Category Archives: Culture

Are You Planning for the Right Retirement?

Every quarter I receive a newsletter that encourages me to review my retirement strategy to ensure I have the funds needed when I retire. While the articles vary, the message remains the same: retirement is not cheap; healthcare costs are skyrocketing; lifestyles rarely change in retirement. Invariably, a litany of charts follow, reinforcing the narrative and explaining how much I need in my accounts based on several factors: how long I plan to live (not sure how much input I get in that variable), my current income, and inflation, to name a few.

Like hundreds of similar investment documents published each month, the newsletter emphasizes the need to plan now so I am not caught unprepared for the future. One common theme highlights those adults who assume they’ll have enough for retirement but never bother to do the math to validate their hypothesis. Almost always, we are told, those assumptions prove false. As a result, they fail to plan properly and must delay retirement, reduce their standard of living, or forgo retirement altogether.

Sadly, many Americans adopt a similar approach with respect to eternity. They assume they are going to heaven or that no afterlife exists. Either way, they neglect to invest any time or effort investigating the question of everlasting life and the existence of God. Instead, they prefer to trust their instincts – convinced that whatever reality they embrace will be revealed as truth once they pass from this world.

Of course, as Christians we recognize the danger with that worldview and ought to explore opportunities to share our faith and Jesus’ teachings with those who hold that opinion. He had much to say on the topic of eternal life and His message of mercy, grace, and salvation is one society desperately needs to hear and observe these days. Like the newsletters, we ought to inform and warn, prod and challenge those around us to prepare for eternity and not ignore such a critical decision.

Similarly, Jesus’ teachings also provide a powerful reminder to those of us in the church – that we, too, ought to prepare for heaven while still in this world. Too often we conclude that once we check the salvation box, all is good. But that view contradicts the truth shared by Jesus and the apostles. Let’s examine a few important verses that should shape how we prepare for eternity.

First, we need to remember we are not citizens of this world; rather, our citizenship is in heaven (see Philippians 3:20). Consequently, we are (in the words of Peter in his first epistle) pilgrims and sojourners in this world – here to serve as Christ’s ambassadors (see 2 Corinthians 5:20). As with any ambassador, our assignment is temporary – until the Lord calls us home – and requires us to reflect in speech and in conduct the one we serve.

That conviction is critical if we are to redeem our time on earth (see Ephesians 5:16) and live according to God’s will. Otherwise, we fall into a common trap: the belief that God wants us here to eat, drink, and be merry. In other words, our pleasure is His desire.

While God definitely wants us filled with joy, hope, and contentment, it is His pleasure that ought to be our desire, and not vice versa. When we lose track of that distinction, we risk becoming ensconced in the world, falling prey to its distractions, and adopting its priorities. In the process we cease to represent Christ and begin to reflect the world.

So how do we remain in the world without being of the world? By abiding in Christ. Any ambassador, to properly fulfill his or her role, must maintain frequent and substantive contact with the president. The same is true with us. As our relationship with Christ matures and our passion for Him deepens, we become a more accurate reflection of Him and ours ways align more closely to His.

As that happens, we focus more on things with genuine value (the eternal) and less on things with no lasting value (the temporal). That transformative shift in perspective equips us to handle the trials and tribulations that result from our faith in Jesus. Paul explains this in his second epistle to the church at Corinth. “For our light affliction, which is but for a moment, is working for us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory, while we do not look at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen. For the things which are seen are temporary, but the things which are not seen are eternal” (2 Cor. 4:17-18, NKJV).

So as we consider retirement, what would Jesus have us do as His ambassadors? Should we adopt the world’s perspective and save lots of money in a retirement account so we can maintain our current lifestyles until we die? Should we work extra hours now so we can retire early and get a head start on the pleasures and comfort of retirement? Should we wind down our Christian service as we wind down our careers? Of course not.

Why do so many of us assume God makes no claim on our retirement – that we can pursue the same retirement strategy as our non-believing friends and colleagues? Do we cease to be the Lord’s when we retire? Does retiring from our career correspond to our retirement as Christ’s ambassador? Not at all. On the contrary, retiring from our career ought to serve as a catalyst for us to redouble our efforts to redeem the time as God’s representatives – and usher in a new season of serving Him with renewed vigor and focus.

For those on the verge of retiring or already in that stage of life, I encourage you to consider the possibility that retirement is an opportunity to finalize God’s call on your life. Resist the temptation to embrace the worldview that you’ve earned a restful retirement and deserve to enjoy the good life as you sail into the sunset. Instead, ask the Lord to reveal His retirement plan for you, what community you might serve on His behalf, and how you might fulfill the Great Commission. It might be quite different then your original plans – and much more satisfying.

For those still many years away from retirement, consider these words from Jesus as you craft your career and ascertain how best to invest your resources. “Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal; rather, lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also” (Matthew 6:19-21, NKJV).

Unfortunately, too many Christians focus entirely, or primarily, on acquiring treasures on earth, building a legacy with the world, and pursuing temporal success. But Jesus informs us in unambiguous terms that such endeavors are a fool’s errand. They produce nothing of eternal value. Worse, they risk corroding, or even severing, our relationship with God.

Don’t be that seed that fell among thorns: those who hear the word of God and briefly trust Jesus but “the cares of this world, the deceitfulness of riches, and the desire for other things enter in and choke the word, and it becomes unfruitful” (Mark 4:19, NKJV). Those who chase worldly accomplishments, recognition, and treasure enter into a Faustian bargain. And when eternity begins they will have nothing to show for all the time and effort they invested in this world. And they will have had very little time to enjoy the fruits of those worldly labors – even if they live to be a hundred.

Instead, invest in true treasure: the souls and lives of those around you. In doing so you will deposit into an eternal retirement account a value that exceeds exponentially everything the world has to offer. Nothing is as sound an investment for your time and resources. And that truth is something you can take to the bank.

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Winning the Culture Wars.

Evangelicals and conservative Christians are apoplectic with last week’s Supreme Court ruling and if you have to ask which one you’re not paying attention. Using social media, pastors, leaders, and laity alike decried the ruling and insisted it represented another chink in America’s moral armor. Some even claimed the decision would expedite God’s imminent judgment on the nation.

Widely embraced by evangelicals and orthodox Christians, the heart of this message has flourished for decades and always blames society for the unraveling of the nation’s moral fabric. From the secularization of public schools, the explosion of the abortion industry, and the filth of Hollywood, to the radicalism of colleges, growing antagonism toward God, and the celebration of hedonism, many Christian voices insist America’s pending downfall is due entirely to increasing immorality outside the church walls.

Tellingly, Christians often fail to consider the possibility (or likelihood) that the church owns as much responsibility for the nation’s moral decay and God’s pending judgment as does secular society, perhaps more. Despite this, the church and individual Christians have contributed significantly to the dramatic shift in our country’s values. In fact, absent our complicity the nation would not have fallen so fast and so fully into the moral abyss it now finds itself, nor would it be in jeopardy of experiencing God’s immediate correction.

In what ways are we, as Christians, complicit? We have created classes of sin and determined that some sins are worse than others. The worst sins are those that offend the church and pious Christians. Such sins are widespread in society and easily identified as the cause of God’s anger. They represent all that is wrong in the world. But for these sins, we insist, our nation would be ready for Christ’s return. The church quickly and forcefully condemns these sins and describes them as scourges to society.

In contrast, another class of sin fails to raise the church’s ire. Though denounced by the Bible they thrive in our hearts and our sanctuaries. We wink and nod at these sins, giving little more than lip service to their eradication from our lives. We ignore the manifestations of these sins in our church leaders and ourselves. They are de facto acceptable and go unchallenged.

An excellent example of this class of sin is pride. Officially the church and serious Christians agree it must be uprooted from the heart and cast out. Sermons are preached against it and universal agreement exists that it offends God. Many Christians even know Scripture that highlights its danger – for example, ‘pride goes before destruction.’ Nevertheless, it endures and flourishes in the Christian heart and within church walls: in the pulpit, the choir, and in the congregation.

Doubters need only listen to language used by ministers, worship leaders, and lay Christians alike. ‘I’ and ‘me’ predominate, with a special emphasis on the work Christ is doing them. The celebration of self within the Christian community has reached epidemic proportions and shows no signs of slowing. Of course, spiritual narcissism hides behind a mask of false modesty, feigning humility while feasting on self-exaltation.

Another excellent example of this class of sin involves idolatry. We know it is wrong. Pastors openly preach against it. The Bible strongly condemns it. Yet it survives and thrives in our hearts and churches. Our love for the world, its treasures and pleasures, and all it has to offer is difficult to deny. It is obvious to our non-Christian friends, neighbors, and colleagues who love the world unashamedly and see that same love in us.

So how do we avoid cognitive dissonance without admitting our hypocrisy? We simply tell ourselves we don’t love the world, its treasures and pleasures, and all it offers. Despite evidence to the contrary we insist our love for Jesus knows no bounds. And if the overwhelming majority of our time, income, and energy is spent chasing the world and everything in it, we rationalize away the implications of that fact by declaring that God wants us to enjoy ourselves, have fun, and be happy. Nothing wrong with that even if such pursuits define us, consume us, and remove any doubt as to what we’ve made lord of our lives.

If we are serious about preventing moral bankruptcy from ruining the nation, we must keep in mind several important truths. First, genuine change always begins with a transformation of the heart. Always. Imposing morality by judicial edict or legislative fiat never produces substantive, enduring change. It only masks the real problem: sin. Only Jesus removes the stain of sin and empowers authentic and permanent transformation.

Most believers understand this truth and yet still focus a disproportionate amount of time and effort fighting cultural wars at the statehouse and in the courtroom instead of in the prayer closet. This misplaced priority needs to change if we want America’s moral landscape to change. The issue is primarily a spiritual problem and we ought to wage the battle using spiritual weapons such as prayer, service, intercession, and evangelism. Ignoring these disciplines all but guarantees the nation’s moral implosion.

Let’s also recall that God was willing to spare Sodom if as few as ten righteous were found therein. Wouldn’t He apply the same principle with us? I imagine so. Rather than fretting over the sins of others, then, let’s instead redouble our efforts to live righteous lives that honor God. If enough followers of Christ do so we may yet see the nation spared from approaching wrath. Rejoice then, that God gives us an opportunity to stand in the gap for our nation.

And remember, the die is not yet cast. There remains time for the nation to reverse course and avoid the ruin that awaits if we continue down our current path. Doing so, however, will require Christians to take the lead. We must recognize our responsibility for the situation, confess our sins (individually and collectively), repent from our iniquities, and rekindle our love for the Lord. We ought also pray for God’s mercy, intercede for the nation, and pursue Him with single-minded purpose. If we are unwilling to follow this prescription, then we have no right to criticize the culture for its failures. We will be as responsible as secular society for the nation’s collapse. More so in fact, because we had the chance to stop it but chose to remain ensconced in our sin instead.

Time for Justice Department to Apply Real Deterrents to Bank Malfeasance

Why does the Justice Department continue to provide mere lip service in holding big banks accountable for egregious financial crimes instead of aggressively prosecuting them in a manner that will substantively deter future malfeasance? Too often Federal prosecutors adopt a ‘wink and nod’ approach to crimes on Wall Street rather than acting vigorously to eliminate them. The most recent example involves four of the world’s largest banks: Citicorp, JPMorgan Chase, Barclays PLC, and The Royal Bank of Scotland.

According to reports the four will plead guilty to felony charges of conspiracy to manipulate global financial markets, specifically foreign currency markets, over a five-year period from December 2007 to January 2013. Though the four (and a fifth bank, UBS AG) will pay fines that approach $5.8 billion, none of the banks lose their ability to continue trading in the markets in which they committed their violations. Moreover, the Federal Government refuses to hold bank executives personally responsible for the collusion and for allowing an environment of illicit conduct to thrive.

While we expect Republican administrations to coddle the thieves of Wall Street, things were supposed to be much different with the Obama administration. He promised to go after those wolves much more forcefully than the previous administration and put an end to illegal activities that enrich the über-wealthy and often threaten the stability of our economy. Instead, we get more of the same despite newly confirmed Attorney General Loretta Lynch’s claim that the penalties are “fitting” and will “deter” future illegality.

Nonsense! Until Justice bans violators from participating in future business activity in those markets in which illegal activity occurred, no bank is properly incented to curb its appetite for illegitimate profits. And until it holds bank executives personally liable for the conduct of their traders, the environment for such illegality will continue to thrive. The Justice Department needs to quit behaving like one of the boys in the Wall Street fraternity. Instead of administering modest slaps on the hand and declaring victory it needs to bare some real teeth and adopt an adversarial posture against those banks who repeatedly commit financial crimes, which means banning banks from future activity in markets where an offense occurs and prosecuting bank executives criminally and requesting lengthy prison terms for those found guilty.

Anything less is just more of the same. And that is very disappointing considering all the fanfare President Obama generated in (rightfully) targeting bank malfeasance.

Jesus’ Radical Teachings can Transform the World

Does the world appear increasingly turbulent these days, with our planet on the precipice of collapse? Witness the geopolitical storms raging across the Middle East and building in Europe and Asia, while the United States remains locked in unprecedented partisan gridlock – threatening our long-term viability. Widening economic disparity, burgeoning social injustice, and radical worldviews have sparked protest and fueled hatred across the globe, quickly spreading like some sociological virus. Volatile stock markets, brazen violence and climate change plague our nation domestically, while scarcer resources, government instability and accelerating terrorism threaten the global community.

In such a cauldron of chaos perhaps it’s no surprise so many fear for the future and raise legitimate questions in the face of these escalating troubles. How do we stem the tides of violence, abject poverty, income inequality, hatred, and abuse? What can we do to confront the ideological radicalism flourishing across the globe and spawning a growing number of terrorists outside the Middle East? How can we eradicate the epidemic of exploitation, injustice, and sociopolitical tyranny dominating our educational, governmental, and commercial institutions? Where can we turn for guidance in resolving the problems crippling our country and threatening to destroy it from within and abroad?

For answers, we need look no further than the teachings of Jesus. His iconoclastic message remains as relevant today as it did two thousand years ago and possesses the power to transform societies. The profundity of His message, however, is not imposed at the tip of a spear or the barrel of a gun. Instead, Christians model it by embracing the difficult and revolutionary ideas He taught two millennia ago – which much of the world still considers foolish and weak. But it is a message that has the power to turn the world upside down. Consider three lessons from His ministry.

Love your enemy. Jesus initiated His ministry with an extensive mountaintop sermon in which He commanded His followers: “Love your enemies, bless those who curse you, do good to those who hate you, and pray for those who spitefully use you and persecute you” (Matthew 5:44, NKJV). What a remarkable contrast to the message taught by ISIS terrorists, urban gangs, and elements of American pop culture. Those sources demand retaliation against anyone who insults, subverts, humiliates, or disrespects them or their worldview. They insist on exercising swift and severe vengeance on the offending party – harm, kill, or destroy, it doesn’t matter, as long as retribution occurs.

Jesus challenges His disciples to adopt an entirely different posture when cursed, hated, persecuted, or exploited. We are to love, bless, pray, and do good to anyone who treats us so shamefully. Is He serious? Does He really expect us to treat well those who harm us – to bless them, lift them up in prayer, and shower them with love? Yes, that radical response is exactly what He wants from us. For that is where the power of God resides. That power not only transforms us to look more like Him, it ultimately defeats the power of hate, violence, bitterness, and abuse.

How might Jesus’ command affect your behavior today? Instead of cursing and engaging in road rage when a driver cuts you off, smile and wave politely. Instead of harboring resentment and plotting the downfall of a colleague who has taken credit for your work, pray for her success instead. Instead of directing a flurry of snide remarks, engaging in gossip, or holding a grudge against someone who treats you with contempt or intentionally humiliates you in front of others, compliment them publically and identify opportunities to help them. Though it sounds counter-intuitive, real power lies in such acts of love, mercy, and forgiveness.

Serve others. The mother of two of Jesus’ disciples requests her sons be seated at His left and right hands when He ushers in His kingdom. In response, Jesus says: “You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and those who are great exercise authority over them. Yet it shall not be so among you; but whoever desires to become great among you, let him be your servant. And whoever desires to be first among you, let him be your slave— just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many” (Matthew 20:25-28, NKJV).

Again, the contrast could not be starker with what the world teaches. Every civilization shares a common set of expectations for great people. They rule over others, they exercise power, and they are served. They are easily identified in every community, industry, and geography. They command respect, demand fidelity, and reprimand the insubordinate. They are politicians, executives, entertainers, professors, the rich and the powerful. The world operates the way it does because these men and women operate the way they do.

Jesus rejects that worldview and institutes a new paradigm for His followers. Those who want greatness must serve others. If you want to be first in His kingdom you need to submit to Him and operate as a slave. As believers a servant’s mentality ought to define our interaction with others (great and small). That may sound crazy. You might consider it a ridiculous and radical view. And indeed it is. But it also represents the expectations Jesus has for those who love Him. Such behavior sends a clear and resounding message to society: The kingdom of God operates on an entirely different set of principles than those employed by the world.

Do you want to be great in God’s eyes? Then identify an opportunity or two (or three) to serve someone every day. Don’t limit your service to friends and loved ones. Serve strangers, the marginalized, the hurting, and the desperate as well. You may find it embarrassing at first because serving others often requires considerable humility, especially when serving the less fortunate, the mentally ill, and those that society deems losers. The more society esteems you the harder this will be. But it is what the Lord expects. It is best to begin making it your practice today.

Die to live. Perhaps the most counter-culture of all Jesus’ teachings it might also be the most powerful. Outlining what it means to follow Him, Jesus declares: “I tell you the truth, unless a kernel of wheat is planted in the soil and dies, it remains alone. But its death will produce many new kernels—a plentiful harvest of new lives. Those who love their life in this world will lose it. Those who care nothing for their life in this world will keep it for eternity” (John 12:24-25, NLT). We never really live until we die – not a physical death but a metaphorical death to ourselves. We lay our hopes, dreams, interests, career, and plans at His feet and commit our lives fully to Him – submitting to His call the entirety of our lives. It is in death, Jesus informs us, that we bear spiritual fruit and maximize our impact for His kingdom.

He calls us to sacrifice our lives for others even as He sacrificed His life for us. In our symbolic death we are liberated from the heavy burden of societal and family expectations and are freed from the greed, pride, selfishness, and desires that drive our dreams and influence our choices. Instead, we embrace a spirit of generosity, sacrifice, humility, and service. As we do we become more like Christ and less entangled in the concerns and temptations of this world, allowing us to make a difference in the world.

What are some examples? Consider the following: moving to global hotspots as an ambassador for Christ to shine His light into communities consumed with darkness; switching careers to work with non-profit agencies to address suffering in developing countries; spending vacations serving others on a mission trip; downsizing our lifestyles to funnel more of our income to ministries that share the Good News with others. Those are just a few but there are thousands more.

Many considered Jesus’ teachings radical and revolutionary in His day. Why would any sane person willingly love his or her enemy, serve others, and die to self? Two thousand years later society continues to describe Jesus’ teaching in similar terms because it contrasts so dramatically with the foundational principles of the world. Moreover, the lifestyle He calls us to live exposes the weakness of the world’s ideology that produces so much turmoil, violence, hopelessness, and exploitation.

Let’s show the world a better way, the way of Christ. Let’s demonstrate true greatness by serving others. Let’s respond to hate, violence and mistreatment with love, kindness, and forgiveness, and offer others a glimpse into heaven. And let’s die to self to show the world what Jesus looks like. What better way to honor our Savior?

A different perspective on a controversial topic

Much has been written about whether state laws compel Christian business owners to perform services (e.g. cater, photograph, or bake) for gay weddings and if so whether states should pass new laws providing a faith-based exemption from such obligation. Instead of adding my voice to the thousands who already have expressed a view on this aspect of the controversy, I encourage Christian business owners to consider the following when deciding whether Jesus wants His followers to offer professional services at those weddings.

1] First, let’s remember our primary objective as Christians, especially Evangelicals, is to share the good news of Jesus Christ and His love and resurrection with a lost and broken world. A serious commitment to fulfilling the Great Commission compels believers to identify chances to connect with the lost and dying. For Christian business owners this should translate to pursuing enthusiastically opportunities to do business with those who do not know the Lord. Doing so allows them to demonstrate to customers the love, mercy, kindness, and grace of our Savior – by their behavior and the manner in which they conduct business.

It ought to excite us, then, when nonbelievers want to patronize our businesses because it allows us to establish and nurture long-term relationships with them. Such relationships can eventually lead to conversations about faith, the Bible, and Jesus. What a tremendous opening for the gospel.

Unfortunately, many Christian business owners refuse to capitalize on opportunities to build authentic relationships with nonbelievers, especially those in the LGBT community, simply because they disagree with their lifestyle. In doing so they do the gospel and the Great Commission a serious disservice and miss a prime opportunity to share Jesus’ love and truth with those who need Him. Their refusal to provide professional services at gay weddings also intensifies the animosity the LGBT community has towards Christianity and undermines efforts to reach them with the good news. Is that really what the Lord wants?

2] Second, let’s remember one of the most powerful lessons of Jesus’ ministry. When He joined Matthew the tax collector at his house for a feast attended by numerous sinners, religious leaders were horrified. How could anyone claiming to speak for God surround himself with such despicable reprobates? Didn’t He realize that socializing with such people condoned their sin and celebrated their lifestyles?

Jesus dismissed their concerns and explained that they (the religious leaders) were far from God, not those who invested time building relationships with sinners.

He reminded His followers, “Those who are well do not need a physician, but those who are sick. I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners, to repentance” (Luke 5:31-32, NKJV). Sadly, many believers forget that lesson and refuse to associate with anyone whose lifestyle they disapprove of. Such actions directly contradict Jesus’ message. It is an important reminder for Christian business owners, too, who God may have blessed with a company for the express purpose of reaching the spiritually sick, not to make money, achieve success, and infuriate those who have yet to meet the Son of God.

3] Many Christian business owners argue that if they provide professional services for a gay wedding society will wrongly assume they approve of the gay lifestyle. They insist that such a misunderstanding undermines Christian principles and dishonors Jesus’ teaching. Surprisingly, they often fail to express similar concern that their refusal to provide professional services for gay weddings might be misinterpreted as hateful, judgmental, and laced with condemnation. If society’s misperceptions concern some Christian business owners, then society’s view that we’re hatemongers ought to alarm them most, since that represents the antithesis of Jesus and His message. How can believers make inroads with the LGBT community and a skeptical, secular society when they observe frequent acts of self-righteous antagonism instead of acts of humility, service, and compassion? We need to ditch the self-righteousness and redouble our efforts to humbly serve with compassion.

4] If Christian business owners genuinely believe it is inappropriate to provide professional services for any wedding that contravenes Scripture, they should refuse to photograph, bake cakes, or cater many heterosexual weddings as well. Jesus tells us: “Whoever marries a divorced woman commits adultery” (Matthew 5:32, NKJV). Adultery, of course, was proscribed in the Ten Commandments. Therefore, we can reasonably conclude that marriage between a man and a divorced woman (and presumably vice versa) violates God’s standard.

Christian business owners who refuse to provide services for gay weddings but happily offer services for heterosexual weddings involving a divorced party are acting inconsistently. Such hypocrisy suggests the refusal to offer services for gay weddings has more to do with their own attitudes and biases than it does with biblical principles. Of course, I’m not suggesting Christian business owners refuse to provide services to weddings involving a divorced party. I’m simply pointing out the hypocrisy demonstrated when they service those weddings but not gay weddings.

In fact, a Christian business owner genuinely committed to following biblical principles in his or her business must extend those principles well beyond the issue of marriage. They also will avoid providing services to any event that celebrates unbiblical lifestyles such as greed, materialism, idolatry, and dishonesty. Such sins are far more widespread in our country and were consistently and unambiguously condemned by Jesus in Scripture. I wonder how many Christian business owners who refuse to serve gay weddings eagerly serve events at greedy hedge-fund offices, high-end car dealerships that promote materialism, marketing firms that celebrate excess, and political consultants where dishonesty is critical to success? Those Christian business owners who do, I would argue, possess a motivation far less noble than upholding the sanctity of God’s Word.

Again, I’m not suggesting Christian business owners decline to serve hedge-fund offices, car dealerships, marketing firms, or political consultants. I’m simply pointing out the inconsistency that exists in how many of them apply their principles.

5] Many Christian business owners who refuse to provide services at gay weddings insist they are not discriminating and do not hate gays. They simply want to defend the traditional view of marriage. But I wonder if any evidence exists to support that claim. Are they involved in reaching out to the gay and lesbian community and developing strong relationships with them? Far too few links exist between the Evangelical and LGBT communities. If these business owners are true to their word, they will prove it by leading the effort to address this deficiency. Otherwise it’s all talk.

6] Finally, we need to remember that people’s lifestyles and behaviors change after they come to Christ, not before. We need to avoid trying to force change in others before salvation. Such transformation is the work of the Holy Spirit. Though Christians universally embrace this truth in principle, too often we operate as though we expect sinners to change before we share the gospel. That is unbiblical and counter-productive. Let’s remember our role is to love, serve, and minister to the lost and dying, while the Holy Spirit’s role is to change hearts.

I encourage believers, and especially Christian business owners, to reexamine how we fulfill our role as it relates to reaching the LGBT community with the good news of Jesus Christ. Is refusing to provide professional services at gay weddings really the best way? I don’t think so and doubt Jesus does either.

Church, Culture & A Nation’s Decline.

A growing tendency exists in the Christian community to assign blame for our country’s condition on a culture we view as increasingly wicked and immoral. From nationally recognized Christians who speak for millions to religious politicians seeking to galvanize voter support, from pastors preaching to congregations to individual Christians posting on social media accounts, there is more agreement than ever that society-at-large is responsible for the deteriorating state of our nation. These voices insist that the eventual collapse of our country will occur because society has turned its’ back on God and chosen to chase sin instead.

While this message enjoys broad support in evangelical and conservative Christian circles and finds an enthusiastic and receptive audience on talk radio, at conservative political events, and in many Christian churches, it suffers several serious flaws that ought to concern us as believers. First, it ignores any culpability of the church for the nation’s condition. Second, the message disregards relevant biblical truths that reveal the proper role the church plays in transforming culture. Third, it reinforces secular society’s perception that the church excels at pointing fingers and is filled with self-righteous hypocrites. Finally, it buttresses the misperception that publically castigating society is an effective strategy for igniting spiritual change.

I think one reason attacks on secular society’s escalating immorality are so popular is because it places the blame and focus on them, not us. If they did not reject God our nation would be better off. If they sinned less we would enjoy more of God’s blessings. If they were Christians like us everything would be grand. Implicit in this thinking is that society bears full responsibility for our nation’s moral descent and approaching moral bankruptcy. We (the church and churchgoers) are blameless. Our faith absolves us from culpability. Consequently, we need not examine our lives for ungodly behavior or ask God to reveal our hidden sins.

Unfortunately, such reasoning does not confirm our holiness or proximity to God. It simply fuels our spiritual pride. We convince ourselves that Christians are the only thing delaying God’s immediate judgment on the nation, not His grace or mercy. Such arrogance on our part does as much to separate the nation from God as the decadence of society. God hates vanity as much as any other sin. We would do well to remember Jesus’ advice to His followers.

You are the salt of the earth. But what good is salt if it has lost its flavor? Can you make it salty again? It will be thrown out and trampled underfoot as worthless. You are the light of the world—like a city on a hilltop that cannot be hidden. No one lights a lamp and then puts it under a basket. Instead, a lamp is placed on a stand, where it gives light to everyone in the house. In the same way, let your good deeds shine out for all to see, so that everyone will praise your heavenly Father” (Matthew 5:13-16, NLT).

Notice two important truths in that passage. First, we are called to live in a manner that glorifies Christ and offers a visual contrast to the lifestyle embraced by the world. God uses lives of humility, service, love, forgiveness, and godliness to draw others to Him, as they witness our behavior over time. He calls us to live as lights on the hill and salt in the culture, not as bullhorns incessantly informing society how bad it is.

Second, Jesus tells us that if salt loses its flavor it is worthless and will be discarded. A society awash in sin, then, says as much about us as believers as it does about the culture. We are losing our flavor, our light is dimming, and we are at risk of being trampled underfoot as worthless. But instead of falling on our knees before the Lord, repenting, seeking forgiveness, and asking Him to remove the sin from our lives, we choose to yell at society, disparage its’ immorality, and place on its shoulders the blame for our country’s condition. Why won’t we awake to our own sin and confess our role in weakening the moral foundation of the nation? For the same reason society refuses to accept its role or confess its sin: Pride.

That’s why we affect so little change when we point our collective church finger at society and issue accusations. It looks at us and laughs derisively. It knows the Bible well enough to know that Jesus did not take that approach to reform Israel. Instead, He invested His life serving others, loving the marginalized, discipling a handful of followers, and praying throughout the night on a regular basis. As a result, His life did more than change Israel it transformed the world. Once we embrace the radical, sacrificial lifestyle of Jesus, society will sit up and take notice. And we won’t have to shout a single word to get their attention.

While the church may find this message uncomfortable and challenging, I hope many view it as encouraging and hopeful as well. It is intended to awaken believers so we might be used of God to stir society. Sadly, if experience is any indication, many Christians will respond in a manner that mirrors society’s response to public rebukes from Christian leaders. They will take umbrage, disagree, and insist it is only an opinion (and a lousy one at that).

But if we are serious about bringing revival to this country and genuinely want to see our nation adopt God’s standards, we need to avoid shouting at society and casting it as the villain responsible for our condition (remember, the only yelling Jesus did was directed at religious leaders he described as hypocrites). Let’s instead consider the challenges above, examine our hearts, and do a better job following Jesus’ example. Once we allow God to turn our lives upside-down, we’ll be in position for Him to use us to do the same with our nation. And that’s something we can all get excited about!

America’s Least Favorite Bible Verse.

Many things divide our nation. Political affiliations separate us into segments of blue and red, depending on whether we support Democrats or Republicans. Professional and college sports fuel rivalries between fans of different teams. Wealth separates us by zip code and neighborhood depending on where we can afford to live. Religion sends us in different directions on weekends to worship whatever God we follow, if any at all. Issues of national importance often are viewed through the lens of race, gender, education, and age, frequently tearing us apart instead of bringing us together. Of course, not all differences are divisive and most are reflective of the healthy melting pot America represents.

One commonality, however, unifies our nation almost universally – in large cities and rural communities, across religions, races, and age groups, among political parties, and within most neighborhoods whether rich or poor. That unifying theme is a love for the world and the things in it. We may disagree on what aspects of the world we love or how we manifest that love but nearly all of us love it deeply. Evidence of this truth is all around us, in how we spend our time and how we invest our income. Some examples might prove helpful.

We love entertainment. From YouTube to Netflix, music to television, sporting contests to cultural events, video games to social media, we cannot get enough entertainment. While the genre and medium vary considerably, our thirst (perhaps lust) for entertainment appears insatiable.

We love stuff. While the stuff we love and the brands we buy differ dramatically between individuals, Americans love acquiring the things of this world. And it’s not enough just to collect stuff; we want the best, most popular, and coolest brands: Apple, Givenchy, Beats, Mercedes, Breitling, Neiman Marcus, and Hermès. We insist these are not luxuries but simply a part of being a real American. Laptops, i-pads, cell-phones, chic cars, large-screen televisions, double lattes, and six-dozen pairs of shoes are necessities. And the more we acquire, the more we realize that we require more necessities.

We love pampering. Our definitions may vary but we love being ensconced in luxury. Spa treatments, pedicures, and deep tissue massages to forget the rigors of work. Resort vacations to alleviate stress. Patronizing those businesses that make us feel special and understand our need for comfort. We gravitate to retailers, merchants, and brands that recognize our importance and meet our physical, emotional, and psychological needs.

I could go on but you get the picture. More than ever, a love for the world and all it offers unites us as a nation and represents the American dream. It probably sounds crass and we may resist that truth but the evidence is overwhelming. We love the world and the things of the world.

This may not sound at all troubling to most Americans who probably agree with the above assertions and might even celebrate them. Heck, yeah, we love entertainment, stuff, and pampering. But who cares? Indeed, for secularists and those of other faiths, a love for the world is nothing to be concerned about.

But for those who claim to follow Christ, it is a topic of grave concern – or at least it ought to be. Scripture addresses the issue on numerous occasions and we would do well to reflect on relevant verses, to understand God’s perspective. Perhaps the clearest and most compelling passage comes from the apostle John. “Do not love the world or the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For all that is in the world—the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life—is not of the Father but is of the world. And the world is passing away, and the lust of it; but he who does the will of God abides forever” (1 John 2:15-17, NKJV).

John leaves no room for ambiguity. Do not love the world or the things of the world. Simple and straightforward, right? Yet on reading that verse many Christians reject it (‘I don’t agree with what it says’), dismiss it as legalistic (‘I am free in Christ to do whatever I want, which means I can love the world and the things in it’), or insist they already adhere to John’s advice irrespective of how they live (‘I don’t love the world or the things in it. End of discussion.’).

Still, many believers who claim to prioritize their faith and take it seriously have little interest in understanding and applying the truth of this passage. Why? Because it discomforts us and requires wholesale changes in our lives. It is a very disruptive verse that, if followed, will radically alter how we spend our time and invest our resources. And let’s be honest, most of us have no desire for radical alterations to our lives. So we ignore or reject the truth embedded in that passage.

Perhaps the most disingenuous response, though, comes from believers who contend they have no love for the world or the things in it. Despite drowning in a sea of stuff, entrenched in entertainment activities, and living in the lap of luxury (by global standards where abject poverty thrives), they refuse to admit the truth. They are so deeply in love with the world that they have convinced themselves otherwise to avoid having to undergo a lifestyle transformation consistent with John’s verses.

So why does God wants us to avoid loving the world, its’ pleasures, and the things in it? Does He simply want us to live an ascetic life so we are miserable? Does He want His followers to suffer while the rest of the world enjoys lives filled with fun and indulgence? Not at all. He calls us to avoid falling in love with the world for two reasons. First, the world distracts us from following Him. When we fall in love with the things of this world, they take God’s rightful place in our hearts and minds. We focus on serving ourselves and pursuing our interests instead of serving the Lord and pursuing His plan.

Second, a love for the world consumes the focus, time, and resources that properly belong to God. When we resist the temptation to love the world we are set free to love God fully. Jesus explained it like this, “No one can serve two masters. For you will hate one and love the other; you will be devoted to one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and money” (Matthew 6:24, NLT).

Sadly, many of us believe we can serve God and the world simultaneously. Or we believe we can love the world and all it offers while pretending and claiming to love and serve God. But Jesus makes clear that such an arrangement is not possible. To avoid any confusion, He outlines a very simple litmus test for identifying our one true love. “Wherever your treasure is, there the desires of your heart will also be” (Matthew 6:21, NLT).

So ask yourself: ‘Where is my treasure?’ How do you spend most of your free time? Where do you invest the majority of your financial resources? In the things of the world or in the kingdom of God? Your answer reveals your real love. If you don’t know how to answer, look at the evidence around you. It is probably overwhelming.