Category Archives: Culture

The Lost Art of Listening

“My wife said I never listen to her… At least I think that’s what she said.”

The quip would be funny if it wasn’t so true. Many of us have lost the ability to listen.

Cable news has replaced thoughtful analysis with senseless shouting. Universities have substituted civil dialogue with violent protests. If our nation is to live up to its name and once again be the “United States,” we must rediscover the art of listening. Here are three keys to better listening.

1. Listening must be cultivated. King Solomon introduced his son to the idea of “making your ear attentive to wisdom and inclining your heart to understanding” (Proverbs 2:2). What a concept! Talk is easy; listening is hard. We love to make our voice heard. Listening, on the other hand, takes discipline. It involves humbling ourselves, admitting there may information we still lack, or an alternate perspective we can benefit from. In the rare times we do listen, we tend to surround ourselves with people who think and act just like us, re-enforcing our own biases. But that’s not necessarily listening. We must also be willing to engage opposing viewpoints, to avoid stereotypes, and to look for areas of common ground. God gave us two ears but only one mouth. Maybe that’s because he wants us to spend twice as much time listening as talking.

2. Listening must be compassionate. It is a simple expression of Colossians 3:12: “Put on then, as God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, compassionate hearts, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience.” When we listen, we are trying to put ourselves in another person’s shoes. Our first goal is not to win an argument; it’s to understand the other side. Stephen Covey in his book “The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People,” suggests there are five levels of listening. Lower stages include hearing a voice, but only pretending to listen. Or practicing selective listening while forming a rebuttal. But true listening is empathetic listening. It is listening with an intent to understand, to get inside their frame of reference and understand them both intellectually and emotionally. That’s true listening.

3. Listening must be critical. Not mean-spirited, but with discernment. Learn to be a critical thinker. “Test everything; hold fast to what is good. Abstain from every form of evil” (1 Thessalonians 5:21-22). I think some people are afraid to listen because they think listening is the same as agreement. But the two are not the same. When listening, we’re just trying to better understand the other person, and giving them the same respect we’d ask them to give us. Hear them out. It may even be helpful to ask follow-up questions, or re-phrase their statement into our own words to make sure we heard it right. Only then can we decide whether we agree or disagree with their viewpoint, and why.

As a Christian, my only reliable source of truth is the Bible. It’s the gold standard by which all truth claims must be judged. So a helpful follow up question to ask is, “What does the Bible say?” Like the Berean church in Acts 17:11, we should examine the scriptures daily, to see if these things are so. The more we get to know our Bibles, the better we can navigate the murky waters of ideas and competing worldviews.

Cultivate a listening ear. Be compassionate. Think critically. If we all practice these keys to better listening, perhaps we’ll see a bit of civility restored to public discourse.

Today’s post first appeared in the Thursday edition of our local newspaper, The Hi Desert Star.

Photo credit: Olaf Meyer via Flickr

Confused by the Election?

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No matter how confusing this election might be, one thing is clear: You need to vote.

In Mark 12, Jesus commands us to “Render to Caesar what is Caesar’s.” This means that Christians should be law-abiding, tax-paying citizens of their nation. For Americans, it also implies a duty to vote.

Besides the presidential race, there are 17 California state propositions, several important senate seats, 53 house seats, 80 state assembly seats, judges, school boards, town council, and more that will be decided in November.

We’re blessed to live in a country that still has a democratic process, and it would be foolish not to cast your vote. Imagine the harm done if Christians sat out a single election cycle. But imagine the impact if every Christian took time to vote!

If you need help sorting through the issues, I recommend Robin Nordell’s website. She offers a wealth of info and links that emphasize biblical family values. She covers both state and county races and has a whole page dedicated to our own San Bernardino County.

This is not an endorsement of any one candidate. But it is a helpful website I pass along to help you sort out the issues for yourself and exercise the precious right to vote.

Photo credit: Jason Brackins

H.R. 36 Withdrawn by Congress. What are They Thinking??

Speak for the Weak

This morning, I got a frustrating report from Russell Moore and the Ethics & Religious Liberties Commission. Full message is below, then be sure to read to end to see a simple way you can help save thousands of lives.

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For more than a month, pro-life supporters have been eagerly anticipating this day. While hundreds of thousands of us participate today in the March for Life, a newly elected, majority pro-life Congress was to vote on the Pain-Capable Unborn Child Protection Act (H.R. 36). This bill would have ended the legal killing of unborn children 20 weeks and older. This is the age at which unborn children are known to experience pain. The bill would have protected them from the agony of abortion. The only exceptions would have been in the cases of rape, incest, or threats to the mother’s life, the standard exceptions Congress has accepted for years.

Last night, however, in response to objections from some of their members, Republican House leadership decided to pull the bill from consideration. This decision risks the continuation of the abortion of thousands of children during their last four months in their mother’s wombs. The United States is one of just a handful of nations in the world that continues to legally abort unborn children more than 20 weeks of age indiscriminately. This is a bill that has widespread support, even among women.

This decision is a severe breach of trust that we cannot let go unchallenged. Let me urge you to do two things today:

  • Have your prayer time and Bible study.
  • Call your member of congress and express your support for H.R. 36. You can find your Congressman here.

As followers of Christ, we believe every life was created in the image of God and deserves our protection. We must speak up for the unborn who cannot speak for themselves. God expects no less. I pray you will make yourselves heard before this morning has passed.

If you would like to know more about how all this came about, I encourage you to read this story at the Washington Post.

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What is Congress thinking?? Rape is a horrific crime, but it is no reason to kill an innocent, unborn child. Two wrongs never make a right.

As Christians, we are particularly interested in the care and protection of human life. We believe that all people are created in the image of God and thus have inherent dignity and value. Proverbs 24:11-12 says, “Rescue those who are being taken away to death; hold back those who are stumbling to the slaughter. If you say, ‘Behold, we did not know this,’ does not He who weighs the heart perceive it?” We cannot turn a blind eye, but have a duty to preserve and celebrate life whenever possible.

In response to this news, I immediately located my Representative and called and emailed his office. Here is the message I sent him. The whole thing took less than five minutes. Will you take a moment and do the same?

Dear Representative ___,

I just learned that House leaders have pulled the Pain-Capable Unborn Child Protection Act (HR 36) from consideration. This is a tragedy! We expect better from our newly elected, pro-life majority Congress. Please do your best to get this item quickly back on the docket, and to save the lives of thousands of unborn children.

Sincerely,
Mr. Stephen Jones

Photo credit: Abort73.com

The DOMA Dilemma

On Wednesday, June 26, the Supreme Court made two rulings on marriage that will profoundly impact our culture. First, they dismissed Proposition 8 for lack of legal standing and sent it back to the State of California for further review. Second, they reversed the 1996 Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) and now offer full federal benefits to same sex couples.

Writing the Majority Opinion for United States v. Windsor, Justice Kennedy said DOMA “demeans” same sex couples and “humiliates tens of thousands of children now being raised by same sex couples.” He implies that any opposition to same-sex marriage is rooted in animus or hatred.

This poses a real problem for Christians. We are not out to “hate” or “humiliate” anyone. Yet the Bible stipulates that marriage is created by God as a permanent union between one man and one woman:

Genesis 2:24 Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and hold fast to his wife, and they shall become one flesh.
Ephesians 5:25 Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her

(See also Gen. 1:27; Ps. 128:3-4; Mt. 19:4-9; Heb. 13:4)

Furthermore, the Bible says that even the slightest drift away from God’s law is “sin”:

James 4:17 So whoever knows the right thing to do and fails to do it, for him it is sin.

James 2:10 For whoever keeps the whole law but fails in one point has become accountable for all of it.

Thus, any departure from God’s holy standard of monogamous, heterosexual marriage is sin. This includes fornication, adultery, homosexuality, bisexuality, incest, polygamy, polyamory, bestiality, etc.

So here’s the dilemma. In striking down DOMA, the Supreme Court has declared same sex marriage to be a moral virtue and a constitutional right. Yet our conscience and convictions, informed by Scripture, dictate that same sex marriage is a moral evil and dishonoring to God. How should we respond?

When forced to choose between the two, we must obey God rather than men (Acts 5:29). Written by God, the Bible holds the trump card, and is the final arbiter of good and evil, right and wrong. When civil authorities declare something wrong to be right, we respectfully disagree and reserve our highest allegiance for God. Unlike human governments, His laws are always good, and His laws will never change.

The fear of the LORD is clean, enduring forever;
The rules of the LORD are true, and righteous altogether
Psalm 19:9

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Get Ready for Election Day

<!–[if pub]> 281 7772400 10058400 259 261 257 276 262 279 1 0?KR2WRQPTJ:8!7S0/,<6P 5 1 0 285 282 1 False 0 0 0 0 -1 304800 243 True 128 77 255 3175 3175 70 True True True True True 278 134217728 1 1 -9999996.000000 -9999996.000000 8 Empty 13158 52479 6750207 13421772 10040166 26316 16777215 12 Desert <![endif]–><!–[if pub]> 22860000 22860000 (`@““““` 266 263 5 110185200 110185200 <![endif]–>Tuesday, November 6, is a watershed moment in our nation’s history. Here’s my advice for election day…

Pray. Let’s pray for wisdom, for peace, and for leaders who will fear God and keep His commandments (1 Tim. 2:1-4). Most importantly, pray for revival which is by far our nation’s greatest need.

Learn. Study the issues before entering the polling booth. Click here for a Presidential Voter Guide. For more info about candidates and propositions, go to: www.californiafamily.org and Robyn Nordell’s website.

Vote. Cast your vote on election day and thank God for the privilege of having a government that is still ‘of the people, by the people, for the people.’

Rest. Regardless of the outcome, you can rest in God’s sovereignty and remember that “our citizenship is in heaven, and from it we await a Savior” (Phil. 3:20). As Bob Dylan sang, “we’re strangers in a land we’re passing through.”

photo credit: freedigitalphotos.net

National Day of Prayer

Religion and politics. We’ve all been warned not discuss these two topics in public. Bring one up, and the mood at the water cooler can go from casual to combative in about 2.5 seconds. But I’m going to breach etiquette and mention them both … in the same article.

First, politics. As we all know, this is an election year. Campaign flyers are flooding our mailbox. The California Primary Election is just around the corner, and six months from now, millions of Americans will gather at their local precinct to choose a leader for the next four years. In 1924, President Calvin Coolidge observed, “All the opportunity for self-government through the rule of the people depends upon one single factor. That is the ballot box.” If you haven’t already, be sure to register and exercise your right to vote in our upcoming elections. It is our duty.

Now on to religion. I must confess, I’m not very fond of the word “religion.” It usually brings to mind cold ceremonies, empty rituals, and corrupt institutions. But if, by “religion,” we mean faith in God through Jesus Christ, it’s the most precious word on the planet.

Each of us has a political duty to vote. But we also have a religious duty: to pray for our country. The Apostle Paul says, “First of all, then, I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for all people. For kings and all who are in high positions, that we may lead a peaceful and quiet life, godly and dignified in every way” (1 Timothy 2:1-2 ESV). Since my 18th birthday, I’ve never missed an election. But to my shame, I sometimes forget to pray for my leaders after they’re elected.

Elections are good, but prayer meetings are better. Elections shape history, but prayer affects the God of history. Prayer unites our hearts with the sovereign Lord of the universe who alone “changes times and seasons, removes kings and sets up kings” (Daniel 2:21).

Let’s pray that our elected officials will have wisdom and strength. Let’s pray for our schools, our military, our churches, our families, and our law enforcement. Most importantly, let’s pray for the spiritual needs of our nation — that more people will find true hope in Jesus Christ our Lord.

Tomorrow, we have a great opportunity to pray during the National Day of Prayer. On behalf of the other pastors of the Morongo Basin Evangelical Pastors Fellowship, I invite you to join us at Remembrance Park at Noon on Thursday May 3, 2012. But even if you can’t make this gathering, please pause for a few moments to pray for our nation and our community. After all, it is our duty.

This article first appeared in the Minister’s Message in today’s edition of our local newspaper, the Hi Desert Star.

Incredible deal on World Magazine

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If you’re not a World subscriber, you should be. They offer top-notch journalism from a biblical perspective. I am always impressed with their depth and quality of reporting.
A one-year subscription would make an excellent gift for pastors, teachers, businessmen, recent high school and college graduates, and well, pretty much everyone else too. 
Below is their announcement. This deal will only last for one week, so act fast!
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All around us, the mighty are falling – newspaper bankruptcies, newsroom layoffs, indifferent audiences, and plunging ad revenues are roiling the news business. That’s why we believe now is the time to build a stronger, Christian news organization – one that recognizes a sovereign God at the center of all things.
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Take advantage of this special offer and partner with WORLD in seeking to chronicle what God is doing in the world – in culture and education, in communities, in families, in church and state.     

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Augustine and the death of Bin Laden

If ever there was a “just war,” our nation’s pursuit of Osama Bin Laden would qualify. Here are Augustine’s comments on the necessity and limits of waging a “just war”…

For it is the wrongdoing of the opposing party [Al Qaeda] which compels the wise man [Coalition Forces] to wage just wars; and this wrong-doing, even though it gave rise to no war, would still be matter of grief to man because it is man’s wrong-doing.

Let every one, then, who thinks with pain on all these great evils, so horrible, so ruthless, acknowledge that this is misery. And if any one either endures or thinks of them without mental pain, this is a more miserable plight still, for he thinks himself happy because he has lost human feeling…

…For even they who make war desire nothing but victory,—desire, that is to say, to attain to peace with glory. For what else is victory than the conquest of those who resist us? and when this is done there is peace. It is therefore with the desire for peace that wars are waged… (Augustine, “City of God,” quoted from Philip Schaff, The Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers Vol. II, 407).

I think it’s appropriate to feel a mix of sorrow and gladness today as we reflect on the death of Osama bin Laden. On the one hand, we grieve the thought of anyone facing the prospect of eternity in hell, apart from Christ. On the other hand, when a battle was provoked by wrongdoing, and weapons were reluctantly taken up by the innocent nation, we should rejoice at the sight of justice and a little more peace in our world today.

An open letter to Muslims

The following “Open Letter to Muslims” was recently drafted and signed by pastors in the Santa Clarita Valley, and was published in their local newspaper, The Signal, on September 10, 2010. I would heartily add my endorsement of it as well. I may share the same title with this man in Florida (“Pastor Jones”), but I certainly don’t share his approach toward people of other faiths. Here’s the original open letter…

Although it appears that the Quran burning event planned by Pastor Terry Jones has been called off, we believe that the ethics behind the idea and the idea itself need to be righteously opposed.
We have followed with a heavy heart the developments in Gainesville, Florida, where the pastor of a small church announced plans to burn 200 copies of the Quran on Saturday evening.  Despite the national and international outcry provoked by his outrageous plan, including opposition from Christian leaders across the country and around the world, Pastor Terry Jones seemed determined to move forward.  We sincerely hope that his stated change of mind change will hold, but believe that we need to speak out against his viewpoint.
We are writing this letter to assure you that Pastor Jones does not speak for the Christian community, and that he definitely does not speak for us, or for the members of the churches that we represent.  His plans are offensive to us, and should be offensive to Christians everywhere.  We are embarrassed by his actions, and sincerely hope that the local and international Muslim community will see them for what they are: a publicity-seeking provocation by an unreasonable man of no standing in the Christian community.
As followers of Jesus Christ, we believe that we are called to represent Him by embodying His principles.  The Jesus of the Bible did not burn the sacred books of other religions.  He spoke the truth in love, prayed for His enemies, and forgave those who persecuted Him.  We believe that His death on the cross made it possible for rebellious human beings to be reconciled to their Creator.  This good news can sadly be obscured by offensive acts done in His name by people who claim to represent Him. 
Whether or not the burning ever takes place, the very thought of it has done damage around the world.  We are grieved to see that damage, and will do all in our power to counteract it as we strive to represent the One who said, “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.”  We wish Pastor Jones would remember these words.  We pledge to do our best to live by them, and hope that you, our Muslim neighbors, will notice the difference.

Reflecting on Prop 8

Al Mohler has written a helpful piece on the overturning of Proposition 8. Here are a couple excerpts…

The importance of the decision handed down yesterday by U. S. District Judge Vaughn R. Walker in California’s Proposition 8 trial will be difficult to exaggerate. Proponents of same-sex marriage immediately declared a major victory — and for good reason…

…The religious liberty dimensions of the decision are momentous and deeply troubling. While Judge Walker declared that the religious freedoms of citizens and religious bodies were not violated because no such body is required to recognize or perform same-sex marriage, the very structure of his argument condemned religious and theological objections to homosexuality and same-sex marriage as both harmful and irrational…

You can read the whole thing here, which I recommend to understand the legal arguments used during the proceedings, and to understand the next step in the constitutional process.

We are witnessing major moral erosion before our very eyes. Yet the deepest need for our state is not a return to morality. It is a saving relationship with the Lord Jesus Christ. I grieve over these developments in the Prop 8 case, but realize that a “moral,” heterosexual family is no closer to the gospel than an immoral, homosexual one. Ultimately, we all need to be broken over our sin, admit our fallen condition, and trust wholly in Christ. He is our hope, our rest, and our righteousness.

No one can predict what the long-term implications of this ruling will be to churches, non-profit organizations, and individual Christians. We can expect the moral and ethical dilemmas to continue to increase. I have to guard my own heart not to grow anxious but instead to take comfort in Jesus’ words, “In the world you have tribulation, but take courage; I have overcome the world” (Jn. 16:33).

But whether Prop 8 prevails or is permanently overturned, I pray this cultural battle will result in more people bowing the knee to King Jesus and surrendering completely to the only One who can save.

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