem and thus should be placed on the “naughty list.”
The American Family Association believes that there is a full out “war on Christmas.” Well, I would have to say that it is correct but not for the reasons it postulates.
Requiem for a Holiday
Tomorrow, millions of people will gather across this great nation to celebrate Thanksgiving: the time in our calendar where we pause to give thanks for the year that has past, for family, loved ones, new additions and to remember those that have gone on before us. We share stories, we laugh, we cry — and for many of us we eat too much. For centuries, families have gathered together to pause and to say thanks, even if it is just for one day.
This year, however, I am going to make a bold statement: I am declaring that Thanksgiving to some is obsolete, if not dead. Why such the bold statement? It seems that since the day after Halloween, the focus has been on lights, bows, trees, candy canes, Santa and the Christmas story. In a mad dash to celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ and in the midst of people complaining about the store employee’s not saying “Merry Christmas,” we have forgotten to stop and be thankful.
R.U. Dateable Sends Teens the Wrong Message
A school assembly speaker is gaining national attention. In Richardson, Texas, a high school brought in “motivational speaker and dating expert” Justin Lookadoo to speak to the students about relationships and dating. Lookadoo traverses the country speaking to students about the ins and outs, the perils and pitfalls of dating. Lookadoo gives teens a definitive answer on their status in the realm of dating. His quiz parallels with his “Dateable Rules,” some of which are textbook gender stereotypes and Christian theological distortions.
To be honest, I think his “rules” are bogus. They come from a place where boys and girls are divided into classes and in the end boys win. Making girls out to be “damsels in distress” and boys are “heroic warriors looking for an adventure” doesn't equate a relationship.
Relationships are built upon respect and mutuality not antiquated thinking when it comes to gender roles.
'Like If You Love Jesus!' The Gospel According to Facebook
Facebook, with its nearly 500 million users, connects us to the world around us and we are able to share everything from vacation pictures to memorial pages for those who have died. The site has moved past its original intent of social networking between friends; businesses, churches, civil groups, clubs, and even TV shows all have a presence on Facebook. Breaking news is reported, shared, liked and commented on, all within the confines of one website. The goal has moved from friendly conversations to specific advertisements and mass information around like issues, causes, and beliefs.
But what has Facebook done for Christianity? Has it helped or hurt the Gospel message? Recently I began to see more and more pictures shared that read “Like if you Love Jesus” or “Keep scrolling if you love the Devil, like if you love God.” These pictures call for Christians around the world to share their faith boldly and proudly on their Facebook page so that all who may grace it will know that they are a follower of Christ.
To be honest, I can’t stand them.
Unexpected Sightings: My Emmaus Moment
Have we missed those moments where God is hitting us over the head by using people to continue the work of God in the world? Has the church been so focused on bodies, babies, and baptisms that we have failed to see the goodness of God outside the four walls of the church?
I talk to people nearly every day about the presence of God in the world. I speak of how God knows us, cares for us and is abiding with humanity in every time and place. But as with most things, they are easier said than done. Sometimes it takes something drastic to get our attention instead of trying to navigate this thing called life alone.
For one to actually contemplate the presence of God in the world is a bit overwhelming; For one to actually contemplate the presence of God in the world is a bit overwhelming; God is present in every aspect of human life — from the trees, to the clouds, to the faces of people we interact with each day. They are all created by the same hands of the same God.
Have I Become the Christian I Can't Stand?
I live in Texas. To many of its millions of residents, it is the greatest state in the union. We like things big and we like them to be bigger than every other state blessed to be in the Union. Texans are proud of their state; chalk it up to early indoctrination of Texas history throughout the life cycle of Texas Public Education.
But being in Texas, especially East Texas, means that we are sitting squarely and firmly in the buckle of the Bible Belt. The Bible Belt is a term used to describe the area where conservative Christianity is the prominent player in the state’s religiosity; generally this term refers to a high level of conservative, evangelical Christians. This does not mean that you can’t find conservative, evangelical Christians outside of this arbitrary boundary, but for some reason they seem to cluster in these areas in high concentrations.
I didn’t grow up in a church that beat people over the head in church or judged people for they way they acted. I felt loved and welcomed in a place where people were friendly and they loved serving God. I learned about Christ and God’s love for humanity. It wasn’t until I was older that I began to hear more Christians speak more and more on the necessity of evangelizing to people or even being “saved correctly.” I can remember on several occasions a certain church in the town I grew up in going door to door and asking people if they were to die tonight would they go to Heaven. I can remember thinking that it was an odd tactic to get people to come to church. It seemed so stand offish and so self-righteous that it left a bad taste in my mouth.
And You Wonder Why People Aren’t Christians: Transportation Edition
I’ve said many times before that I believe that some people who were Christians and left the faith or those who reject Christianity altogether do so not because of any objection to the teachings of Jesus Christ. They object to the actions of Christians themselves
The Christian Post recently reported that megachurch minister, Bishop, I.V. Hilliard, of the New Light Christian Center in Houston, made an interesting proposition to his congregation. According to the article, the church’s “Aviation Department” (yes, you read that correctly — aviation department) declared that the pastor’s helicopter (yes, you read that correctly — pastor’s helicopter) needed new blades. Click here to read the appeal letter.
This event is the same song but different verse of the prosperity gospel; this gospel promotes a tit-for-tat relationship with God. Since God wants you to be blessed and rich and prosperous, then giving to God will active that divine power within your life. At issue here is not only Bishop Hilliard’s request of money from the congregation for new helicopter blades, but also that Bishop Hilliard says that you will have divine favor in 52 days or 52 weeks if you donate $52. My initial reaction was “why not $40; that at least is a Biblical number?” Also, that’s quite a lengthy time frame — either a little over seven weeks or an entire calendar year. The problem with this mentality is that you will then start to look for it even if it is nowhere to be found.
Disney Princesses, Merida's Makeover, and Empowering Girls
Having a 3-year-old daughter opens your eyes to a world that you did not know existed, the world of princesses. Disney has cornered the princess market; there are currently 11 official Disney princesses, and if you are brave enough to travel to Disney World/Land or even a Disney store, you will soon find out that there is a plethora of accessories — dresses, placemats, and cups (just to name a few).
Disney has come under fire in the past for focusing only on Caucasian women — Snow White, Cinderella, Aurora (Sleeping Beauty) and others. But over time, non-white princesses were introduced, like Mulan, Pocahontas, Jasmine, and Tiana.
Disney’s latest princess was Merida from the film Brave broke most of the Disney princess rules. She didn’t like pretty gowns, she liked to shoot bows and arrows, and her crowning glory was frizzy, wild red hair. Some people believed that Disney had finally broken the mold of the “damsel in distress” model of princesses that has been a dominant theme throughout many of the films. The trend actually started with Pocahontas and Mulan; maybe the theme of strong women role models would continue. Brave was a cute film with a wonderful message. Merida had a round face and was rough and tumble with her triplet brothers. She didn’t want fancy dresses or even want to be a princess; Merida just wanted to be Merida. She was the example of girls being girls, no matter how they look.
However, in a recent update, Disney decided to take the idea of Merida in Brave and throw it out the window. Merida, for her official induction into the Disney princess cohort, got a bit of a makeover. Merida 2.0 was taller, skinnier in the waist and had a slimmer face. Her famous bow-and-arrow set are missing, and her iconic wild hair has been tamed.
After the uproar that followed, Disney quietly pulled the newer version of Merida.
But my question for Disney stands: why? What was so wrong with Merida that it warranted the change?
On Victoria's Secret: Speaking Up for Our Daughters
What has made this entire experience special is receiving emails from single dads telling me they are going to use the letter as a jumping off point to have a conversation with their teenage daughters. It’s great when a father can express his feelings and concern to his daughter about the way advertisers are targeting a younger demographic. Receiving millions of hits is great, but empowering a father, giving a voice to a dad who is trying to raise children in the 21st century makes it all worth it.
Through all of this I have been shocked and humbled.
I have been amazed of the outpouring of support for people from all walks of life. Numerous people have contacted me and simply say “thank you for standing up for our children.” One thing that I have learned through this is that we all have the ability to stand up for what we believe in. The problem that many people have expressed to me that they believed no one would listen.
We all have the potential to speak out for what we believe in and for what we want to stand for. While I might be one person, I sent a message; I spoke up for my daughter and every other young girl.
The power of the voice should not be underestimated even if you believe that you might be the only one speaking. Let us ban together to use our voice as a force of change and justice.