All Politics are Local

politicsPersonally, I don’t know anybody who is excited about any particular candidate for president. Support has been justified by stronger dislike for the alternatives than it has as an endorsement for a leader with a vision. “Yeah, but they are better than” is about the weakest support you can offer and it’s the catch phrase of this election.

Where that discussion takes place, it’s not uncommon to hear something like, “I can’t believe this is the best that we can do,” or “how did we get these candidates?” Unfortunately, we got them because they reflect us. All politics are local and local attitudes have bubbled up to the national level, leaving us with a reflection of our culture.

We have become an inflammatory, contrary culture of opposition. The idea of vision and principle based leadership is not even talked about. The reason for that is it reflects a culture that doesn’t value vision and principle based living. We aren’t nearly as interested in the perseverance of vision or the sacrifice of principles as we are the selfishness of comfort.

The new normal is outrageous polarization. The preferred alternative for discussion and even entertainment has become name calling, lying and grandstanding. Unless you agree, you are targeted for attacks as disqualified based on actual or perceived flaws in your character.

Unfortunately, the church is right in the center of this shift. Since at least the 1980’s, we have increasingly embraced the divide of “right” and “wrong” or “good” and “bad” as the basis for presentation of our beliefs. We yell just as loud, lobby just as passionately and dig in just as deep where we believe you have to agree with us to be right. The only difference is we typically try to invoke God as a validation for our imposition of ideas.

Attempting to impose beliefs on others is not Christianity. There is no grace in it. Jesus didn’t impose anything on us; He invited us by His sacrifice.

None of the national discord is going to change from the top down. When we allow Jesus to change our hearts, it will reflect towards the person next door or in the office across the hall. We won’t need them to vote like us because we’ll be more interested in them than we are ourselves by eliminating the requirement that they become like us to be validated. We’ll allow for disagreement from the peace of knowing His grace, not the knowledge that puffs up in attempts to codify what was intended to be relational.

Stepping into the Discussion on Race

503678-charlotte-protest-getty-8-resizesdAnger has been all over the news lately as the incidents of violence involving African-Americans and the police seem to come one right after the other. Social media provides a platform for opinions and accusations from anybody with a phone. The reactions from each side often lack logic and are typically more inflammatory than they are useful towards solutions.

The illogical arguments of the masses on social media platforms seem to grant credibility where there are no qualifications that would validate credibility. The problem is that most of the “evidence” supporting one side or the other would be inadmissible if presented in an orderly, credible way such as a court of law. The argument isn’t really an argument at all, but people venting without any hope of understanding or resolution.

Here is what I know: anger is a secondary emotion. Under the anger, there is either hurt or fear. The anger and the immediate circumstances that seem to stir it are a distraction from the driver of either hurts or fears. You’ve got to get to the hurt and/or the fear to resolve the anger.

I see anger spewed all over social media with illogical connections to support faulty conclusions from both sides. If I get distracted by the flawed arguments and enter into the debate on that level, it will go nowhere. I have to acknowledge and address the heart behind the head because the head is not that interested in logic where the heart is crying out.

If we won’t stop the inflammatory rhetoric to try to realize the heart condition of those that disagree, as well as our own emotional fog that confuses our reason, we’re stuck. Actually, we aren’t stuck, we’re moving deeper and deeper into division and discord.

Emotion needs a voice or it will just stew. Acknowledging hurts of generations of systemic racism is healthy, right and healing. Acknowledging fears from violence born out of communities where hurt is prevalent is healthy, right and healing.

For what it’s worth, I believe any discussion on race has to begin with a acknowledgement from the majority to the minority that wrongs of the recent and distant past have impacted the present. To believe that there is no cause and effect just because you didn’t actually do the stuff is a non-starter.

Beyond acknowledgement, there has to be forgiveness from all sides. Without a heart that is intent on not carrying around offense, there will be no healing. Forgiveness is not permission to do it again, it is a release from the burdens of emotions born out of past injustice.

Frankly, I don’t think there is a national solution. The only solution is local. It is so local, in fact, that it is heart by heart. Only hearts that are humble and forgiving will have any hope of multiplying and only a multiplication of humility and forgiveness will get us out of this mess. In my experience, only Jesus produces those kinds of hearts.


The Solution to Pornography

love-partnership-friends-friendship-connectionI wrote the other day how pornography is driven by a need for intimate connection, not sexual desire. Men (and women, in some cases) that get stuck in the short-term trap of the physical escape from an emotional and spiritual need spiral into greater frustration. The need for intimacy is legitimate and God breathed. It’s part of our design. It’s part of God’s plan. We are wired to connect.

That design for connection, however, is primarily and fundamentally satisfied with the One that put it in us. The essence of that design is for communion with the Father. It’s the restoration of sons and daughters to the love of the Father. When we know His love, we know our purpose and walk in the satisfaction of intimate fulfillment.

A mistake that married couples make when addressing the intrusion of pornography in their marriage is thinking that it’s about sex. The wife feels inadequate. Even if they take the next step and realize it’s not about sex, but instead it’s about intimacy, the burden of source can be misplaced. The wife is not intended as the husband’s source any more than the husband is intended as the wife’s source.

There is only one Source, and it’s the One that designed our for need connection to the Source. Only the love of the Father fulfills the need for love. Spiritual connection leads to spiritual fulfillment which leads to emotional satisfaction. We are filled by Him to give out to others.

In a marriage, intimacy fulfilled by the Father fills each one up to give to the other. The husband can’t expect the wife to satisfy what was designed to be satisfied by the One who created the need. In the same way, neither can the wife expect that of the husband. That’s co-dependency and even idolatry. If we promote someone to a place that God is intended to sit in our lives, they become gods in those areas of our lives. Not good.

The Source of satisfaction for the legitimate need for intimacy fills us to walk in our purpose as sons and daughters of Him. We have plenty to give from the abundance of eternity, not the temporal limitation of human effort. Wives can’t fix husbands that are disconnected, nor vice versa. Agreement together, the two as one, can bring the power of oneness to the pursuit of the One.

Sin is a twist or substitute to a legitimate need. Intimacy is a legitimate need. To avoid the traps of the cheap substitute, plug into the One that fulfills the need. If there is a life pattern of shortcuts that have become habitual and even addictive, agreement in transparency about the actual need, solution and openness about the struggle are the best way to get beyond the problem.

The Problem Behind Pornography

shamePornography is an illegitimate method of fulfilling a legitimate need and the legitimate need isn’t what we think it is. Pornography isn’t about sex because the need isn’t that shallow. The legitimate need is a need for intimacy. The connection, fulfillment, satisfaction and depth of intimacy gets hijacked by the perverted shortcut of pornography.

There is an epidemic surrounding the use of pornography and it’s much more destructive than many realize. The darkness of isolated dives into depraved imaginations brings shame and further isolation. The secrecy surrounding and perceived rejection from the double life of pornography damages legitimate relationship and frustrates God’s intention for transparent connection.

Once the cycle begins, the downward spiral is inviting. The release of chemicals in the brain consistent with the release that occurs from cocaine use provides a short-term high. As the short-term thrill gives way to lasting shame, the trap is set. That brief euphoric escape requires increasing stimulus to supersede the familiarity that comes with previous experience. In other words, what used to be exciting has to be enhanced to cause the same stir. Dark gets darker.

The escape, however, isn’t into sex because it isn’t sex. It really doesn’t have much of anything to do with sex. It’s an escape from a lack of intimacy that feels like pain, emptiness, disconnection, isolation and frustration. It’s triggered by things such as stress, lack of control, emotional immaturity and other limitations of the soul remedied with a shortcut of the flesh.

This is a critical realization for married couples wanting to walk out of a grip of pornography. If the wife holds onto the hurt of a lie, she won’t be able to partner with her husband who may be willing to break the cycle. The lie that many wives would believe is that they are rejected or found inadequate physically. The reality of an emotional and spiritual void that may have nothing to do with her is the real driver.

Here is the good news; when a married couple is impacted by pornography, the reality is that both husband and wife actually want the same thing. They both want legitimate emotional and spiritual connection for the fulfillment of satisfaction that comes with intimate relationship. The disconnect isn’t her fault; it’s his problem (in cases where it’s the man jammed up in pornography which are still the majority).

With agreement regarding the problem and avoidance of the hurt that comes with the accusation of perceived rejection, the two can agree. He can be honest about when and if he is tempted to isolate and escape. She can support without ownership of the cause to the effect. While it’s still difficult and dark, the clarity of a target facilities hope for healing.

The Fear That Produces Faith

img_0826We went up a mountain yesterday and as I was turning a corner of a winding mountain road, came face to face with a herd of sheep. Thousands of sheep were being pushed down the mountain and we were going up where they were going down.

When we were sitting off to the side of the road to let them pass, they were too scared and the shepherd started to lose control. They started running up the mountain and all over the place. We had to back up to a wide turn with extra space off to the side for them to pass on the road.

Same situation from two different perspectives produced two very different results. We were having a blast. This was so unique and fun to be in the middle of this scene that most of us had never imagined. We gave the shepherds bottles of water and talked with the trailing owners overseeing the large operation. It was a highlight of our day.

The sheep, however, were scared to death. They were panicked and freaking out. We were a perceived threat although we actually presented no threat at all.

There have been times that we’ve gone up the mountain with a different group where members of the group were scared to death. They didn’t like the mountain roads with drop-offs on one side. They didn’t like heights. They didn’t like being out of control. Fear will paralyze us and distort our perspective.

Later in the day, I spent time by myself on the side of a different mountain as I sought the presence of God. At least once during that time, I perceived the fear of the Lord in the sense of His awesome sovereignty. At one point, I literally spent time on my knees before Him.

The fear of the Lord is real and it is the only fear that will actually clarify and motivate. Realization of God puts us in perspective compared to Him and humbles us. It clarifies perceived threats we are facing  and puts them in perspective under His grace and love, as well. We can face the threats knowing that they aren’t as threatening as He is promising.

In this world, we are going to have trouble whether we know the Lord or submit to Him or not. Only through submission to Him can we find peace the surpasses the logic of the fear. Some things are scary, and only perfect love casts out fear.

Serving Others Doesn’t Require a Resume

img_0802Julie and I have increasingly gotten involved in speaking into marriages. We’ve spent quite a bit of time away this year with that sole focus. There have been some great stories of redemption and reconciliation that, at times, have been miraculous. As we have invested in other people’s marriages, we’ve had to do quite a bit of work on our marriage, as well.

Things in our marriage have been stirred up and we’ve had to work through things that aren’t always fun or comfortable. Sometimes that happens right in the middle of the times that we are ministering in the marriages of other people. Some of the ministry to the others is “real-time” as we realize things for ourselves.

Since our marriage isn’t perfect and we are having to work on things, ourselves, there is a temptation to believe that we shouldn’t be working with others in this area. That temptation is a lie as there are no perfect ministers. If we all wait until we reach perfection to share our imperfection, there would be no ministry at all.

The things that we think may invalidate us are the exact things that validate us. Our flaws are in need of grace and grace is Jesus. Where we are not afraid to admit that our salvation is being worked out and live transparently where weakness isn’t a disqualification, Jesus will be on display. Jesus will minister through us.

Marriage ministry, men’s ministry, church ministry or any other kind of ministry is not validated by the superior knowledge or training of a guy, it’s validated by the display of Jesus. Where we are weak, He is strong so if we’ll admit what everyone probably knows anyway, then He can do the stuff He is good at through us.

The Apostle Paul wrote, “For I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate.” (Romans 7:15). He led with transparency, not allowing his failures in keeping the rules to be disqualifiers. His qualifier was the grace and sacrifice of Jesus.

Don’t be afraid to serve others through your imperfect faith. Just be real and honest about the places where you start and He ends, to put His grace on display through your imperfections. Your qualifications are rubbish compared to His glory. Put His glory on display, not your ability.