Thanking Gays and Lesbians (and Their Supporters) Who Truly Stand for Tolerance

I want to publicly commend those individuals who are gay, lesbian, bisexual, or transgender and yet who are standing up for genuine tolerance and civility in America today. My thanks extends to all supporters of same-sex marriage and lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer (LGBTQ) rights, but who are speaking out against the death threats, intimidation, coercion, persecution, and outright hate being manifested towards so many people of faith (especially evangelical Christians) in our nation today. In this expression of appreciation, I’m thinking of people like…

  • Courtney Hoffman, a self-described member of the gay community who gave $20 to Indiana’s beleaguered Memories Pizza which was forced to close – their owners driven into hiding – because of a vicious wave of death threats, slander, and egregious misinformation. In her public GoFundMe donation to the pizzeria owners, she apologized for the “mean-spirited attacks” on the owners and their business, and spoke for many like-minded gays and lesbians who are “outraged at the level of hate and intolerance” directed against Memories Pizza.
  • Andrew Sullivan, the prolific British author, editor and blogger living in the United States, who has long supported same-sex marriage. Yet Sullivan too understands the mean-spirited and, in his words, highly “illiberal” nature of much of today’s left-wing activism. In a January 2015 piece titled (appropriately) “The Left’s Intensifying War on Liberalism,” Sullivan describes the gay left’s contribution to the demise of freedom as follows:

“…the struggle must not ease up with success after success, but must instead be ever-more vigiliant against hetero-hegemony. So small businesses who aren’t down with gay marriages have to be sued, rather than let be; religious liberty must be scoffed at or constrained, rather than embraced; individual homophobic sinners must be forced to resign or repent or both, and there is no mercy for those who once might have opposed, say, marriage equality but now don’t. The only “dialogue” much of the p.c. gay left wants with its sinners is a groveling apology for having a different point of view. There are few things in a free society more illiberal than that.”

  • Newspaper columnist Gil Smart, who (like Sullivan) was arguing for same-sex marriage over a decade ago (back when a majority of Americans, including President Obama, opposed it). Even though he’s glad his side has won, Smart laments that “now we’re shooting prisoners.” Smart lays it out clearly in a recent column: “‘My side’ is not being magnanimous in victory. ‘My side’ isn’t content to live and let live. ‘My side’ seeks to punish those who dare hold opposing views.”
  • Jonathan Chait, who in an insightful piece for New York in January 2015, warned against the rise of political correctness in an America now immersed in social media. Chait describes political correctness as “a style of politics in which the more radical members of the left attempt to regulate political discourse by defining opposing views as bigoted and illegitimate.” Neither the United States at large, nor liberalism specifically, should welcome such infringement of freedom and discourse in our society today.
  • Bill Maher, with whom I often disagree. Maher routinely ridicules Christians and conservatives, so I am rarely in agreement with him. But Maher recognizes the scorched-earth Culture War being waged by many (most?) of the LGBTQ community (and their supporters) against conscientious Christians today. In an April 2014 Real Time With Bill Maher, while discussing the unfair treatment of Brendan Eich (forced out of Mozilla because he donated $1,000 to fight gay marriage in 2008 when Barack Obama was also opposed to gay marriage), Maher said: “I think there is a gay mafia. I think if you cross them, you do get whacked. I really do.” I appreciate such honesty. We need more of that in today’s debate.

While I differ with the aforementioned individuals (and many like them) on a great many points, I nevertheless deeply appreciate their voice of reason and call for civility in today’s social and political climate. I’m grateful that there are still people – however few – who welcome constructive, civil, peaceful, and fair discussion in our society today, even on highly sensitive and important issues. To such people, I say “Thank you.”

The Schuller Legacy: What Evangelicals Should Learn From Robert Schuller

Robert Schuller was not perfect, but he addressed unmet needs in our society.

Robert Schuller was not perfect, but he addressed unmet needs in our society.

Many years ago, as a teenage college student, I was in a dark place. The mother of one of my friends, in an effort to encourage me, gave me a copy of Norman Vincent Peale’s The Power of Positive Thinking and Robert Schuller’s Tough Times Never Last, but Tough People Do. Having grown up in a strict fundamentalist Baptist environment, I had never been exposed to this “positive” side of Christianity. For me, it had always been about the “Thou shalt nots” – the list of which went beyond The Ten Commandments and included, in the passionate opinion of the Independent Fundamental Baptist preachers and lay leaders I was familiar with, prohibitions against dancing, rock music, going to the beach, seeing movies in the theater, watching pretty much any television program, and using any Bible translation other than the King James Version. As a result, I was a clean-cut, fairly upright, generally honest kid with strong values and a deep commitment to the Bible. But I also suffered from a tremendously low self-esteem, poor social skills, and lots of confusion and discouragement concerning my future. To be fair, there were some people (even in that strict background) who poured love into me and were a blessing to me, but the Schuller and Peale books my friend’s mom gave me were a tremendous blessing. They helped me immensely. In fact, they were a turning point for me. And thus, while I agree with some of the evangelical criticisms of Robert Schuller, I can’t bring myself to condemn him. On the contrary, I appreciate him just as I appreciated the late Norman Vincent Peale.

With Robert Schuller’s passing, many Christians are now debating how we should remember his legacy. At the top of people’s minds is the fact that Schuller built an enormous media and cultural empire centered around his “Hour of Power” television broadcast and the both famous and infamous Crystal Cathedral — only to see that empire crumble in his twilight years amid family disputes, scandals, and bankruptcy. But I’m not going to address the rise and fall of Schuller’s ministry, nor am I going to go over his biography. Instead, I want to address what evangelicals can learn from his legacy. How should evangelical Christians remember Robert Schuller?

After reading Schuller’s Tough Times Never Last, but Tough People Do (along with Peale’s The Power of Positive Thinking), I went to my pastor at the time to tell him of my breakthrough. And when I told my pastor about it, he was less than enthusiastic. Instead, he criticized Peale and Schuller, and gave me the book The Seduction of Christianity by Dave Hunt and T.A. McMahon. While I agree with much of what Hunt and McMahon say in their book, hearing my pastor at the time and reading their book served to pour water on the encouragement I was feeling. And I don’t think it’s an exaggeration to say that it actually set me back a bit in my emotional growth. It was as if I took several steps forward by reading Peale and Schuller, only to be jerked several steps back by my pastor and the book he gave me. In fact, for years afterward, I began to see God as a bit of a kill-joy. And I felt like I couldn’t get excited about anything unless it was approved by all the preachers and teachers from my fundamentalist Baptist background.

My story fortunately doesn’t end there. I joined Intervarsity Christian Fellowship, while at George Mason University, and met Christians who were outside the Baptist fold. (That included my now-wife). God-honoring, devout Christians who weren’t KJV-toting fundamentalist Baptists with strict rules of conformity? It was something of a culture shock for me at the time. And I soon began to realize that the fundamentalist Baptist churches I grew up in were sometimes wrong. And, as the years went on, I realized that the entire evangelical world (not just the strict fundamentalist Baptist movement, but the entire Bible-believing conservative culture) has quite often MISSED THE BOAT when it comes to addressing (let alone meeting) the emotional and physical needs of many believers in Christ (not to mention those outside the Christian community).

There are, in fact, enormous gaps in our churches when it comes to teaching the “whole counsel of God” – large areas of emotional and relational needs that are tragically un-addressed by many pulpits. And many people are falling through those gaps. Say what you will about Schuller and Peale, but they recognized those gaps and tried to fill them.

This is not to say there weren’t problems with Schuller’s ministry and teachings. As a Bible-believing evangelical, I often found myself troubled and even alarmed by many of the things I heard from and about Robert H. Schuller over the years. He brought non-Christians and heretics into his pulpit and made many comments himself in interviews, sermons, and writings that (to put it charitably) seemed to contradict and distort the true Gospel of Jesus Christ. Indeed, Robert Schuller leaves behind a mixed legacy.

My point in writing this article isn’t to hold up Robert Schuller as an exemplary evangelical preacher who never compromised or who always spoke biblical truth. Schuller was wrong about many things – both in word and in deed. My point is simply that, wrong as he was on some things, he was also right on some things. That part of his legacy shouldn’t be lost. Consider these nuggets of wisdom and encouragement:

  • “Let your hopes, not your hurts, shape your future.”
  • “I’d rather attempt to do something great and fail than attempt to do nothing and succeed.”
  • “Anyone can count the seeds in an apple, but only God can count the apples in a seed.”
  • “Problems are not stop signs; they are guidelines.”
  • “When you can’t solve the problem, manage it.”
  • “Better to do something imperfectly than to do nothing perfectly.”
  • “Winning starts with beginning.”
  • “Leadership does not belong in the hands of part-time thinkers.”
  • “Sin is a condition, before it is an action.”
  • “As we grow as unique persons, we learn to respect the uniqueness of others.”

Not only should we accept and learn from the wisdom in many of his sermons and much of his writings, but we should acknowledge that Schuller’s area of focus (meeting people’s emotional needs and encouraging them to think positively), while not anywhere near as crucial as the Gospel of Jesus Christ, is important and valuable. And it is, when biblically grounded and properly understood, not contradictory to the Gospel of Christ. And it’s something that many “good” churches and preachers ignore or downplay – or, in some cases, even preach against!

Think about how many hurting people have been helped by Robert Schuller. People like myself many years ago. And when those hurting people hear sanctimonious evangelical and fundamentalist critics call Schuller a “false teacher” (or worse), what does that say to them? Even if Schuller’s critics do care about the hurting people Schuller helped, that’s not what most of those people will hear or feel. If I’m hungry and someone comes along and gives me food, and then I hear people attack the very person who cared enough to help me, I’m going to side with the person who helped me! And understandably so. Bible-believing evangelicals need to keep this in mind – not only when it comes to Schuller, but also Joel Osteen, Joyce Meyer, and other Christian teachers and authors today similar to the style of Schuller and Peale. This isn’t to say that we can’t or shouldn’t point out errors or heresies, but it is a call for sensitivity, awareness, and discernment.

Recently, I took part in a medical missions camp in India. That weekend, the Gospel of Christ was shared. Christ was held up the entire weekend, in fact. But we also addressed the physical needs of those who came. We didn’t just tell the people about the Great Physician; we also put them in touch with a trained earthly physician to help with their current, physical ailments. It wasn’t an either-or. It was a both-and approach. Our churches need to do the same when it comes to emotional needs.

Rather than focus our energies on publicly condemning so-called “self help preachers” like Schuller, we – those of us who are Bible-believing evangelicals – should invest our efforts and energies in PLUGGING THE HOLES in our own churches and families. There are unmet needs in our churches. Rather than simply condemn authors, preachers, and teachers who are trying to meet those needs, let’s learn what we can from them and then strive to meet those same needs ourselves. And let’s do so while preaching the authentic Gospel of Jesus Christ and the truth of God’s Word. By doing that, we can put the mixed legacy of Robert Schuller to positive use and, in the process, build healthier, stronger churches and more effectively advance God’s Kingdom.

**Read Perfect Peace: God’s Amazing Gift for the Human Heart by Brian Tubbs

WWJD: Would Jesus Bake a Cake for a Gay Wedding?

Jesus was full of grace and truth.

Jesus was full of grace and truth.

The controversy surrounding religious freedom bills in various states, like Indiana most recently, has led many professing Christians to oppose such bills on the grounds that Jesus (in their minds) would bake cakes for gay weddings. Would the Son of God, assuming He were a baker instead of a carpenter, bake a cake for a gay wedding?

First, I doubt Jesus would attend, let alone bake a cake, for a same-sex wedding in first century Jerusalem. Such a scenario in that setting would be unthinkable. And, by the way, the fact that it would be unthinkable should not be lost on us, but for time sake, we’ll set that aside. Let’s instead presuppose (in our wild imagination) that Jesus were walking the earth today. And not just walking the earth, but that Jesus owned a bakery in Indiana. Still with me? If you consider this scenario laughable, I remind you that it’s not my scenario, but rather this is what many pro-gay marriage writers, activists, commentators, and everyday folks (many of them church-goers) are saying. I’m trying to roll with their scenario. Okay, let’s get back to it… Jesus, the Son of God, owns a bakery in Indiana. And along comes a gay couple. They want Jesus to make them a wedding cake – appropriately decorated and customized to celebrate their union. Would Jesus bake them a cake? That’s the question.

Before I answer this question….let’s agree that we shouldn’t pass civil laws requiring people to bake cakes in such circumstances because we, in our imaginations, can “see” Jesus doing so. If anyone is going to advocate that, such a person can no longer claim with a straight face to believe in the separation of Church and State. For my own part, I don’t believe businesses should be allowed to blanket discriminate against groups or individuals, and that includes discrimination against gays and lesbians. Discrimination against people should remain in our past. But should businesses (especially small businesses or sole proprietors) be required by law to service every request they receive? Can we not see there might be a distinction – indeed, often is a distinction – between the customer as a person and the particular request a customer is making?

A Wedding Cake for Same Sex Couple

A Wedding Cake for Same Sex Couple

The issue for this article, though, is whether a Christian cake decorator should bake and decorate a wedding cake for a gay wedding — regardless of what the law may or may not require.

I want it understood that God loves EVERYBODY (regardless of race, creed, color, gender, sexual orientation, etc) and that anyone who claims to follow God should also love everyone, including those with whom we disagree. But it absolutely astonishes me that people who CLAIM to be Christians and who CLAIM to respect the Bible somehow feel Jesus would endorse or affirm same-sex marriage. How can anyone claim that when one reads Matthew 19:4-6?

Would Jesus love the gay couple? Absolutely. Would He or Does He support gay marriage? Based on how Jesus defined marriage, I don’t see how anyone can credibly say He would. In pointing this out, I’m not being hateful, but I am being truthful. As John Adams once said: “Facts are stubborn things.”

Truth be told, I am genuinely sympathetic to those who feel their very identity has been called into question (or worse) by people of faith who believe homosexuality to be a sin. A person living with a lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transgender (LGBT) orientation takes it quite personally (and understandably so), when he or she hears a Christian condemn homosexuality as a “sin” or an “abomination” – or when someone (Christian or not) says they shouldn’t have equal access to marriage. I don’t want to approach the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer (LGBTQ) community as some kind of insensitive, judgmental adversary. That is not my heart. God loves everyone. And I have made it my goal and desire to do the same. And while I’m not perfect and do slip occasionally, I believe such love reflects my heart.

Matthew19I should also acknowledge that Christians can be very selective about what sins they condemn. For example, the Bible doesn’t have anything nice to say about divorce, and yet the divorce rate among Christian families is equal to that of non-Christian families. And most Christian bakery owners wouldn’t think twice about baking cakes for divorcees. Most Christian churches have ignored, redefined, or at least finessed the Bible’s teachings on divorce and remarriage to avoid offending or hurting the many people in their congregations who have experienced divorce. And I get it. Things happen. No one is perfect. Life gets messy. I get it, but why is it that many Christians show mercy, consideration, and grace toward those who divorce (even those who divorce on dubious grounds), but condemn and completely ostracize those with same-sex attraction?

In my humble opinion, if a Christian cake decorator is only refusing to serve gay weddings but is completely accepting of every other kind of wedding out there, I think there’s a serious heart problem there. And I understand the LGBTQ community crying foul. But…

Would Jesus bake a wedding cake for a gay couple? Would Jesus support (by providing a product or service) a gay wedding? I just don’t see how a Bible-believing Christian can say “yes” after reading Matthew 19:4-6. Chances are Jesus would withhold His support from quite a few heterosexual weddings too.

When it comes to making claims on what Jesus would do, let’s let Jesus speak for Himself. And the best record of what Jesus said and did remains the Bible.

Why Are Christians So Judgmental?

Many Christians are indeed judgmental, but there are two different kinds of judgment. Some judge actions, beliefs, attitudes, circumstances, places, etc. That is something all people (Christians and non-Christians) do all the time. And it’s something we must do in order to get through life. For instance, our society (via the appropriate civil and judicial processes) makes judgments about what laws are necessary and also whether suspected violators of said laws are guilty or innocent. As individuals, we make judgments about where we live, who we have relationships with, what we eat, where we go, what we watch, and so forth. Making judgments is a part of life, so to single out Christians and allege that they should not make judgments as they go through life is a rather odd and hypocritical position to take (to say the least).

The second type of judgment is with regards to people. And, even here, there needs to be a distinction. Some people “judge” people only in the sense of an assessment – i.e., Do I trust this person or not? And, as is the case with judging attitudes, behaviors, places, circumstances, beliefs, etc., this type of judgment is a part of life. We need to exercise this kind of judgment. When we don’t, we open ourselves up to inefficiency, mistakes, exploitation, deception, and all kinds of misfortune.

As you hopefully see by now, there are all kinds of judgments that people make, and most of the judgments are necessary and proper. There’s nothing wrong with Christians – or anybody – making such judgments in life. Nothing.

There are, however, some judgments that shouldn’t be made – by anybody. And that’s when we take judgment to the level of prejudice, knee-jerk reactions, stereotyping, mean-spiritedness, malice, or even (at worst) violence. Let’s agree that this level of judgment is absolutely wrong and belongs solely to God. Very few true Christians, however, engage in this level of judgment on a routine basis. There are some professing Christian groups out there that do so, such as the vile Westboro Baptist Church cult. But most true Christians don’t sink to that level.

When most people attack Christians for being judgmental, they are typically objecting to biblical doctrines and/or judgments some Christians make about people’s behaviors, attitudes, or beliefs. But such accusations are unfair. Christians have as much right to their beliefs and practices as any other faith group. What’s more, those who accuse Christians of being “judgmental” or “narrow-minded” seem oblivious to the possibility that maybe, just maybe, God has some opinions on things.

If you’re someone who has accused Christians of being judgmental or narrow-minded, let me put that question to you…. Can you accept the possibility that God may have some opinions on things? Think about it. Christians believe that God is NOT an impersonal, abstract, pantheistic “Force” in the universe, but rather a personal, intelligent Being. In other words, God is a Person. And, as such, it makes sense – does it not? – that God would have thoughts and feelings! That means God has opinions on things.

And if you’re prepared to accept that God has opinions, can you also accept that some of God’s opinions (about, say, eternal life or sexuality) may differ from what you believe and/or what you’re practicing?

A few years ago, I watched a discussion on Larry King Live, where one panelist argued that we shouldn’t make God “tribal” and argued that God was bigger than any of our religions or beliefs. While I agree that the scope and essence of God is greater than human comprehension, it’s a mistake – if not an outright lie – to say we’re incapable of understanding God’s revelation. We don’t need to understand everything about God in order to understand something about God. And when we seek after God, we learn more and more about Him – including many of His beliefs and opinions.

God isn’t a projection of our beliefs, opinions, etc. We didn’t create God. He created us. God’s purpose isn’t to please you or accommodate you. His role in the universe isn’t to validate what you believe or what you want to do. It’s OUR job to please Him and to obey Him. If you can get that clear in your mind, you’ll at least be on the right track as you seek after Him (Hebrews 11:6).

God bless you.

All Things Through Christ: Does Philippians 4:13 Really Mean Anything?

In his letter to the church in Philippi, the Apostle Paul famously declares: “I can do all things through Christ, who strengthens me” (Philippians 4:13). What does Paul in Philippians 4:13 really mean? The best way to answer that question is to break down the verse to understand Paul’s meaning.

“through Christ”

Let’s start, not with the first words of the verse, but with the anchor point of the verse. The basis of the promise is Jesus Christ. Paul doesn’t say you can do anything you want to do. He says you can do anything “through Christ.” It’s a very specific promise. Contrast that promise with what Napoleon Hill famously said: “Whatever the mind of man can conceive and believe, it can achieve.” That statement – also credited to W. Clement Stone – reflects the high hopes of humanity. And there’s some truth to it. Human beings can do incredible things if they muster enough belief and enthusiasm. But humans can’t do “all things.” We have our limitations. Thus, the quote falls shy of reality. The promise in Philippians 4:13 is different. It doesn’t say we can do whatever our minds “conceive and believe.” It says we can do all things “through Christ.” In other words, are we acting as a servant of Jesus Christ in what we’re striving to do? And are we doing something that Christ wants us to do? If yes, then we’re acting “through Christ.” If no, then we’re acting on our own strength, and the promise of Philippians 4:13 does not apply.

“I can”

Going back to the start of the verse, it’s important to identify the positive quality of this declaration. I begins with “I can,” not “I think” or “I hope.” The declaration is one of absolute certainty. Even stepping away from the Bible for a moment, common sense will tell you that an “I can” attitude will take you much further in life and will increase your odds of success much more than a lack of confidence. Henry Ford once said: “Whether you think you can or you can’t, you’re right.” While I wouldn’t put Mr. Ford on the same level as Scripture, he’s right that an “I can’t” attitude will scuttle any hope of success before you even get started. Don’t tell God that you can’t do something He’s called you to do. Instead, remind yourself that, with God, all things are possible (Matthew 19:26).

“do”

The word “do” denotes action. It means work. There isn’t any sitting back and wishing. It’s not about hoping or wanting. It’s about taking action. You can believe in the power of God – or even in the power of yourself – all day long. But if you don’t take any action, nothing may happen. Sure, you may be the fortunate beneficiary of circumstances outside of your control, but this puts you in the role of hopeful spectator – or frankly a beggar. This is a declaration of empowerment. It is a declaration of motion. Don’t just claim the promises of God. Act on the promises of God.

“all things”

The scope of “all things” is defined by the words “through Christ” (discussed previously). We’re therefore not talking about the fanciful, the ridiculous, the vain, or the selfish. We’re talking about all things which are consistent with God’s will in our life. When I explained this a friend at one point, he said that was a “cop out,” but remember the context of Paul’s letter. He’s writing this to Philippi from Rome – where he’s under house arrest! In the course of his ministry, Paul was beaten, imprisoned, shipwrecked, stoned, and all around persecuted. He was often ridiculed and criticized as well – sometimes from the Christian community! His was not a life of pleasure and ease. That’s the context from which the author is writing these words. We stick verses like Philippians 4:13 on a refrigerator magnet, allow our imaginations to give such passages our own interpretation, and then complain when the proper meaning is explained to us! It’s not a “cop out” to say that Philippians 4:13 applies to only those things which are consistent with God’s will for our life. It’s the proper understanding of the passage.

Paul’s declaration in Philippians 4:13 should give all of us hope and encouragement. It gives us hope because we know that nothing God calls us to is impossible. No obstacle the world or the Enemy throws in our path can stop us from running the race God has set before us. Our happiness, our joy, our value, our success – all of it is dependent upon Christ and made possible by His strength. This isn’t limiting. It’s liberating. And it should fill us all with joy and peace.

For more on this, read Perfect Peace: God’s Amazing Gift for the Human Heart.