Archives For politics

There was this blank spot on an otherwise meticulously detailed program. 1:30PM session… TBA.

To be announced? What?

It was August of 2000. We were in South Barrington, IL. Willow Creek Church. 4,500 church and ministry leaders from around the world shoulder to shoulder in a sprawling auditorium for the annual Leadership Summit. End of the last session before lunch, and we still had no idea what was coming up.

And then came the announcement.

“Ladies and gentlemen, we need you to exit the auditorium immediately following this session. Please do not stay and chat. We know you have tons of ideas to process with your teams, but we’ll need you to have those conversations over lunch. For reasons that will soon become apparent, we have been unable to publicly announce our 1:30 session interview. We have been told that the Secret Service will need a full 90 minutes to sweep this auditorium and secure it for our next session’s guest… President of the United States, William Jefferson Clinton.”

There was an audible gasp. On the one hand, it is stirring to be at an event with the leader of the free world.  On the other hand, for those of you who know your history, you might remember that in the year 2000 President Clinton was not exactly regarded as a model of Godly leadership by the evangelical community.  President Clinton may not have actually been the devil, but they were at least drinking buddies, in the eyes of many.

But I don’t want this post to get tangled or hijacked by a discussion about the wisdom or morality of bringing Bill Clinton in to talk about leadership to thousands of church leaders.  This isn’t a political discussion.  Nor is it a discussion about the dangers of mega-churches or the personal theological failings of Bill Hybels.  It’s a leadership discussion… about babies and bathwater.

Several months ago, in a Seminary class on Theology, on of my classmates began to decry the sad state of affairs in the modern church, and how deplorable it is that church leaders today are willing to listen to “outside voices” to learn leadership principles, rather than looking to the Bible for direction and guidance.

“Wait a minute…” I said.  “What?”

“We’re supposed to be transformed into the image of God, not conform to the patterns of this world.  What in God’s name are we doing looking to BUSINESS models and so-called ‘leadership experts’ to learn how to run our churches?  The Bible gives us everything we need to know.”

Flash back to Willow Creek, circa August, 2000.  Just after lunch.  The crowd has been readmitted under the watchful eye of the Secret Service.  There is a nervous buzz in the air.  Bill Hybels comes to the microphone, and I’ll never forget his first words to us.  “You think YOU lead a big deal…”

If ever there is someone who knows something about the demands of being a leader, surely the President of the United States is that person.  Politics aside, to say that being President requires a high degree of leadership is like calling the sun hot, water wet, or “Three Amigos” hilarious.  Willow Creek over the years has consistently brought high level leaders to the Leadership Summit, to speak and teach about leadership principles to a crown made up of mostly pastors, church staff, and ministry leadership teams.  Many of these speakers and presenters are vibrant Christians, sharing powerful real-life examples of Biblical leadership methods in action.  But Willow unapologetically invites non-believers, as well.  Because they belive in the Baby regardless of the Bathwater.  And some of my most memorable God-encounters, Holy-Spirit promptings, and ministry-changing leadership discoveries have come through the ministry of the Willow Creek Leadership Summit.

What is this “Baby” of which I speak?  Basically it boils down to this…

Truth is truth.

I know… God’s Word is truth, and evangelicals believe it is our sole authoritative standard in all matters pertaining to faith and life.  Yes we ought to be forsaking the sin of the world and allow Christ to shape us and guide our ministry direction through His Word and by His Spirit.  All good.  All necessary.

But when my Muslim neighbor, gay coworker, Catholic mail carrier, goth pizza delivery guy, angry right-wing radio talk-show host, heathen President of the United States, [fill-in-the-blank] has something TRUE to say, the bearer of the truth does not change the truth he or she bears.  Truth stands on its own, and all truth is God’s truth.

Therefore, if we can gain wisdom from the CEO of Southwest Airlines, or the leader of International Justice Mission, or the rock star Bono… why not?  Yes we must be discerning.  Yes we need yield to a higher authority and disregard whatever they bring to the table that does not square with scripture.

Babies and bathwater.  I say let’s be open to conversations with all KINDS of people – and humble enough to learn from them. 

I know… some of you, like my fellow Sem student, might see this as dangerous – or foolish.  A slippery slope.  “Conforming to the pattern of this world.”  I hear that.  I get it.  I’m not talking about SUPPLANTING Biblical truth with any man-made business plan to run the church.  No way.  But I AM saying, how about BOTH/AND?  Why not be open to learn from smart people who might have something true – something wise – to teach the church?  Or are we so proud that we think we have found every good idea that’s ever been had about leadership?

Eternal souls are at stake.  More humility.  More conversation.  Let’s hold onto those babies, regardless of the bathwater.

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“of babies and bathwater (part two) :: lead your church like a heathen” by Joshua Skogerboe is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.

Glenn Beck drives people nuts.

Love him or hate him, most likely you’ve got an opinion.  He doesn’t produce fence-sitters.  That fence is POINTY, baby.  You’re going to fall on one side or the other pretty quickly if you spend any time listening to his show or watching him on the telivizzle.

And believe it or not, the rest of this post will have nothing to do with politics.  So you can exhale.

At the end of August I posted “glenn beck: the new voice of evangelical christianity” as a follow-up to his non-political/spiritual revival pro-America rally on the national mall on August 28, 2010.  My main point was to say that I’m growing increasingly uncomfortable with Glenn’s religious rhetoric, because he’s a Mormon, and therefore means something very different when he claims to be “listening to the voice of God” or leading us to “do the will of God.”  We believe in and follow different Gods, me and Mr. Beck.  Therefore, I urged my fellow evangelicals to listen if you must, but exercise discernment… it’s dangerous ground.

The post generated some good discussion at the time, but I just received a new comment today, and it was a good challenge.

The gist was this:I’m confused.  You seem to often call for unity between churches.  Mormons believe Jesus is the Son of God, too, right?  How come we shouldn’t listen to Glenn Beck, then?  Should we not listen just because he’s a Mormon?”

Fair question.  Here was my response:

I understand your confusion. Let me clarify a few things…

First, Im not saying no one should listen to Glenn Beck simply because he is a Mormon. I love to listen to Dennis Prager, for example, and he’s Jewish. There is wisdom to be found in all kinds of people, and truth is truth… meaning, if I say the sky looks blue, and The Pope says the sky looks blue, and Christopher Hitchens says the sky looks blue… we are all saying something true. Our philosophy or religious affiliation doesn’t make it any LESS true when Chris the atheist says it. Right? So, Glenn Beck’s Mormonism, per se, doesn’t necessarily disqualify him from my listening list.

What I am uncomfortable with – and that’s putting it mildly – is Glenn Beck’s increasingly bold “spiritual leader” talk.  He throws around phrases that indicate he believes he is doing the “will of the Lord,” and that he speaks for God and is encouraging people to do His will.  He SAYS the name Jesus, but his belief is very different than mine.  My caution is to listen critically, and be very careful not to confuse his Mormon “word from the Lord” with the authority of the ACTUAL Word of God, given to us in the Bible.

Now, to briefly clarify the difference between my calls to the church for unity around the core doctrines of the Christian faith, and my stiff-arming of Mormonism, it is important for you to understand that the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints is a cult. It is NOT in any way a branch of the Christian church, like Baptists or Lutherans or Methodists. Nope. Mormons are often wonderful people, productive citizens, kind to their neighbors, and raising good kids in strong families. I’m not saying they are “bad” people – any more than you and I are sinful people – in the way that EVERY soul on the planet is born corrupted by sin. But they tend to be “good people” all the same. Even so, Mormonism is a false religion that diverges from Christianity in several KEY ways.

Christian core doctrine has remained grounded in the Word of God and been basically unchanging for 2000+ years. Cults change their core doctrine often – when it becomes necessary to do so. There have been about 4,000 changes to the Book of Mormon since it was first published in 1830, and some BIG ones to boot. They have changed their stance on Polygamy, for one. And they now support the religious equality of African Americans, which required a huge change in their doctrinal positions.

Mormonism is poly-theistic (many gods) and Christianity is monotheistic (ONE God). They believe God the Father was once a man who *progressed* to God-hood. We believe God is the unchanging “I AM.” They believe the Trinity is actually three separate gods… we believe in the three-in-ONE. They also believe that we, as humans, can progress to God-hood status. This is the FIRST LIE from the Garden of Eden, when the serpent told Eve, “You can be like God…” All of the sin of the world followed that lie and it’s line of reasoning. It is the CORE poison of the human soul.

Mormons believe Jesus is the child of God the Father and a heavenly Mother, and that he was born incomplete and had to *progress* to God-hood status in the spiritual realm. They deny the incarnation of Jesus in the womb of the virgin Mary by the Holy Spirit. Jesus’ unchanging nature as God and His condescension and virgin birth are foundation truths Christianity is built upon. While Mormons DO believe that Jesus is God’s only Son, their understanding of what that means and the very nature of God and Jesus as our Savior is a mess – and dangerous, theologically.

Mormon’s see Adam’s sin in the Garden of Eden as a noble act, enabling man to become mortal – a key step forward in the process of attaining deity status. They believe that Jesus atonement basically grants everyone salvation and immortality, whether we believe in Him or not. There are many, many other important differences, as well.

This stuff is important. Mormons market themselves as another Christian option. But it is not at all Christian. We have no reason, of course, to treat Mormons with disrespect, OR to disregard everything they say simply because of the religion. However, I WILL disregard anything they say with “the authority of the Lord” behind it. Glenn Beck’s Jesus is NOT my Jesus. Therefore, when He speaks about the “will of God,” I know he’s not listening to the same voice of God that I am. Therefore… I turn him off.

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“mormons are christians, too, right? :: glenn beck might be right… and wrong” by Joshua Skogerboe is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.

On Tuesday, November 2, all of human history hangs in the balance.  If you don’t vote, all the world’s puppies will die.  The fate of the United States, the Third World, and the hopes and dreams of all the world’s children depends upon you voting correctly.

In this season of creative professional mean-spiritedness, I wanted to share my very favorite…  If you live in Winnipeg, for the love of all things holy, don’t vote for Sam Katz.  He kicks children in the face.

So get out there and vote, would ‘ya?  And whatever you do, vote for the good guys.

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Continuing my awkward (but important) stand in defense of violence today.  Can’t help myself.  After all, I titled my last post “part one,” so I really have no choice but to continue with a “part two…”  Even if I’m reluctant to be this guy.  Christian guy.  Carrying the banner for violence.  What?!

Well, that’s just it.  In “part one(…which I encourage you to peruse if you haven’t read it yet.  It’s short, entertaining, and controversial.  Like Tom Cruise, without the creepy.  Promise.) I basically state my belief that idealism must take a back seat to realism when our family, our nation, or our neighbors are threatened by evil people.  As a Bible-believing Christ follower, I’m called to be a “mirror-bearer,” accurately reflecting the truth as it really is, not just painting a picture of the way I wish it was.

Further, I asserted that the pacifist idea that no good can come from violence is, basically… malarkey.

So I’ve gotten some press-back.  This came from my good malarkey-filled Facebook friend (who I might add, was courageous, gracious, and good-natured enough to respond in the comments section):

What does the Bible say about war & violence, particularly the NT?  Josh, are you saying that we are NOT called to live nonviolently?  I would have to firmly argue that Christ calls us to live at peace with our brothers & sisters…

Hence, the “part two” today.  There’s an elephant in the room.  And it sounds a lot like Jesus.  It sounds like “Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.”  It sounds like “Love your enemies, do good to them…” and “be merciful, just as your Father is merciful.”  It sounds like Jesus is a pacifist.

Hold on just a minute.  Because this is really important to clarify right now:  I get “weebed out” speaking for Jesus.  Gives me the willies.  Basically I’m only comfortable with Him speaking for me.  So please consider the following opinions MY opinions, not whack-you-with-my-Bible fundamentalist “voice of God” stuff.  Cool?  Just humble me.

I believe that Jesus’ words about loving our enemies (the above taken from Matthew 5 and Luke 6) are commands, not options.  But Jesus is talking to His disciples – his people – and a crowd that had gathered and sought Him out to hear what He had to teach them.  This was not a political speech, presented to a governing body.  It was not aimed at Rome, or at any government, council, or militia.  This was His word to me.  When someone mistreats me, plots against me, even does me direct harm, Jesus’ word to me is “Love them.”  This is what “turning the other cheek” is all about.  It is my cheek – I have the right to offer my other one as an example of God’s patience and grace alive in me.

Jesus said, “Do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you…”   You.  Hate you, curse you, mistreat you.  It’s your cheek.

But Jesus did not say, “If someone does another person harm – curses, mistreats, endangers, maims, disfigures, enslaves, humiliates, murders – another person, offer up their other cheek, too… and yours as well.”  I guess I’m more comfortable stating for the record what Jesus did NOT say here, because technically, I’m correct. *holding breath anyway*

Jesus was speaking to individuals about their/our own heart’s condition.  He revolutionized the whole world with a command to LOVE OTHERS before avenging/defending our SELVES.  But there is another side of God’s nature.  He is a God of love -AND- justice.  And when we present God’s love devoid of the reality that He is also just, we are forsaking our mirrors (reality) for the happy little trees (idealism).  (Click here to see what I’m talking about.)

I still refute the pacifist baloney that no good can ever come of violence.  I will stand up for the JUST use of violence – the measured, principled, restrained use of violence to protect and defend OTHERS from harm.  I stand behind the police, who stand between my family and the thief in the night.  I stand behind the soldiers who have bravely fought for freedom in Iraq, Korea, France, Germany.  I believe in the righteous obligation of a husband to fiercely protect his wife and children.  And I do believe in the right to defend one’s-self from gratuitous violence.

I said before, and I’ll say it again from the rooftops, I don’t want to be an advocate for violence.  I want to be an advocate for reality.   And I HATE violence.  I hate that we live in a fallen world, where sin is alive and well in humanity, and evil is allowed to wander.  I hate it.  But I’ve read the Book, and Jesus wins.  In the mean time, I must sadly tolerate violence as, sometimes, the most effective means of propagating JUSTICE and DEFENDING those who need protection.

I do not intend to speak for God.  He does not need me to stand between His truth and your heart.  Just consider the possibility that the most LOVING and the most JUST response to counter evil may be a strong, abrupt, physical defense of the vulnerable.  I can offer my own cheek.  But I do not believe we are supposed to offer theirs.

The Lord is in His holy temple; the Lord is on His heavenly throne.  He observes the sons of men; His eyes examine them.  The Lord examines the righteous, but the wicked and those who love violence His soul hates.  On the wicked He will rain fiery coals and burning sulfur; a scorching wind will be their lot.  For the Lord is righteous, He loves justice; upright men will seek His face.   [Psalm 11:4-7]

If I am wrong, I am open to hear it.  Lord, forgive me if I misrepresent You.  What do you think?

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“in defense of violence, part two :: it’s my cheek he’s talking about” by Joshua Skogerboe is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 United States License.

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I can’t really believe I’m in this position.  I don’t want to be in this position.  It’s not comfortable.  But there is a certain degree of nonsense a person can tolerate or ignore, and then there is a tipping point.  My baloney-meter has sufficiently been tripped.

I have a friend on Facebook who is full of malarkey.  She’s great, but wrong about a bunch of stuff.  Before you think I’m blind to my own failings, let me put your mind at ease… From the mountain tops, I will declare that I, too, am wrong about a BUNCH of stuff.  Such is the way of humanity.  Nonetheless, each of us must make some decisions along the way, filter our experience through some sort of moral/philosophical/intellectual grid, and sort out what is true, what is not, and what is yet to be determined.

And I guess I’ve already hit my first potential communication problem of the day.

For the sake of full disclosure and deeper clarity, I want you to know up front that I do believe in right and wrong – the unflexing kind, like bedrock, not determined by individuals, but by a higher authority.  I believe in truth and falsehood – reality and, well… malarkey.  I believe in “absolute truth” as a bedrock principle.  My Biblical grid tells me that some things are true and some things are not.  And that is not code for “I know better than you” or “If you don’t believe what I believe you are a lesser person.”  Not at all.  But before we can advocate a point of view with conviction, we must first determine whether we are honestly trying to hold a mirror up to reality to determine what is right, or whether we are trying to paint a picture of reality that furthers our view of things.  The way we want them to be.

This is an impossible task, and none of us is batting 1000.  But I am trying to be honest, and I believe that my life – as a man, a dad, a husband, a pastor, a worship leader, you name it – is to be spent reflecting the truth as it really is.  Absolute, unchanging, bedrock truth about God and people and our condition in the physical and spiritual world around us.

So…  That brings me to this uncomfortable place.  Standing in defense of violence.

Here’s the quote that flipped my switch.  Posted by my good malarkey-filled Facebook friend a few days ago:

One is called to live nonviolently, even if the change one works for seems impossible. It may or may not be possible to turn the U.S. around through nonviolent revolution. But one thing favors such an attempt: the total inability of violence to change anything for the better.
– Daniel Berrigan, poet, peace activist, and priest.

On its face, who wants to argue with that?  Mr. Berrigan asserts that we are called to live non-violently.  Awesome.  I’m in.

Until someone threatens my wife and kids.  Or until I’m facing an enemy combatant on the battlefield.  Or until my police training kicks in to protect and serve the public.  And there is my problem with Mr. Berrigan.  What he says looks more like picture painting (with some happy little trees) than mirror-holding.  And stating “the total inability of violence to change anything for the better” is foolishness that borders on dangerous.

I’d love to live in a world of non-violence.  But that is an idealized world full of happy little trees.  The reality we live in is inhabited by a mix of personalities, many decent, and many dangerous – violent – evil.  Yes, there are bad people, with bad intentions, and bad motives.  There are dangerous people among us.  There are violent people around us.  And you know, what?  I’m OK with a little John Rambo now and again.

Mr. Berrigan would like to change the world for the better, I have no doubt.  He would like to inspire others to take action – non-violently contending for a better tomorrow.  Me, too.  And there is all kinds of good to be done in our own neighborhoods and in our country at large without taking up arms.  Go do it!  Get involved!

But please, Mr. Berrigan do not diminish the heartbreaking sacrifice of good men who resist evil with reciprocal force.  Do not pretend that if we wish hard enough, our dreams will come true when we face enemies who seek to do us harm.  Do not spread malarkey in order to support your pacifist ideals.  Because, Mr. Berrigan, it is dangerous to live with rose-colored glasses on.  It is dangerous to propagate the myth that no good has ever come of violence.  Sometimes violence carefully wielded against the bad is necessary to protect the rest from harm.

When I see the bumper sticker, “War is Not the Answer,” I want to pull my hair out.  I say, that depends greatly on the question.  “Hey baby, what should we do for dinner tonight?”  Yep, War is not the answer.  Good times.  Or how about, “Here they go again – raising my taxes/wrecking my healthcare/pushing gay marriage/insert-your-favorite-political-hot-button-here… What can I do about it?!”  Again, I say say… Yep, War is not the answer.  So far so good.

But when liberty is threatened, people are in bondage, America is in danger, and bad men seek to perpetrate violence against good people, then… You know what?  War may be the answer.  Violence may serve some greater good.  Blood sweat and tears may need to be shed to protect the right of decent people to dream and paint their happy little trees.

I don’t want to be an advocate for violence.  I want to be an advocate for reality.  I’ll work to make this a better world to live in, but I honestly believe we can have the deepest, most long-lasting impact on the world around us when we first put down the paintbrush, and take a good hard look in the mirror.

 NOTE:  Continue reading Part Two HERE

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“in defense of violence, part one :: being a mirror-bearer” by Joshua Skogerboe is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 United States License.