A Reminder for the Church

12 11 2016

Yesterday we had a chance to pause and focus on something positive, honoring Veterans.  When we think of a Veteran, we don’t think of a political party or race.  We simply get to acknowledge a person’s service and sacrifice.  Their identity as a Veteran is stronger than any other label.

Those who served know you have very little choice in a lot of things.  You don’t get to pick your Commanding Officer, your roommates (in a berthing on a ship…that can be a lot of roommates!!) or the people you have to work with.  You have to figure it out because the mission of your unit is more important than your personal perspective.  Is there ever conflict?  Absolutely and sometimes that conflict is significant.  It takes good leadership and proper focus to deal with those conflicts.

By now you have looked at the title of this post and you read the last paragraph and you know where I am going.  In my last post I shared my frustration about how segregated out churches are.  If we truly are a body called to work together, we must see segregation limiting our effectiveness.  Jesus said the world would know we are his disciples by our love for one another (John 13:35).  Put that alongside Jesus’ teaching in the Sermon on the Mount to love more than just the people we like (Matthew 5:43-47) and the bar is set pretty high.  So high in fact the only way we could pull it off is if we had God’s help…hmmm maybe that was God’s plan all along.

If people look in our churches and see great communities but everyone looks alike and tends to agree on issues of politics or other social topics, then the church is really no different than their work’s softball team.  The only difference is they probably feel they can be themselves at softball.

I am not advocating we focus on unity.  I am saying if we truly focus on Jesus one of the byproducts will be a community with unity and a love that is very distinctive from the world.

I was listening to a podcast on a social science experiment regarding bystander intervention on college campuses.  The researchers did not know how to handle an interesting finding.  People they classified as conservative Christians were very likely to speak up if they saw someone discriminating against a person who was gay.  I was not surprised.  I expect Christians to speak up and stand by a person being wronged.  I was proud of the Christians at that college who were being true to their faith.

So what do we do?  We take this strategic opportunity to start building bridges with people different than us.  We work to make our churches distinctive communities.  A good place to start is to reach out to people who are struggling with the results of the election.  Find out why they are having a hard time.  Simply listen and try to understand.  Then, stay connected.  Build a relationship and build a church that will stand as a distinctive light four years from now…yep we will have another election…sorry.

Four years from now wouldn’t it be amazing if there were churches where people worshiped together even though they completely disagreed on politics because they loved Jesus and each other more.  The world would be shocked.  Here is the cool part.  I believe we would also be more effective because we would be a body able to draw from all of our gifts, strengths and perspectives.

What would we tell the world?  We would say we are just following Jesus.  After all he did say, “By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”





Did you hear? I am going to be Court Marshaled.

8 05 2013

Well, that is what some news sources said.  As is often the case, reality is far less exciting.  For those who missed it, the report stated the military would court martial Christians who shared their faith.  That is not going to happen.  The truth is the military supports religious freedom.  The only thing that is prohibited is for someone to use their position to force others to follow their beliefs or use methods considered coercive or disrespectful and disruptive.

When we deploy we live in confined spaces and spend 24 hours a day for months with each other.  We will spend long hours on watch or patrol.  A wide range of conversations happen including many on faith.  99% of the time they are good conversations and help pass the time.  When lines are crossed, appropriate actions are taken.  Bottom line, as a Navy Chaplain, I have felt free to express my faith and hold firm to my beliefs.  I also have a responsibility to ensure everyone has religious freedom.  The moment I say another group cannot practice their faith is the moment others can tell me I cannot practice my faith.

In the United States we are struggling with how to talk about faith.  There are those who would like to see us become a completely secular society in which faith is strictly personal and not allowed in the public square.

This is understandable.  The world is more complex today.  We have access to information like never before.  We can experience a wide range of cultures and world travel is easier than ever.  We often find ourselves with people who have very different beliefs.  The easy answer is to ignore those different beliefs and play it safe by only talking about “secular” items to avoid offending anyone.  That thinking over simplifies the world and actually robs the quality of the relationships we could have and the culture we could experience if we acknowledged our differences.

Additionally, to say faith is simply a personal matter is to ignore the role faith plays in a religious person’s life.  My faith impacts my morality and my understanding of how to treat people.  It is impossible to make it personal.  It is who I am and I am not unique.  The average person of faith understands that our faith shapes us and naturally spills out into our public lives.

Another danger I see is to make everything a result of biology.  Whether it is love or ethics, we try to explain everything down to how we evolved instead of looking at the complexity of life.  Does biology play a role?  Of course but it plays one role of many.  I will take some of the things I have heard and take them to their extreme.  This Sunday for Mother’s Day, children tell your moms that you have genetically evolved to care about the person who was your primary care giver in infancy and moms feel free to tell your children the reason you love them is due to your biological composition and with evolution you may or may not maintain your love for them in the future.  I think it is safe to say that would not be the way to make Sunday a special day.

What makes the Untied States great is freedom.  Whether that is freedom of speech or freedom of religion, we flourish when we are free to believe and bring those beliefs to the market place of ideas.  Ideas that are poorly thought out or are not founded on solid ground naturally a marginalized and minimized.  Ideas that are well thought out or are built on a solid foundation have to be engaged.  Will we agree?  I hope not.  I become stronger and sharper when my beliefs are challenged.  I am forced to truly look at what I believe and why I believe it.

I have great confidence that Christianity has deep roots.  We have a rich tradition built on the foundation which is Jesus Christ.  We add richness and beauty to the mosaic of our country.

For those who want only a secular world, I encourage you to be careful that you do not simplify this complex and wonderful world.  There is more than meets the eye.  Maybe instead of trying to court marital me, we could get some coffee.