Thursday, July 26, 2012

What To Do With Tolerance-Part 2

Last week I wrote part 1 of What To Do With Tolerance based on the recent media hubub surrounding Chick-fil-A and the comments made by its President, Dan Cathy. If you didn't get a chance to see Part 1 you can read it here.  I ended it with several questions for the Christians who are left out in society when these things happen.  Let's look for answers for those questions now.

#1.  Is it really intolerant of us to believe what the Bible says is true and try to live it everyday? 
The short answer to this is, no.  Beliefs are our own to choose.  Obviously, there are some in this world that don't believe in God, don't believe in Jesus, and don't believe in the Bible.  There are others of us who do believe in all of the above.  Simply believing different things from each other is not intolerance.  The simple equivalent is when a husband belives Dr. Pepper is the best tasting soda and his wife believes that Diet Coke is the best tasting soda.  Neither is being intolerant of the other one's beliefs. They are simply expressing what their conclusions are based on their personal experiences (even though I agree wholeheartedly with the fictional husband in this example).  Intolerance comes about when a person or a group of people absolutely refuse to tolerate the people who don't believe what they believe.  The definition of the word tolerate is to allow the existence, presence, practice, or act of without prohibition or hindrance; permit.  By definition, Christians are expected to accept the unacceptable as Jesus did on Earth and still does from Heaven. It is possible to be friends with homosexuals and still be a Christian.  We must give up the notion that we have the change the outward behavior of others to allow them in our lives or in our churches.  As Christians, we've often been accused of being intolerant because we are so quick to pronounce judgment on those who are in bondage.  Jesus was and is our greatest example to follow on how to treat sinners.  If you read through the four Gospels, you will see that Jesus was invited to the parties of the religious and societal outcasts.  He didn't just wander into their parties unnoticed-He was invited there! Obviously, there was a magnetism about Him-or maybe a spirit of non-judgment-that attracted people to Him. The only people that Jesus ever got furious with were the religious leaders of the day who refused to show people grace and mercy and instead hung the law around their necks. 
#2.  Is it wrong of us to express our beliefs and try to influence society?
I think the answer is found in how we express our believes and influence society rather than IF we express our beliefs.  Again, so many of the labels we've been assigned by the world have come because of how we have treated the people who are caught in bondage and sin.  Christ came and changed the world upside down in his time here on Earth.  I tend to agree with Jesus when He states that we are to be salt and light in Matthew chapter 5:13-16.  The Great Commission also tells us to go out into the world.  It seems as though Jesus is telling us "it's not only okay to influence society, its a command!"
 #3.  Is the Bible outdated in its principles and commands? 
The Bible does say multiple times that homosexuality is a sin. However, it also says that adultery (which Jesus defines as simply looking at someone lustfully!), fornication, uncleanness, lewdness, idolatry, hatred, contentions, jealousy, outbursts of wrath, selfishness, dissensions, envy, murder, drunkenness (Galatians 5:19-21); and anger, wrath, malice, filthy language, and lying (Colossians 3:8-9) and the inability to bridle one's tongue (James 1:26) are also all sins that God takes very seriously.  I think over the years, Christians have done a great and wonderful and awesome job of removing the speck in the homosexual's eyes while leaving a big huge gaping two by four plank in their own.  Re-read that sentence.  The Bible doesn't give us wiggle room.  It tells us that gossipping is an abomination to Him.  It doesn't just stop at the list I gave above (which is a very small, incomplete list).  How many of us have protested homosexuality while laying on the couch all day Saturday, gorging ourselves on 4 dozen Krispy Kremes and watching adult movies On Demand and then attending church on Sunday morning to hear the pastor "stick it to all those liberal freaks"?  In chapter 5 of 1 John it says that you can only love God as much as the person that you love the least.  My point is this, the Bible is not outdated.  It is incredibly updated and current and relevant---so relevant in fact that we should refuse to take one specific sin and target the people who are committing it. 
#4.  How should Christians and Christian churches treat those who are living the homosexual lifestyle?
I stated earlier that Jesus was a partier.  He was invited to the parties of the most social down and out people. We've all had parties before---and we've all had parties where we can't wait for the people from our Sunday School classes to leave so that we can start to have some fun!  They loved Him. They wanted to be around Him. Christ has commanded us to go out into the world, not to beg it to come into our church.  Jesus gave us the answer to how we treat those who are caught in their sin--with love and grace and mercy because that is what the Father has continually shown us.  Too often we want to "fix" people.  We want to give them a process and steps for them to follow so that they can be brought to church and "get saved".  It doesn't work like that. Jesus didn't work like that.  In the Bible, the only people you'll ever find Jesus judging and being harsh with is the self-promoted religious elite.  He had compassion on those who were broken by their sin.  It is a good example to follow.  I am not saying they should be put in church leadership. The Bible has clear cut qualifications for those who desire or are called to be in church leadership. But they should be allowed in the church body.  The same way that you and I continue the process of being transformed (Romans 12:2) from our "socially acceptable sins" by going to church, hearing the Word of God, and surrounding ourselves with godly friends and counsel, the homosexuals need this too.  And we will not see a revival or repentance until we allow them in our churches and in our lives as people to love instead of things to fix.

Sunday, July 22, 2012

What to do with tolerance-Part 1

These days the word tolerance seems to be the buzz word for anytime that two people disagree in opinion or thought. If one is slightly bent towards one extreme, they tend to end the conversation (or choose to start an all out war) by accusing the other person of being intolerant.  Society as a whole is changing.  Things that were once never socially acceptable are now mainstream culture and beyond.  As a Christian it can be hard to know when to speak up for the Truth and when to wisely keep quiet. 

This post stems from the recent media frenzy over Chick-fil-A's President and COO, Dan Cathy's recent interview for the Baptist Press in which he stated the following:

            Some have opposed the company's support of the traditional family. "Well, guilty as charged," said Cathy when asked about the company's position.
We are very much supportive of the family -- the biblical definition of the family unit. We are a family-owned business, a family-led business, and we are married to our first wives. We give God thanks for that.
We operate as a family business ... our restaurants are typically led by families; some are single. We want to do anything we possibly can to strengthen families. We are very much committed to that," Cathy emphasized.  We intend to stay the course," he said. "We know that it might not be popular with everyone, but thank the Lord, we live in a country where we can share our values and operate on biblical principles."

You can read the full article here Baptist Press Article

If you have watched or read the recent news, you probably have seen a story or two on what a firestorm this has created for the company.  No where in the article is it stated that Mr. Cathy or anyone in the company hates gays, refuse to hire gays, or refuse to serve them as guests in their restaurants.  He simply stated that he and the company he leads is supportive of the family and clarified that he meant the biblical definition of a family.

While I certainly understand that there are people all around the world who do not feel the same way or hold the same opinions, I am amazed at the fact that this has blown up the way it has. Celebrities deciding to boycott, the mayor of Boston declaring he won't allow any business, more specifically Chick-fil-A, that "discriminates against a group of people" in his city (Boston Article), and all the names Mr. Cathy has been called during everyone's heated debates.

So as Christians, what do we do? Is it really intolerant of us to believe what the Bible says is true and try to live it everyday?  Is it wrong of us to express our beliefs and try to influence society? Is the Bible outdated in its principles and commands?  How should Christians and Christian churches treat those who are living the homosexual lifestyle?  I will attempt to answer these questions and more later this week in Part II.

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Kids and Media

As a children's pastor I am realizing more and more that I must stay abreast or even ahead of the kid culture.  I have to know what books, movies, songs, TV shows and websites my kids (the ones at church) are tuning into week in and week out.  If I don't do this I won't be relevant. I won't be able to build friendships with them outside of the four walls of my church.  Anytime I see one of the kids bring a new book or listening to their iPod in I'm typically moving closer to them trying to spark a conversation about what they're reading and listening to.  I feel a natural responsibility to be informed as much as I can about these things so that I can inform parents and caretakers of children.

The most recent hubbub has been about The Hunger Games trilogy and subsequent movie.  I'll admit, I am so late to this party it has pretty much ended and I'm just here to help put all the streamers in the trash bags.  As I've heard and seen parents interacting with their children I've been struck with how strong the opinions have been on both sides, pro and con.  I decided to read the trilogy set for myself and I went to see the movie as well.  The following are not based solely on the Hunger Games but what I hope to be a holistic approach at kids and media.  The debate about what should be read is as old as the printing press and it will continue on throughout eternity regardless of the media's form.
So, here are some guidelines that I have prayerfully considered and want to share with you regarding your child and media.

1.  Checking It Out For Yourself
I can't tell you how important this first step is.  Before you make a decision to ban a type of media or something specific like a book series, movie, TV show, or song watch it, read it, listen to it, view it yourself before you just make a rash decision based on hearsay and the latest article you read in a parenting magazine.  If you're married, do this with your spouse so that you're both on the same page when you make a final decision about whether or not you will allow your child to read, view, or listen to something.  If you're a single parent, I know that you don't have time to make dinner and get the kids to school much less read every book, watch every movie, and listen to every song they are interested in.  I know this makes your job infinitely harder because you have so much on your plate already.  Get with other godly, Christian couples and parents who you trust and already go to for advice with other parenting matters and discuss it together.  If you don't have other godly Christian couples you can talk with then pray, use discernment, and seek out your pastors at church.

2. Balance and  Christian Content
This is a tough one.  Every parent has good intentions when making decisions about what their child can and can't read.  Balance is so important in these decisions!  To me, it is the key approach. Many parents I know have automatically ruled out the Hunger Games trilogy because of what they've heard in Christian circles but if their child brought home the book entitled The Roar by Emma Clayton, a book that is well written but has strikingly similar themes, they would never question it.  Going further, how quick are you to strike out the Harry Potter series but never check on what websites your children are perusing on the home computer?  Please know I am not attempting to defend these specific series in any way.  I am only trying to show how important balance is.  Don't spend all your time banning one specific thing in your house thinking you have it all covered when there is a big, gaping hole in three other areas.  As long as we are on this Earth, you will never be able to keep 100% of media content Christian with your children. I would even go so far as to say that just because a book is labeled Christian, has a Christian author, or is sold at Lifeway you, as the parent, still need to check it out for yourself.  There are scores of Christian kids books that are presenting false or blurry doctrine about numerous biblical topics.  Not to mention that the Bible itself, especially the Old Testament, has pages upon pages of murder, adultery, thievery, greed, jealousy,  and other lewd and crude acts.  What Christian parent would hinder their child from wanting to read more of the Bible? None that I know.  Reading about early Christian history will present your children with violence and gore and corrupt governments who killed innocent people. Just because its Christian doesn't mean it's made of and smells of roses.  The key is not keeping these topics, ideas, and stories completely away from your children but striking an age appropriate balance to when and how they are introduced with your supervision.

3.  Age and Individuality
I am an avid reader and I always have been since I was in second grade and my teacher read Ramona The Pest to us in class.  From that time on, I began to read anything I was interested in and could get my hands on. I absolutely love to read. The benefits of reading has been studied and charted over and over again. As I was growing up, I had no real limits placed on me by my parents regarding media. I can not remember a time they ever banned a book, movie, or song from me regardless of the age limits, plot, subliminal messaging, and whatever else. I don't recommend this approach but I wanted to give you my background. I do not feel I was damaged by reading books that were above my grade level or watching movies that I was honestly too young to watch. Some of you who know me may feel otherwise and that is perfectly okay.
Ratings for movies and TV shows are government mandated.  They are based on a rating scale, 1 point for every specific action, word, insinuation, sex, violence, etc., etc., etc.  At the end the points are tallied up and then a rating is given based on the total points accrued.  Books, websites, and songs are typically more free flowing.  This is why checking it out for yourself is so important. You may have a 12, 10 and 8 year old who are at completely different places of maturity.  The 10 year old may be able to appropriately handle a certain book series that the 12 year old couldn't have when they were 10.  Every child is different just as every adult is different.  Know your children and be involved.

4.  Honest Conversations
Once you've made your decision, DISCUSS it with them.  Don't just tell them "No, because I said so." Honestly have a discussion, not a one way talk.  If you can give them the reason why you are saying no and do so in a loving way, they are much more likely to accept your decision.  If you want them to be a little bit older before they dive in, tell them so.  If you want to make a deal to read it with them chapter by chapter the following year, tell them so...and then stick with that decision.  I recently talked with a parent who had chosen not to let her son read a specific book but then had no idea if that book was in their son's school library.  I guaranteed her that it was.  She called her son in to ask him and he confirmed that his school had several copies of the book. You won't always be able to have your children agree with your decision.  However, from what I've seen the more you allow discussions and dialogue (where they listen to you and then you listen to them) to take place the greater the chance they will concede with your wishes when they are not in your presence.  This of course is one of the first steps of moving into maturity and adulthood--if your children will stick with what you have taught them as they move further and further from your grasp and become more autonomous and independent.

Again, I'll admit I'm a little late to this conversation. I debated with myself for several months about even posting a blog about kids and media. It is what I call a loaded baked potato---everyone has their own flavors and toppings to add! I often thought it would simply create too much of a hassle to be so public with my opinions on this topic.  However, I feel like the mindset of a Christian leader should never be to avoid topics that present a hassle but to openly and honestly discuss them with love and grace.  Please know that my goal here is to only share my opinions and prayerful thoughts as I've mused over the whole subject matter for the past several weeks and months.   My intentions are not to trick you, trap you, convict you, or change your opinions, theology, house rules or anything else. I am not an expert or a clinical psychologist. I am simply a Christian who follows Jesus by His grace.