Monday, November 30, 2015

Four short poems on diverse topics (#Poetry Monday*)

Late Leaves

Wind gusts explode late leaves
that take wing and migrate
to the next yard.


Low Flight

At night
when it’s overcast
the planes fly lower,
as if they’re
going to skim the roof
or worse.



What do I need to thaw from the freezer?
The lettuce is washed.



Resulting from
Frequent ruination,
A never-ending
Burning sensation.

* It's PoMo! To learn about PoMo (POetry MOnday), click here and then scroll down. 

Short poems are fun. Nice, quick, tasty small bites of this and that. What do you think
? Do any of these bring to mind other poems from other poets? Could somebody please share the Cuomo quote with Donald Trump? There is nothing poetic about his campaign. Please let me hear from you! Feel free to share your thoughts and impressions in the comments.

These poems are included in this collection:

Saturday, November 28, 2015

Black Friday at the Discount Emporium (#FlashFictionFriday*)

“Okay, honey! I’m heading out now. Be back in a bit. Love you!”

It was 3AM and Will didn’t wait for Blanche to respond. He knew she would be asleep again in seconds. She had no interest in early morning shopping, no matter what the deals were. He actually admired that about her.

Normally Will didn’t bother either. But this year he was determined to get a deal on an item he’d been coveting all year long. He didn’t need it, but he wanted it. Desperately.

It was a 78 inch curved-screen TV with all the bells and whistles. Every review he’d read gave it at least 4.5 stars out of 5.

They had a pretty good TV and it wasn’t all that old. But the moment Will laid eyes on a picture of this Beaut-O-Tron -- his pet name for it -- it was nearly all he could think about.

He had to have it.

Blanche was none too thrilled and they’d had some heated discussions on the topic, discussions he didn’t wish to rehash in his head at the moment.

The last discussion, finally, ended in his favor. But only because he’d caught wind of a Black Friday sale at a giant discount warehouse on the other side of town he’d never shopped at before. In fact, until he saw the flier in the paper a few days ago, he didn’t even know the store existed.

Will started the car, sipped coffee from his thermos while the engine warmed a couple of minutes, and then pulled out of the dark driveway.

He never was out so early. He was not anything close to an early bird, ever. It was kind of fun, yet a little eerie at the same time. It felt like the middle of the night instead of the early morning.

As he drove through the cold town, store parking lots were jammed with cars of the other Black Friday warriors. Or crazies. All depending on your perspective.

Will thought of himself as neither, believing his endeavor was more about being frugal and practical. After all, the TV retailed for around $9500 and he was going to get one for only $500!

And he was certain he was going to get one.

He felt really fortunate coming across the notice. Although, the whole thing about the flier was odd, he hadn’t thought it about it too deeply. Until now.

It was poorly printed, all text, on cheap paper. The TV was the only item listed. There was some vague verbiage about deals throughout the store, but nothing else specific other than the address. The store was open 24 hours a day.

At work, he’d asked a couple of people if they knew anything about this store and no one had. Although one guy who was known to stay up all night watching bad TV said he thought he may have seen a commercial once around 1AM. But he couldn’t be sure.

When they asked him why he was curious about it, he changed the subject. He didn’t want to stir up competition for the deal of a lifetime!

The name of the store was weird as well. General Hay D’s Discount Emporium. What kind of a name was Hay D.! Most store names touted the owner’s last name, the family name. Of course, General being a play on words for “general store.” At least that’s what he guessed.

Neither he nor Blanche had ever seen a commercial, ad, or any other flier touting the store. They both thought perhaps it was new and the TV was their loss leader to draw people in.

Will hoped no one else had noticed the flier. He wanted that TV more than anything else he could think of at the moment. Well, except for Blanche. He loved her dearly, even though he felt she was a bit fanatic about her faith.

He attended church with her where she was an active member. For him, Sunday morning was enough. He preferred the substance of sports over the fairy tales of faith. When he died he knew he’d just stop being. Poof. The end.

All that mattered was being a good person while you were alive.

To this end, he fueled his desire for the TV by imagining it was as much for her as for him. But if he examined that faulty belief too closely...which he didn’t.

After crossing town, it took a few minutes to locate the store. It was past the edge of town, with no direct path from the main thoroughfare, over a mass of railroad tracks, at the back of what seemed an industrial area. Signage was surprisingly poor.

But Will was determined and navigated aided by his phone’s GPS and then, there it was!

When Will pulled up to the store, there were a couple of dozen cars in the lot. He felt both hopeful and apprehensive.

On the plus side, he wouldn’t have to battle mobs to get to the TV. On the negative side, again, it seemed really odd that more people weren’t here.

He parked in the nearest open spot, got out of his car, looked back toward the lot entrance where no one else was pulling in, and then trotted to what appeared to be the main entrance. He had to admit he was a little excited.

He thought he could see a few dark figures moving about as they crossed aisles. When he got in the store, he was greeted with the usual Yuletide tunes bleeding out of the PA system. The lighting was adequate but not overly bright.

There was no one manning the cash registers nearest the door. Anyone he thought he saw was nothing more than a glimpse as they moved in and out of aisles between massive shelves.

He strolled down what he assumed to be the center of the store trying to orient himself. He could not figure out how things were organized. There was no quickly discernible logic to the layout.

This didn’t bother him too much. It seemed somewhat typical of discount warehouse stores, and he viewed this as an enjoyable challenge. Besides, he figured he’d bump into a clerk eventually if he needed help.

But asking for help would be a last resort act for Will. He generally insisted on doing things on his own, taking pride in his intellect and inherent skills. Will was not one to ask for help or draw attention to himself, which he had been taught wasn’t proper.

After meandering up and down various aisles, he noticed some signs high up in the ceilings that seemed to reference departments. After exploring the areas under a couple, he got the clear impression the signs were nothing more than suggestions. Only a handful of items in each “department” could be connected to the broad categories announced by the signage.

As he continued to maneuver through the store, he sipped his coffee. He was glad he thought to bring his thermos in with him. He was also glad he’d made himself some breakfast before leaving the house. And was further gladdened he’d stuck a few breakfast bars in his coat pocket.

He took one out and munched it as he searched.

Deeper and deeper he went into the store and still no sign of his Beaut-O-Tron. So far he’d seen no TVs at all. Or any clerks. Or, he realized, he had not encountered any other shoppers.

For a moment this thought caused concern, but then he turned a corner, and there it was!

His TV! The Beaut-O-Tron! His dream come true!

And there was only one left!

Having thought ahead and grabbing a cart when he came in, he gently settled the TV into it. The TV was surprisingly light and not too hard to handle. With some adjusting he got it braced securely in the cart and turned to head back to the entrance.

He hesitated, looked around, and it hit him. Will had no idea where the front of the store was. In fact, he wasn’t sure where the back of the store was!

Even standing in what should be a main aisle and following the ceiling, he could not make out where any walls might be.

This was definitely disconcerting. He’d taken several turns since coming into the store and in the process misplaced his sense of direction.

Will leaned against his cart, protective of his treasure, and tried to sort out what to do next.

There was no way he was going to call out for help. Nope.

There were no customer phones near him and he couldn’t recall if he’d passed any. Certainly, he thought, there must be some.

Will was pretty sure which aisle he’d come through last and decided to go back what he thought was the way he’d come and keep an eye out for a phone, a clerk, or another customer.

He also thought for sure he’d come across the overhead department signs and remember which areas he’d passed through.

As an afterthought he reached for his cell phone intending to call Blanche and then look up the store number. That’s when he realized he’d left it in his truck where it had been serving as his GPS.

He smacked his head and said, “Idiot!” out loud, having done this far too many times. And each time swearing it would never happen again.

He took another sip of coffee and started walking, carefully guiding his loaded cart through the aisles as he looked up and down each one, hoping to spot a person or a phone.

After about half an hour, Will emerged from the canyons of tall shelving into an area of lower displays that he could see over.

“Odd,” he whispered out loud, “I don’t remember passing through here before.” But he figured he’d been so preoccupied by trying to find the TV the area just hadn’t registered with him.

At least he had a line of sight for several yards in at least two directions. A few yards straight ahead was another labyrinth of tall shelving. As he slowly turned, straining his vision to take in all he could see, no person or phone came into view.

Near him was a display of patio furniture and feeling a little tired from all the walking, sat down and pondered his situation.

As he sat trying to recall and visualize the path he took when he entered the store, a sense of unease finally made it into his consciousness.

“Okay,” he said out loud. “This is a little weird, but there’s no reason to panic. At least not yet. Surely there’s a logical explanation.”

Ever the rational optimist, Will reasoned that it was only because the store was so large and unfamiliar to him, he’d gotten a little lost. He was certain he would eventually regain his bearings, spot someone or some familiar aisle that would lead him out, back to his truck, and his Blanche, with his prized score -- the Beaut-O-Tron.

Thinking about the silliness of his pet name for the TV, he chuckled out loud to himself.

Refreshed and in better spirits, he stood, looked around again, chose a direction to try, and started out, pushing the cart with his precious TV.

He decided he keep going in one direction assuming eventually he would literally hit a wall. Then, he’d just follow the wall until it inevitably would yield the entrance, or offices, or something.

He walked on, his thoughts dancing down and back a myriad of vagrant trails of memories and random discussions with Blanche, familiar lyrics from Christmas songs breaking in from time to time, and always the fear pushed back, tamped down, denied. For now.

“Hey! Hey, you!” Will called out, thinking he’d glimpsed someone cross the aisle ahead of him.

Leaving his cart he ran to where he was pretty sure the person had been, looked up and down in all directions, but no one.

“HEY! ANYONE!” he yelled as loud as he could, not caring a whit about propriety at this point.

No answer. Just the endless loop of Christmas songs. He’d realized some time ago that there were only a couple dozen songs being repeated.

He walked back to his cart, having never lost sight of it, glancing up and down each aisle as he passed them.

Will was beginning to be concerned. He looked at his watch. He’d been in the store for three hours!

And in all this time, he’d not once passed a display, a department sign, or stack of shelves that was familiar. Every step, whether forward, back, or sideways, yielded something different.

Yet, everything was generally similar. The differences might be in the way merchandise was presented, or in the mix of items, or quantities. Some shelves were fully loaded and others only lightly.

And even though he had been moving steadily in the same general direction, he never came to a wall or a door. Just endless warehouse and merchandise.

There were no courtesy phones. No clerks. And -- this sent a chill down his spine -- clearly no customers on this Black Friday.

“Okay,” he said out loud, “This is officially bizarre.”

Every time he thought he saw someone, it was only a mirage, a trick of his imagination. At least, that’s what he assumed because no matter how loud he called out or how fast he moved toward where he “saw” someone, there was never any response and never anyone there.

Just miles of aisles. Canyons of cheap merchandise.

While he regularly encountered stacks of the same items, like stacks of shirts, or displays of toasters, or bags of potting soil, or shelves of electronics, he never once came across another TV.

This made him feel alternately lucky and befuddled. He was still thrilled to have laid hands on his coveted Beaut-O-Tron, but truly perplexed that there were no other TVs of any brand or size anywhere he’d been in the store.

And he was convinced he’d covered miles in the hours he’d been walking.

As he had earlier determined, he’d walked straight for endless minutes and had then decided to turn right, then left, then right, and so on, making a zigzag path toward, he hoped, something, heading in the same general direction.

But nothing.

At his next turn he again came out into a more open area, but it wasn’t the same spot he’d been before. While there were more displays of patio furniture, it was all different. Nothing was the least familiar, just similar.

Tired, worried, confused, Will sat down to rest. He pulled a breakfast bar from his pocket and sipped his coffee. He was surprised that the coffee was still hot and that he had no need to use the restroom. This awareness added to the perplexity of his situation.

He felt very alone and more helpless than he could recall. A tad discomfiting to say the least.

As he sat looking around at the merchandise and holiday displays, a silly idea slipped into his awareness. It was triggered by the thought that he was missing the morning news, an essential part of his and Blanche’s morning routine.

Near him on a patio table was a small, lighted Christmas tree, plugged into an extension cord. He could plug the TV in!

“Why not!” he spoke out loud to himself, and began to unbox the massive treasure, happy to have a project, something to do that wasn’t just walking aimlessly down another aisle.

The built-in stand required a little assembly, but he always carried a multi-tool knife and had no problem screwing things together.

He positioned the TV on the table, plugged it in, and turned it on. Nothing but fuzzy static.

He flipped through channels and settings. Nothing changed. He wasn’t entirely surprised but a little disappointed.

Just then he spotted a display of electronics to his left that he hadn’t noticed before. He walked over and to his delight and surprise, there were a couple of digital antennas!

He unboxed one, connected it to the TV, and got reception! Apparently the signals of only one channel could make it into the store, but one was something.

There was no news, but there were holiday movies and programs. He was a little disappointed but at least there were now other people, other presences to keep him company, even if they were nothing but pixels on a screen. A screen that, by the way, was magnificent!

“What a great picture!” he spoke to himself. “What a great bargain!”

Will sat, resting, munching on breakfast bars, of which there always was one each time he reached into his pocket, sipped his bottomless thermos of coffee, enjoying his Beaut-O-Tron.

“This is heaven!” he spoke consolingly to himself as he allowed his awareness to get lost in the shows.

There were no commercials, just brief transitions from one program or movie to the next. During these moments, Will looked around, but decided not to move, thinking that perhaps the noise of the TV would draw a clerk out to investigate.

At any rate, like someone lost in the woods, he thought perhaps it was best to stay put. Surely, if nothing else, there would be janitorial staff coming through. Eventually.

Meanwhile, at home, Blanche awoke around 7AM and headed toward the kitchen to make coffee. She turned on the TV to the local news and wondered how Will was getting along. She tried calling him but got his voicemail. She figured he’d left his phone in his truck again.

His truck!

She had been standing absent-mindedly looking out the kitchen window as she called Will. Just as she was about to leave him a snarky message on voicemail, she saw it, dropped her phone, and bolted for the door, screaming, “Will! Will!”

Will’s truck was in the yard at end of the driveway, the front end pressed up against the tree that marked the entrance to the property, the engine still pushing exhaust out the back.

In her pajamas, Blanche ran to the cab and tried to open the door. It was locked and inside Will was slumped, unbreathing, over the steering wheel.

She screamed, flagged a passing car, and begged the driver to call 911.

Several minutes later her property was swarmed by emergency vehicles and police cars. She was back in her kitchen, sobbing, being comforted by a female officer, who was trying to explain to the unhearing Blanche, that it was apparently a heart attack, that he’d been dead for hours, and most likely went quickly.

On the TV, still playing ignored in the background, flashed a brief commercial for General Hay D’s Discount Emporium, the announcer proclaiming joyously to, “Come on in! We’ve got deals to die for this Black Friday! Open daily 24 hours! Merry Christma...”

Another officer reached over and turned off the TV.

Inexplicably, Blanche shivered as the words of the commercial brushed her awareness before evaporating into sorrow.


* It’s flash fiction Friday! (To learn more about FFF, click here and scroll down.) 
Flash fiction is nothing more or less than a very, very short short story. And this one, clocking in at over 3,000 words really isn’t a flash, but it is fiction. Which is okay since this also isn’t Friday. What’s it about? You tell me. Seriously, let me know what you think. I think I watched too much Twilight Zone and similar TV programming as a kid. Can you hear Rod Serling’s voice in your head as you read? No? Oh well. But still, what do you think? Share your thoughts in the comments! And happy shopping this holiday season!

Thursday, November 26, 2015

Gratitude & grace

Ezekiel is a fun book to read.

I don’t think it was as fun to live through, though.

The book is basically about God warning the Children of Israel that they were in danger of judgment and they needed to change their ways, a rather familiar Old Testament story line.  It breaks out into three major chunks:
  1. God sends Ezekiel to the Israelites to call them out through a series of dire warnings, some were even acted out for emphasis (chapters 1-24),
  2. Long story short, Jerusalem fell and Israel went into exile (chapters 25-32).
  3. God being God, He doesn’t destroy them, but instead restores them (chapters 33-48).
Keep in mind that this “house of Israel” is the same people group that wandered in the wilderness for 40 years.

You would think that they learned their lesson. But no. Kind of like us.

Chapter 36 of Ezekiel is especially interesting. This is where God begins to explain how and why He intends to restore Israel:
“Therefore say to the house of Israel, Thus says the Lord GOD: It is not for your sake, O house of Israel, that I am about to act, but for the sake of my holy name, which you have profaned among the nations to which you came. And I will vindicate the holiness of my great name, which has been profaned among the nations, and which you have profaned among them. And the nations will know that I am the LORD, declares the Lord GOD, when through you I vindicate my holiness before their eyes” (Ezekiel 36:22-23, ESV).
God makes it clear that the grace He is about to shower onto the Israelites is really not about them.

It’s to display the holiness and awesomeness of Himself, God, to all the nations, to keep His reputation intact.

Basically He’s doing this because they’ve done a lousy job exampling God to their neighbors.

Let's be perfectly clear on Who’s doing this

In the next several verses, God details  what He’s going to do using several “I” statements:
  • I will make myself holy among you in their sight (v 23)
  • I will take you from the nations (v24)
  • I will gather you from all the countries (v24)
  • I will bring you to your own fertile land (v24)
  • I will sprinkle clean water on you (v25)
  • I will give you a new heart (v26)
  • I will replace your stony heart with a new one (v26)
  • I will give you my spirit (v27)
  • I will be your God (v28)
  • I will save you from all your uncleanness (v29)
  • I will summon the grain and make it grow (v29)
  • I will make the orchards and fields abundant (v30).
These “I” statements will probably vary a little bit among different translations, but I think you get the point. I pulled the ones above from the CEB.

This is grace -- God’s unmerited favor -- in action, being practically applied and made visible.

Why? Because God is God and He knows what’s best for His people whom He dearly loves.

Grace cannot be earned. It is not deserved. It cannot be bartered for. It cannot be bought with good deeds.

Grace can only be received.

Thank God I’m an American!

It’s always interesting to hear people claim that America is blessed because it’s a “Christian nation.” Or that they’ve been so blessed because they’re faithful tithers or for something else they’ve done. Or that a certain TV evangelist is so blessed because of his or her ministering to so many. You know, the ones who ask us to plant a seed of faith -- meaning send them money?

In other words, attributing blessings received to doing the right things or being the right kind of person.

That’s not how grace works. Grace tends to flow to those who need it most and recognize they are the least deserving. Grace well-received is transformative, but we’re getting ahead of the story.

The truth is that if America or any American is blessed, it’s solely because God did it because He’s God and He’s good and we are nothing without Him.

This is made clear to the Israelites in verse 32: “It is not for your sake that I will act, declares the Lord GOD; let that be known to you. Be ashamed and confounded for your ways, O house of Israel” (ESV).

I think there’s a message here for us.

It’s not unusual for we Americans to look at the problems around the world and feel immune. We think, “We’re blessed because we’re so good and godly.” And we think all those other countries aren’t.


We’re blessed because that’s what God has decided to do for us. For now.

Grace first, repentance after

There’s at least one other very intriguing bit in this chapter of Ezekiel.

Check out verse 31 (ESV): “Then you will remember your evil ways, and your deeds that were not good, and you will loathe yourselves for your iniquities and your abominations.”

In this instance, after the lavish layering on of grace after grace, then comes conviction and repentance! (Aka, transformation.)

This echoes Romans 2:4, ESV, where Paul states, “Or do you presume on the riches of his kindness and forbearance and patience, not knowing that God’s kindness is meant to lead you to repentance?”

Hmm... So the point of God’s grace isn’t just to make us feel good? To make us fat and happy?

As ridiculously blessed Americans, I think we too often assume that because we’re blessed we have God’s favor (as in, we assume He’s on our side) and somehow this makes us better than everyone else.

Instead, we should be desperately appreciative of the grace He so mercifully lavishes on us despite the boneheads we tend to be. After all, remember that before the blessings, the Israelites fell under judgment due to their sinfulness, rebelliousness, impudence, and stubbornness (Ezekiel 2:3-4).

Just for fun, you may want to read both Ezekiel 36 and Romans 2 in light of the discussion above.

Thanksgiving isn’t about the turkey or the ham or the whatever on our table

In America, we are terribly blessed and are terrible at recognizing that it’s not about us. It’s about God.

Today is Thanksgiving.

Instead of a mere nod toward the sky, or a mumbled acknowledgement to the unhearing universe, we need to be truly, deeply, consciously, seriously, assiduously, humbly grateful for the immense grace that God -- and God alone -- pours into our lives today and every day we draw breath.


“Thus says God, the LORD, who created the heavens and stretched them out, who spread out the earth and what comes from it, who gives breath to the people on it and spirit to those who walk in it: ‘I am the LORD; I have called you in righteousness; I will take you by the hand and keep you; I will give you as a covenant for the people, a light for the nations, to open the eyes that are blind, to bring out the prisoners from the dungeon, from the prison those who sit in darkness’” (Isaiah 42:5-7, ESV).

How do celebrate Thanksgiving? Do you focus on God’s blessings in your life? On your family? On food? On football? On shopping? Or just ignore the whole thing? Please share your reactions to this post and your thoughts on Thanksgiving on the comments. I’d love to hear from you!

Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Slow-boiled frogs in a post-Christian soup? Homosexuality, same-sex marriage, gender & the response of the church

Issues surrounding sexuality, and now gender, have always been hot buttons for Christians. And they aren’t getting any less hot. Instead, they seem to be getting more complex.

Of course, they also tend to be polarizing, outside and inside churches.

Lately, especially inside.

When it comes to homosexuality, the responses of Christians will vary from outright hostility to embracive endorsement.

Others land on every notch between the extremes with views variously shaded by adherence or not to Scripture, alignment or not with orthodox Christian belief and practice, and bending or not to popularized positions.

Into this milieu wades Dr. R. Albert Mohler, Jr., president of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, with what is essential reading for any thinking, true-believer Christian, We Cannot Be Silent: Speaking Truth to a Culture Redefining Sex, Marriage, and the Very Meaning of Right and Wrong (Thomas Nelson).

About far more than sexuality & gender identity

Mohler cuts to the chase in the first chapter, asserting that we are in the midst of nothing less than a “massive revolution” that he likens to a devastating hurricane, where the “Christian church in the West now faces a set of challenges that exceeds anything it has experienced in the past.”

This revolution, states Mohler, is “a complete transformation of the way human beings relate to one another in the most intimate contexts of life.”

But the issue is not just about sex or gender. What’s being undermined is the core of Christian belief, the authority of Scripture, and beyond that, the relevance of God in our lives.

Already, it is clear that even within churches, the clear sanctions of Scripture against homosexual practice (among other things) are being recast as not really what Scripture means.

Mohler states clearly that “churches that reject the authority of Scripture will eventually succumb to cultural pressure and accommodate their understanding of homosexuality to the spirit of the age.”

Why is the Bible and its authority being called into question?

Because, as Mohler explains, “Biblical Christianity is the final wall of resistance to the homosexual agenda.”

As a result, even theologians are being influenced to assert, as did one who is part of a major mainline denomination, that, “The scriptural texts in the Old and New Testaments condemning homosexual practice are neither inspired by God nor otherwise of enduring Christian value.”

This assessment flies in the face of what the vast majority of biblical scholars over generations have affirmed. Namely, that all Scripture is, indeed, “God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness” (2 Timothy 3:16, ESV), and this is true across all cultures, all times, all peoples.

If this de-authorization of Scripture is followed to its logical and inevitable conclusion, faith becomes myth and the Bible, as some already believe, is nothing but an interesting book, ignorable in whole or in part.

Common responses defending the acceptance of same-sex marriage and homosexual practice is to claim that it’s all about love, no one is getting hurt, and traditional marriages aren’t damaged.

If these are really true statements, then why is it so important for pro-homosexual revisionists to insist that the Bible is wrong on key points?

As Mohler reveals, those pushing this agenda will admit that “the Bible expressly forbids homosexual practices.” However, a higher authority, so they believe, is in play and thus “the Bible must be abandoned in light of modern knowledge.” This is nothing less than heresy, if not outright apostasy.

For thinking Christians who see past platitudes, false truisms, and meme-like explanations, the ultimate impact on faith, life, relationships, and beyond is clear.

Mohler sounds a clarion call, explaining that the stakes are indeed high and the target is more than merely redefining marriage. He explains that, “Revisionist arguments that focus on the ‘limitations’ of Scripture do not merely relativize the Bible’s authority -- they leave us without any authoritative revelation of what sin is. And without an authoritative (and clearly understandable) revelation of human sin, we cannot know why we need a Savior or why Christ died. Could the stakes be any higher than that? This controversy is not merely about sex. It is about salvation.”

The bottomline is that the very foundations of faith are being decayed. Or, at least, that’s the intent.

The four “horsemen” of this sexual “apocalypse”

However, Mohler argues that, while this change has come on with relative speed, it shouldn’t be a complete surprise to believers. In fact, much of our current dilemma can be traced to past complacency by heterosexual believers on a variety of moral and sexuality-related issues.

He points out that, “We must recognize that we, and many evangelicals before us, have sown the seeds for the very problems we now face.”

He categorizes these into four phases, saying, “Any consideration of the eclipse of marriage in the last century,” says Mohler, “must take into account four massive developments: birth control and contraception, divorce, advanced reproductive technologies, and cohabitation.”
  • Birth control and contraception: Mohler explains how these technologies effectively separated “sex from procreation.” Thanks especially to the Pill, “sex became redefined as an activity that did not have any necessary relation to the gift of children.” This shift in thinking had a profound impact on all of society.
  • Divorce: The introduction of no-fault divorce, while seemingly well-intended, moved marriage from a committed covenantal relationship to a mere contract that either party could break. Mohler explains that, “No-fault divorce is a rejection of the scriptural understanding of covenant that stands at the very heart of the Christian gospel.”
  • Advanced reproductive technologies: As the Pill allowed heterosexuals to separate sex from the risk of pregnancy, modern reproductive technologies allow anyone to have babies without engaging in sex, and without the necessity of possessing reproductive physiology. As Mohler states, “It has enabled same-sex couples and single persons to ‘have’ children, but not by moral means of procreation.”
  • Cohabitation: Once frowned upon, couples living together without the sanction of marriage is now the norm. “Marriage itself became more and more marginalized,” says Mohler, “to the moral equation of sex such that in vast sectors of our society today, the old references to ‘premarital sex’ make no sense at all, since marriage is not even on the horizon.” This enables a free-for-all hook-up culture, endlessly damaged relationships, constant societal instability, and opens the door to a host of additional moral problems.
Silence on these issues or even the wholesale acceptance of them has led to serious consequences for the church. Namely, the loss of credibility.

“To put the matter in the clearest possible terms,” says Mohler, “the evangelical abdication of responsibility for divorce [and other issues] set the stage for a loss of evangelical credibility to speak to the larger issue of sexuality and marriage. Quite pointedly, the church now has massive liabilities in terms of credibility when it seeks to speak about the ‘clear teachings of the Bible on marriage” or just about any other issue.

Compassion means telling the truth

From the beginning of the book Mohler makes it clear that, despite this sea change, “the church cannot abdicate its responsibility for Christian truth-telling in a postmodern age.”

Where do we turn? “For Christians, the first question to ask when confronting any issue is, what does the Bible say?”

And there we learn that:
  • Creation, gender, and marriage: “The creator has absolute and solitary right to define the purpose of what he has created.”
  • Fallen sexuality: “[T]he fall helps us understand why every dimension of the created order bears testimony to the effects of human sin and God’s judgment upon that sin.”
  • Sexuality redeemed: “[O]ut of the reality of redemption already achieved, Christians are explicitly called to live out what it means to be male and female and lead lives of holiness and righteousness.”
In other words, “The fundamental axiom upon which evangelical Christians must base every response to homosexuality is this: God alone is sovereign, and he alone created the universe and everything within it by his own design and for his own good pleasure.”

An honest examination of Scripture reveals that “any sexual expression outside of [a] heterosexual marriage relationship is outlawed by God’s command.”

Further, “Our response to persons involved in homosexuality must be marked by genuine compassion. But a central task of genuine compassion is telling the truth, and the Bible reveals a true message that we must convey.”

Mohler pulls no punches explaining that this living and telling of truth will be costly: “We should expect horrifying harm, the decline of human flourishing, and restrictions on our message and the freedom of the Christian church.”

Still, this “sexual revolution presents a monumental challenge to the Christian church, but this is not the first revolution that has demanded a Christian response.” And it likely won’t be the last, if the Lord tarries.

Mohler cautions against moralism, aberrant theology, isolationism, inadequate ministry, and shallow youth discipleship.

He concludes declaring, “We must not exile ourselves, and we certainly must not retreat into silence while we still have a platform, a voice, and an opportunity. We must remind ourselves again and again of the compassion of truth and the truth of compassion. We must look in the mirror and recognize that when we speak to others, we are speaking as sinners saved by grace. We must say all that we know on the basis of all that Scripture reveals and trust that only God can make the message convincing and compelling to our audience.”

Final words: Answering hard questions & more

The book concludes offering succinct answers to 30 hard questions covering such topics as the handling of the Old Testament, how genetics may impact homosexuality, comparing the sexual revolution to the civil rights movement, the challenge of intersex births, the transgender dilemma, government legislation of morality, and whether or not a Christian should attend a same-sex wedding.

Many of the issues addressed in the questions are also addressed in the body of the book.

The final “A Word to the Reader” specifically addresses the recent Supreme Court decision related to same-sex marriage.

This book is a must-read for any Christian seeking to more clearly understand how to respond, from a thoroughly biblical foundation, to friends, relatives, and neighbors on sexuality-related issues. It would make for a challenging resource for a mature small group or Sunday school study.

Mohler has provided an excellent reference on these very hot-button issues that all Christians will benefit from reading.

Additional reading:


NOTE: To comply with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: I selected this book to review and received it free from the publisher. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own.

What do you believe the Bible says about homosexuality? Is there a difference between being gay and homosexual behavior? Do you feel threatened by same-sex marriage? Are you afraid to speak out, as a Christian, against same-sex relationships? Why or why not? 

Many feel that the recent Supreme Court decision allowing same-sex marriage came about suddenly. Kind of like the proverbial frog cooked in a pot of water where the heat is raised gradually. Instead, based on Mohler’s assessment,  the heat of this slow-boil increased because we had our own hands on the stove controls. Do you agree or disagree?

Feel free to share your thoughts on this review and the topic in the comments. All I ask is that you be civil.

In addition to Mohler’s book, these other two make good companions:


Tuesday, November 24, 2015

In grace, do no harm

Originally posted February 8, 2012;
reposted here with minor edits.

There’s a concept in healthcare that says, “First, do no harm.” It’s attributed to the Hippocratic Oath. Taken by healthcare practitioners, the Oath is a promise to act ethically when providing care to patients. Doctors vow to do no harm in their practice of medicine.

As Christ’s followers, this should also be our vow as we live in community with our fellow believers.

Sin hurts. It brings consequences that can endure over time. It leaves scars. Even when grace is applied, the impact of sin can go on. But it should lessen over time as we act as ministers of grace to one another.

This means when someone sins, even if their sin hurts us, we “do no harm” by not keeping their sin alive through gossip, slander, or exaggeration.

While sin is punishable, it’s not our job to administer any kind of sentence. That’s something that’s exclusively reserved for God. Correction and accountability are acceptable, but these involve the cooperation of the sinner and are done in love with care.

As for us, as Paul makes clear in Romans 3, “all have sinned and come short of the glory of God” and we all deserve to be put to death. We are in no way qualified to execute punishment on others.

Instead, just as we covet God’s grace and forgiveness for ourselves, we must covet the same for others.

Sadly, there are those who feel it’s their duty to keep alive and even overstate the past and perceived sins of others. Like little Satans, they run around reminding any who will listen how awful was the sin-thing that so-and-so did.

They are unforgiving of the offense, real or imagined, and so seek to cause harm to the perceived offender well past the point of the offense, and even in the face of repentance.

Passed on from generation to generation

Those who do this kind of harm self-righteously point to passages such as Numbers 14:18 that says, “Yet he does not leave the guilty unpunished; he punishes the children for the sin of the fathers to the third and fourth generation.”

As they point to this latter half of this passage, they miss the key component that “he” refers to God, not them. They also ignore the first half that states, “The LORD is slow to anger, abounding in love and forgiving sin and rebellion.”

This is further echoed and clarified in Psalm 103:8-12:
“The LORD is compassionate and gracious, slow to anger, abounding in love. He will not always accuse, nor will he harbor his anger forever; he does not treat us as our sins deserve or repay us according to our iniquities. For as high as the heavens are above the earth, so great is his love for those who fear him; as far as the east is from the west, so far has he removed our transgressions from us,” (NIV).
And then there’s Luke 1:50 that states, “His mercy extends to those who fear him, from generation to generation” (NIV).

And for good measure, let’s throw in Romans 12:14-21 (NIV):
“Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse. Rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn. Live in harmony with one another. Do not be proud, but be willing to associate with people of low position. Do not be conceited. Do not repay anyone evil for evil. Be careful to do what is right in the eyes of everybody. If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone. Do not take revenge, my friends, but leave room for God's wrath, for it is written: ‘It is mine to avenge; I will repay,’ says the Lord. On the contrary: ‘If your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink. In doing this, you will heap burning coals on his head.’ Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.”
Fortunately for us, 1 John 1:9 declares, “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness” (NIV).

And Paul reminds us in Colossians 3:13, to “Bear with each other and forgive whatever grievances you may have against one another. Forgive as the Lord forgave you” (NIV).

The unforgiving aren’t guiltless

Every day we as Christians are challenged in our faith. Our past failings come to mind and we cringe and cry inside. We look back and think, “If only…” There are many decisions and actions we wish we could re-do. But we can’t.

And it makes no difference if these failures occurred before or after we became Christians.

The last thing we need is someone who claims to be a believer in Christ pointing at our failures and proclaiming, “Unclean!” as if we were a terminally ill spiritual leper.

Those who behave thus call into question the legitimacy of their own faith and put themselves in peril. At the same time they can cripple the efforts of the forgiven to push forward in grace. The result is to inhibit the Kingdom work for which the “failed” have been called and gifted.

The forgiven aren’t guilty

What these passages make clear are these points, among others:
  1. Those guilty of sin will be punished if they remain guilty through lack of confession. We are all guilty of sin.
  2. Only God is in a position to administer punishment. We are not God’s avengers.
  3. Confession removes guilt because Jesus died for our sins. We all have access to mercy through grace.
  4. Those who are forgiven are to be forgiving. We are obligated as followers of Christ to emulate the Father, just as did Christ.
Our responsibility as Christians is not to beat up our brothers and sisters with their less than perfect pasts. Instead, we are to come along side, sharing each other’s burdens, covering sins with love and forgiveness, giving witness through our behavior of the grace that Jesus offers everyone who comes to Him.

Instead of stabbing one another in the back, we are to protect one another’s back.

I’ve got yours; do you have mine?

Do you struggle with guilt over past sin? Are you quick to remind others of their faults? What practical steps have you taken to let go of your past as well as help others let go of theirs? Please share your thoughts and experiences in the comments!

Monday, November 23, 2015

Memory Farmers (#Poetry Monday *)

Seeing crows up close always startles.
I forget how large they really are.
Small feathered gargantuans.

Usually they’re up high
dotting the blue sky,
bombing the distant earth
with enormous caws.

Or out over a cornfield
circling in the distance,
sailing on the blue horizon,
specks of smaller noise.

Or in cartoons as clever,
cunning, heckling characters,
cutting shenanigans,
playing others for the fool.

Or as black Vs with curved edges
in simple chalk drawings or crayon
scratchings, plain silent symbols
stripped of their reality.

But in truth they are ravenous
dark farmers of memory
plowing the infinite parcels of sky
cowling the air above us with
piercing cries calling us
to recall, recall, recall.

* It's PoMo! To learn about PoMo (POetry MOnday), click here and then scroll down. 

Hearing crows cawing overhead seems most associated with the fall and melancholy. 
Do you agree? Our are they more a summer experience for you? What kind of mood is created when you hear geese above you in the evening sky? Feel free to share your thoughts and impressions in the comments.

This poem is included in this collection:

Friday, November 20, 2015

How to treat all refugees, according to Jesus: The Parable of the Good Samaritan

The text below was adapted
from scripture with only
slight edits for clarity.


And behold, a lawyer stood up to put [Jesus] to the test, saying, “Teacher, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?”

[Jesus] said to him, “What is written in the Law? How do you read it?”

And he answered, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind, and your neighbor as yourself.”

And he said to him, “You have answered correctly; do this, and you will live.”

But he, desiring to justify himself, said to Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?”

Jesus replied, [“To answer that, let me tell you a story”]:
A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, and he fell among robbers, who stripped him and beat him and departed, leaving him half dead.

Now by chance a priest was going down that road, and when he saw him he passed by on the other side.

So likewise a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side.

But a Samaritan, as he journeyed, came to where he was, and when he saw him, he had compassion. He went to him and bound up his wounds, pouring on oil and wine. Then he set him on his own animal and brought him to an inn and took care of him.

And the next day he took out two denarii and gave them to the innkeeper, saying, ‘Take care of him, and whatever more you spend, I will repay you when I come back.’

[Jesus looked at the lawyer and asked], “Which of these three, do you think, proved to be a neighbor to the man who fell among the robbers?”

[The lawyer] replied, “The one who showed him mercy.”

And Jesus said to him, “You go, and do likewise.”

Additional reading:

I toyed with the idea of rewriting this as a story, putting it into our current setting. Yet, the message is so simple and clear, I merely added some minor edits for clarity and context. Do you believe this parable provides clear direction on how we should be viewing the Syrian refugee crisis? Why or why not? Please do share your thoughts in the comments.

FYI: The image at the top of the post was shared by Doug Trouten on Facebook, who also said, “I’m looking for that verse where Jesus tells us to value our own safety above his command to love our neighbors, but I just can’t find it.”


Have a happy and blessed Thanksgiving!

Thursday, November 19, 2015

Rejecting refugees & protecting our idols vs. Fighting against the sin nature

I think I’m approaching the conclusion that because of our sin nature, even as those saved by grace, we tend to accept lies far more easily than the truth.

In fact, exactly because we are saved by grace, and too easily forget that sanctification is a long, sometimes arduous process, we tend to let our guard down when it comes to our sin nature.

Kind of like loosening our pants after a huge Thanksgiving meal.

As a result we fail to develop a true biblical Christian worldview, skimp on doing daily due diligence supported by God’s word, and so we are easily suckered in by whatever the Enemy puts in front of us and wants us to be duped by.

Yum! Hearsay! Rumor! Slurp!

Instead of always carefully considering all we take in against the truth of Scripture, we fall into believing whatever feels right, sounds good, seems reasonable, makes sense -- whatever tickles our not-yet-fully-sanctified ears and doesn’t force us to think too deeply.

And this applies to everything we consume: all TV (even “Christian” programs), cable news, books, movies, magazines, and, yes, even, sadly, our beloved ministers.

In other words we happily consume as “truth” what is nothing more than rumor, urban legend, hearsay, false reporting, inaccurate information, bigotry, political obfuscation, self-serving agenda, poor reasoning, twisted scripture, and the like.

We go for the warm fuzzy feeling instead of the harder critical thinking.

Prone to wander far, far away

Among my favorite hymns is “Come Thou Fount” written in 1758 by Robert Robinson. The opening line alone is lofty and lifts our eyes up: “Come, Thou Fount of every blessing, Tune my heart to sing Thy grace; Streams of mercy, never ceasing, Call for songs of loudest praise.”

Lovely! Uplifting! Warm and fuzzy!

It’s easy to get caught up in the hymn’s positive and rapturous aspects, and then miss the vital message that comes in later verses:
O to grace how great a debtor
Daily I’m constrained to be!
Let Thy goodness, like a fetter,
Bind my wandering heart to Thee.
Prone to wander, Lord, I feel it,
Prone to leave the God I love;

Here’s my heart, O take and seal it,
Seal it for Thy courts above.

O that day when freed from sinning,
I shall see Thy lovely face...
The two most telling lines, and the more important message for us to heed, states so bluntly, “Prone to wander, Lord, I feel it, Prone to leave the God I love.”

It’s a dire warning we need to ponder.

Stop one second and let it sink in. Because of our sin nature, even as we are living in God’s bountiful and scrumptious grace, just like the Children of Israel in the wilderness who whined at every inconvenience, we are prone, disposed to, bent toward walking away from God.

Because of our ever-present sin nature, we are likely at any convenient moment to leave the very God we love and to Whom we owe our lives.

Yes we are. All of us.

We do this even while claiming we’re not by accepting lies as truth, indulging in spreading rumors, wrapping our allegiances around bad ideas, and via other “soft” sins.

If we are truly, deeply, brutally honest, we know that our “heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick...” (Jeremiah 17:9, ESV).

The proper and only response is to always be on guard, as Robinson puts it, “O to grace how great a debtor, Daily I’m constrained to be!” It’s a daily, even moment-to-moment necessary effort.

Note those last words: necessary effort.

Giving into sin is easy. Resisting takes effort. And it isn’t futile. But it is a requirement.

Rotting away in Wrong-believing-ville

What’s the consequence for not being on constant guard against our sin nature?

We will start bearing stinky, bad, rotten spiritual fruit.

Good fruit is revealed, in part, in Galatians 5:22-26:
“But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law. And those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. If we live by the Spirit, let us also walk by the Spirit. Let us not become conceited, provoking one another, envying one another” (ESV).
Bad fruit would then be the opposite:
Hate, worry, discord, impatience, harshness, cruelty, self-righteousness, self-indulgence, a lack of generosity, lack of concern for anyone else, focusing on our own selfish interests, belittling or insulting others, and the like.
Essentially, we are “prone to wander” away from abiding in the Spirit and working out our salvation, and into everything God’s Word warns us against.

As fallen creatures it’s what we do.

A long obedience in the one true direction

We must be on continuous guard and wage ongoing war against our sinful nature as long as we draw breath on this earth.

As Robinson states in his hymn, this is our state until we reach heaven when, “O that day when freed from sinning, I shall see Thy lovely face.”

Until that day, well, it’s a different story.

An unguarded and inadequately restrained sin nature will draw us toward putting our faith in ourselves, our patriotism, our politics, our country, our culture, our comfort, our safety, our biases -- all things we unthinkingly accept that gives us a false sense of meaning, purpose, place, and hope, replacing God.

In other words, we end up living a false gospel and embracing an unbiblical worldview without even realizing it.

Feasting on fear & loathing

That this is true is becoming apparent in the current debate over the Syrian refugee crisis.

Those who say a loud No! to letting any of “them” come into “our” country are  claiming “they” are a danger and a risk.

What are these refugees a risk to?

They are viewed as a threat to our health, our wealth, and our American way of life.

And some making many of these arguments are Christians who are ripping Bible verses out of context and force-fitting them to make their points. Coupled with this are terribly flawed and grossly biased click-bait reports being generated from not-so-credible sources.

There is stubborn refusal toward seeking out the truth, uncovering vetted statistics, or considering any information that could move them from their “us against them” stance.

In fact, variations on the utterly selfish “me and mine first” theme threads all through these misguided arguments.

Attempts to counter these positions are viewed as “ungodly” attacks and met with vehement ridicule, reviling, and resistance. Abusive name calling often ensues.

The irony that these kinds of themes, responses, and behaviors are completely counter to the message of Christ and the teachings of the New Testament is completely invisible to them.

Hard truth cannot be seen when the sinful nature gets in the way.

Instead, all that gets through is only information that soothes, reassures, and nourishes the sinful nature.

Instead of dying to self, it’s all about self-protection.

What makes this especially insidious is that everything gets filtered and colored by just enough God-talk that it seems, to the uncritical eye, as “godly” and “Christian.”

In reality it is an utterly self-centered feast for our sin nature.

Looking inward to see outward more clearly

In his concluding words to his first letter to the Corinthian church, Paul admonishes them to, “Be watchful, stand firm in the faith, act like men, be strong. Let all that you do be done in love” (1 Corinthians 16:13-14, ESV).

It’s easy to take this and other similar passages in the Bible to mean only that we are to be on guard against what’s “out there” in the world as opposed to what’s “in here” in our hearts.

And doing so we miss half the warning. We need to think more deeply on Paul’s words.

What does it take to “stand firm in the faith”? What is involved when we “act like men”? And how are we enabled to “be strong”?

By the way, to “act like men” implies not just an aspect of manliness, but of being mature and wise, qualities women should also aspire to.

And, of course, over everything, we are to act with love and all that that implies (see 1 Corinthians 13 for details).

Getting a grip on our sin nature

So what can we do to ensure we’re putting our sinful nature to death rather than being duped into wrong-headed and wrong-hearted belief and behavior?

Foremost we must always keep in mind that sanctification is a long, sometimes arduous process. It involves daily, even moment-by-moment effort. It’s not once and done.

Salvation is only the beginning to our Christian walk, a walk that frequently takes us through dangerous and tempting terrain.

As Jesus made clear, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me” (Luke 9:23, ESV).

Denial seldom yields the warm fuzzies our sin nature craves.

Add to this essential awareness the need to be in the word daily (Joshua 1:8), be active in a local body of believers (Hebrews 10:25), abide in the Lord (John 15:7), and practice the other normal Christian disciplines* (Hebrews 12:8).

To these I would also add a few more suggestions:
  • Question everything: “Testing the spirits” is not limited to discerning truth in a sermon, but is a practice to be applied to everything we take in. Just because you saw it on Fox News or CNN or read it on your favorite news website doesn’t mean it’s accurate.
  • Be open to different views: Getting stuck in a rut of thinking can be dangerous. We should have nothing to fear from considering differing views. Just because an idea makes us a little uncomfortable doesn’t mean it’s bad. God has a knack for pushing us out of our comfort zones to keep us growing in Him.
  • Make contrarian friends: A great way to stay sharp in your thinking is to have a few friends you know and trust, yet who tend to think differently than you. While annoying, they can also be the source of incredible insights you might otherwise have missed.
  • Read challenging books: Yes, read your Bible and read it daily. Sure, enjoy that comforting devotional. But don’t ignore other great and challenging books by excellent Christian authors such as C.S. Lewis, Francis Schaeffer, Dallas Willard, J.I. Packer, Nancy Pearcey, and so many more. Check with your pastor or friends for suggestions or click here for a few.
  • Understand the consequences of our words and actions: Before lashing out at someone, and especially before insulting them, consider these words of Jesus: “I tell you the truth, when you did it to one of the least of these my brothers and sisters, you were doing it to me!” (Matthew 25:45, NLT).  We need to live out the Golden Rule daily as part of our witness to the world. This also applies to how we treat our enemies.
  • Beware of idol making: Idols are anything that get between us and right Christian living, that take our eyes off of God’s commandments. Comfort and safety can be idols. Preserving a specific way of life can be an idol. A source of news or a favored Bible teacher can be idols. Serving the self can be an idol. Advocating for a certain political party can be an idol. Anything that supersedes a life bent to God’s will is very likely an idol.
Never give in, never give up

Frankly, fighting against our sin nature is, to be blunt, a royal pain in the butt.

It’s hard work and we can’t let our guard down for a moment. If we do, we’ll find ourselves advocating for something that serves our comfort and joy yet denies Christ and makes a mockery of God’s word.

So given the high stakes, resisting our proneness to wander, to fall into wrong ideas, to push against God’s will, to be taken in by sweet sounding falsities, to deny justice to others, to seek comfort at any price, to protect “me and mine” at the cost of another’s well-being -- this is a resistance that is not futile and which we must engage in daily.

In other words, fighting against our sin nature, “let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith” (Hebrews 12:1-2).

*Click here for an article on “Spiritual Disciplines” that offers a good overview of these.

Related posts:

I wrote this post partially in response to “feedback” I received from yesterday’s post, particularly in one forum where I shared it. There I met a lot of resistance and was even called “Idiot.” I once heard that you’re nothing on the Internet until someone labels you an idiot. This isn’t the first time it’s happened, so “Woohoo! I am somebody!” 

Kidding aside, though, some of the reactions have been disheartening, particularly given some of the clear bigotry being passed off as right Christian behavior. So, what do you think about (a) letting Syrian refugees into the U.S., and (b) what I’ve written above? Agree? Disagree? Don't care? Is any of my biblical thinking askew? Is there something I’ve missed or misrepresented? Share your reactions and insights in the comments! All I ask is that you be civil.

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

Punishing all for one or a few: Treating Syrian refugees like naughty children

When I was a kid, it wasn’t unusual when someone acted badly in a classroom or any group situation, that everyone got punished for it.

This would happen because the adult-in-charge either couldn’t identify a specific bad actor, or was just too exasperated and took the easy way when it came to “discipline.”

Whenever this happened, I seethed inside my little innocent child’s heart.

Often the punishment would be a withholding of something we all coveted: craft time, story time, an extra five minutes on the playground, a snack, and so on.

Even more infuriating would be the times when the group identified the do-badder(s) and the teacher or other figurehead of authority would still impose blanket injustice, I mean, discipline.


Boy, did that ever teach us a lesson, youbetcha.


Lessons learned from bad adult behavior

What it taught me is that it’s important to ensure justice to those denied it. To work hard at getting to the facts. To act on the truth and in fairness. To practice the Golden Rule by doing unto others as we would have them do unto us.

Okay, so these lessons crystallized a little later in my adult life.

While still young, I quite honestly held a strong childlike hatred in my heart toward those who lazily, unfairly imposed generalized punishment.

This did not endear me to those people. Frankly, there’s one who, whenever this teacher comes to mind, I still have to work at forgiving.

Even as an child, I understood that a great way to earn anger and hostility from any group is to treat them as a mass impersonal blob, assume they’re all bad actors, and enmesh them in generalized punishment or restriction.

In other words, treat them all like naughty children.

This really works well on adults.

Sort of like what’s happening with all the recent calls to block the movement of Syrian refugees beyond wherever they are now.

Everyone freeze!

Definitely don’t let them into the land of the free and home of the brave where we live! Any one of them could be a terrorist!


Sorry, I’m just not buying it.

Zero tolerance is intolerance

In my post yesterday I argued, among other things, against blocking our borders -- states or country -- to Syrian refugees.

Despite the best efforts of some who disagree, I’ve not met an argument yet that would move me one iota away from my previously stated position.

I don’t believe the blanket closing of borders to Syrian refugees wanting to legally enter our country, or any country, is a biblically legitimate Christian response.*

This doesn’t mean we let them in without some degree of vetting, just as we do with anyone wanting to come in legally.

But it does mean we will be taking some risks.

But so what? Hasn’t that always been the case?

Haven’t there always been those wanting to get into our country to do bad things?

I believe the primary difference today compared to the past is that those wanting to do us harm, instead of coming in quietly and covertly, are announcing their intentions, often and loudly. But this doesn’t automatically mean we are more at risk or that they will be successful.

As much as I abhorred as a kid the “punishing all for one” discipline approach, today I loathe nearly every expression of “zero tolerance” policies I’ve encountered.

Falling back on “zero tolerance” is the lazy, mindless, knee-jerk way to deal with any situation and avoid having to think too hard about anything.

You know, “No guns! Even if it is a half-chewed Pop-Tart. Case closed. Done. Shut up. Go away.”

Yet this is the approach many are espousing toward the Syrian refugee situation.

What’s really going on here

And, let’s be brutally honest, there are really only two motivations behind these “closed borders” calls:
  1. Irrational fear. With a dash of bigotry. Many, falsely, believe that we are living under an unprecedented threat and letting any Syrian refugees in -- even 5-year-old orphans -- will make life dangerous for us. I guess they have veins full of C-4 or something. In other words, we want to deny safety to those who are fleeing very real and present dangers to protect ourselves against the imagined potential of some unspecified harm that may or may not happen. That’s pretty selfish, paranoid, and not at all how Christ would expect Christians to behave, or think.
  2. Politics. Every Governor, Presidential candidate, or other elected official calling for closed borders is merely playing self-serving politics with the lives of the Syrian refugees. They are dehumanizing real people as pawns for political gain. Period.
By the way, these kinds of reactions have occurred before such as around the time of WWII.

Some, especially among my Christian friends, try to mitigate the harshness of what is nothing less than bigotry toward the Syrian refugees, by suggesting we do more to create “settlements” closer to their homes. Sounds nice, right?

This is more or less the argument that can be discerned in a recent blog post by Reformed Evangelical Kevin DeYoung that many are citing and sharing. I like Kevin, but here he’s off the mark.

In other words, this message goes, (a) let’s keep them in the region of the world they are fleeing (because of  imminent devastation, very real risk of death and dismemberment, starvation, rape, and worse that awaits them there), and (b) let’s send help to them but not let them “in our back yards.”

You know, let’s keep the problem “over there” where we can’t see it. Or be truly touched by it.

Out of sight, outside our borders, out of mind.

The image that is conjured listening to certain wild-eyed arguments is of an ammo-belted, machine-gun armed Jesus standing at our border proclaiming, “Keep out, you heathen!”

Not a good Christian witness. And not what Jesus would do.

A sure way to radicalize those who aren’t already

I can’t think of a better way to radicalize an entire group of people than by dehumanizing them into political pawns, pushing them away, corralling them into settlements, forcing them to stay in danger, refusing to help them, and denying them entry into a country where they can be safe and warm.

And I can’t think of a better way to enrage their countrymen already living among us than by mistreating and denying justice and aid to their husbands, wives, fathers, mothers, brothers, sisters, uncles, aunts, cousins, nephews, friends, and former neighbors who are “over there” in need.

In other words, if you think we’ve got a problem now protecting against a potential handful of bad actors, just wait.

Keep thinking “closed borders” and “containment” and it’s going to get a lot worse.

A marginalized people is not a happy people.

Doing the right think is almost always risky

Yes, open borders bring risk. But that’s always been the case. Always.

Even Jesus risked accepting a traitor into the ranks of his disciples.

Yes, Judas betrayed Christ, but Judas also paid a heavy price. And as for the cause of Christ? It has flourished despite facing many risks since. And there are a lot more to come.

The potential for risk does not relieve us from our duty to care for refugees in need.

Jesus declared, “This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends. You are my friends if you do what I command you” (John 15:12-14, ESV).

The Apostle John explained, “By this we know love, that he laid down his life for us, and we ought to lay down our lives for the brothers. But if anyone has the world's goods and sees his brother in need, yet closes his heart against him, how does God's love abide in him?” (1 John 3:16-17, ESV).

To paraphrase, if we have the means to provide a safe warm place for our Syrian brothers and sisters in need, yet close our borders against them, how does God’s love abide in us?

Seriously, how?

Additional reading:

(*NOTE: I believe France closed their borders not so much to keep people out but more to prevent those involved in the Paris attacks from fleeing justice. But I could be wrong.)

Do you agree with closing the borders of states and refusing entry to refugees into the U.S.? Why or why not? Please share your thoughts -- civilly -- in the comments! 

BTW: I’m an Evangelical Christian and usually Republican-voting conservative, so I know my opinions are messing with your broad-brush assumptions about people like me and that just makes me smile.

Lest we forget:
A young Syrian boy lies in the surf near Bodrum, Turkey (Reuters)

And one last thought: The only thing worse than blocking access to all Syrian refugees is advocating for allowing only Christian refugees in. The only right decision is to mercifully extend a warm welcome to all. Period.

UPDATE: In an 11/21/15 article on CNN Dean Obeidallah agrees with me, stating, “ISIS hopes that when Muslims in the West are demonized, they will become alienated from the country in which they live. ISIS operatives believe then that their recruitment pitch that the West is at war with Islam will resonate more strongly.