Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Matters of Perspective

Perspective is funny thing. One perspective sees two faces looking at each other while another sees a vase. Two different perspectives and the result couldn't be any different. When we take the time to look at any situation a bit longer we are able to see a new perspective and maybe even understand a different viewpoint.

Depending on which side of the separation wall you are standing on, your perspective is the difference between being an aggressor or a defender. Perspective will call one nation "liberators" or an "occupying force". Perspective causes some to label a program "entitlements" while others label it "an obligation" to the poor.

In the past few weeks I have had a reoccurring conversation about the Christian status of the United States. Some argue we may still be labeled a "Christian Nation" while others admit this title no longer applies. The answer is likely different depending on where you live. Perhaps as different as a "blue" state or a "red" state but the point for me is how does this perspective change how I live?

If we are a Christian nation then it seems I have an obligation to fight to keep the nation on that track. If we are not a Christian nation then I must view my life as "salt and light" in a world in need of both flavor and illumination. When Jesus told His followers they were the "salt of the earth" it was in the context of a world that was not yet Christian. He understood that His followers would be different and therefore their stories would unfold under the tapestry of a pluralistic and often adversarial world. The more "Christian" the empire became, the less Jesus' followers had to be "salty".

Most of our communities are far from being well flavored with the hope and peace that comes from God and are once again in need of some "Christian saltiness". I have changed my perspective from existing in a Christian culture to being an alien in a foreign land. Like missionaries, we cannot expect our culture to bend for us, we must learn to add salt and light to the world in which we live. This of course does not mean that we embrace all our culture embraces but it does mean that we approach our culture with a true desire to bring the love of Jesus to the "world" that God so loves.

So how can we be salt and light and be "in the world" but not "of the world"?

1. Don't compromise your own faith. Remaining true to Biblical living applies to you and those who follow Scripture but it does not necessarily mean to fight to have your culture embrace Biblical values. Certainly most people would embrace Biblical values of love, grace, and forgiveness but it is unreasonable to expect our culture to embrace all aspects of Biblical living. Begin with a commitment to personally live the ways of Jesus in a world that does not share that perspective.

2. Build bridges, not barriers. The default for human nature is to fight to have all people embrace our personal perspectives. Though I believe some lifestyles such as following Jesus are beneficial for everyone, I must work to build bridges based on mutual respect and understanding if I ever want my perspective to be heard. When we go through life trying to convince everyone that we are right and others are wrong, we are building barriers that will forever prevent the real message of Jesus from being heard.
One day I came home from work and found my wife having tea with two Mormon missionaries. My wife told them that she was secure in her faith and was not interested in debating theology but she was interested in having tea and company so she welcomed them in. No one converted that day but a bridge was built and a barrier was broken.
I still hold onto a note written to me from a gay friend of mine. In it he says, "Thank you for not judging me or condemning me but rather taking time to get to know me for who I am. You changed my perspective on Jesus and allowed me to open up to the God who loves me." To me, bridges are way more beautiful than barriers.

3. Choose your battles. Which battles are worth fighting as a Christian? There are any number of worthwhile battles and I do not impose my values on anyone else but above all, I urge all followers of Jesus to focus on representing Christ well. The truth is Christians are known for all the things we oppose and less about all the great things we are for. Christians do more in the world for adoption, foster care, feeding the homeless, helping the sick, visiting the imprisoned, and fighting for the oppressed than any other group in the world. Sometimes this message is lost in the noise of the other battles that we fight.

When all is said and done the goal is to represent Jesus in a world in need of the hope and love Jesus brings. If you see your country as a Christian nation or anything but a Christian nation, you have the privilege of helping others see the real Jesus. No matter what perspective you are looking from, Jesus will make the view better.

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Look How Normal I Am

Is it me or does Facebook and other social media just perpetuate a spirit of inauthenticity? We post the best photos of ourselves, only tell stories of the fun things we are doing, and we even promote our own writings in hopes of getting hundreds of self-gratifying "likes". (Please "like" if you agree).

A friend of mine called it our "cyber-kingdom". We can project the image of ourselves that we desire everyone to see and we can block or remove any unwanted nusances. If you like us enough you are in our kingdom and if you fall out of favor with us, we remove you and throw you to the cyber dogs.

What we have really done is given the world a false view of reality. I see beautiful wedding pictures of outdoor receptions worthy of a magazine and I question whether my wife and I should have served potato salad in the buffet line at the Officer's Club for our reception. Could our wedding day ever live up to weddings today?

I look at vacation photos of happy families in perfect bliss and I wonder why we can't get our kids to get along in the five minute car ride to Sunday School. Parents tell of their brilliant children receiving presidential awards for their hard work in school and I wonder what is wrong with my parenting because my kid has 20 missing assignments in first period.

Couples post beautiful photos showing them madly in love and for a moment, I'm discouraged because tonight my wife just needs a break from all people so she hides up in her room. No one tells this story on Facebook so it must only happen to me... right?

The truth is life is messy and not always perfect. We wake up each day with "bed head" (if you have enough hair) and bad breath. Marriages like my own are great marriages where we are learning to love each other more every year but where we do not always agree and where sometimes we have headaches at bedtime.

Our kids are amazing and fun and brilliant, but sometimes they drive us crazy and we wonder if we should ever display them in public.

I think I have a fun life with great experiences but many days are mundane. I want to display pictures that make me look like a model but I know these days I can grow more hair on my back than on my head and that bothers me. I am fairly fit but will never melt enough belly fat to display my six pack. I wish I could but I can't.

A Challenge 
What if we not only told the best parts of our lives, but also the not so great parts? Could we actually encourage someone who is not always happy with his looks? Could we help a mother who thinks she is the only one raising alien children? Maybe we could even give hope to a marriage that believes something is wrong because each person is not always 100% satisfied. Life is not perfect but life is wonderful and you should know that it is okay to be "not okay" all the time.

I think today we should all post photos of ourselves and updates that display real life. Post an unflattering photo of yourself or an update that is mundane. Post it with a link to this post so that I can get more "likes" and feel important so that we can let people know that our pictures don't always tell the real story and that you are okay. There is hope in the normalcy of life.

So... seriously. Will you do it?

Saturday, November 10, 2012

Why We Can Give Grace When We Disagree

Today I share an excerpt of a post from a pastor that deals with our different opinions over non-essentials for Christian life. He begins by sharing his great health report even though he has a diet that includes bacon most mornings. Faith, like the medical world, may have differences over which practices lead to the desired outcomes. The key is how we treat one another in the midst of our differences. 


There were two different views of America offered throughout the campaign, and like all the doctors advocating different views of heart health, both sides wanted the same thing – they want an America that’s productive, creative, safe, where people can pursue their dreams.  Both sides believe that their ways will bring about fiscal health.  Both sides believe in their way, because their way worked for them.
And that’s why we need to give each other grace just now… rather than shouting that the end of America has begun and unfriending people who voted differently than us.   We hold our political beliefs because of conviction yes, but can we surely realize that no single party represents the heart of Christ perfectly?  I don’t remember the Prince of Peace advocating for unrestricted access to assault rifles.  Nor would he favor late term abortion, or at the very least, any abortion of convenience.  I don’t know that he’d be cheering unilateral drone strikes by executive order.  Nor would he be too pleased with the notion that the super wealthy get exemption from some laws by virtue of their wealth and power.  So neither party represents Jesus perfectly.  When, then, we say that our vote is theological, while that may be true, it’s theologically selective.
1. If you’re adopted… you might place a huge value on pro-life politics, and vote that way.
2. If you run a small business… you might place a huge value on freedom to structure your business however you like, and pay your employees as much as you like or as little as the market will bear.
3. If you’re an auto worker… you might place a huge value on the government’s intervention to help stave off the loss of your company and your job.  That would seem charitable to you, and you’d vote accordingly.
4. If you love Jesus, and you’re gay, and you’ve prayed, counseled, and sought deliverance, before finally coming to a sense that perhaps this is actually the way you are, you’ll vote for those who view you charitably.
I could go on, but perhaps you get the point? I eat the way I do because it works. You can challenge me, tell me I’m wrong, tell me I’ll die early – even point to studies.  I’ll smile, and, because of the chart above, have another slice of bacon.
I won’t go into the details of every concern I have about Obama or Romney, Gay Marriage or legalized Weed.   If I did, I’d run the risk of helping you miss the point, because the point isn’t what I think.  The point is that in this big complex world, each of us who follow Christ must seek to make God’s good reign visible in lots of ways, including being good citizens and voting.  That one disciple votes one way, and another disciple votes another doesn’t inherently mean the other is deviant, blind, stupid, or hard hearted.  It may simply mean that their faith in Christ has different issues on the front burner than yours, having been shaped by their own collision of faith and life experience.  So I say, with Mitt Romney, let’s pray for our leader, give him grace, and work together to make our nation a place of safety, blessing, and opportunity.
Whether we like bacon or not.
-Richard Dahlstrom
Read the full article here.

Wednesday, November 07, 2012

This is not controversial

This post is not controversial but these photos are awesome. 

These great photos are courtesy of Seth Casteel.

Tuesday, November 06, 2012

I Voted

Today is the day when the people of Ohio will finally tell our country who will be the next President. It is also the day when the rest of us get the opportunity to cast votes for other candidates and propositions. This day is one of the things that makes America great and it is also the day that represents division more than unity.

The other day I had a great conversation with Christian friends about politics and I'm pretty sure that some now question my salvation. Somehow I missed the political science class that explained how Republican politics equals Christian values so now my whole life is in question. (I knew I should not have skipped that day).

I believe that some Republican candidates and positions possess some values that are supported in scripture but some Democrat candidates and positions also possess some Biblical values. I have no problem with Christians on both sides of the aisle who vote straight party lines as their own conviction but I don't want them to blame Jesus for this decision.

Let's be honest, we willingly cling to a few select issues in the name of our faith while ignoring the other things a candidate stands for. Most of the time we end up voting for the "lesser of two evils" as if that is the way to vote with conviction.

However you do it, take pride in knowing that you have a vote and if you live in Ohio your vote actually counts. So put on your "I voted" sticker, make sure you leave no "hanging chads", and let the world know what you think.

Sunday, November 04, 2012


My previous post tackled the goal of prompting thought and conversation about the need to be aware of sexual temptations when working in ministry. The aim was to call out anyone walking a dangerous line in potentially inappropriate relationships. Though the tone of the original author was strong, the words were good words with some good suggestions to prevent failure if possible.
The post was intended to be preventative in nature and did not deal with those who have already failed so today I want to address the issue of hope.

Hope for individuals. First, if you have been unfaithful in your marriage know that there is hope. We all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God and we all have our own issues. If you have failed, there is hope for you because Jesus' love reaches to the sexually impure and the self-righteous. God's healing not only extends to your spiritual life, but it also applies to your emotional life. You can be healed. You can be made new and your marriage can be made new and stronger than ever. As with any sin, it will take honesty, hard work, and patience. In moments of brokenness, there is hope.

Hope for relationships. The most obvious consequence of unfaithfulness for some is the end of the marriage. Usually the best option is to allow God to work in your lives to heal and restore your marriage. But if your marriage ended due to unfaithfulness know that the forgiveness and grace of Jesus applies to you as well. There are many issues that may lead to the affair and I don't pretend to understand all of them. Those issues are reasons and not excuses but too often, Christians believe if you did not save your marriage then you are less godly than those who did. That thought is naive and again limits God's ability to make beauty from the ashes. The things in our lives that we mess up or that are messed up for us do not have to define our identity. God is able and willing to redeem and make beauty out of our messes. I have seen many "second" marriages flourish and exist as pictures of healthy relationships. Even in the ashes of life, there is hope.

Hope for friendships. If your unfaithfulness or the unfaithfulness of another has ruined relationships in your life, you have to believe that even here there is hope. Jesus says, "I am making all things new". We are not able to pick and choose what the "all things" Jesus is referring to. He is making ALL THINGS new. The broken relationships and order of things in our world is being repaired and restored by Jesus. There is hope for hurting friendships, family relationships, and relationships between parents and children. Time, patience, understanding, and grace are needed, but don't lose heart because there is hope.

Hope for today. All of us who have struggled with any sin or addiction know that sometimes the idea of living without that thing is more than we can handle. In the previous post one anonymous comment alluded to the difficult nature of changing behaviors. Though we know we should live without it, we cannot simply "turn off" longings for something that has become a part of our lives. When everyone around us wants us to magically heal we either lose heart or become dishonest. My encouragement is to be honest and know that it is okay to be "not okay" but do whatever you can to make progress. Feeling like you can never be restored or healed is a ploy of the enemy. Know that God never gives up on us so even in our darkest moments, there is hope.