Sunday, November 26, 2017

Small Fire/Massive Blaze

A couple of months ago, a firework started a blaze that burned more than 30,000 acres here in northern Oregon. Many were displaced from their homes, others were fearful of the same fate. All of us were breathing in smoke for days due to the fire. I went to lunch with somebody and we sat outside (a poor choice). Throughout the meal, there was ash raining down on us.
A tiny smoke bomb became a raging inferno.
In the book of James, chapter 3, the tongue is said to be like a fire. James says that a very small fire sets a forest ablaze.
The tongue is small. The tongue is a fire.
This small fire becomes a massive blaze.

We're just now finding out about a massive blaze that has been burning for years; for decades.

In recent months, many entertainment personalities, news people, and political figures have been accused of sexual harassment and sexual assault. Shortly after dozens of people told their stories about Harvey Weinstein's unwanted comments and advances toward them, there was an outpouring of stories on Twitter and Facebook (and probably Internetland I'm considered an old man because I only use Twitter and Facebook). These stories were tagged with the hashtag #metoo. Almost every one of my brave female friends and a few of my brave male friends shared this hashtag, many telling their stories of harassment and/or abuse. I don't cry much, but scrolling through story after story of harassment, abuse, and unwanted words and advances absolutely wrecked me.

Count me as one of those people who didn't realize the magnitude of the problem.
I hear you.

The fact that people are speaking up about experiencing harassment is a good thing. The fact that people are being held to account for their words and actions is a great thing.

People have set a fire. This fire has become a massive blaze. Many people have been hurt because of the words and actions of others.

Words have enormous effects in a person's life. Harassment of women (and men) appears to have been an ongoing problem for decades now. People have said and done things that have had lasting effects on people young and old.

The state of people's hearts is coming to light. In Matthew chapter 12, Jesus says "Either make the tree good, and its fruit good; or make the tree bad, and its fruit bad; for the tree is known by its fruit. You brood of vipers! How can you speak good things, when you are evil? For out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks. The good person brings good things out of a good treasure, and the evil person brings evil things out of an evil treasure."
The things said and done by people show the state of their hearts. People are known by the fruit they produce; the things they do and say.
The state of hearts is coming to light. People are being held to account for their unwanted words and advances.
Jesus talks about how people will be held to account for the fruit they produce when he continues: "I tell you, on the day of judgment you will have to give an account for every careless word you utter; for by your words you will be justified, and by your words you will be condemned."

Things said and done in previous years are coming to light.
Why now?

I think this first of all has to do with power. James 3:1 says "Not many of you should become teachers, my fellow believers, because you know that we who teach will be judged more strictly."  This is true, and good. It's appropriate that a person with power and authority be judged more strictly, especially when it's a spiritual leader.
It's good and appropriate that people are judging those in power who have used words and actions to hurt, harass, and abuse. It's good that people are being held to account for their actions.

The reason that I think it's taken so long for people to speak up about their experiences of abuse and harassment is that it's easier to speak out when others are doing so as well.

People don't feel like they can speak out when there is a power differential. If there is someone in a position of power over someone else, and the person in power is acting in a lewd manner toward them, the person experiencing harassment is not going to want to go after the harasser. Why? It's dangerous. It can cost them their job, their money (if this becomes a court thing), or their reputation. Also, the person in power may be loved by their community, or may be a charismatic personality that has a lot of followers and supporters.

It's difficult to hold a person accountable for their words and actions if they are in a position of power over you.

But it feels safer to tell your story when others are doing so as well.

A couple of other thoughts:
If your first instinct is to say "That's something that happens elsewhere, but not here," you're probably wrong. I am a guy who has never experienced harassment or abuse, so I know that I'm not really the authority to speak on this topic. But I reached out to some female friends who have experienced harassment and/or abuse, as I knew that their perspective was much more important than my own.
It was pointed out to me that things so small as making unwanted jokes or comments about someone else's appearance, or failing to speak up when these comments are made contributes to the normalizing of harassing talk. If we remember James chapter 3, this makes complete sense. The tongue is a small fire, and a small fire becomes a massive blaze. Throwing out small unwanted comments about other people or making small jokes is just like throwing out a few tiny fires. Tiny fires grow into huge fires.

Words hurt. When we engage in such conversations or allow them to happen, we are contributing to the problem.

Especially when it comes to churches, there is an enormous sexual harassment/abuse problem. A few days ago, there was a similar hashtag to #metoo that was gathering steam. It was #churchtoo.
The stories are horrifying. Absolutely mortifying.
But not necessarily surprising.
There are stories about ministry leaders making unwanted advances and comments to members of the congregation. There are many other stories that are equally terrible--stories of people who were harassed or assaulted by other people in the congregation. In many of these stories, the victim would approach the pastor or a ministry leader who would either defend the harasser, or would require that the victim publicly forgive the harasser and allow him (or her, usually him) to continue attending the church.
Other stories involve church leaders telling victims that their harassment or assault was their fault for dressing immodestly.

Yes, Jesus calls us to love our enemies, and yes, Paul calls for reconciliation, but allowing harassment, assault, and violence to be swept under the rug under the guise of forgiveness and reconciliation is not okay.

The #churchtoo stories coming out over the past week are yet another example of a small fire turning into a massive blaze. Destructive things have been said and done to people, and these victims have carried around this pain, shame, suffering, guilt, and embarrassment for years, sometimes decades.

People have had to leave jobs, gyms, and even churches so they wouldn't have to face their harassers or abusers.

A small fire has become a massive blaze.

One last thing that needs to be said to those who have experienced harassment or abuse: You are beloved. You are created in the image of God. You are loved by God. If there is something that someone has done to you, it was not of God. If you were told that harassment toward you was your fault, that is absolutely untrue. You are beloved.
James says in 3:9, "With [the tongue] we bless the Lord and Father, and with it we curse those who are made in the likeness of God." James is saying that the people hurt by these small fires are people who are made in the likeness of God; the image of God.
You are valued; you are loved. You are made in the image of God.
You are not defined by what was done to you. You are defined as someone who is made in the image of God.
That is who you are.

So if you have been hurt in the past, know that you have 1. a God who loves you, and 2. a pastor who better understands that there is a big problem, and that a blaze has been spreading for decades now. You have someone who is here and wants to help put it out.

If you have been a part of throwing out small fires in the past, now is the time to listen to those who have been burned by these fires. Now is the time to start putting some of these fires out.
The tongue is a fire, and we've hurt people with the things we've said.
Whether it's been joking around in small groups or something greater, some of us have lit small fires, and these fires have grown.

One final note: If you have harassed or abused someone; if you know you've hurt someone and you want to walk the path of redemption, you're going to have to own what you've done. The choice you made is not the last choice you'll make, but it was a choice that you made. Redemption takes time and effort. Redemption hurts. In recent months, we've seen people lose jobs, friends, and in some cases, there was even jail time because of the things that they've done or said in the past.
There are consequences for actions.
The path of redemption is worth it, though.
Your life has shown bad fruit. You have more to offer your friends, your loved ones, and the world than a bunch of bad fruit. Walk the path of redemption. Your choices have consequences, but they don't have to be your last choices.

Need help? In the U.S., call 1-800-656-4673 for the National Sexual Assault Hotline.

Monday, November 6, 2017

Christians, We Need to Talk About This

Written Nov. 5, 2017

A month ago, I pulled out my phone recorder app, and gave some from-the-heart rambling thoughts about the previous days' shooting in Las Vegas. I put it on the website where St. Johns Christian Church's sermons are found. It's still there. That's noteworthy because the hosting site can only hold around a month and a half worth of sermons at a time. I have to cycle out the oldest sermons each week in order to upload the newest ones.

My thoughts on the Vegas shooting are still on the site.

It was just a month ago.

Today, there was another mass shooting.

One month, two major mass shootings.

Probably the hardest thing that I have to do as a pastor is to address tragedies in the world. They seem to happen more and more frequently lately, with devastating hurricanes, fires, and shootings all in the last couple of months. Each week that something terrible happens in the world, before preaching on whatever scripture and topic are planned for that Sunday, I lead the church in prayer for the victims, families, and (since Jesus taught us to love and pray for our enemies) the perpetrators of shootings.

But it gets harder and harder each time it needs to be done.

It seems like it would get easier. With basically anything else, you get better with repetition. I never used to enjoy praying in public, but doing it over and over made it easier. I used to hate calling people up and asking to come over and visit them (it really feels like an imposition), but I have no problem with doing it now.

Leading prayers in the wake of tragedies is different.

I always try to find some words of encouragement. Sometimes I plan them out ahead of time, sometimes I don't. Sometimes I'm working through my own feelings on stage, with everybody staring back at me. The Pulse nightclub shooting in Orlando happened early on a Sunday morning. It had to be addressed, but there was no time or space to reflect. I was working through my grief alongside everybody else.

In these moments, I'm always looking for the right word to bring to the congregation. Often, there doesn't seem to be a 'right' word. Shortly after the Paris shooting in 2015, I remember stepping up on the stage, shaking, thinking about my planned remarks, and instead hearing myself in a defeated tone say the words, "Another one."

Mass killings are much harder for me to address than natural disasters for a couple of reasons.
First, with mass killings, you're dealing directly with the evils of humanity.
And second, I pastor a church with a lot of veterans, hunters, and people who carry. This is by no means the bulk of the church, but it's a significant group of people. I always want to be honest in the things that I say, but in the wake of mass murder, the question of "Does this need to be said, does it need to be said now, and am I the right person to say it" is constantly on my mind.

I'm about to say some things, knowing full well that it might cause defenses to go up. I understand that the rest of this post could make some enemies. However, we lit 58 candles at church one month ago in memory of and in prayer for the Vegas victims. Today, at least 26 people had their lives taken from them in Texas.

More candles to be lit. Each representing a life taken.

These lives deserve a conversation.

Here's where I'm coming from when I offer my thoughts: I'm not a gun owner. I've never been a gun owner. My parents weren't gun owners. I have many good friends--people whose outlook and opinions I trust dearly--who do own guns and like the current system of gun purchasing and ownership. I have other very good friends--again, people whose outlook and opinions I trust dearly--who would like stronger regulations on gun ownership.

I'm coming at this completely as an outsider. I have some common sense, and I have some understanding of scripture and of what I believe God's doing in the world, but I am not a gun owner, and I haven't been a part of the gun conversation before.

Mass shootings were always horrifying to watch and read about before I became a pastor. But now, I'm leading prayers again and again, and I'm having trouble finding any words of comfort for the people, because I know another shooting is probably a couple of months away.

If there's anything that could slow the likelihood of another two minute rampage that takes children from parents, spouses from one another, and brothers from sisters, then I want to be attentive to that. If some form of action could stop or lessen these killing sprees, then I want to consider it.

A couple of rebuttals come up whenever someone mentions gun control. People often point out that guns are tools. They will also mention that other things kill people too, for instance, the truck that was used to kill eight people earlier this week in NYC. To both of those points I would say this: yes, guns are tools. However, their purpose is to kill. A gun is made to kill. That's what they're for. The truck that was used to kill eight people has another purpose. Trucks are used to get from point A to point B. Trucks are used to haul heavy items.

But a gun, especially an assault rifle, is made to kill. It's a tool to kill. That's its purpose; that's what it's for.

Guns are killing machines. And we've become really good at making killing machines. We make them better and stronger and faster and more accurate. But their purpose is to kill.

Especially when we're talking about assault rifles, I'd counter this argument with a question: When does a person, an ordinary person, need an AR-15? When does a person need an AK-47? I'm actually asking. I don't understand why an ordinary person needs this kind of a gun. It doesn't make sense to me. You don't hunt deer with an AR-15. You don't hunt a prize buck with an AK-47.
The military uses them. I get that. But that's a different conversation. When it comes to assault rifles, I really don't see why an ordinary person needs one.

This thought leads me to another argument that I see on social media whenever there is a mass killing with something other than a gun, like the truck attack from last week: "This was done with something other than a gun. Guns aren't the problem. People will kill with whatever they can get their hands on."

I get the argument that's being made, but rifles seem to be able to kill a lot more people than trucks or knives, and mass shootings seem to happen way more often than knife attacks or truck attacks. Correct me if I'm wrong, but if an assault rifle can kill 50+ people in a manner of minutes at a concert without anyone being able to stop it, then maybe the assault rifle is better at killing than a knife or a truck (It's so hard to write that sentence and to talk so theoretically about the deaths of many people). If something so good at killing is so easy to come by, that seems to me to be a problem.

Also, I again ask, "What's the purpose of a regular civilian having an assault rifle?" When I was in high school, there was a nationwide scare because somebody was sending letters through the mail that were laced with anthrax. It seemed crazy to me, and I think to many Americans, that someone would be in possession of anthrax spores. I would have, and still would, support regulation on people obtaining anthrax spores. I would not support a "truck ban" simply because somebody ran down eight people with a truck. That was absolutely horrifying, but again, there is a positive use for a truck. However, I would support a ban on regular people having anthrax spores, because (correct me if I'm wrong...) no ordinary person needs to have access to anthrax spores.

Another thing people will often say is that guns don't kill people; people kill people. I get that argument. I also understand the "It's not a gun problem, it's a heart/sin problem" argument.  However, I wonder if the ease of buying an AR-15 is a good thing in a society that has such a heart/sin problem, or a mental health problem. Again, I've never been part of this conversation before, but common sense tells me that maybe it should be more difficult than it currently is to obtain one of these killing machines. If there is a rampant heart/sin/mental health problem in our society, then I really don't think easy access to an assault rifle is a positive thing.

I have a wife who I love. I have a son and a daughter who I love. I have roughly 50-60 people at my church who I love. It is destroying me to think about the horrors that occurred at a church service earlier this morning, and imagining the people I love in that unbearable situation.

My imagining is many people's reality today.

So here's where I currently am in regards to mass shootings, guns, and how to move forward:

Some gun legislation seems to me to be a good idea. There was talk about regulating bump stocks immediately after Vegas, but there hasn't been much more talk since then. Some kind of change seems appropriate. The "A killer is going to get a gun regardless of how hard it is to get it" argument doesn't really gel with me. That to me just sounds like giving up. When I hear that argument, I hear "There's nothing we can do. Just let the killers get their guns and kill." If there's even a possibility that advancing gun regulations on assault rifles could stop even one mass murder, it seems extremely appropriate to move in that direction.

That leads me back to my previous point: I don't understand why an ordinary person needs an assault rifle. Does anybody have a reason why someone needs an assault rifle? I'm all ears.

For this non-gun-carrying pastor of a church that has a number of proud gun-owners, I say this all in humility and with the understanding that I may not entirely know what I'm talking about. But what I say in confidence is that God values life. Let's get beyond the divisive talking points for a moment and recognize this truth: God loves his people. God loves his people so much that he taught his people to love other people. Jesus taught us to love our neighbors and even our enemies. We see God's Spirit moving in Acts to reach out to the whole world. God loves his people. God values the lives of his people.

If gun legislation--even just some legislation--would help in moving us away from the regularity of these horrors, then as a follower of a God who loves and values people, I think we should do it.

This isn't the end of this conversation. It's the beginning.

It's a conversation we need to have.

People are dying. Lives are being taken.

If you are a Christian who considers yourself "pro-life" (as many of my gun-owning friends do), then this should matter deeply to you.

I remember attending a Christian concert years ago, and a speaker came out midway through the show. This speaker began his talk by asking the crowd, "Who here considers themselves to be pro-life?" I remember thinking, "Here we go..." (I assumed he was there to give a pandering stump speech about abortion to get a bunch of Christian pro-lifers to buy his book in the lobby Am I cynical? Yes. Yes I am. Super cynical). He was actually there to convince people to support impoverished kids in other countries.
His point was well taken. Considering yourself to be pro-life should mean that you are concerned about life in all forms. This includes poor children who have needs (food, clothing, money) and have no ability to see these needs met.
It also includes the people who lost their lives in America's many recent mass shootings.

I'm concerned because we are one month out from 58 people having their lives taken away from them, and this morning, 26 more lost their lives.

Lives are sacred, and when someone takes a life, it is a tragedy. When someone is able to take many lives, it is unbearable. And when someone takes many lives just one month after someone else took many lives, well, we need to step up and do something about it. As followers of Christ, this should matter to us. God created them. God loves them. They're important. They're important to God, and they should be important to us.

They should be more important to us than our desire to have the right to own any kind of weapon that we want to own.

People's lives are more important than our right to own a weapon.

Here's where I ultimately land: if doing something like banning or regulating assault weapons will at least raise the likelihood that less people will lose their lives in a madman's rampage, then I think we should do it. God cares about people more than assault rifles, and we should care more about people's lives than about our right to have an assault rifle.

Paul reminds us in 1 Corinthians that love is patient and kind. Let's work through this conversation with patience and kindness. But let's actually talk about changes that could be made. People matter. If we can keep some people from losing their lives, and keep individuals from committing atrocities, then we really should do it.

Saturday, October 14, 2017

Thing of the Week

It's difficult keeping up with the current issue/debate in the world. As a person and a citizen, I tend to have an opinion early on. However, as a pastor, I desire to listen, to understand, to have a conversation, and to help move others (and often myself) to a Biblical understanding of the current issue.

Here's the problem...

For the past couple of years, there has been a phenomenon that I'm calling Thing of the Week (trademark pending).  The Thing of the Week is the current national or global debate that has dominated news cycles, filled Facebook feeds, and topped the trending hashtags on Twitter. The Thing of the Week is what the majority of people are currently talking about. We've always had a Thing that everybody is talking about. However, it seems that there is less and less time to focus on a topic, and to engage in real discussion regarding that topic. Societally, we seem not to be able to focus on a topic longer than a week. Hence, a debate or discussion becomes the Thing of the Week. A week goes by, and we're on to another topic.
Some of these topics bleed over from week to week, but there seems to be about a week where everybody is discussing one particular item.

Last week, everybody was talking about gun control. Before that, it was the Trump administration's response to the three recent hurricanes; specifically, Puerto Rico. There was the week or so that we were discussing the NFL and racial tension. Before that it was the third attempt at repealing the Affordable Care Act. The DACA debate was the week prior. Before DACA was Confederate statues. The white supremacist rally and Trump's response happened the week before.

And we're only back to mid-August.

That was exhausting, and it's only two months worth of material. So yes, part of the reason for the Thing of the Week phenomenon has to be the sheer amount of talked-about stories in the news. Part of this probably results from the 24-hour news cycle and the fact that if something happens in the world, everyone everywhere finds out about it simultaneously. This allows for every person to vent their immediate opinion. Once everyone has done so, we move on. Another bombshell news report; a new Thing of the Week.

Another possibility for the spread of Thing of the Weekism into the modern world may be our unwillingness to hear another's perspective. A couple of days ago, I attended a ministry conference in Seattle. One of the later sessions found twelve people (pre-selected) sitting in a circle in the middle of the room, with the rest of us silently looking on from the outside. The twelve people were of different backgrounds and beliefs racially, politically, religiously, etc.

Jim Henderson, the emcee for the conference, began by asking the twelve people in the center circle, "Are you happy with the Trump administration or with how Donald Trump is doing as president? Or are you terrified with how the current administration is leading, and how Donald Trump is doing as president? What makes you feel either way?"

You could have heard a pin drop.

I knew there was going to be some interesting and potentially divisive conversation during this session, but a part of me was thinking, "Are we really doing this?"

Jim Henderson has done a lot of work in ordinary evangelism and bridge building over the past couple of decades. He has been training people to work on three practices of 'otherlyness': 1. Be unusually interested in others, 2. Stay in the room with difference, and 3. Refuse to compare my best with your worst.

This session was an attempt to watch these three practices played out in real time. One person would take three minutes to give their opinion, and then others could take a minute each to ask a clarifying question; NOT to attack, but to really, truly understand a person's thought process and perspective.  It was fascinating to watch an avid supporter of the Trump administration who was especially positive about the travel ban and immigration efforts pushed by this administration talking civilly with a Muslim attorney, who was speaking with an immigrant, who was speaking with a political opposition researcher, who was speaking with a long time minister to youth in the inner city.

This was a powder keg, but nobody allowed fire to be thrown on it.

The mixture of honesty and humility was refreshing and encouraging. I think this is missing in our current Thing of the Week dialogue.

When we communicate as we normally do about each Thing of the Week that comes along, we appear to rarely be interested in the thoughts and opinions of others. If we agree with them, we retweet. If not, we write a scathing rebuttal. There is little room in our modern dialogue for clarifying questions.
We almost never stay in the room with difference. Yes, much of our dialogue in modern day is done online, not in a room. But even online, it is rare that we will give time to a conversation that requires time.

A Thing of the Week may require a conversation that takes a month. Or a year. Or a few years. I am working through some thoughts and conversations with some people that have been years in the making. I wouldn't be able to learn from other people if I hadn't taken the time to hear from them.

Bridge building requires a posture of hearing the perspective of others. I confess to often being terrible at this. But we have to try. We have to work at it. We can't continue to let our conversation devolve into saying our part about the current Thing of the Week and then moving on to the next thing. The debate around DACA is a big deal. It requires more than a soundbyte or a tweet. Those things are fine and good, but they can't be the beginning, middle, and end of the conversation.
The white supremacist rally in Charlottesville required an immediate response (This was mine, for what it's worth). But there are deeper conversations about individual and systemic racism in America that need to be addressed. These take longer conversations. Saying "Nazis are bad" is great. But there's more work to be done.
Months ago, the Thing of the Week was the global refugee crisis. I missed speaking about the crisis during the week when everybody was talking about it. When I finally did write about it, we were pretty much done talking about it publicly. The refugee crisis is of utmost importance for Christians to discuss, as scripture continues to point toward God's care and concern for the poor, the disenfranchised, the oppressed, and the refugee. We owe it to the people God cares about to work through a Christian response to the crisis. We owe it to take longer than a week.

We gave it a week.

We need to do better at learning from one another. We need to do better at giving time, honesty, and grace to conversations that divide people.

If our posture is, "I'm right and you're stupid," we're not going to get anywhere.

Let's work on extending our conversations beyond a week.
Let's listen to opposing viewpoints.
Let's engage in honest dialogue.

Saturday, September 30, 2017


Someone yelled at me today.

It was totally my fault. I was leaving the Costco parking lot, and a lady walked in front of my car. I didn't see her right away. I stopped in plenty of time, but it was pretty close. Nobody was hurt, and everything ended up fine, but she screamed at me. Again, it was my fault, so after apologizing, I took the litany of f-bombs and questions like "Who taught you to drive, you stupid kid?" as best I could.

Ten years ago, I was walking out of Albertsons with a cart full of groceries. As I was headed toward my car, a guy stepped out of his truck (which was parked in a parking spot) and started screaming at me. "Do you know how close you were to my truck???" I hadn't moved the cart since he got out of the truck, so I looked over at his truck. It was about ten feet away from the two of us. I was not even close to hitting it.
"You could have hit my truck!"
"Sorry. I didn't hit it." (There was probably a better way to respond.)
"You could have."
"Okay. Sorry I was so close."
"You'd better watch where you -----in' walk, 'cause if you hit my ----in' truck, I'm gonna ----in' take all your money."
"Okay? That's all? You almost hit my ----in' truck."
"I didn't hit it. I'm not even close to it. We're like ten feet away from it."
(Good job, David. Antagonize the guy. This should go well. Seriously, with the way I respond to angry people, it's amazing I've only been punched once.)

After about two minutes of this back-and-forth, he got back in his truck and I continued walking to my car.
That was ten years ago. I'm still mad about it.

In the heat of the moment, we tend to lash out at people with whom we're angry or frustrated. We may do this especially with those we don't know. This was the case with the two folks mentioned above. Both the woman who thought I was going to hit her and the guy who wanted his truck to remain dent-free considered me to be a stupid kid who doesn't know how to drive/walk.
I was no better. I stewed over the situation with Angry Trucker, and viewed him as irrational and a bit crazy.
In both of these situations, people were dehumanized. There are a thousand different things that could have led Angry Trucker to lash out at me. He could have had problems at home, or money troubles, or issues with someone at work. These situations could have added so much stress to his life that he was likely to snap at just about anybody. However, my reaction was to feel insulted and to silently stew about it for years. I chose to think about him simply as Angry Trucker. I've pulled away much of his humanity and left only his rage.
I used to work a drive-thru window for a fast food chain. I was simultaneously working as a youth pastor at the time. One day, a lady was annoyed with how slow her food was coming, and took it entirely out on me. She said that if I didn't spend so much time smoking pot and would go to college (I didn't smoke pot and I did go to college), I could make something of my life. She pointedly asked me what I do when I'm not at work. "I'm a youth pastor," I told her. At that moment, her entire demeanor changed. All of a sudden, we were all doing a great job, the food wasn't late, and I was not a layabout and a pothead.

Side note: fast food employees get this kind of abuse from customers a lot. If you do this, please stop.

When we're angry, we often give people labels or names like "idiot" or "moron" or worse. We may not say these things out loud, but we think them pretty hard.

We label people that we don't know, and sometimes we label people that we do know. I have had conversations with people I know and love that have ended poorly, and in the days and weeks following, I continue to think about each and every detail of the conversation. Over time, I will mentally put together a story about how the other party was at fault in the straining or breaking of the relationship. It's not exactly lying to myself; it's more like 'selective memory.' I want to justify to myself that I acted rightly, and the other person acted wrongly.  I recently heard a story about a group of people doing this very thing. It's common for people to see themselves as faultless in a spat. "I can't believe he said that!" "She just walked away. Can you believe it?" "I'm not talking to him until he apologizes." We're quick to blame others, and slow to accept responsibility.
What happens, then, when two parties who are at odds get together? Defenses are up. Shields are raised. Instead of working things out, we accuse; we name-call; we provoke.

We choose to view people in a certain way. But how does God view them?

Paul says in 2 Corinthians that "God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting people's sins against them...God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God" (2 Cor. 5:19, 21). Titus 3 talks about the hate and general jerkiness of people, but then says that "when the kindness and love of God our Savior appeared, he saved us, not because of righteous things we had done, but because of his mercy" (Titus 3:4-5). God's salvation came to the sinful, the hateful, the angry, the envious, the greedy, the destructive. He didn't come to save because people were righteous, but because he is merciful to those he loves.
In the book of Luke, Jesus calls Levi as a disciple and goes to a banquet at Levi's house. The Pharisees and teachers of the law criticize Jesus for attending a banquet with "sinners," and Jesus responds, "it is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick" (Lk. 5:31). Jesus, in the face of criticism from the Pharisees, shares a table with Levi and his friends. Sinners.
A couple of years ago, I started rewriting the story of the Prodigal Son as a choose-your-own-adventure book (Why? I have no idea. One day, I decided that the world needed the story of the Prodigal Son as a choose-your-own-adventure book. Does it? No. Not at all. Or does it? Probably not. But maybe?). This is a story in which a kid asks his father for his inheritance--basically saying to his dad, "I don't care about you; I don't care about our relationship; I don't care about our history; I would rather have you dead than alive, because your money is more important to me than you are." The father gives the kid his money and the kid blows it all on wild living. He returns home with nothing, planning to ask his father if he can live as a servant on his father's property. His father sees him and immediately runs down the street to him and embraces him. His twice repeated pronouncement that his son "was dead and is alive again, he was lost and is found" shows the heart of the father toward his son whose last conversation with him was far beyond offensive. The older son is angry because he's never had a party thrown in his honor, even though he's faithfully served for his entire life with nary a peep (Nary a peep? Did I really just write that? Ugh). His father responds with "All I have is yours." Both children are deeply loved by the father.

God's love for his children is extravagant.

Our posture toward other people can often be combative. We may desire nothing but bad things for another person. At the very least, we may look at others with contempt; whether it is a person who cut us off in traffic, a friend with whom we've had a falling-out, or someone from a different class of people that we dislike. We minimalize them. Rather than seeing them as people with backgrounds and joys and fears and hopes and disappointments and families and loneliness and a history and a future, we place upon them an identity: "idiot."

Our conversations with people can easily go poorly if we enter these conversations with the point of view that the opposite party is a jerk, or a moron, or a whiner, or uptight.

What if we saw people differently?

What if, instead of the negative identities that we give to others (jerk, idiot, moron, whiner), we gave them a new identity?

What if, before every conversation, we reminded ourselves that the person with whom we're speaking is a child of God?

What if we reminded ourselves how much God loves that person?

Would the conversation change? Would I be less likely to scream at someone in traffic if I recognized that person's identity as a beloved child of God? What if, when I sat down with a person with whom I had a disagreement, I recognized his or her identity as a child of God? Would my shields stay up? Would I speak to them defensively? Would I work harder to repair our relationship if I remembered how deeply God cares for them, and how he has called them child?

I have returned to 1 Corinthians 13 repeatedly throughout the last year. It seems that anytime anything happens in the world, it quickly becomes a left/right, liberal/conservative thing. Every discussion seems to quickly become a fight in 2017. The love by which Paul calls Christians to live is not like that.  If we live with this kind of love, we should not be so quick to divide.

Love is patient. Love is kind. It does not envy. It does not boast. It is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil, but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.
Love never fails.

When I think on these words, I recognize how often I miss the mark when it comes to my relationships with others; those I know well, and those I don't know at all. When someone irks me, I don't have a lot of patience and kindness for them. I tend to boast about my own "rightness," and the other person's "wrongness." I dishonor others by seeing them as the enemy and myself as the hero or victim. I keep record of wrongs, and use those records to justify the other person's "wrongness" and my "rightness."

The world needs more patience and kindness. There is plenty of anger and recording of wrongs in the world already. What if, as a spiritual practice, we reminded ourselves before every interaction, that the person with whom we're talking is a child of God? What if we reminded ourselves how much God loves that person? Would we be more patient? Would we be more kind? Would we act more humbly? Would we be less likely to harbor anger and to keep a record of wrongs?

I think so.

I hear so often people saying that "our nation is divided." And they are right. But the ones with whom we're divided are other children of God--people who are loved by God, and saved by God.

May we be reminded of that fact as we continue to live as followers of Jesus.

Tuesday, August 29, 2017

When that Proverb Doesn't Come True

One of my biggest fears is that my kids will become "pastor's kids."

Let me explain...

When I was a youth pastor, most of us had stories of "pastor's kids" (PK's) who attended youth group, but were usually troublemakers, and whose faith was very clearly tenuous at best. Often by college, many of these students would leave their faith behind altogether.

Almost universally, the parents of these children had a strong faith in Jesus, and did their absolute most to pass that faith on to their child. For one reason or another, it didn't take.

I think about how many similar PK's that left their faith, and I fear a similar decision by one or both of my children.

At SJCC, there are so many amazing, stellar, incredible parents that I know whose children have stepped away from their faith. It happens often to Christian parents, and it rarely (if ever) has to do with bad parenting. Rather, some children simply decide that their parent's faith is not for them, and they leave it behind when they leave the house, or even before that.

There was a great episode of the Phil Vischer podcast recently about discipling (discipling, not disciplining--similar spelling, MUCH different meaning) children. In the episode, family ministry expert Rob Rienow says that 80% of Christian families have one or more kids who have left their faith behind.


This story is incredibly common.

And yet, probably due to embarrassment, we don't like to talk about it.

But we should, because it's common to many parents.

One of the most stay-strong verses for parents whose kids have left their faith is Proverbs 22:6: "Train children in the right way, and when old, they will not stray."  My pastor from years ago said that this was the verse that he held tightly to when thinking about his children. He said that he's seen some of his kids return to their faith, and he trusts that the others will as well, because of the truth of this verse.

You might be thinking, "Oh no. David's going to dump on this verse and tell me why it's wrong. I need this verse. It's what keeps me going."

Relax. I won't.

It's important to remember, however, that proverbs are not promises. Proverbs are general truths. They are principles. They are true sayings, but don't come true 100% of the time. We use proverbs all the time in life. "Cheaters never prosper." They sometimes do, but more often than not, those who cheat in life are caught. "An apple a day keeps the doctor away." Not necessarily. But in general, healthy eating leads to a healthier body.

Proverbs are truths that are noticed throughout life. The writer of Proverbs clearly noticed many truths in life and wrote them down. One of these general truths in life is that children learn from their parents. Who we become has a lot to do with how we are taught and led as a child. What our parents teach us and model for us has a bearing on who we become when we are older.

So the proverb that says "Train children in the right way, and when old they will not stray" is a true principle. Children are influenced by their parents and often follow their parent's guiding. But it's not necessarily going to happen 100% of the time.


If 80% of Christian families have at least one child who has left the faith, then it can't be true 100% of the time.

What this proverb is saying is that the teaching and training that a parent gives their child will have bearing on what they do and think and say for the rest of their lives.
A parent is their child's primary model and teacher while they are growing up.
What's more, they continue to be a model and teacher for their children after their children have grown and left the home.

So if your kids held on to their faith into adulthood, great! Appreciate what God has done in the hearts of your children, but do it humbly.

If one or more of your kids have left the faith, don't let this proverb guilt you into thinking that you did a subpar job as a parent. Remain faithful to God, and continue to teach and model Christ's love to your children. Your children are still learning from you.

If you know someone who is feeling the weight of disappointment, guilt, shame, pain, and anguish over their children because they have left their faith, support them. Build them up (Eph. 4, 1 Thess. 5).

I'm 33. I've been out of the house and on my own for 15 years. I am still learning from my parents. They continue to teach me about life, the world, and faith.

Your children are learning from you as well. Continue to "train your children in the right way." Continue to disciple them. Many children do come back to their faith later in life. You are still affecting them. You are still teaching them. Keep going. Keep at it.

And lean on the rest of us in the church for support.

We love you. We love your kids.

We're here to support you as you continue to teach and model your faith to your kids.

Saturday, August 12, 2017

Some Thoughts and a Prayer for #Charlottesville

Racism: on display today in Charlottesville.

Nineteen people were injured and one was killed this afternoon when a car slammed into a crowd of people protesting a white supremacy rally.

A white supremacy rally.

It is unbelievable that I'm actually typing those words.

Evidently the rally came together as a protest over the removal of a Robert E. Lee statue.

More than a typical protest, however, this was a gathering of KKK members and white nationalists who chanted "You will not replace us," "Blood and soil" (a Nazi slogan), and "White lives matter." They carried torches as they marched last night a la KKK gatherings.

Let's be clear: Christians should condemn this. All Christians should condemn this. It is abhorrent, and goes against God's desires for humanity. God told Abraham in Genesis 12 that through Abraham's descendants, all people of the earth would be blessed. Jesus calls his disciples to make disciples of all nations (Matthew 28). Paul says that in Christ there is no longer Jew or Greek, slave or free, male or female, because all are one in Christ Jesus (Gal. 3). God loved all people, including foreigners in early Old Testament times, and called his people to do the same (Lev. 19, Num. 9, Deut. 10, many others).

All forms of racism and white supremacy are not of God. Neo-Nazism, KKK association, white nationalism, none of these are of God.

My heart grieves today for the dead and injured and their families. I am saddened by what I see on the news today. I am shocked that these white supremacists have become bold enough to walk the streets without hoods.

I thought I would have more words today.

I don't.

All I have is a prayer.  A prayer that the God who overcomes evil will continue to overcome the evil of racism that we see alive and well in our world.  A prayer that the gospel will win over the evils of prejudice, xenophobia, and discrimination.  A prayer that whenever racism is encountered, God's people (including myself) will speak out against it as the evil that it is.

Kyrie Eleison
Lord, have mercy.

Friday, June 9, 2017

Loving People: Part 6

Commandment 10: "You must not covet your neighbor's house.  You must not covet your neighbor's wife, male or female servant, ox or donkey, or anything else that belongs to your neighbor."

Commandment 10 is great, because it can't be enforced. You can do it, and nobody will ever know!
With murder, there will probably be concrete evidence that it's been done.
With adultery, there will be at least one witness.
Lying is something that is done to another person.
With jealousy, however, people may never know if you've done it.  It goes on in the mind instead of being an action. This commandment is very similar to commandment eight: "Don’t take the things that other people have."  But in this case, it’s not about the act, but about the heart.  God doesn’t only care if you actually take a thing; God’s concerned with your heart. Commandment eight: called people not to violate another person's boundaries; to not hinder their survival.  And now commandment ten calls people to refrain from even desiring the things that others have.
This is interesting, because for the most part in the Old Testament, sin is seen as something that a person does. Sin is not something in the heart, but it’s an impulse that you’ve acted upon. That’s why it’s so shocking when Jesus says that if you think angry thoughts about a person, you’re as subject to judgment as if you killed him. Or when he says that if you think impure thoughts about someone, you’ve already committed adultery with that person in your heart. The people would have thought, “No, no, that’s not true. We never sinned," because in the minds of the people, sin was something that you did. 
But the words of Jesus show us, and this tenth commandment shows us, that God is concerned with what’s in the heart.  God is concerned about your thoughts and your desires.  Are you looking at someone else’s things and thinking how great it would be to have those things for yourself?  Stop it.  Stop it right now.  We all know what jealousy can lead to, and especially if you’re living amongst a group of people in the desert, and everyone’s trying to survive, you need to not have these thoughts.
Jealousy is the catalyst that leads to stealing.  God calls us to remain grateful for what we've been given, and to kill any thoughts of envy for another person's belongings.

Thursday, June 8, 2017

Loving People: Part 5

Commandment 9: You must not testify falsely against your neighbor.

Lying, like the other commandments we've looked at over the past few days, hurts others.  What does lying do to the person lied about? How are they victims? How does it affect others who hear the lie? How does it cause a community of people to make decisions based on untrue statements?

Remember, the Israelites were wandering in the desert.  They were making decisions on how to live as a community.  They were no longer living under the rule of Pharaoh; they were making communal decisions.  If somebody lies, therefore, it causes problems with the whole community.

This is still true today.  Lying affects decisions that are made between people.  Lying affects relationships between two or more persons.

We lie because it's easy.  It's easier in the short-term to lie than to admit a devastating truth.  Lies are things that are hard to detect.  There are people who are pretty good at detecting lies, but ultimately it's hard to know if a person is lying.

The Israelites took lying so seriously, that Israelite law said if a person was convicted of lying, they would receive the punishment the other person would have received if it the lie had been true.

In other words, Let's say that I told people that you stole two oxen from me.  Now let's say that the punishment for stealing two oxen is to pay back five oxen and two chickens.  If it turns out that my accusation about you was untrue, I would have to give you five oxen and two chickens.

The Israelites took lying seriously.  They took it seriously because lying hurts people, relationships, and a community.  We should take lying seriously as well.
Relationships matter.
Community matters.
People matter.
Lying damages these things.  May we be truthful in all of our relationships.

Wednesday, June 7, 2017

Loving People: Part 4

Commandment 8: You must not steal

Stealing from another person violates their personal boundaries.  For the ancient Israelites, stealing could have even more dire consequences than it does for people today. At the time of Moses, most belongings that a person had would relate to their survival. Remember, God's people are in the desert. They are trying to gather food, have shelter, and keep warm. Their clothing is not for fashion, it's for warmth. Stealing could, and likely would, result in a person having a harder time surviving.  So when we think about stealing today, then yes, stealing personal belongings does violate a person's boundaries. This is against what God would want from his people. But it’s even worse when you consider the perspective of the person being stolen from. What do they lose, and what will be the fallout in their lives because of what you’ve done?  Not only is this commandment saying “Don’t steal;” it’s saying “Don’t hurt another person in order to make your own life better.”

Why were people so up in arms when the Bernie Madoff scandal broke?  Beyond being unbelievable that 65 million dollars could have been lost due to an elaborate and long running Ponzi scheme, people uninvolved were angry.  Individuals were conned.  Charities were conned.  We see things like this happen and we think, “How can someone take from other people that maliciously?”  Okay, so you probably aren’t running a decades-long Ponzi scheme, but even taking something small from someone else can hurt them.  See life from the perspective of the one you’re stealing from.  How are you hurting them?

To repent of our envy and desire to steal learn is to become grateful for what we have, instead of wanting what another has.  We learn to, as Paul puts it, "Rejoice always, pray continuously, give thanks in all circumstances" (1 Thess 5:16-18).
May we rejoice and be grateful for what God's given us.  May we never let our desires cause harm to another.

Tuesday, June 6, 2017

Loving People: Part 3

Commandment 7: You shall not commit adultery

Like murder, adultery hurts many people.  Adultery hurts the person with whom you cheated.  You and that person are now living a lie and living with guilt.  You are causing strain and, most likely, the eventual end of your and the other person’s marriage.  You are hurting your children; you are hurting the other person’s children.  You are hurting their families.  You are hurting their loved ones.  You are teaching your children that one person does not physically satisfy another person for life.

And again, like the commandment on murder, Jesus goes a step further.  "You have heard the commandment that says, "You must not commit adultery" But I say, anyone who even looks at a woman with lust has already committed adultery with her in his heart" (Mt. 5:27-28).  People don’t cheat out of nowhere.  It comes from the thoughts that we have.  

By the way, it’s funny to me how we hesitate to talk about lust as much as something like anger.  Have you gotten angry?  Of course.  Have you had impure thoughts about another person?  No, of course not.  

To love others, we need to also see them as God’s children, not as objects of desire.
Lust goes on in the mind and in the heart.  To break the power of lustful thoughts is to begin to see all people as the beloved children of God that they are, not as objects of our own desires. Jesus calls us to stop using other people created by God and loved by God in our own impure ways.  Maybe the best way to do this is to tell ourselves whenever we have these thoughts about another person, “This is a beloved child of God.”

This is a child of God.
Created by God.

Loved by God.

Loving People: Part 2

Commandment 6:  "You shall not murder"

Murder hurts people (well, that's obvious).  It doesn't just hurt the person murdered, though, but the family, the loved ones, all of those who have connections with the person murdered, and all of those who have connections with those who have connections with the person murdered.  Haven you ever have a good friend who had a tragedy in their life, and you didn’t know the person involved, but it still affected you deeply, because your friend was in grief?  Murder hurts a multitude of people.  To engage in such an action is to physically harm one, and emotionally damage many.
But Jesus took it farther in the Sermon on the Mount. Mt 5:21-22 - "You have heard that our ancestors were told, "You must not murder. If you commit murder you are subject to judgment."  But I say, if you are even angry with someone, you are subject to judgment!"  

Jesus steps it up, and says, "Don’t even be angry with a person." Why? How is anger on the same level as murder?

As Yoda says, "Anger leads to hate, and hate leads to suffering."

God cares about what’s in your heart just as much as the things that you actually do.  Have you been angry in the past week?  Yeah, God cares about that.  The bad things that you do to others come from the bad things you think about others.
We are a people who like our anger.  We are a people who often hide our anger behind a mask (Fake smiles, passive aggressive behavior). We act like we are not angry, but that anger affects our relationships with other people. Jesus calls us beyond anger. 

Jesus calls us to forgive even our enemies.

Jesus calls us to love our enemies.

Jesus is so committed to bringing his people past the anger that destroys relationships that he says, "If you are presenting a sacrifice at the altar in the Temple and you suddenly remember that someone has something against you, leave your sacrifice there at the altar. Go and be reconciled to that person. Then come and offer your sacrifice to God."

If there's a rift between you and another person, fix it.  Work it out.

Do not murder.

Do not even become angry.

Sunday, June 4, 2017

Loving People: Part 1

Commandment #5

The first four of the Ten Commandments all fall under the umbrella of "Loving God."  Jesus said the greatest commandment is to Love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength.  For the past four days, we have looked at the first four commandments, and how following these commandments is an expression of Loving God.
The last six of the Ten Commandments have to do with Loving People.  Jesus said that the second greatest commandment is to Love your neighbor as yourself.  Each of these commandments are expressions of Loving People.
So, on to Commandment 5:

"Honor your father and your mother, so that you may live long in the land the Lord your God is giving you."

This commandment needs some preface. It's a tough one for many to read. It's possibly a tough one for you.  You may have had bad relationships with your parents. Perhaps your parent did something awful--seemingly unforgivable--and now you're faced with the commandment to honor them??? This is not something that comes easily.  For some, it doesn't seem doable at all.
Or perhaps you've had a bad relationship with one of your children, and you haven't felt properly honored.
To many, this commandment brings up painful emotions. "How could a loving God command me to honor that man or that woman?" Well, if we look at how this command would have been heard by the Israelites at the time, it may seem much more in line with the heart of God.  
First of all, this is not a commandment that would have been seen as something for parents to use in order to “keep their kids in line.”  Many parents have used this commandment for that purpose?  Kids acting out is tough to deal with.  Nevertheless, that’s not what this text points to.  
For the Israelites, to “honor” someone was to consider them a person of value.  The people have just left Egypt. They were slaves. Now they’re free, and they’re struggling to survive.  The land isn’t easy to live off of, especially in the desert. You have to build shelters, find food without adequate rainfall (again, they are in the desert), and survive in an area that’s not exactly built for survival.  What do you do?  Well, if you’re many people, you realize that selling members of your family into slavery will get you some good money, so that the rest of you will be able to survive.  You’ll also realize that certain people need to have most of the resources: the food, the water. The younger people with the good backs and upper body strength need to be in good health to do the work that helps people survive.  So the temptation, then, is to decide who’s more “worth saving," right? The temptation is to decide who’s helpful to the group, and who’s not.  So in this context, this commandment is about much more than “Children: obey what your parents say to you.”  It calls people to honor their elders; to consider them people of value; of worth.  We’ve seen horrifying examples in history of what can happen when people view certain groups of people as having less value than others. This isn’t an ancient historical event: the Nazi idea of a master race was around in the 1940’s.  Neo-Nazism is still a thing. There are still chapters of the KKK in America.
The idea that some people have more value than others can lead to unbelievable destruction and hurt. This is the basic message of the Harry Potter series. It’s what happens in X-Men.  These are stories about people deciding who has more and less value. Honor your Father and Mother. See others as people who have value.  Whether it’s those with physical or mental limitations, those from different regions, those with different backgrounds, children, teenagers, adults, the elderly--all people have value.  For this group of people, it was the older among them.  For us it may be another group. It could be the mentally ill, the homeless, the drug addicted, or countless other groups.  But the message is still the same: they’re worthy of honor. They’re valued by God, and they’re to be valued by us.
Honor your Father and Mother.  Honor all people, even if conventional wisdom might consider them less worthy of honor.  God values them, and we are to value them as well.

Saturday, June 3, 2017

Loving God: Part 4

Commandment 4

Remember the Sabbath day by keeping it holy. Six days you shall labor and do all your work, but the seventh day is a sabbath to the Lord your God. On it you shall not do any work, neither you, nor your son or daughter, nor your male or female servant, nor your animals, nor any foreigner residing in your towns. For in six days the Lord made the heavens and the earth, the sea, and all that is in them, but he rested on the seventh day. Therefore the Lord blessed the Sabbath day and made it holy.

“Remember the Sabbath day by keeping it holy.”  The Ten Commandments say that God’s people are to rest one day a week, in the same way that God rested on the seventh day of creation.  If we look at the Ten Commandments passage from the book of Deuteronomy, we see a slightly different version of this commandment.  It tells the people to remember that YHWH brought them out of captivity in Egypt, and they are therefore to keep the Sabbath day.  In this context, the Sabbath is a day to remember God’s provision.  A day to reflect on God’s protective care for them.  
God rested, and we are to rest.  However, this isn’t just a day to rest from all of the work that we’ve done.  
This is also a day to remember God’s love and provision.  
You'll sometimes hear people say that remembering the Sabbath means to “come to church on Sunday.”  As we look at this text and the one in Deuteronomy, however, we see that it’s actually telling us to rest, and to remember how YHWH cares for his people.  So if your heart’s in the right place, and you come to church with a worshipful, thankful spirit, then yes, that can be part of your Sabbath experience.  If going to church is simply something you do and tell others to do, but your heart’s not in the right place, then you’re Sabbathing wrong.  Sabbath is about rest for your body and soul, and remembrance of God’s provision.  Eugene Peterson says that to Sabbath is to “Pray and Play.” (Working the Angles, 73).
Take a day to rest and to remember God's love and provision.


Friday, June 2, 2017

Loving God: Part 3

Commandment 3:

"You shall not misuse the name of the Lord your God, for the Lord will not hold anyone guiltless who misuses his name."

Okay, this is a little misunderstood, or at least not fully understood by many Christians today. This commandment isn’t saying, “Don’t say ‘Oh my ___”, and it’s not about avoiding using God's name in that way. Those things may feed into what’s really being said in this commandment, but it doesn’t begin and end there.  The main point with commandment 3 is that you are not to distort who God is, or to misrepresent him. YHWH means “The one who is” or “The one who creates.”  In this culture, name and character were intimately connected.  Your name described you; who you were.  You were not to associate YHWH’s name, then, with something that was not in line with who God is.  Do not speak the name of YHWH and associate him with anything other than who he is.  He’s the one who creates.  He’s the one who is.  He’s the one who pulled you out of Egypt.  He’s the one who has made a covenant with Abraham, and now you, making you his people.  Don't. Misrepresent. Him.
This is important for us to remember.  Some Christians get really upset when they hear somebody say “Oh my _____.”  But if the real meaning behind this commandment is that we aren’t to misrepresent God, then we need to be doing a lot more than watching our language.  We need to be regularly in the Word.  We need to be reading those who have committed their lives to studying this Word.  We need to be in discussion with other Christians about what’s going on in the Bible.  If we don’t want to misrepresent God, then we’d better be constantly pursuing the knowledge of who God is.  Are you in the Word on a consistent basis?  Are you familiarizing yourself with who God is?  Why do groups like Westboro Baptist make most of us uncomfortable?  They make us uncomfortable and angry because we've looked at Scripture, and have tried to familiarize ourselves with who God is, and we think pretty strongly that screaming hate at people while they’re grieving and speaking about God’s hate toward certain people groups is not in line with the God of love that we see in scripture.  Televangelists who use the name of God to ask for large sums of money that they then squander have been in the news again lately.  Why does this make us uncomfortable?  Because the God that we see in scripture does not bless those who ask for money in the name of God, and then buy a private jet.  It makes us uncomfortable when people misrepresent God.  Let’s you and I work hard at representing God correctly.  Let’s not take the name of YHWH in vain.