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SCOTUS giveth and SCOTUS taketh away: The gay marriage sacrifice

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America is my home and I love her despite her shortcomings. I am wed to the land and, more significantly, to the audacious dream of America and what it has meant for humanity. It does not take a prophet to divine that the recent decision by the Supreme Court of the United States legalizing gay marriage has placed the audacious dream of America in a precarious position. While millions of my fellow citizens celebrate the Court’s decision, some of us perceive that the Court’s decision will have the opposite effect of creating a fair and stronger society for all. Before I continue I need to stress that the following argument comes from my identity as Christian American, not just as a Christian.

In a free nation it is inevitable that equal protection under the law of one group will eventually conflict with the equal protection under the law of another group. In the recent epic struggle that landed before the Supreme Court, the gay community won but everyone else lost. How so, you ask? Well, the Sunday after the Court’s decision, my pastor verbalized what I’ve pondered for some time. He said the gay community today has the right to live how they want in America because of the Judeo Christian values that our founders codified into laws that protect the freedoms we all enjoy. If you doubt this, look around the world today at nations that do not have, or never had, a strong Judeo Christian influence and you soon realize that gay people are treated quite poorly in many of those places. The map linked below (Courtesy of Quartz and Pew Research Center) shows countries where gay marriage is legal. Note that most of the countries highlighted have, or at one time had, a strong influence from the Protestant or Catholic Church or both.

Gay Marriage Map

Has the historical and modern church at times stood in the way of gay rights? Yes, but the church has also advocated strongly for human rights. The efforts of Christ’s church have paved the way for much of the freedoms enjoyed by a large swath of humanity today. I know many on the left, secularists, will scoff at this. Sometimes the truth is too painful to bear.

Here’s the rub: By winning before SCOTUS, the gay community has managed to render the First Amendment (which covers all Americans, not just the small gay community) almost impotent. In other words, the gay community used the equal protection under the law clause of the Fourteenth Amendment to sacrifice the First Amendment right to religious freedom enjoyed by millions of Americans. It was a selfish and vain attempt by the gay community to achieve happiness and peace via societal acceptance.

As a Christian with a fairly good understanding of human nature, I know this will not give the gay community the peace they crave. Sure, initially there will be celebrations and great happiness in the gay community, but God loves all people and his Spirit draws them to himself. That “drawing to himself” is the uncomfortable feeling that something is not right that each person experiences in life. It turns many people correctly toward God. The only solution to that deep uncomfortable feeling is the acceptance of Christ into a person’s life. But that is a theological subject for another time.

So what happens now in America? It’s hard to say. We have entered uncharted territory, considering that approximately 118 million Americans (this number was compiled from Pew Research data) who are fairly active in their faith have just had their religious freedom compromised. Actually, 320 million Americans (our current total population) just had their religious freedom compromised. For now I do not expect much to change in the lives of most Americans. Nary a week has passed and the issue of gay marriage and religious freedom seems to fade from our collective consciousness as life goes on. But even now I suspect radicals in the gay community are preparing to challenge protestant, evangelical and Catholic churches and faith-based organizations to embrace gay marriage or lose their tax exempt status as well as government funding for many of the social programs offered by the church. I expect that the gay community will attempt to have the government take away tax benefits enjoyed by members of the clergy who refuse to perform gay marriages or let gay couples use church facilities as wedding venues. Christian colleges and K through 12 schools may face attacks if their doctrine, hiring and enrollment practices are not acceptable to the gay community. Christian for-profit businesses will continue to have a target painted on their backs, as recent history has already shown. Gay leaders will continue to insist that people of faith not be allowed to “hide” behind religious freedom (darn that pesky First Amendment) and “discriminate” against gay people.

If the gay community and secular society drive the church into the shadows, one unexpected consequence is that the church will likely grow even more than it did when it enjoyed unlimited religious freedom (Ironic). Another unintended outcome would be that more Americans will realize (when it’s too late) that the church and faith-based organizations carry a tremendous load of social services provided to the needy and marginalized in America and around the world. Will our financially-strapped government step in to fill the gap? Will the gay community? I doubt it.

It is also ironic that by turning to the heavy hand of the federal government (as well as manipulating the opinion of an often obtuse public) for redress of perceived grievances, the gay community has handed the federal government far too much power for any institution to safely wield and still guarantee the sacred rights that apply to all people. Personally I do not believe the church should turn the other cheek at this point in our nation’s history. But while we fight back, we likely need to examine ourselves and stop living hypocritical lives. Hopefully our coming dilemma will prod us to take a hard look at ourselves. The church engages in far too much sin, infighting and turf wars. Too many people in the church want to soak up God’s love without grappling with sin in their lives. Too many do not practice the art of loving each other. Too many pastors and priests have set a horrible example in the conduct of their personal and professional lives. Too many pastors and priests are willing to refuse to marry gay couples while overlooking the plethora of sins in the lives of heterosexuals; sins like cohabitation, substance abuse, gluttony, greed, gossip, anger, racism, absence of love for others, pride, serial marriages, unethical business dealings, just to name a few.

If something doesn’t change, the coming persecution will likely separate genuine Christians from the superficial. I don’t know, maybe God’s spirit will help us now that our comfortable church life could be a thing of the past. In the meantime, what can you do? Pray for our nation as much, or more, than we pray for our individual needs, and pay attention to potential leaders who want our votes. It is time to elect leaders who will appoint judges who know better than to sacrifice one part of the Constitution for another due to the pressures of political correctness.

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Josh Duggar: If only he’d been a nice boy like Bruce Jenner

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The picture to the left demonstrates the tragic irony of a world that hates Jesus. The picture shows two People magazine covers that I spotted in line at the grocery store today. The one on the left says “Goodbye Bruce, Hello Caitlyn” while the cover on the right says “The Duggars’ Dark Secrets.”

For some unknown reason, the reality TV show 19 Kids and Counting never popped up on my radar. I don’t know if the show is good or bad TV programming. But the brouhaha over Josh Duggar’s recent admission that he molested two of his sisters when he was about 14-years-old definitely caught my attention. Why? Because many people have gone apoplectic in their hatred for Josh and, it would seem, his entire Christian family. But after watching celebrities and media professionals vomit their vitriol at the Duggars, a question popped into my cranium: What if Josh had come out and said that he began to feel like a female in a male body when he was 14-years old? What if Josh said that he was confused back then and so he experimented sexually in a desperate bid to discover his sexual identity? Would his critics be so outspoken today? Would there be any criticism at all? (We all know the answer.) If only Josh had said he felt sorry for touching his sisters inappropriately but now that he is an adult he feels compelled to admit to himself and to the world that he is meant to live his life as a woman? Josh would be hailed as a hero by many of the same people currently heaping on the criticism.

Some people call the Duggars hypocrites because the Duggars supposedly tell others how to live when the Duggars had this big “secret” sin in their own family. Wow! How ironic that those who criticize the Duggars for hypocrisy would themselves be revealed as hypocrites if every detail of their childhood (and adulthood) were revealed. Let’s face it, many who castigate the Duggars are not doing so out of sensitivity and concern for Josh Duggar’s young victims. No, they do it because they hate Christians, certain forms of religion, and specifically they hate Jesus and what he represents. Also, unbelievers despise God’s moral code because it often does not align with their own. They cry hypocrite when they themselves are hypocrites. Here’s the truth: We are ALL hypocrites. Hypocrisy is part of our human nature. Any lout can spot hypocrisy among people and ideologies they loath. And more than a few can spot hypocrisy where there is none. But a wise person can also spot hypocrisy in his own camp.

I feel sorry for the folks who are dumping on the Duggars. Why? Because many of those who hate the Duggars have embraced the terminal ways of this world. Their very souls are in jeopardy and yet they believe with all their heart that they have gained the high moral ground. Their hatred for the Duggars is cut from the same cloth as the hate that ISIS has for Christians in the Middle East. The haters here just dress it up a bit nicer.

Let Them Eat Wedding Cake: Applying our principles

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Perhaps you’ve followed the hullabaloo in the news lately about Christian business owners at odds with LGBT activists, the media, the law, and public opinion over their refusal to provide goods and services at same-sex weddings on the basis of religious belief that marriage is designed by God for a man and woman. The state of Indiana also go into hot water for passing a law that would provide some legal cover for people of faith, such as Christian business owners, who feel it would violate their religious beliefs to provide goods and services at gay weddings. Several states have similar laws. Even the federal government has a law that provides protections based on religious belief and practice, though it was originally intended to cover Native Americans who wanted to use Peyote (a hallucinogenic plant) in their religious ceremonies.

LGBT activists have a propensity to label traditional Christians as bigots and haters. They paint Christianity with a broad irrational brush and have recruited many in society to jump on their bandwagon. When Christians tell the gay community and the world that we love them but we do not love their sin, well, that just goes in one ear and out the other.

Should Christians fight back in the legal, political, economic, and cultural arena? Well, allow me to play devil’s advocate here. Christian business owners (such as those who own bakeries, floral shops, and wedding photography studios) might want to consider the stories of Jesus at the Canaan wedding and Lot in Sodom and Gomorrah. How does a straight wedding in Canaan two thousand years ago apply to gay weddings today? Well, Jesus supplied wine at the Canaan wedding … a lot of wine. Maybe you only go to dry weddings, but I’ve been to some wet weddings where some of the guests were not just pleasantly buzzed on a glass of good wine. Nope! I’ve seen guests get hammered, tanked, and falling-down-drunk at weddings. According to the Bible, getting drunk is a sin. Should Jesus have refused to turn the water into wine because some of the guests were sinning by drinking to the point of inebriation? Granted, we do not know for certain that any of the guests at the Canaan wedding were drunk, but it’s a pretty good guess there were some.

Lot was a fairly righteous man who moved his livestock business to the region around Sodom and Gomorrah. You may recall that God destroyed Sodom and Gomorrah because everyone in those cities, except Lot and his family, were engaging in evil deeds all the time. The citizens of Sodom and Gomorrah had become so immersed in debauchery that they could not be redeemed. One of their sins was their enthusiasm for same-sex sexuality. I am guessing but it seems highly probable that Lot bought and sold goods and services with his neighbors despite their debaucheries. Since the entire population of Sodom and Gomorrah was guilty of such sins, how could Lot live among them and refuse to do business with them based on his religious beliefs?

Okay, I am no longer playing devil’s advocate. But the question remains: should Christians refuse to provide goods and services at gay weddings? If Christian business owners were to refuse to do business with all sinners outside the church, there would be no Christian businesses. Yes, situations arise where we need to take a stand based on moral conviction; I get it. We are to be salt in this world, a force that slows the process of decay. Still, I wonder if we are being overly selective about sins that inspire us to apply our principles. Perhaps God puts more emphasis on individual responsibility than we imagine. In other words, when people choose to sin, they own the sin; the person who supplied their tasteful wedding cake does not own the sin.
Apostle Paul has some thoughts on this topic as found in 1 Corinthians 5: 9-13 (NLT):

“When I wrote to you before, I told you not to associate with people who indulge in sexual sin. But I wasn’t talking about unbelievers who indulge in sexual sin, or are greedy, or cheat people, or worship idols. You would have to leave this world to avoid people like that. I meant that you are not to associate with anyone who claims to be a believer yet indulges in sexual sin, or is greedy, or worships idols, or is abusive, or is a drunkard, or cheats people. Don’t even eat with such people.
It isn’t my responsibility to judge outsiders, but it certainly is your responsibility to judge those inside the church who are sinning. God will judge those on the outside; …”

You see, we can’t expect unbelievers in the gay community to comprehend the spiritual implications of sexual sins. That would be like trying to convince Colonel Sanders that killing chickens is an abomination before the Lord. The bottom line is this: taking a stand on sins in the church is a higher priority, according to God’s word, than taking a stand on sins outside the church. This does not mean we should not push back against sin in our secular society. I wholeheartedly support the right of Christian business owners to push back against sin based on their religious conscience. But sin in the church is our first concern. Before a Christian bakery owner refuses to provide a cake at a gay wedding he might want to think about confronting the unmarried worship leader in his church who sleeps with someone in the congregation. I’m just saying.

Wild in the Wilderness: Reese Witherspoon gets serious

398px-Reese_Witherspoon_2009Reese Witherspoon (the actress who starred in cinema classics Legally Blonde and Sweet Home Alabama) is starring in Wild, a biographical drama about the destructive young adult life of Cheryl Strayed (oh the irony of her last name). The movie is based on Strayed’s successful memoir Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail, a book about a young woman’s journey of personal discovery in the wake of tragedy and reckless decisions including drug use and sexual promiscuity. This book and movie caught my attention because I’m interested in topics of sin and immoral behavior. Fortunately I aspire to remain non-judgmental about many issues of immorality (especially my own).

Yet whenever I hear about the type of rough story in Wild, I wonder if there was a special person in the life of the protagonist; you know, someone the protagonist cared for, someone who attempted to dissuade the protagonist from harmful behavior. Was there a parent, sibling, spouse, BFF, pastor, or priest who spoke up in an effort to get the reckless person to change direction? Did they go too far, or not far enough in their efforts? I’m intrigued about Strayed’s story, so I guess I’ll have to read the book . . . though I hear it contains some raunchy elements (which are either verboten or deliciously enticing, depending on your denominational affiliation).

Here’s where I’m going with this: What should we do when someone dear to us makes life decisions that conflict with God’s plan and loving boundaries for the way people ought to live? For example, what should parents do if their young adult son or daughter embarks on a series of casual sexual relationships outside of marriage? I suspect most parents would gravitate toward confronting their son or daughter’s harmful behavior in a firm but loving manner. If the errant son or daughter refuses to listen, what should a parent do next? Should they follow the steps described in Matthew 18 and confront their child with a witness? Should they take the problem before their church? If the son or daughter still won’t change their reckless behavior, should they cast them out of their family and the church to be ignored by all? Frankly, we don’t follow these Biblical steps very often these days. They seem … harsh and invasive to our modern sensibilities.

That said, it is important to understand there’s a difference between canceling the church membership of an unrepentant person engaging in serious sin (there would be no church members if we cancelled membership for ALL sins), and cutting the person off from ALL relationships. Some of the serious sins mentioned in the Bible that relate to this topic include: Idleness, busybodies (gossips), sexual immorality not even tolerated by pagans (I don’t wanna know what that looks like), denying the resurrection of Christ, stirring up division, and blasphemers. I suppose a fundamentalist theological scholar could make a Biblical argument for casting out an unrepentant person engaging egregious sins. Granted, there are situations where we must set a strict boundary and end a relationship for the sake of our own health and safety or the health and safety of others. On the other hand, when someone we love commits serious sin, one human reaction we might have is to hound the person we love about their sin. Our intentions might be laudable, but I don’t recall any Scriptures permitting us to hound someone about their sin. There might be some situations where hounding would work, but not many. The Prodigal didn’t hound his son. And I don’t recall Jesus hounding very many people about their sin, though he certainly hounded the Pharisees. It is important for us to understand that hounding a person about their sin can backfire. It is not uncommon for someone who has sinned to turn on anyone who hounds them about their immoral behavior. They eventually begin to twist the truth of their bad behavior and make the hounder out to be the bad guy. The scary thing is that they often come to believe their own perversions of the truth. At that point, only God can fix them. By the way, hounding a person is not the same as holding them legitimately accountable, but that’s a topic for another day.

Perhaps we overly focus on God doing some dramatic turnaround work on someone we love (and we often want God to do it in a hurry) when in reality God is also doing turnaround work in OUR life through the bad decisions of the person we love. Wrap your noodle around that! Maybe God is trying to reveal something about the nature of our relationship with the unrepentant loved one in our life. Maybe He is trying to show us that we are trying to be the perfect Christian via our own strength. Maybe He wants to show us some hypocrisy or pride that has crept into our own life. Maybe he wants to show us that we have crossed the line and are trying too hard to live by the law and have neglected God’s grace. Maybe he wants to show us that we do not know enough of the details and nuances of our loved one’s situation to form an accurate or appropriate judgment.

Maybe the best approach is for us to speak our piece about the sin and let the unrepentant person walk whatever path they choose . . . and continue to love them while God works. 1 Peter 4:8 says “Most important of all, continue to show deep love for each other, for love covers a multitude of sins.” I don’t think this verse is referring only to situations where people sin against us or wrong us. I’m just saying!

Is Phil Robertson Still Happy, Happy, Happy? PART 2

safe_imagePhil Robertson, from the Duck Dynasty TV show, has a wonderful ability to convey to the masses (via his appearance and antics) that the life of any Christian can be fun, edgy, and meaningful. In other words, all Christians don’t have to aspire to look and act like Billy Graham or Francis Chan (don’t get me wrong, I think Billy and Francis are dashing fellows, even though I’ve never seen them in camo and full beards). But it is encouraging that the Robertson family and Duck Dynasty are extremely popular with such a wide range of people right now. Even so, we ought to remember that America has become a fickle nation of fadaholics. The Roberson’s personify the meme. But how long will it last? I hope it lasts a long time and in a good way. Perhaps there is a third generation of Robertson’s waiting in the wings to take the reins.

No doubt the Robertson’s will have their struggles going forward. The paparazzi are always on the prowl to catch celebrity drama and screw-ups. I hope the Robertson’s financial success remains above board. I hope their marriages survive and thrive and that they don’t suffer a tragic moral fail along the way. I hope their children don’t suffer from the harmful side effects of celebrity. But even if some of the Robertson’s mess up because they are human, perhaps their fans, especially Christians, will be prepared to forgive their shortcomings.

Here’s the part that blows my mind: God may be directly using the Robertson’s to inspire millions of Americans (who might otherwise never give God or Christianity a second thought) to ponder the meaning of commitment to family, redemption, transformation, and choosing to live a life that follows Christ while at the same time enjoying life and being industrious. I find it exhilarating and ironic that God has used the Robertson’s to spread the message of God on such a large scale. American church leaders and congregations may have been waiting for a skilled and charismatic speaker, author, mega-church pastor or evangelist to reintroduce God to the people, but God may have other plans. It fascinates me that God may have raised-up the Robertson’s from the ranks of a congregation rather than relying mostly on the heavy hitters in pulpits around the country. But God is known for doing the unexpected now and then. The Robertson’s demonstrate a powerful reality for each person in the congregation: every believer does not need a doctorate in theology, a job as a pastor, and flawless skills in oration to communicate the faith.

The question remains: is Phil Robertson still happy, happy, happy? Other than Phil, Miss Kay may be the only person who knows for sure. I don’t know Phil but I’ve know men similar to Phil, and not much bothers them. I believe Phil Robertson is most likely still happy, happy, happy, because he’s had a life-changing encounter with God. Prior to God entering his life, Phil had seen first-hand how bad life can get. This brouhaha over Phil’s comments regarding sin probably doesn’t come close to the dark places he’s been in the past.

If nothing else, Uncle Si Robertson’s character proves that God has a tremendous sense of humor.

Is Phil Robertson Still Happy, Happy, Happy? PART 1

safe_imageRecently, Phil Roberson, of the popular Duck Dynasty TV show, gave an interview with GQ magazine (which made me wonder if GQ plans to feature camo attire for hipster men). The GQ interviewer asked Phil a question about homosexuality. Phil’s answer included his opinion on same-sex sex (from a heterosexual male perspective) as well as a reference to same-sex sex that is included in a list of several sins within the Bible. Since the interview, Phil has been demonized by the gay community and progressives as Satan incarnate.

Some of Phil’s comments were likely an attempt at humor. He is, after all, a purveyor of humor on Duck Dynasty. But Phil does not veil his Christian faith or his personal preferences. He draws his faith beliefs from the Bible. If you don’t believe the Bible is God’s word to humanity or if you don’t believe in a moral and loving God who sets safe boundaries for human behavior, what difference does it make to you what Phil Robertson believes? Nevertheless, enlightened progressives & representatives from the gay community called Phil a homophobic bigot and hater. They claim such bigotry is born of ignorance. That’s a two-way street. In other words, one could say the same of some in the gay community and their beliefs about Christianity.

Here’s the truth: real Christians (I’m assuming Phil is a real Christian) feel sad and empathetic when they see people hurt themselves by engaging in sins. That includes ALL sins, not just those that aren’t fashionable at the moment. For instance, greed is not currently in vogue so a great number of folks consider it socially acceptable to demonize the greedy. If Phil is indeed a genuine Christian, then his comments about sins, as described in the Bible, are not an attempt to hurt people or make them feel bad about themselves. It’s just the opposite. It is a straightforward (no pun intended) effort to encourage people to stop self-destructive behavior and draw closer to God. After all, anybody who knows Phil’s personal story knows that he has experienced first-hand the devastating effects of sin and poor choices.

I’m fairly confident Phil knows that people can’t be forced to stop making bad choices. People will ultimately do what they want, not necessarily what is best for them. Some people will even claim to be enlightened when they are actually living in darkness. But Phil’s conscience dictates that he speak truth as he understands it. Every American should take note of this and rediscover the sacred value of free speech and how necessary it is for the survival of the human spirit. Without free speech we will unavoidably become slaves to someone else’s tyranny. And free speech is not a commodity for a select few. If everybody doesn’t have free speech, nobody has it.

Real bigots are not concerned with helping the objects of their loathing. Haters are not concerned with helping the objects of their hatred. Homophobes are not concerned with helping the objects of their fear. Is Phil Roberson any of these ugly things? I don’t know for certain, but I doubt it. (Anyhow, I wonder if any gay duck hunters feel conflicted by Phil’s statements, though perhaps they have not yet come out . . . of the duck blind.)

Medicine and Forgiveness: How we mistreat our ills

MH900390526My medicine cabinet contains something shocking–medicine. Despite the fact that millions of Americans consume pharmaceuticals worth billions of dollars, we have developed a strange cultural tendency to decry the use of medication as somehow morally inferior. After a lifetime among fellow Christians, I can honestly say believers often share the same aversion to medicine. We might even be worse than the general population in our attitude about the use of medicine for healing.

Recently I listened to a Catholic priest being interviewed on the radio about the many confessions he had heard during his lengthy career. The priest said that a number of Christians he met for confession could not accept forgiveness because they had tethered their sins to clinical maladies. For instance, if John Smith has obsessive compulsive disorder that he believes is somehow connected to the sins in his life, it will be almost impossible for Smith to accept that he has been forgiven. Tragic! Even more shocking was the priest’s revelation that the vast majority of believers with a psychological disorder refused to pursue treatment. He said only 2 out of 20 would ever follow-up on his suggestion that they needed professional clinical help that might include counseling and/or medication. Many of these folks were convinced that their suffering was related to sin rather than something clinical. They refused to get the help they desperately needed. They resigned themselves to the belief that suffering was part of God’s plan for their lives and it was just their cross to bear. To this I say bull$&!#.

Back in my day (stop rolling your eyes, millennials), the medical profession was beginning to explode with new drugs and ways of treating diseases. Many of those diseases had formerly meant an automatic death sentence for people. We called them miracle drugs and we viewed doctors and surgeons with awe. These days I know people who argue with their doctor about almost everything. I am not suggesting that we idolize fallible medical professionals. And certainly the pharmaceutical companies have made grave (no pun intended) errors. But should we default to stigmatizing all medicines and their use?

In Luke 10:30-35, we read the story of the Good Samaritan. Recall that the Samaritan bandaged the victim’s wounds, pouring on oil and wine.

In 1 Timothy 5:23, Paul tells some sick people in the church to stop drinking only water and start using a little wine for their stomach and frequent illnesses. Back then, wine was used like a medicine (today it seems to turn people into snobs). They didn’t have the water purification systems we have today. In essence, Paul was dispensing medical advice for their digestive health.

Here is my point: It is OK to take appropriate medicine for a legitimate injury or illness. We get no moral or heavenly kudos for going the natural route at the expense of our health. There is no glory in needless suffering. Of course it is best to eat right, exercise, and embrace healthy lifestyles. But using medicine does not make us worse Christians. At worst, denial about our ailments and refusing medicine can put us at risk of faulty thinking about sin, suffering, and forgiveness. God’s forgiveness does not require that we choose to suffer. Choosing to suffer needlessly is just obtuse, not noble.

Stop Having Fun

MH900386362Christians get accused of trying to use the political process and laws to stop people from having fun and experiencing fulfilling lives. (Ironically, the political process is the definition of un-fun.) Many folks believe entertainment, fulfillment, jesting, and gaiety (just so there’s no jesting about gaiety) would mostly be eliminated from society if Christians had their way. The question Christians should ask is: Should we shove our values down the throats of adults who have little comprehension of all the spiritual and physical ramifications for immorality? Heck, I’m not certain most Christians understand all the ramifications. When it comes to sin, adults have freewill. We’ve had freewill since the Garden. (Of course some of the “fun” sins I’ve indulged as an adult fall into the category of childish . . . . which though ironic, won’t get me off the hook in God’s eyes.)

Some of the fun yet immoral things people enjoy clearly cause physical or psychological harm. The harmful effects of other fun activities prohibited in the Bible are not so clear and we take it on faith that God does not want people to indulge them because they harm us in some way. Granted, we have an obligation to prevent behavior that harms people and society, especially behavior that harms the most innocent and vulnerable among us. On some issues we need to take a hard stand. But again, we can only take it so far before freewill trumps our efforts to protect adults from harm.

Last year I got hooked on Duck Dynasty. It’s a TV show about a multi-generation family (the Robertson’s) who found financial success making duck calls for hunters. At first, the Robertson brothers, uncle, and father come across as a bit edgy with their long hair, beards, and Southern drawl. But as you watch more episodes, you become aware that these guys are just having a good time, despite conflicts and setbacks in life. The program shows how faith is a key component of their life.

Some Christians say that God doesn’t promise us happiness or fun times. I suppose there is fair amount of truth in that theological argument. On the other hand, I don’t recall God promising us nothing but suffering in this life. Sure, we will have problems, but we can often choose whether to have some fun along the way. The alternative is to become a dour bitter Christian who has no joy in life and takes delight in thwarting the joy and fun of others. Genuine Christians with a truly transformed heart don’t like to see people have fun in sinful ways because of the damage it causes. They love people so much that they hate to see them harmed.

Before you theologians point out that I don’t know the difference between joy and fun, let me just say that the two are not mutually exclusive. In fact, the demonstration of the ability to have fun can be a great testimony of the presence of deep joy in a Christian’s life. So don’t feel guilty about having fun. It is possible to have a great deal of fun without slipping into debauchery.

Tempted

In Matthew 26:41 Jesus tells his disciples: “Watch and pray that you may not enter into temptation. The spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak.”

In this verse the word “Watch” means to give strict attention, to be cautious. It almost sounds like temptation is a place we can stumble into by accident, if accident you call it. It’s not necessarily a physical place, but a place just before an action.

I was at the California State Fair a few days ago with my family. After a couple hours of seeing the sights, I headed for the rest room. Ahead of me were two young ladies who were staggering (not in a flattering way) because they were drunk. As they approached the rest room, one turned left towards the women’s side while the other approached the men’s side. She was almost all the way in before the warning bells went off in her pickled brain. Looking about she suddenly realized she was in a crowd of the opposite gender. She did an abrupt about-face and headed straight out to find the women’s side. The State Fair never disappoints with endless opportunities for entertainment.

Still, who among us hasn’t, through inattention, nearly walked into the wrong rest room? Temptation and sin are like that. If we are not constantly on guard we will end up in the wrong place. It’s often a place where we, strangely enough, already know temptation has a strong influence over us. That’s why Jesus instructs us to also pray. When we pray, God gives us knowledge and wisdom to identify and avoid the steps that lead to temptation. Sometimes he even intervenes by giving us the sudden strength to reject temptation and walk away from a sin. With God’s help we can chisel away at the power of sin in our lives. This is what the theologians call the process of sanctification.

Why fight temptation and sin? To be free!

Innocence

There is a scene in the Lord of the Rings movie where Frodo, Sam, Pippin and Merry return to the Shire after their long dangerous quest. They look around at their fellow countrymen and see that the people and the Shire seem different, but in reality it was they who had changed. Frodo especially had changed as a result of suffering a wound inflicted by an evil enemy. The knife that stabbed him in the shoulder was evil and the wound never completely healed.

As a young man I thought I was sophisticated by dabbling in many of the sins the world offers. I thought fellow Christians who never indulged the world’s sins to be simpletons. At middle age I still carry many of the physical, emotional, and spiritual scars of those sinful dalliances. Those “simple” Christians now seem wise. Even though we can find redemption and forgiveness, it doesn’t always mean the scars from wounds caused by sins go away. Even Christ has scars in his hands and feet, and he was sinless, though his scars were inflicted by sinful people. Sin is the most harmful and toxic thing we will encounter in this life. Sin even had the ability, indirectly, to scar the Son of God. That’s how dangerous it is.

When it comes to sin, there is something to be said for remaining in a state of innocence. In the Bible, God expresses his pleasure with innocence, including innocence from curiosity and experimentation with sin and having no desire to explore other gods and forms of spirituality.

In Matthew 10:16 Jesus says, “Behold, I am sending you out as sheep in the midst of wolves, so be as wise as serpents and innocent as doves.”

In this verse I think Christ is trying to tell us that we should not live under a rock, so to speak, when it comes to living in the world. But he also warns us to remain in a state of innocence. It is in our best interest to remain childlike in our trust in Christ while passing through this life, but also aware of the many manifestations of sin in our cultures. It can be a difficult path to walk.

I don’t believe God wants us to be ignorant of fire; he just doesn’t want us to play with fire (metaphorically).