Christian Bakeries, LGBTQ Rights, and Individual Liberty

In June, the United States Supreme Court ruled that the state of Colorado violated the Free Exercise clause of the U.S. Constitution’s first amendment when it punished Christian baker James Phillips and his Masterpiece Cakeshop for refusing to bake a custom cake to celebrate a gay couple’s wedding. It has taken me some time to sort out my thoughts on this.

First, let me say clearly that I am not claiming to speak for Christians or LGBTQ activists, Republicans or Democrats, business owners or consumers. Politically, I’m inclined toward Libertarians but my thoughts here are strictly my own.

In looking at things, I frequently try very hard to see the situation from a different perspective. In this case, I wonder what would happen if the key players were changed. “Halal” is the Arabic word that essentially means “permitted.” So Halal food is simply food that is permissible under Muslim Sharia law. Zamzam Halal International Market & Deli is just a few miles away from the bakery that is the centerpiece of the legal battle. Now suppose I walked into the Zamzam Deli and asked for pork tenderloin. Obviously, they would refuse. Would I have the right to sue them? They served others with different requests, but denied mine on religious grounds.

What’s the difference? Well first, straight white males aren’t a protected group like gays. Second, Muslims are largely (if unofficially) protected and Christians are fair game.

The Supreme Court crossed the political ideologies that lead to so many 5-4 rulings and voted 7-2 against the state of Colorado. In a summary of their opinion they said, “The laws and the Constitution can, and in some instances must, protect gay persons and gay couples in the exercise of their civil rights, but religious and philosophical objections to gay marriage are protected views and in some instances protected forms of expression.”

As someone with Libertarian inclinations who has owned several small businesses, I see two factors here. First, if I start a business I don’t want the government interfering with my decisions about who I do business with. That should be my prerogative. Second, however, if I deliberately alienate an entire section of the population I will lose not only their business but all of the people who sympathize with them. People can—and should—vote with their wallets, by doing business with those with whom they feel most comfortable. In other words, I support the bakery’s right to design only the kinds of cakes they want, and I support the right of the LGBTQ community and their sympathizers to boycott (not attack) that bakery. But there must be limits to this line of thought.

In this case, I don’t see any real harm to the customers not given custom service. The truth is that there are many other bakeries in a small radius who were delighted to help them. To me, this feels more like a power play to force that one business to accept their point of view.

However, we live in an age of acceptance. If someone tried to open a restaurant for whites only today, they would lose not only the business of people of color, they would lose the business of the vast majority of the population (including me) because we stand against bigotry and don’t want to go to a place filled with bigots. On the other hand, if this was a time when most businesses were biased against any group, then there would be more tangible harm because that group’s access to the goods or services would be limited. That’s why the legal concept of protected groups must exist—though we may disagree on which groups deserve that status.

In this situation, I’m unhappy with two sides of the original case. I’m unhappy with Colorado trying to force people to violate their religious beliefs, and I’m unhappy with the couple who created a huge legal battle to try to force others to accept their beliefs. Liberals and conservatives, listen up: You can never force others to agree with you. You can certainly pass legislation to keep them from harming you, but please stop trying to insist that the whole world think the way you do. It isn’t going to happen, and you’re adding to the angry polarization in our country. When did we lose our ability to disagree, but still respect and love?


Balancing the Scales

It takes weight on both sides

“…anyone who does not love does not know God, for God is love” (1 John 4:8).

“We know how much God loves us, and we have put our trust in his love. God is love…” (1 John 4:16).

How sweet these passages are, and how they encourage us. Put together with Jesus’ words about us becoming the children of God, these thoughts rightly create in our minds the image of a perfect parent. A perfect Father who is always there for us, always supporting us, always happy to be with us, always looking at us with the warmest of smiles and ready to embrace us in safe, protective love.

Any church that doesn’t paint this picture is not teaching truth.

However, we must also teach:

“And have you forgotten the encouraging words God spoke to you as his children? He said, ‘My child, don’t make light of the Lord’s discipline, and don’t give up when he corrects you. For the Lord disciplines those he loves, and he punishes each one he accepts as his child” (Hebrews 12:5-6).

“But once he has made his decision, who can change his mind? Whatever he wants to do, he does. So he will do to me whatever he has planned. He controls my destiny. No wonder I am so terrified in his presence. When I think of it, terror grips me” (Job 23:13-15).

“Fear of the LORD is the foundation of wisdom” (Proverbs 9:10).

I can’t speak for other countries, but in the U.S. we don’t have to look far to see the results of parents who didn’t balance the scales with their children. They are more interested in being friends than parents, and congratulate themselves on their good parenting while their undisciplined children become ever more entitled takers rather than givers. That’s not love.

Love cares about what is best for the child—which frequently is not what the child wants. True love includes responsibility; the responsibility to say and do the hard things. True love is willing to anger the child in order to make the child a better person.

God can’t be that perfect Father without practicing tough love, and that includes expecting right actions. Wrong actions have consequences—as they should! The old saying goes, “God loves you right where you are, and He loves you too much to let you stay there.”

God’s scales are perfectly balanced, meaning both love and fear live together.

Reacting to Moral Failure

The president of the Southern Baptist Convention’s executive board just resigned because of a moral failure ( No doubt the media will play this up as an example of Christian hypocrisy and how Christian leaders cannot be trusted. May I explain why that is incorrect?

First, Christians don’t claim to be perfect and free from sin. Actually, we know quite well that were not! That’s why we need the forgiveness that Jesus offers. And while true, dedicated Christians (as opposed to those who claim that title without being committed to the life it represents) try hard to avoid sin, the reality is that we still fall from time to time. It’s only hypocrisy for those who pretend they are above failure—and true Christians know better.

Second, Protestants do not revere their leaders. We know they are susceptible to failure. Yes, it’s hurtful when it happens, but probably not for the reasons you think. It’s hurtful because we know 1) it could happen to us; 2) that person probably struggled heavily to avoid the sin; 3) that person is absolutely miserable right now, and we care about them; and 4) we’re reminded to examine whether we’re being honest with others about temptations we’re facing so that others in our Christian family can help us stay strong.

It has been said that Christians are the only family that kicks their members when they’re down. I’m not going to kick Dr. Page. I’m going to hurt for him and with him. I’m going to pray for his full rejection of his mistakes and his full commitment to his family. I’m going to pray that he be surrounded by loving people who can help him build the protections in his life so that this never happens again. I’m going to pray for his wife and daughters. I’m going to pray that all who are under him realize that they are not followers of Page (or any fallible human) but followers of the perfect Christ.

May we all remember 1 Corinthians 10:12 which reminds us, “If you think you are standing strong, be careful not to fall.”

I Hope People Are Unhappy With You

“For every action, there is an equal and opposite criticism.”

I suppose that the title of this post seems controversial to some, but I believe it is highly biblical. Jesus made enemies. If we’re not making enemies, perhaps we’re not following him closely enough!

I thank God that this has not hit my brothers and sisters in other parts of the world as strongly, but in the U.S. we have a problem. We have become so concerned with “reaching the culture” that we have stopped being different from it. And even within our churches, we are too much like the church in Corinth that Paul became so angry with because they weren’t weeding out sin within their own walls. We have allowed sin within our churches to go unchallenged because we don’t want to rock the boat. After all, they might stop attending!

I find no verse in the Bible where Jesus asked us to go and make attenders! Rather, he was willing to let people leave if they weren’t willing to embrace everything he taught. Jesus never modeled building a large church; he wanted a committed church no matter how small.

We cannot let a desire for numbers get in the way of our true mission. We are to go and make disciples. Jesus was content to drive away thousands to keep a tiny core of those committed.

May we never lose sight of the example of He who we serve.

You Can’t Dispense Wisdom You Don’t Have

My target audience for this piece is spiritual leaders, but I believe that these words are true for everyone. I think we all would like to believe that our words can help others… but we can’t give others what we don’t already have.

Many of you will have had the experience of being in a situation and just the right Bible verse or story or quote came to mind. Personally, I give the Holy Spirit credit for that—though some may disagree. But whatever you give credit for those moments, those perfect thoughts could not have come to mind if you hadn’t already been filling yourself with the quality thoughts that you were able to express.

I used to confine my reading to topics of interest to me. That just makes sense, right? But what if your reading and study isn’t just about you? What if all of your reading and study is preparing you for some conversation or situation that you can’t anticipate?

I have found that the more time I spend in all parts of the Bible, and in reading books by wise people on all topics, the better I am able to respond in all situations. Of course the Holy Spirit is able to impart new, unique thoughts! But most of the time I find that I am prompted in conversations with things that I had read a long time ago and thought I had forgotten! But the Holy Spirit is able to bring these thoughts back to the front of my mind at just the right moment to be a blessing to others.

I don’t claim to be a wise person, but the more I fill my mind with quality reading, the more the Holy Spirit is able to bring the most appropriate Bible reference, illustration, perspective on a current event, or whatever it is to mind.

Folks, time spent in Bible study and reading of great works isn’t just for my edification. They provide a growing reservoir of knowledge that the Holy Spirit can bring to my mind in surprising everyday conversations. Yes, he can plant unique thoughts and provide us with words. But in my experience that happens most frequently by him bringing to mind things I had already taken in on my own.

I can’t encourage you strongly enough to be in regular reading of the Bible and other quality works on a wide range of things beyond what you might be teaching at the moment. Every morsel of wisdom you take in is another tool you have to help others in situations you can’t predict.

The Power of Truth

The Power of Truth
What is Your Church’s Attraction Model?

Today I was stricken by the fact that in my rush to get to Jesus I often skim over John the baptizer. The Gospel of Mark totally overlooks Jesus miraculous birth, and yet Mark takes time to talk about John the baptizer. This makes sense, since the coming of John was actually predicted by the prophets talking about the coming Messiah! Even his birth and family were special, but today my thoughts center around John’s ministry.

What did people see when they looked at John? Matthew and Mark both tell us that his clothing was a robe of coarse camel hair and a leather belt. The prosperous people of the time would have been wearing linen robes, and cloth belts with tassels. Less prosperous people would have been wearing wool with rope belts–often with tassels. Wearing a camel hair robe (or mantle) would indicate poverty. It gave an impression like bibbed overalls; someone who wears things that will last a long time because the person has a hard time and can’t afford to replace them frequently. He was not a preacher in a shiny suit, starched shirt, silk tie, and shined shoes. Nothing about his appearance gave the impression that following his teaching would make life easier or more prosperous.

What did people hear when they listened to John the Baptist? I can’t find a single place where he tried to entertain people. He didn’t encourage them, he exhorted them. In Matthew 3 and Luke 3, John is reported as giving a perfect example of the “turn or burn” message we often make fun of–including directly referring to being burned in fire. He gave the people instructions like, “If you have two shirts, give one to the poor. If you have food, share it with those who are hungry.” “Be content with your pay.”

Can you imagine a spiritual leader today telling people to be content with their pay? Especially coming from someone who looks like they don’t get any pay? From someone who eats grasshoppers?

This was a time when the people were under Roman rule. They had been conquered. They were subject to a foreign government that levied high taxes on them, and gave them new laws that they had never agreed to. But John didn’t tell them:

“You can’t help it, you’re just oppressed.”
“It’s the government’s fault.”
“You deserve better.”
“It’s the fault of the {insert people group}.”

No, what John told them is that they needed to change. Themselves. Us.

And yet the people left their towns and went out to the middle of nowhere to see and hear John’s teaching. By the thousands! And repented, and were baptized. Are you and your church having that kind of impact?

In 1 Corinthians 9, Paul tells us that it is perfectly appropriate to tailor our approach to our culture. Each of us must decide the best way to do that. But we must never lose sight of the fact that our message is not based on our appearance, our entertainment, or our ability to make people feel better about their lives. Our message is based on confronting people with truth. Truth in love, absolutely, but not truth smothered by any other consideration.

Performance Enhancing Drugs

That’s the title I gave this humorous image when I posted it on Imzy. And yes, I appreciate it as a joke. But it got me thinking…

Most of you will recognize this as a take on the classic Serenity Prayer written by Reinhold Niebuhr around 1934:

God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change,
Courage to change the things I can,
And wisdom to know the difference.

This meme substitutes coffee for courage, wine for serenity,  and removes wisdom completely. I can’t shake the feeling that that’s a metaphor for our culture.

Feel a bit drowsy, drink coffee. Want an extra edge, try an energy drink. Having trouble sleeping, try Ambien. Feeling edgy, have a drink. Feeling lonely, try Häagen-Dazs. Feeling bored, distract yourself with some mindless entertainment. Feeling anxious, surf the Web for hours to allow yourself the false feeling of accomplishing something. Artificial solutions that mask symptoms without solving problems.

It seems to me that people are spending a lot of time, energy, and money seeking external quick fixes for things that are really resolved only by internal changes. No amount of chemical additives will change our bodies’ natural need for the right amount of quality rest. Numbing our minds doesn’t solve anything, it only delays it—which often makes it worse. Triggering the pleasure receptors in our brain with our drug of choice (I’m partial to Goobers) is just as ineffective as numbing our minds.

Courage is not necessarily the absence of fear. It may be doing the right thing despite your fear. It may be realizing that you can’t “fail” because the results are ultimately up to a Higher Power. Courage is built by the character that comes from consistently doing the right thing, no matter the consequences. It is strengthened by the knowledge that God never asks you to “succeed,” he only asks you to obey.

Serenity can be mimicked for a short period of time, but true serenity can never be produced by external means—yes, even if they legalize cannabis. It’s a state of inner peace that transcends outer stimuli. It is cultivated by prayer and meditation. It is strengthened by developing a spiritual, eternal viewpoint that doesn’t expect worldly institutions to resolve spiritual problems.

Wisdom isn’t the same as knowledge. Knowledge can be abstract, wisdom is applied. Wisdom helps us discern what is too petty to worry about. Wisdom helps us see underlying causes rather than visible problems. Wisdom helps us see the difference between “making our point” and helping resolve a situation. Wisdom sees the difference between arguing small nuances of one biblical verse and living the Bible’s big messages.

Don’t misunderstand me; I’m not saying you shouldn’t enjoy a cup of coffee or a glass of wine. But we should be on guard to prevent external things from distracting us from taking on the true, prolonged inner battles.

Love isn’t convenient

You’ve probably heard the old cliché that love is a verb. It’s true.

Those great old romantic movies that portray love as a feeling are touching, but they’re based on an emotion that can be fleeting. True love is a commitment, and those are not fleeting. It’s a commitment to act in certain ways that display that love. A couple of things have happened in the past week that illustrated that.

Last Saturday was the Walk to End Alzheimer’s in Berea. I led a team in fundraising in support of my mother. I received a donation from someone we had helped through a rough time a few years ago, and the donation was very much appreciated. But then he asked for the address of the walk, because he wanted to come down to be there in person. This man, his wife, and their beautiful little girl, drove an hour and a half each way to come from Campbellsville and walk with us in support of my mother. They’d never met her, but he loved me and wanted to show it.

Yesterday my wife had a fall and broke her ankle. Today, friends drove down from Lexington to deliver a dinner for us tonight. They didn’t come to our home, because they didn’t want her to feel like she had to “be ready for guests.” They met me at work and dropped off food, a bottle of wine, and a rose, tea, and chocolates for Tiffani.

I’ve come to believe that love is most visible when it’s not convenient. It’s the things we do going out of our way that speak love most clearly. Jesus frequently praised people who went out of their way, such as the Good Samaritan, those who visit prisoners, and those who care for people in need. He said true love is laying down your life for someone else.

I thank God for showing love for me in the most inconvenient way imaginable; the sacrifice of his Son. I thank God for bringing people into my life who demonstrate love. I pray that He will continue to develop me into a more and more loving person to others.


Book Review: The Life Assistance Agency

img_0829Scheduled for publication September 25, 2016

With a quirky title like The Life Assistance Agency, the offbeat concept, and the humor at the beginning, I was put in mind of Douglas Adams’ Dirk Gently books. As a result, I was slightly disappointed when the wit went away after the first part of the book. That’s unfair, because the book really is a great read. It could benefit from just a touch more editing, but the free advance review copy that Urbane Publishing sent me may well get final touch-up before its release this week.

As best I can discover, this is Hocknell’s premiere novel. I certainly hope it’s not his last, because he does an excellent job of weaving together stories in two different timelines. It was consistently engaging, with pleasant twists and revelations along the way. The characters were interesting—even when not lovable. I will most certainly keep an eye out for future work from Thomas Hocknell. He’s an author I look forward to reading again.

Book Review: Searching the Scriptures

51ksvqxjcel-_sy346_(due for publication by Tyndale September 13)

In his introduction, Swindoll says that this book is an attempt to pass on what he learned from his beloved mentor, Howard Hendricks, and built upon in his 50+ years of ministry. And indeed, there are parts of the book that are very reminiscent of Hendricks’ work, Living by the Book (1991, Moody Press). Swindoll wrote the foreword for that book, which I’ve loaned out more copies of than I’ve had returned. But even if you have that book, Searching the Scriptures is a really valuable work.

He starts with two powerful chapters that address why we should bother studying the Bible–something many people have never really had explained. If you read these two chapters and do the exercises at the end of each, you will likely come away with a new hunger for Bible study.

The next four chapters describe–and give great exercises of–his four key steps of Bible study. I won’t throw in a spoiler here…I will say that they won’t necessarily be surprising, but you’ve likely never had them explained and illustrated so clearly. The advance review copy Tyndale gave me didn’t have some graphics that are supposed to be in the final version, but I still found it easy to follow.

Swindoll puts it succinctly: “Those who don’t learn to prepare their own meals from the Scriptures simply don’t know what God’s Word has to say. It simply isn’t possible to get the spiritual food our souls need in an hour on a Sunday morning.”

There are a few anachronisms, such as his insistence on the need for a concordance. Surely we can forgive a man who has been in ministry for 50 years a few quirks related to being a bibliophile rather than an online scholar with the ability to do a word search with a duplex of taps.

This is not a quick read that you breeze through. I received my review copy from Tyndale a few weeks ago, and am just now finishing this review. If you don’t take the time to go through the exercises at the end of each chapter, you will finish this book informed but not transformed. But faithfully following Swindoll’s wise techniques will prevent one from falling into common traps such as “proof-texting;” pulling one verse or part of a verse out of context and building a false theology around it.

This book will almost certainly give you a new hunger for, and a new ability to gain nourishment from, studying God’s Word. In fact, I would argue that it should be part of every single New Christian class around the world. Even the library of every Christian around the world.