An Open Letter To Congress

With copies to Senator Martha McSally, Senator Kyrsten Sinema, Congressman Paul Gosar, and Congressman Raul Grijalva.

I’m a pastor, not a politician.

I usually focus on theological, moral, church leadership, religious, and family issues, rather than political issues. But I love my country and I take a deep interest in our history and our future. And since the United States Constitution gives me the right to write and speak openly, I am publishing this open letter to Congress as a whole. 

Since I mentioned the constitution, let me start by reminding our senators and congressmen of your place in our constitution. The legislative branch of the United States is described in “Article 1.” A description of your work follows immediately after the short preamble (“We the people . . .) that we love so deeply. Your job is described before the work of either our executive or judicial branches. That prime constitutional position means that your work is highly important and highly necessary. 

So my message to you is short, simple and straightforward.

Do your job. Our nation is in immediate need of strong legislation to deal with the issues we face. And as you do your job, I will do my job and lead my church to do the same. Biblically and morally, our job is pray for you, to respect you, and to work with you as we can.

I can see how it might be more fun to hold hearings in front of the cameras, especially if it leads to the embarrassment of the other party. I can also see how it might be exciting to conduct investigations in the hope that it will help your party in the next election. I know that it is controversial (and therefore attention-getting) to subpoena cabinet members and call for documents.

I know that those things are part of your job, but they are secondary. Your primary job is to legislate. It’s your job to propose, debate, modify, and then pass bills that are needed. I am well aware that the President can veto the bills you pass and send them back to you. That’s his job. However, fear of a veto shouldn’t stop you from doing your job. America has some issues that cannot be solved by either the President or the courts. 

Currently Democrats complain that President Trump has made too many executive decisions. Republicans voiced the same complaint about President Obama. And, of course, some of these actions have been modified, delayed, or nullified by the courts. But I won’t criticize either the Presidents or the courts too harshly, for some of their actions were necessary because of the inaction of Congress to address the issue.

It’s your job to legislate. We have many issues that are crying out for responsible legislation. Here are a few of them:

  • We need a responsible budget. Our national debt is more than our entire national gross domestic product. (This hasn’t occurred since the end of World War 2.) Kicking the can down the road a few months at a time is highly irresponsible. We need a reasonable budget that will give us the government we need and still reduce our debt. It won’t be easy to do but it’s your job.
  • We need a solution to Social Security. It is unsustainable in its current form. The longer changes are put off, the more drastic (in the form of higher taxes or reduced benefits) the solutions will have to be. I know that any proposed fix will anger some people, but it’s your job to fix it—soon.
  • We need an immigration solution. I know that this is a highly contentious issue, but we need immediate solutions. We can argue all day about whether we face “an emergency,” a “crisis,” or a “problem.” No matter what you call it, nearly all Americans agree that our immigration policy needs your attention. The current flood of asylum seekers is crying out for your attention. And while you’re at it, we also need a long-term fix for a weak border, overwhelmed ports of entry, a solution to the ease of bringing in drugs and weapons, and an answer to “Dreamers.” Of course, any laws you propose will be heavily criticized for our country is divided on what is best, but it’s your job to deal with the hard issues and then defend your legislation.
  • We need improved infrastructure. National roads are in bad shape. Bridges are collapsing. National Parks are in disrepair. Airports and ports are overcrowded. And fixing all of this will cost money that is hard to come by. There is not an easy solution to fixing our infrastructure, but it’s your job to find a way to do the hard jobs.
  • We need improved healthcare and insurance. We have incredible doctors and technology in America, but the costs are quickly getting out-of-hand for most of us. Again, this is a highly challenging issue, but we’ve elected you to deal with the tough issues.
  • We need an answer on climate and the environment. Like every other issue I’ve mentioned, there is much disagreement on the problem and the solution, but we need a legislative branch that will look for long-term solutions. At the very least, most Americans see the need for clean air, cost-affordable clean energy, reduced CO2 emissions, and cooperation with other nations. It’s your job to do something about it. 

You get my point. I could bring up dozens—even hundreds—of issues to work on. But from my far-from-Washington-point-of-view, most of you seem to be more focused on investigations, hearings, and running for re-election than you are on legislation.

I understand the need for some of these secondary issues. But I’ve always told my children in school that the extra-curricular activities and after-hour items are fun, but don’t forget your real job.  If you’re a student, your real job is to go to class and learn.  If you’re in Congress, your real job is to legislate.

So please do your job.

I do want you to know that the church will do our job. We will pray for you. And, of course, because we won’t always agree with you, we will voice our opinions, but we will do so respectfully. But we will challenge you to do your job and work on the issues that are crying out for solutions.

In a divided Congress, that means that you can’t continue just to vote with your party on every issue. Congress is simply too divided for that model to work. And since you will need to work across the aisle, you should probably avoid the frequent verbal potshots many of you seem to enjoy. You may need to offend your own political base in order to compromise and actually pass meaningful legislation. And you might even have to be willing to sacrifice your political future in order to get things done.  

Proposing, debating, and passing meaningful legislation is your job.

It’s time you did it.

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Happy Earth Day!

Today is Earth Day. It isn’t normally considered a Christian holiday.  But I think it should be.

earthUnfortunately, I have some Christian friends who consider Earth Day as an anti-Christian holiday, because they lump anything from the environmental movement into the “anti-god and almost atheistic” category.  I have many Republican friends who ignore environmental issues altogether because they are normally thought of as a Democratic party issue, and they don’t want to be aligned with the “other party.”  And I have some Christian friends who are so “heavenly-minded” that they believe they can ignore earthly issues altogether.  After all, as one friend told me, “It’s all going to burn anyway.”

I recognize that there are those in the environmental movement who deny the existence of a Creator.  And I have no doubt that there are many politicians who promote environmental issues that I do not want to be affiliated with.  And I believe strongly in heaven and have dedicated my life to preaching Jesus, so I understand the thoughts of the “heavenly minded.”

But I don’t allow the extremists who deny God or who have different political or theological views to alter my own personal beliefs.  I see taking care of our environment—planet Earth—as a Biblical issue.

I believe strongly in the Creator and the Bible He has inspired.  The very first verse of the Bible proclaims, “In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth.”  I see His Creation as one of His crowning achievements.

The more I study and read (and look at the pictures) the more obvious it is that our universe is an awesome reflection of an awesome God.  And though I’ve seen only a tiny portion of Earth (mostly limited to the western United States), I recognize that it is incredibly beautiful.  I’m amazed at the loveliness and the diversity of the land, the waters, and the creatures that inhabit Earth, and I want to see more.

Unfortunately, however, we’re doing an excellent job of trashing the land, polluting the air and the oceans, and wasting our resources.  As Christians, we need to do more to take care of what God has created.

And so my reason for recognizing Earth Day is simple.  If God created the Earth—and He did—then we are under an obligation to take care of it. We are, to use a Biblical world, “stewards” or managers of God’s creation.  We are to keep it clean.  We are to use our resources as wisely as possible.  We are to clean up our own messes.  We are to keep it as unpolluted as possible.  And we are to protect the land, the air, the waters, and the animals that inhabit it.

Earth Day, then, is a great day to recognize and celebrate God’s creation!

I’m not a global or even national decision maker, so I have a limited ability to make a huge impact.  But I can do small things.  And if others join me, it can make a big impact.

Here are some small things and some practical steps that I am undertaking to help manage God’s creation well:

  •  I will stop using drive-throughs. Cars pollute more at idle speeds than at operating speeds.  By going in, I save gas, reduce pollution, and get to walk instead of sit.  I’ve also found that lines are usually shorter inside than outside, so I often save time.
  • I will reduce my own plastic use. I’ve stopped purchasing disposable plastic water bottles.  Instead, I use refillable bottles with a filter.  I get good water and I don’t pollute.  And over the long-term, I save money.  When I have no choice but to use a disposable cup, I don’t use a lid or a straw.
  • I will compost instead of throwing away food and yard waste, saving land-fill space.
  • I will drive less and walk more to limit the use of gasoline. In public buildings, I will use stairs instead of elevators.  (It’s better for my health and it reduces electricity usage.)
  • I will watch my energy usage more closely by using programmable thermostats and LED lighting—and making sure I turn things off when not in use.
  • This one may be hard, because I like meat, but I will find ways to reduce my intake of meat.  Experts say the production of meat uses an abundance of resources and energy compared to other food sources.
  • When I’m hiking (which I like to do), I will stay on trails and I will pick up trash that others have left behind.
  • I will plant trees, for nothing reduces carbon in the atmosphere better than trees. And since I live in a desert, I will choose drought-resistant trees that don’t waste water.
  • And I will consider a politician’s stance on the environment as one of many issues I want to know before I vote.

Will my small changes make a huge impact?  No.  But if all of us make small changes, the impact will be huge.  Each one of us can do our part.

God created our entire universe and our planet.  It is beautiful. It is His handiwork.  God is the Creator, the designer, and the one that brought it all into existence. And it is incredible.

If you want to call me an environmentalist, that’s okay with me.  But please understand me.  I don’t worship creation.  I’m not going to chain myself to trees and you most likely won’t see me marching in environmental rallies. Bud since I worship the Creator, I will take care of his creation.

I like to think of myself as a Biblical environmentalist.  And there should be more of us.

Happy Earth Day!

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Love Your Wife After You’re Gone

I love my wife.

I met Dawn when I was 14.  By age 16, I was, to use a word from the old movie Bambi, hopelessly twitterpated.  We dated for 4 years, and we have now been married for over 40 years.

I love her, and I would do anything for her.

And I want to do some things for her now that will show my love for her after I’m dead.

I don’t know the future, of course, but there is a good chance that I will die before she does.  About 80% of married men will die before their wives.  Sadly, I’ve ministered to and helped many widows who were completely unprepared for life after their husband died, especially if he took care of the family finances.

Some of the men, frankly, had done a horrible job of preparing for their wives after their death.  They had structured their finances in such a way that much of the family income died when they died.  Or they had spent so much of their retirement while they were alive that there was little left when they were gone.  Or they had left their finances in such poor shape that even an accountant would have had a hard time putting together a plan.

Other men had done a good job with their finances, but a poor job of communicating details to their wives, so many widows had no clue about their basic financial issues.  How much was still owed (if anything) on the house?  Was there any life insurance, and, if so, how much?  Where did he keep the copies of paperwork such as wills, life insurance paperwork, and paid–and unpaid–bills?  How much money was in checking, savings, investments, and retirement accounts?  How were those accounts accessed?  How were the pensions set-up to deal with death?

One man I knew was relatively organized, and he kept all of his financial dealings on his computer . . . but no one knew his password.

I don’t want Dawn to have to deal with the tough issues I’ve seen other widows deal with.  I’ve planned my finances so that there should be adequate money after I’m gone.  I’ve taught my children that the most important thing to do after I’m gone is to take care of their mom.   And I have put together a notebook with all pertinent information that she will need to know.  She knows where it is, and copies of it are given each year to my two oldest daughters.  (My kids laughingly call it the “Dad’s Dead Notebook.”)  In the notebook, she will find these things, which I update at least once per year:

  • A “net worth” statement.  This shows the value of all of our assets (accounts, our home, our cars, our retirement accounts, etc.) and our liabilities (loans, credit cards, etc.)  A glance (it’s not that complicated since we have no debts other than our mortgage) and she knows our overall financial situation.

  • A list of all our accounts of all types.  This list gives all pertinent information.  For bank accounts, I give the type of account, name of the bank, account numbers, and how I access it–including passwords if I use it online.  I include all utility accounts, with a list of how each utility is paid and when auto-payments come out of our accounts.  I even include my social media accounts, so she can access and close them out.

  • A summary of wills, insurance, and retirements accounts.  My wife is, of course, the primary beneficiary of all that I own, so I want her to know who to call and what to do if I die.  The list also gives the location of the original paperwork.

  • A statement of my funeral wishes.  She won’t have to wonder what I want, who to talk to, what songs to sing.  She knows, for example, that I don’t want a viewing and that I do want to be cremated.  It’s flexible enough that she can still make decisions, but it’s specific enough that she knows that I don’t want any extra money spent.

  • A final love note.

 I love my wife.  And I want her to know that.

Even after I’m gone.

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The Christian and Civil Disobedience

Twice in my recent sermon series (Basic Christian Growth, based on the Book of Acts) and once in my Christmas series (when we got to the Magi), I made a comment that raised some eyebrows.  I said, “If there is a conflict between the law of the land and the command of God, we must choose to obey God.”   I based this on the clear teaching of the Bible.  The Apostles chose to disobey the Sanhedrin in Israel and the Magi chose to obey God instead of reporting back to King Herod as they had been instructed.

Apparently, many people started thinking about these things and asking me questions.  “When is it appropriate to disobey the law of your nation?”  “How do you justify it to yourself and others if you do so?”  “Is what is typically called ‘civil disobedience’ in American life appropriate for the Christian?  And, several made it personal, “Would you—Pastor Jack—ever commit an act of civil disobedience?”

It is a touchy subject for Americans, for we like to see ourselves as a Christian Nation and we have therefore equated obeying the law with obeying God.  And there is strong Biblical justification for doing so, for there are many passages such as this one from the Apostle Paul in Romans 13:1-2, “Let everyone be subject to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except that which God has established. The authorities that exist have been established by God. Consequently, whoever rebels against the authority is rebelling against what God has instituted, and those who do so will bring judgment on themselves.”  Peter said something very similar in 1 Peter 2:13-14, “Submit yourselves for the Lord’s sake to every human authority: whether to the emperor, as the supreme authority, or to governors, who are sent by him to punish those who do wrong and to commend those who do right.”

Clearly, the default position for believers is to obey the law of the land.  This is what God wants for us, and He has promised that He will bring judgment on those who disobey.

Nevertheless, there are numerous examples of civil disobedience in the Bible.  And there are enough of them for us to take notice and modify our thinking about obeying the law of the land:

  • The Hebrew midwives in Exodus 1 (Shiphrah and Puah) refused to kill baby boys as they had been instructed by the Pharaoh.

  • Rahab refused to obey the King of Jericho and turn in the Hebrew spies; instead she hid them and helped them escape. (Joshua 2)

  • A prophet named Obadiah hid 100 of the Lord’s prophets from Jezebel, in direct disobedience to the Queen. (I Kings 18)

  • Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego refused to obey King Nebuchadnezzar and bow down before a false God. (Daniel 3)

  • Daniel was told he couldn’t pray to God; he did so. (Daniel 6)

  • Jesus, of course, was crucified because He defied Roman and Jewish law.

  • And the entire New Testament was, at least in part, a declaration of the believer’s right to obey God rather than man and to preach Jesus even if it led to imprisonment, beatings, or death. (See Acts 4:18-20 and Acts 5:29, in which Peter declared, “We must obey God rather than human beings.”

The “default” position of the believer is to obey the law of the land, but there is a clear exception to that position.  When there is a conflict between God’s law and man’s law, we must choose to obey God’s law rather than man’s law.  It may bring penalties and even death and we willingly take that risk, but our ultimate allegiance is to God.

That exception, however, is not to be taken lightly.  We cannot claim—apart from clear Biblical support—that God led us to disobey a law of the land.  We cannot take verses out of context to support our right to disobey a law of the land we do not like.  It is not enough to claim some vague spiritual sense of direction from God that is not supported by Scripture.  If we are going to choose to disobey a law of the land, we need clear and overwhelming Biblical support to do so.

Martin Luther King, Jr., thought deeply about this issue.  In his Letter From A Birmingham Jail, he described civil disobedience in terms of “unjust laws.” He says that there are both “just” laws and “unjust laws.”  An unjust law “is a code that is out of harmony with the moral law” of God.  We are obligated both morally and legally to obey just laws, but we have a moral responsibility to resist and even disobey unjust laws when they violate God’s law.

That’s why Shiphrah, Puah, Rahab, Shadrach, Meshach, Abednego, Daniel, Obadiah, the Magi, Jesus, Paul, Peter, and hundreds of believers could disobey the law of their land.  They chose to obey higher and more important laws—God’s laws.

That’s why William Tyndale could honor God by translating the Bible into English at great personal risk in defiance of the King.  That’s why Harriett Tubman could defy the law of the land and lead slaves to freedom.  That’s why Corrie Ten Boom could choose to hide Jews during the holocaust.  That’s why Rosa Parks could choose to sit in front of the bus.  And that’s why millions of believers meet to worship Jesus in countries where it is illegal to do so.

We are called to obey the law of the land.  But when there is a clear conflict between the law of the land and God’s law, our greatest responsibility and ultimate allegiance is to God’s law.

Why is this important?

It’s important for us to know because we are not a perfect “Christian nation.”  Our laws will not always be in line with God’s laws.  And, to tell the truth, our laws have never been perfectly in line with God’s laws.  We’ve had laws that allowed slavery.  We’ve had laws that protected and promoted racism even after slavery was abolished.  We’ve had laws that discriminate unfairly against women.  We have laws that protect the right to abortion.  And we’ve had otherwise “just” laws that were enforced “unjustly” against minorities or to protect the rich.

We’re now beginning to see laws (or court decisions) that limit religious freedom in various ways, and our fear is that our right to evangelize and promote our faith may be curtailed, just as it was in the days of the Apostles.  We will resist these laws, and even break them if necessary.

I’m not a crusader.  You’re not likely to see me marching in the streets or bringing signs to rallies.  Though I’ve been tempted, I’m not likely to run for public office to change the laws.  God’s called me to be a pastor, not (at least not yet) a politician.

But I want to make one thing perfectly clear.  My first allegiance will be to God and His laws.  So I will worship Him.  And I will accept His call to love people—all people.  I will stand up for the unborn, help the homeless, care for the aliens in our land, visit the criminals, and seek justice for those who have had it denied.  I will preach Jesus and follow Him.  I will take a stand against sin, but I will love the sinner and err—if I must err—on the side of grace

At the same time, I will love the USA and I gladly pledge allegiance to our country.  I will obey her laws, respect her leaders, pay my taxes, vote faithfully, and pray for my country.

But my first allegiance is to Jesus. If I have to commit an act of “civil disobedience” in order to follow Him, I will do so and accept whatever penalty comes my way.

I love our country, and I will follow our laws in every respect—except when they violate God’s laws.

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My Response to Sex Abuse in the Church

The Houston Chronicle published an investigative report last week detailing reports of sex abuse in Southern Baptist Churches.  It was an honest article detailing the awful trauma that comes with sex abuse, especially when it occurs in the church.  It was a horrible reminder that sex abuse is not just a Roman Catholic issue.  It is an issue that every church and every denomination must understand, deal with effectively, and take immediate and effective action to make sure that it doesn’t happen in their church.  No one can honestly say “it won’t happen here” but we must all say “we will do everything possible to make sure it doesn’t happen here.”

Before sharing what we do to make sure it won’t happen in our church, let me offer a few words to those who have been hurt by sex abuse.  It is a horrible crime with tragic results, and we will do everything we can to listen to you honestly, help you, love you, offer healing, and put behind bars those who have committed a crime.  We promise not to ignore your cries for help or to put the reputation of our church ahead of what has happened to you.

And if it happens in our church—or if we hear an accusation of sex abuse—we have already decided to immediately call in the proper authorities.  Quite simply, we are not trained to do investigations, so our response is to immediately report the accusation to our local police department.  Too many times, well-meaning but improperly-trained church leaders have tried to find out the truth and have failed.  In other cases, well-meaning church leaders have been unable to overcome their built-in bias.  And in a few tragic cases, less-than-well-meaning church leaders have made the decision that protecting the reputation of their church is more important than dealing appropriately with the abuse.

Our decision—made ahead of time—is that we will get outside help from trained investigators and cooperate fully with them if we hear of any illegal activity.

More importantly, though, we are doing everything we can to make sure that sex abuse does not happen in our church.  As a result, we have taken these steps:

  • We hold a training session every year for all of our workers who work with children.

  • We run a background check on every staff member in our church and every volunteer that works in our nursery, preschool, children, and teen ministries. No one is allowed to work with children in any capacity until they have passed a background check.

  • We insist that two approved and unrelated workers are always present when working with children. No one ever has the chance to supervise children when they are the only worker present.

  • We have windows in all of our classrooms so that parents can observe everything that is happening.

  • We do not allow private texting or social media messaging between any of our workers and a child or teen. We use only group messages that include another approved worker.

  • When we are counseling adults, we try to arrange it so that men counsel men and women counsel women. When this is not possible, we always counsel with the door open and another staff member in the vicinity.

  • We do not allow staff members of the opposite sex to travel or ride together unless there are at least three people in the vehicle. And we do not tolerate any sexual or flirtatious talk between our staff members.

The bottom line is that we want our church to be what it should be—a safe place for everyone.  We don’t want our children hurt in any way.  We don’t want our members to feel put-down or pressured.  We don’t want the reputation of our church—or of God’s work—to be tarnished in any way.

Sometimes, our guidelines hinder us or slow us down, but that’s okay.  Sometimes our guidelines mean we need additional workers, but that’s okay.  Sometimes, our guidelines mean that we don’t have enough workers to conduct a ministry that we want to do, and that’s okay also.

The safety and well-being of our members, guests, and their families are of great importance to us.  And we pray—and have adopted guidelines accordingly—so that no abuse will ever occur in our ministry.

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The Good News and Bad News About Abortion

The recent decision by the State of New York to pass an “abortion-until-birth” law has refueled our public abortion debate.  But rather than focus on the specifics of that abhorrent new law, perhaps this is a good time to back up and look at the bigger fight against abortion.

There’s both good news and bad news in the ongoing fight against abortion.

Before I give you the good-and-the-bad, let me state my position succinctly.  I believe that human life is created in the image of God, beginning at conception.  As believers in God, we are called to protect human life whenever possible, including the unborn.  Once conception occurs, there is an independent human life that warrants our love and our protection.

I understand the standard pro-choice arguments.  Obviously, I know that pregnancy impacts a female more than a male.  Many, therefore, see abortion as fundamentally a women’s right issue, but this ignores the fact that there is another life involved.  I also know that pregnancy is risky and that sometimes the life of the mother is at risk.  (My short answer is to save both lives when possible.  In the very few cases where that’s not possible, tough decisions must be made.)  I know that there are highly traumatic cases such as rape, and the easy answer—but not the right one—is to abort.

As human beings (and especially as believers), we must do everything we can to protect, nurture, and love all human life.

The mom.

The dad.

And the baby.

With that premise stated, let me give you the good news and the bad news about abortion.

The good news is that the number of abortions in the United States of America has decreased dramatically since we hit a peak of well over 1.5 million abortions in 1990.  Not all states report abortions, so it’s hard to get exact numbers, but both pro-choice and anti-abortionists agree that abortions have dropped by about 50%, despite the fact that laws, public opinion, and drugs have made it easier to get an abortion.  We can celebrate the fact that we’re making progress.

The bad news is that current political and demographic trends indicate that widespread support for abortion rights may well increase in the future.  It’s hard to pin down firm statistics on such a hotly-debated topic, but from 57-66% of Americans support keeping abortion legal.  Those numbers are even higher among teens and young adults.  Unless there is a major shift in public opinion on this issue, abortion will be supported by an increasingly larger number of Americans.

So what can those of us who are opposed to abortion do?

  • Fight abortion first on a personal level rather than just a political level. We must continue to lovingly teach, preach, and share our belief in the uniqueness of human life.  We may-or-may-not be able to change our laws, but we can influence and help those young ladies in our families, our neighborhoods, and our churches.

  • Offer real love—and not just a sermon—to those who are contemplating abortion. They need to know that a family, a friend, or a church will stand by them and help them do what is right, whether that includes keeping the baby or putting it up for adoption.

  • Offer real love rather than judgment to those who have become pregnant outside-of-marriage. The belief that “I’m going to be hated and judged in my family and my church” has led many young ladies to turn to those outside of the church for comfort and advice.  It’s no surprise that they will often be counseled to get an abortion when they seek advice outside of their family and church.

  • Make sure that birth control is widely and easily available. I know this is controversial among some groups (such as Roman Catholics.)  I’d much rather a young lady and a young man wait until marriage to consummate their relationship and I will continue to teach, preach, and encourage this lifestyle, but our culture has become so sex-crazed and sexuality is so public, that this is no longer the norm.  Limiting the number of pregnancies via birth control will limit the number of abortions.

  • Support laws and organizations that promote adoption and make it easier and cheaper for babies to be adopted. The adoption of a baby is a healthy abortion alternative, but private adoptions typically cost from $25,000 – $50,000 and take a great deal of time.  More babies could be adopted (and kept out of the foster care system) if it were easier, faster, and cheaper.  The longer a child is in the foster system, the less likely it will be adopted.

  • Support Pregnancy Centers and clinics (with your finances, volunteer hours, and prayers) that offer abortion alternatives and that help young mothers cope with their pregnancies. Providing love, medical care, parenting classes, material assistance, and adoption-help go a long way to give pregnant teens and young adults the confidence and skills they need to cope with a pregnancy and the decisions that follow that pregnancy.

  • Pray for a spiritual and moral awakening in America. If American hearts are changed and we once again value all human life then abortions will decrease even without the need for laws or court decisions.

  • And lastly, support laws and politicians that agree with us on this issue. I put it last because I believe that abortion is more a moral and spiritual issue than a political one.  Furthermore, laws against abortion may not do much to lower abortion rates.  Many people (rightfully, I’m afraid) believe that restricting abortion rights may cause a huge increase in unsafe and unhealthy “underground” abortions.  We can accomplish more through prayer, teaching, and love than we can by legislative or judicial action.   Still, though, I still seek leaders with the character and courage to stand up for the unborn.

There’s good news on abortion, and we can celebrate that fact.  There’s also bad news on abortion, which reminds us that we have much work still to do.  Keep praying.  Keep loving.  Keep teaching.  Keep writing.  And keep preaching.

We have a long way to go before we change the hearts and attitudes of Americans.

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Pro-Life From The Womb To The Tomb (Reposted)

I originally published this last year.  I republish it this week in honor of Sanctity of Life Sunday, which is celebrated on January 20 of this year.

I am a pro-lifer, but I want you to understand that being pro-life is much more than being against abortion.

I agree with “Choose Life,” as long as you understand that it is much more than an anti-abortion slogan.

I have a deep respect for all human life, from the womb to the tomb.  I want to love, help, and care for all human beings, of any age, ethnicity, situation, background, and faith.  It is a deeply held conviction that human life is special, unique, and almost sacred.  This deep respect and love for human beings is based upon the Bible teaching that all human beings are made in the image of God.

Therefore, my love for humanity and individuals is not limited to the unborn, to American citizens, to whites, to English speakers, or to Christians.  I try to live in such a way that my love and respect for human beings is not limited by any factor or situation.  It’s a human thing based on a God thing.

Therefore, let me point out some specifics of what I mean when I say I am “pro-life” and what I believe it should mean to every Christian:

  • I believe that life begins at conception and that it should be valued from that moment. I will let others argue the definitions and the legalities; but I do believe that from the moment of conception, there are two lives at stake—the mom and the baby.  It’s not just a women’s right issue.  There is another human life and that life also has value.  So when I speak against abortion, I am not speaking against a women’s right to choose what to do with her own body.  I am standing up for the rights of another human being.

  • But I believe that pro-lifers need to do much more than just speak against abortion. We need to work hard with mothers and fathers to give them the health, the nutrition, and the skills they need to be good parents.  That is why our Pregnancy Center spends the bulk of its time and resources on counseling women, teaching parenting skills, and providing clothing, diapers, and other necessary items to families.  We do share our pro-life opinions, but we focus our energy on helping anyone who shows up regardless of their situation, opinion, or decision.

  • I believe that pro-lifers need to take a strong stand for children—especially hurting children. We should work hard to stop child abuse.  We should work hard to provide adoptive families and foster parents.  We should work hard to strengthen families and to teach strong marriage and parenting relationships.  We should work hard to support quality public and private schools staffed with quality (and decently paid) teachers and staffers.  We should work hard to make sure that the children in these schools are safe and protected from danger.  And we should pay whatever taxes are necessary to support our schools.

  • I believe that pro-lifers need to work hard (as Jesus did) to help those who are underprivileged, poor, homeless, sick, and disabled. That’s why our church offers free medical care, free brown-bag lunches, and a free homeless shelter.  We do it because we value human life for those in our congregation and those who are not; for those who agree with us and those who do not.  We call on other churches to do the same.  It is a great thing to worship and love God, but real worship and real love for God will show itself by loving those whom God has created.

  • I believe that pro-lifers need to treat all people with respect. When we evangelize—and we do—we will do so without putting down others who disagree with us.  We believe strongly in God, in Jesus, and in the Bible, but we will still treat those who disagree with us respectfully, regardless of their faith, their skin-color, their language, their nationality, or their morality.

  • I believe that pro-lifers need to work hard for those in America and beyond our borders. We are called to care for hurting people wherever they may be and regardless of their citizenship.  We believe what our Declaration of Independence so eloquently states, “that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.”   The rights come from God and so they are not limited to those who hold American citizenship or who live underneath the freedoms granted to us by our constitution.  This includes aliens within our borders, refugees who are fleeing tyranny and war, and citizens of other countries faced with hunger, homelessness, and hardships.  That’s why our church builds homes and sends food to Dominica.  That’s why we partner with and support Disaster Relief Teams.  That’s why we partner with an organization that helps refugees.  We wish we could do more, but our love for God demands that we at least do something

  • It is because I am pro-life and I want to treat all people fairly that I support the right of Dreamers to have permanent status and even citizenship in our country. They were brought to our country by a family member when they were young; it was not their decision.  To deport them now that they are adults goes against my understanding of fairness and justice for all.  There are, I know, other immigration policies and border security issues that need to be debated and decided, but my pro-life understanding demands that I treat all people fairly and respectfully.

  • It is because I am pro-life that I believe people should have some control over their death. If someone wants to die at home rather than in a hospital, I support that right.  If someone decides that treatment is no longer necessary or desirable, they have the right to make that decision.  I don’t condone active euthanasia (life is too sacred to take it unnecessarily), but since death is a natural part of life, I don’t feel the need to prolong life just because we can.

I hope you understand what I’m trying to say.  I believe in God and I believe that human life has been created in the image of God. Therefore, all human life is to be protected, respected, and loved.  And if my faith in God is real, it will lead me to love and respect people.

All people.

Posted in Church Life, Faith & Politics | Leave a comment

Public Respect

In a recent blog, I challenged President Trump to take the high road in his choice of language and to respect his opponents.  It’s only fair, especially in light of remarks of the last few days, that I call upon Democrats to do the same.  But as a pastor, my primary concern is that Christians take the high road in the way we talk about politics.

The issue that recently caught my eye was a newly elected Democratic Representative using extreme expletives to describe the President.  This is highly inappropriate, and I would expect Democratic leadership to publicly rebuke her.  The only response I have heard so far is something that I would equate to a kindergartener saying “He started it.”  (The representative has since apologized, but not for her words, only for being a “distraction.”)  We don’t accept that type of behavior from a preschooler.  We must not accept it from elected officials.

This week, I heard a Republican leader in Arizona calling voters an inappropriate name because a Democratic Senator was elected.  Putting down voters is not good behavior. I’m not a politician, but I don’t even think it’s good politics.

Both sides are now calling out the other side for immoral speech.  It is hypocritical to call out the other side for immoral speech while applauding it or tolerating it on your side.  Jesus taught us to take care of our own sin before we call out someone else for theirs, “Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye?”

Is either political party going to raise the bar and begin to use respectful language?

Probably not.

So, Christians, we need to show them how it is done.  We can be deeply involved in politics without stooping to the ungodly behavior of many of today’s politicians.  So let me try and give some practical suggestions for believers in their political speech:

  • Be respectful in all your own personal political speech.  You can be bold, direct, and clear in stating your own opinion without putting opponents down and calling them names.

  • Refuse to use God’s name in vane or to use profanity when discussing politics.

  • Be willing to rebuke those in your own party who are disrespectful.

  • Refuse to applaud disrespectful behavior even when it comes from a politician you supported.

  • Refuse to break a personal relationship because you disagree politically.

  • Refuse to post or repost disrespectful speech, profanity, or lies on social media.  (And since there are so many lies going around social media, refuse to repost or retweet anything that you have not personally verified as true.)

  • Support leaders who can present their ideas in an honest, intelligent, and respectful manner.

I encourage believers to get involved in politics.  I encourage believers to run for office.  I encourage believers to clearly and even forcefully state their carefully reasoned positions.

But do it the right way, the Jesus way.

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Helping Refugees

On Wednesday and Thursday of this week (December 26-27), we accepted into our care 94 refugees from Guatemala, Nicaragua, and Honduras.  Over half of them were children.  We fed them.  We gave them places to sleep for a night or two.  We gave them backpacks, clothes, towels, jackets, hygiene items, and other essentials.  We made bus arrangements for them, and then transported them to the Phoenix Bus Station.  From there, they traveled on to a friend or family member as far away as Chicago or Florida.

Our agreement to help was not a political statement; it was an act of love to people in need.

I know that in our church (and especially because we are a bilingual congregation), we have people of all political persuasions when it comes to border policy, immigration, and asylum issues.  I’m leaving that discussion for another time and place.  The people we helped had been processed by ICE and were ready to be released.  ICE had only two options: Release them to a church or release them on the streets.

We chose to accept them in the name of Christ and love them and help them.

We do this to all people, regardless of their skin color, nationality, faith, background, language, or immigration status.  It is what we mean when we say we love people.  It’s not just a statement or a motto; it’s a reality that often comes with an obligation to offer time, housing, food, clothing, and attention.  That’s the nature of love.

I couldn’t personally show them as much love as I wanted, because I couldn’t speak their language.  But I gathered a few stories through translators.  This is Juana’s story:

I’m 22 years old and I traveled here with my 6 month old daughter Liliana.  I’m from Guatemala.  I came to the United States because there is a lot of violence in my town right now.  The gangs are fighting with each other and innocent people are often hurt and killed.  I’ve been extorted for the last several months.  I’ve paid 1000 quetzals (equivalent to about $130, a huge amount in Guatemala) so that no one will hurt me or my daughter.  I knew the extortion would continue.  The police were powerless to help me.  I decided to try and come to the United States where I hope to work and be safe.

The stories are touching and the need is great.

Before I close, I want to thank our members for their response.  We had more volunteers than we knew what to do with.  And people outside of our congregation showed up in a big way.  High School Spanish teachers came to translate.  Hickman Farms donated breakfast (and cooked it) one morning.  The Fire Department gave us car seats.  Avondale City Council members volunteered.  Our State Representative (Diego Espinoza) showed up, translated, and even cooked omelets.  Gathering Humanity, a non-profit group that works with refugees provided cots, clothes, backpacks, and more.  A volunteer from Duncan Farms made repeated trips with groups to the bus station.  A Phoenix Synagogue brought us blankets.  The Arizona Disaster Relief Team of the Arizona Southern Baptist Convention set up a shower trailer and gave us cash.  It was truly much more than just a church effort.

I’m not sure what the future holds.  We may do this again next week.  It is who we are when we say we Love God, Love People, and Follow Jesus!

 

 

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