Monthly Archives: January 2016

Can Christians vote for Donald Trump?

Why this white Christian male can never support Donald Trump

I am breaking my rule. Normally I never write about politics because (a) it’s a divisive topic, and (b) others incorrectly equate faith and politics, and I don’t want to be part of that. But the politics themselves have become so divisive now. That— more than any specific policy or candidate— is today’s topic.

The Christian Science Monitor summarized it perfectly. Reflecting on the previous night’s GOP debate, it asked, “Does GOP debate show Donald Trump has already won?” and observed that, “Belligerence was the order of the night. Trump himself said he would ‘gladly accept the mantle of anger.'”

Spoiling for a fight

I have many church friends who are ardent supporters of The Donald. To them, Trump channels their frustration and anger over losing twice to Obama— one describes it as “an 8-year reign of terror”— as well as a deeper anger that their values are being taken away: planned parenthood, same-sex marriage, etc. In Trump’s fiery rhetoric, they see the strong medicine that they feel our country needs.

But I cannot number myself among them. Something in me rebels against the notion that Christlike ends can be achieved by such un-Christlike means. Consider the warnings of scripture:

  • “A fool gives full vent to his anger, but a wise man keeps himself under control.” (Proverbs 29:11)
  • “Refrain from anger, and forsake wrath. Fret not yourself; it tends only to evil.” (Psalm 37:8)
  • “Blessed is the man who does not sit in the seat of the scornful.” (Psalm 1:1)
  • “Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry, for man’s anger does not bring about the righteous life that God desires.” (James 1:19-20)

There are dozens more.

Some counter that righteous anger is the appropriate response to the apostasy of our times, and point to the model of Jesus getting angry at the temple merchants— and not only angry, but violent as well, fashioning whips and overturning tables. But even including that episode, I do not believe there is any honest comparison between the public persona of Donald Trump and the example and the teaching of Jesus Christ.

In a Republican field with a lot of very similar positions, Trump’s pugnaciousness has made him the stand-out among those who are spoiling for a fight. That instinct is perfectly natural. The problem is, scripture is often at odds with our natural instincts. For instance, there is nothing natural about forgiving our enemies, yet scripture repeatedly urges this, from Joseph reconciling with his brothers to Jesus praying from the cross.

Not-so-righteous anger

Jesus’ anger has this same element of reversing our natural instincts. The one thing that made Jesus angry was when the religious establishment, instead of leading people to God, used the weight of their influence to keep people away. (Clearing the temple was one example, the “woe to you!” verses of Matthew 23 are another.)

But today’s Christian anger is directed in a much more “natural” direction: not at our own religious establishment, but at all the outsiders, who are exactly the people that Jesus embraced. The central message of Christ’s life and sacrifice is reconciliation, and as Christians, we need to be striving toward that, not toward deeper division. Very closely connected to that is how we treat one another, and especially our enemies. If our society is sick, then “you who are spiritual should restore them gently,” urges the scripture; “gently” being the operative word.

Good governance, by these lights, is not about anger. It is all about seeking resolution of our differences. At its best, it is about functioning together as countrymen despite them. What we are seeing now on the national stage is nothing like that. Far from it: the personal insults, the battle lines, the ridicule— to the Christian, this is as close as I have ever seen, in my lifetime, to governance at its worst.

Overdoing it with food

God in the food, or, forgetting to save your life

Food represents a gigantic fraction of Biblical teaching, yet in 19 years of weekly church attendance, I have never once heard a sermon on it. In a time when unhealthy food choices are literally a public health epidemic— when celebrities from Michael Pollan to Jamie Oliver have made their careers warning about the dietary dangers— why do the Biblical teachings on the subject seem all but forgotten? And, what does the original “diet book” have to say that is still relevant in our time?

The power of food

In December, I signed on for a 21 Day Sugar Detox with a group of old friends. The day before it started, our church made a plug for 21 days of prayer and fasting. Whether it was a God-wink or just good timing, I decided my detox could do double duty. I posted in my friends’ private Facebook group, asking if anyone else was thinking of the emotional/spiritual benefits of the cleanse. At the time no one was, but then we got into it. Suddenly there were multiple posts about powerful emotions unexpectedly unleashed. What was happening?

Anyone who has ever struggled with food addiction will tell you: what fuels the addiction is not the taste of the food or the feeling of being full. Rather, like any addiction, it is the emotional attachment. It’s psychological self-medication. I would argue that food has this power because what we eat is inherently emotional. A New York Times editorial about sugar summed it up: “We mean addictive, literally, in the same way as drugs. And the food industry is doing everything it can to keep us hooked.”

Meant to be our servant, food has, for many, become our master. Even Adam & Eve’s original sin, leading to slavery, was an act of audacity regarding food.

A greater power

When anything gains mastery over us, the world (and our own instincts!) urge us to “try harder” or “resist temptation”. By contrast, the tonic of scripture is humilitysubmission, and grace. Scripture talks often about breaking the power of that which holds us captive, so that God’s redemption can begin to work in us, to restore us to wholeness, but our own efforts are not the most important element in that.

Indeed, in the case of food, stringent self-denial (basically, unhealthy fasting) is a symptom of the disease. The Bible often talks about fasting, but it is always in the context of turning us outside of ourselves (toward God), not as some sort of “will to power” self-actualization.

The larger point is that we, as human beings, have a higher calling than hedonistic self enjoyment.

  • For life is more than food, and the body more than clothes. (Luke 12:23)
  • Whoever sows to please their flesh, from the flesh will reap destruction. (Galatians 6:8)
  • You have lived luxuriously on the earth and led a life of wanton pleasure; you have fattened your hearts in a day of slaughter. (James 5:5)

So much of our “foodie” culture nowadays is focused on our own experience. But if our lives are nothing more than seeking our own pleasure— a pleasure that is inescapably bounded by our own mortality— then ultimately, they are nothing at all.

Women's voices in ministry

Women’s voices, or, how to avoid spiritual malnutrition

Last week a reader pointed something out to me: all my “Best of 2015” awards went to women. At the time, I honestly hadn’t noticed. But it got me thinking. What is it about this past year that should have caused me to gravitate so strongly towards a female perspective on the gospel? I read plenty of male writers and bloggers. Why was it all the women’s voices that had stuck with me come January?

Malnutrition: leaving something out

For the past three years, my wife and I had been going to a small church, there are two full-time pastors, and they’re both men, so if most of the teaching is done by men, that’s only natural. So I thought! But then as the months went by, and one guest speaker after another were all men as well, it slowly dawned on me, like the Blues Brothers playing at Bob’s Country Bunker: “I don’t think so, man: those lights are off on purpose.”

I grew up in the Presbyterian church, which has been ordaining women since the 1890s, so these are literally the first three years of my life that I have gone more than a month without hearing a woman preach. (Being honest, the idea of all-male teaching had never even occurred to me before.) The pastors at our recent church were, and are, devout men of God, with passionate hearts to serve and a profound desire to provide a weekly diet of wholesome scriptural teaching. And yet, it occurred to me: I am starving.

Think of the British Navy, c. 1750. Wholesome food for their sailors— leading to good health and high morale that were advantageous in battle— was a major concern of the British Admiralty. And yet malnutrition was the greatest enemy of the fleet; it killed more British sailors than enemy action. The chief culprit was scurvy, caused by a lack of fresh fruit. In their profound desire to nourish their crews, the Admiralty were unwittingly poisoning them instead, simply by leaving something out.

How not to read scripture

So it is with me. Many cite 1 Timothy 2:12 as  “proof text” that no woman should preach, ever. For the moment, let us leave aside the questions of legalism that would require slavish obedience to this particular “law” while simultaneously living in freedom from hundreds of others— the fundamental question here is, was a lasting injunction for all times and all places even Paul’s intent to begin with

I dropped out of seminary, but one thing I did learn there: Biblical inerrancy does not mean you can simply open the Bible to any page, choose any verse, and apply what you find there directly to your life. For example, this is from Gordon Fee’s classic text on scriptural analysis, How to Read the Bible for All Its Worth:

But if the plain meaning is what interpretation is all about, then why interpret? Why not just read? Like Christ, the Bible is both human and divine. Every book in the Bible is conditioned by the language, time, and culture in which it was originally written. Interpretation is demanded by the “tension” between its eternal relevance and its historical particularity. (emphasis original)

This is doubly true with Paul’s epistles. They are full of sections that can have direct literal application only to the original readers: greetings to particular persons and seasonal travel advice. As we read letters like that, we are in constant peril of mixing up what Paul intended for the immediate situation with what he intended for all time. I am second to none in my reverence for scripture, and I think Paul— as the original advocate of adapting to culture— would be horrified by the way his intent is being misapplied under circumstances vastly different from those in which he wrote.

Why I need women’s voices

Paul and Timothy lived in a world much like modern-day Saudi Arabia. Nearly all of their public interactions were with other men. In fact, the Christian church, which had just begun to accept women into their ranks, was the first place in that society where men might regularly encounter women who were not family members. That was enough of a stretch. Paul knew it would be a bridge too far, culturally, for those men to also find that, at church, they were suddenly asked to submit to a woman’s authority as well. They simply wouldn’t go.

My world isn’t like that. I interact with women in every capacity all day every day—as supervisors, as subordinates, as grocers and bankers and doctors. The notion that I am not to learn anything from women is ludicrous in our society: everything I know about women, and much of what I know about the world, has been learned from female family members, friends, teachers, and professors over the entire course of my life.

As a Christian, all of that worldly knowledge pales in importance to the insights of the gospel. Yet that one most important area is the only one where some would keep me in ignorance, leave my understanding incomplete, leave me bereft of any insight as to a woman’s perspective and how it might complement my own.

If I lived in a society of all men, that gap in my knowledge wouldn’t have any adverse effect on my life. But I don’t, and it does. I believe that, in general, there are some real differences between men and women. And as such, a man who is called to be the light of Christ may likely be “spiritually dark” to every woman he meets if he does not understand the gospel from her perspective. So I am all the more thankful for those Godly women’s voices in the blogosphere— to provide that Bible-focused perspective in my manifold daily interactions with women— for the times I can’t get it at church.

Photo credit: Schlesinger Library, RIAS, Harvard University via / No known copyright restrictions


Best Christian Stuff of 2015

One thing I have discovered this past year as a blogger: If you want to write, you have to read what other people are writing. No writing happens in a vacuum. We as writers need inspiration, and much of that comes from the inspired voices around us. So, to put a button on the year, I want to take a moment and recognize some of those voices. Here’s hoping they will inspire you too!

The “Embrace the Grace” award

As Christians, we must remember the need to constantly replenish our souls. The world God has given us is wastefully overflowing in beauty, but our part is to stop and drink it in. Scripture exhorts us to spend our mental energy reflecting on all of it (contrary to the prevailing trend in our society of meditating on things wrong with the world that make us angry). So the “Embrace the Grace” award goes to Esther Owen for a beautiful example of doing just that.

Drenched In The Chase — Esther OwenDrenched in the Chase — by Esther Owen

“Eternity is soaked in moments like these. Saturated with wonder.  Lost in a moment so humble in its simple hopefulness. Sometimes whimsy takes practice, but don’t hesitate. Always embrace the chase.”


The “Eye Opener” award (two-way tie)

As a Presbyterian growing up in California, you hear these vague, distant rumors— places where Christian faith is being carried to absurd legalistic extremes— but they’re easy to dismiss. So much of the extreme stuff we hear about is really just media hype (witness the breathless reporting of “outrage” over the Starbucks cups or the lipstick names).

Unfortunately, some of the rumors are true. So my “Eye Opener” awards go to two posts from Amy Buckley and April Kelsey— actual human beings I respect that made me stop in my tracks and say, “Wait a minute… this is seriously a thing?!”

Never Worth Less — Amy Buckley

Never Worth Less — by Amy R. Buckley

“All I knew was women could lead women and children, but never men. But I couldn’t understand why it was honorable for a man who lacked musical abilities to lead worship. And I wondered why on earth God would be offended by the worship of a woman with musical gifting, simply because she used that gift in front of men.”


Silver Dress — April KelseySilver Dress: My Experience With Evangelical Purity Culture — by April Kelsey

“Would my parents approve of this dress? Was the neckline too low? Were my shoulders too bare? My body was constantly sexualized and strictly policed. All I really wanted was some safe affection. But in purity culture, there was either no touch or sexual touch. And I couldn’t live without touch.”

The “Faith in Motion” award (two-way tie)

If it’s to be of any value, faith needs to be practical. We use it to make the world a better place. We apply it to our own lives to live more abundantly. Writing can help us do that: the type of article you want to post on someone else’s Facebook wall. Here were two articles this year, by Mo Morrison and Julia Powers, where I did just that.

Feed My Sheep — Mo Morrison

Feed my Sheep — by Mo Morrison

“Something powerful occurs when you’re talking to someone who’s standing on the other side of what you’re pressing through. God wastes nothing.  As we overcome, we can BE a blessing.”

By Prayer and Petition — Julia Powers

By Prayer and Petition — by Julia Powers

“So, strange as it sounds, a petition emerged saying something like this: ‘I’m stressed. I propose a change in my commitment to self-care and pursuit of social support.’ It was a slightly awkward seeking signatures— anyone from my therapist to my pastor to the college classmate who lent a listening ear.”

(P.S. Julia gets extra credit, because I stole the “Best of 2015 Blog Post” idea from her.)

The “Couldn’t Do It Withoutcha” award

Bible GatewayHow my brain works: I can remember the words of scripture. I can’t for the life of me remember the chapter and verse. When I write, scriptural accuracy is vital to me: there are so many supposedly Biblical claims that are not actually in the Bible. In this blog, every quote from scripture is verified on, and linked to, the source at Bible Gateway. That way:

  1. I know I’m quoting scripture correctly
  2. Readers with questions can verify the verse themselves, read the full context, and see if they agree with my take
Thank you

Finally, thanks to those of you who took time out from your busy lives to read One For Jesus. Just since I started keeping track in August, over 2700 unique visitors have been here. I hope some of your lives have been touched by what you read.

So, to all those recognized and many others, thanks for all the ways that you contributed to  my life. You are truly the ones who make this blog possible. Wishing you all the best, and many blessings to each of you in 2016!

Victory: New Year's resolution

How a New Year’s resolution can rescue your soul

Some folks are down on the New Year’s resolution, but I am a big fan. At the heart of any resolution, there is a spirit of transformation, which is one of scripture’s favorite topics:

  • “The old has passed away. Behold! The new has come.”
  • “See, I am doing a new thing! I am making a way in the wilderness.”
  • “He said, ‘I am making all things new.'”

The sense that a new year brings new promise— a new hope, a chance to leave behind the mistakes of the past and start fresh— these are all principles that originated with Christ. Before that, there were two categories of people: the worthy, and the fallen. Once you had strayed from the path, there was no recovery, and the “worthy” took every opportunity to make sure you knew it. As my friend April Kelsey recently put it, “You became a cup of spit, a licked candy bar, a white sheet rolled in the mud. Consumed. Polluted. Spent.”

This view is still held today by the Pharisees among us who have missed the point of Christ. But that is my point: they have missed the point. If, today, you are one of the “fallen”— if you have made some mistake so horrible, if you have strayed from the path so far, if you are carrying some monkey on your back from which you can never be free— then there is good news: you can be free.

The “Big Book” of Alcoholics Anonymous opens with a letter from a doctor, describing a patient “…of a type I had come to regard as hopeless… He acquired certain ideas concerning… a Power which could pull chronic alcoholics back from the gates of death.” Many of us know of AA’s “Twelve Steps”, but the heart of the recovery that had been missed by so many before is captured in Step Two: “We came to believe that a power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity.”

As I have written before:

Whatever may be wrong in our lives, don’t we say, “It’s my problem, it’s up to me to fix it?” But the truth is, no matter who you are, no matter how powerful and clever and creative you are, you didn’t create your sin by yourself, and you are not going to solve it by yourself… whatever is causing destruction in your life, more likely than not, there is a multi-billion dollar industry supplying it to you.

No matter what rut you are stuck in, another way is open to you. That was my story. My burden was sexual sin, and my cross was soul-crushing loneliness. When I finally encountered a true scriptural perspective… when I finally could understand that the Bible’s urgings against “sin” were not meant to control me and crush my spirit, but to offer me a way of escape from the very thing that was destroying me… when I realized that Christ had given his life to make that way available to me… that was a new day. That day was not like all the others where I simply determined to “do better”.

So this year, when you make your resolution, the same one you have made so many years before, when you grimly grit your teeth and resolve this time to succeed, “knowing” at the back of your mind that it’s all pointless, that it’s going to be just like all the other times, that you are going to fail… do something different. Quit treasuring up your secret shame and let in the outside air. Others have found the path, and so can you. You cannot find it by yourself. You cannot find it without faith that it is there. But it is there. I know it, because it happened to me.

This year, let your resolution be that you will find it too.