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Not Christian and Not Grey

We were driving down the street, as we came around a curve it came into view—this giant billboard. Not your averaged size billboard. No this was one of the truly gigantic ones, like you see in Hollywood. All it had was a big picture and a few small words. You couldn’t know for sure what they were advertising, but it sure caught my attention.
It was a good looking man, dressed in a suit, looking out the window of a high-rise building overlooking the city. You could tell he was good looking even though you could only see his back. His lines were clean and crisp. They communicated power and authority. He was looking at a grey city as if he owned it. Just the way he was standing said that this was a man on the cutting edge, he has it all together, he is in charge of his own destiny. It is the kind of man that women want.
Even without an explanation you could tell what the billboard was about. This billboard was geared towards women. They would be attracted to this confident man. I was attracted to him too. Not in the same way. I thought, that is the man I would like to be, rich, powerful, young, good looing, confident and in control. I would be the type of man that women would want, even my own wife would look at me with admiration and desire.
The only words on the billboard were “Fifty Shades of Grey”. I guessed that it was for a movie. The movie was a romance marketed to women. “Fifty Shades of Grey” is not about the weather. It is a moral statement. This movie will play on the edges of morality. My guess was that it would be sexual in nature although it could have to do with business. My mind flashed through all of the typical types of rationalization that a mind can do. I thought, I want to see this movie. It will be about sex. I can dabble in the grey zone and it will be alright. It won’t be overtly pornographic so it will be okay. It’s like those Carl’s Jr commercials, or the ones for Victoria’s Secret, or the cover of Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Editions. I mean it’s not like I am downloading porn. Besides maybe my wife will want to see it. Then it will be her idea. This guy in the movie will get her all hot and I can reap the benefit. Maybe you didn’t know that this is the way guys think. Well it is.
It ended up that I was right. The billboard is for a movie, and yes this is a movie about sex. Later I learned that this is not just another romantic film. It is about a very controlling and abusive man. It is about deviant sexual behavior. It devalues women and distorts our understanding of romance and sex. The main character in the movie is named Christian Gray, but there is nothing in the movie that is Christian and what they portray is gray is just down right evil.
Even though my thoughts moved through that path of rationalization, the decision to not see the movie came pretty easy even before I knew the details. The movie is rated “R” and as a rule we don’t see “R” rated movies. I won’t say that we never have seen one, but they are the rare exception. There has to be a very compelling reason. We have probably seen less that one every two years.
So we won’t be seeing “Fifty Shades of Grey” on Valentine’s Day. Instead we will see a romance called “Old Fashioned”. I am hoping it has a strong male lead that is confident and takes charge rather than use his power to take advantage of a woman. I hope that he is patient, kind, gentle, not selfish but giving. I hope that he values his woman more than she values herself. I hope that he cherishes everything about her. That is the type of man I want to be, and I hope that it is the type of man my wife wants. I want a good Old Fashioned Valentine’s Day that celebrates romantic love the way that God intends it to be.

How Do We Know There is a God When There is so Much Evil in the World?

Many people struggle with the question of, ‘How can there be a loving God when there is evil in the world?’
Isn’t it funny how everyone can easily tell you when they see evil? How do they do that? I mean, how is it that they know what is good and what is evil? If God does not exists where do we even get the idea that some acts are good and some other acts are evil? It seems that we believe that there is some objective standard out there of good and evil. Not only do we think that there is a standard but we believe that it is obvious to everyone. Even more we believe that if the world were to work like it should that everyone should do the good all of the time.
We do make one exception. We believe that when we do evil that, well that is Okay. We really shouldn’t be judged too harshly.
So when we ask the question of, ‘How can there be a loving God when there is evil in the world?’ What we really mean is, ‘How can there be a loving God, when He allows other people’s evil to go unpunished?’ Well maybe that is not quite right, we really don’t want God to punish people for evil; we want Him to prevent them from doing evil. At the same time we don’t want a God that tells us what to do. We don’t want a God that is controlling and judging when it comes to our behavior.
Isn’t it odd that we would consider a judging and controlling God to be unloving, and yet we want that type of God for everyone else?
Isn’t it true that our ability to identify evil is an indication that there is an absolute standard of right and wrong, and God has written the standard on our hearts? Isn’t it true that even though there is evil in the world and in our lives we recognize that something is desperately wrong; it shouldn’t be that way? Isn’t it true that we yearn for a loving God that will not condemn us for our evil but rather fix the problem? Isn’t it true that the Bible is the only book that explains the problem of evil in a way that makes sense? Other religions fall short. Evolution has an explanation that is empty, unsatisfying and just doesn’t ring true to our experience.
The Bible explains a world as God intended; free of evil where all of creation lives in harmony with God the creator. The Bible explains why we have knowledge of good and evil. Satan coerced us into rebelling against God’s command and eating from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. Evil entered into the world and everything has been out of whack since then. But God didn’t let it remain that way. God intervened into the world. He sent His Son, Jesus the Christ, to take our evil on himself and to put it to death. The death of Jesus ended the grip of evil on the world. Now redemption is available to all of us. We can experience the love of a loving God rather than the condemnation of a Holy God. The choice is up to us. We look forward to the day that God will create a new heaven and a new earth; restoring it to the creation that He originally intended.
Only Christianity has a reasonable explanation for the existence of evil in the world. But we don’t really want an explanation what we want is a solution. Only Christ provides a remedy to the problem of evil.

Virginia Plantation or Plymouth Colony

This was written in 2014, but it is worth repeating.

Duane Vasquez

This Thanksgiving ask the people gathered around your table these questions.
What was the first permanent English settlement in North America? The answer is the Virginia Colony.
If the Virginia Colony was the first permanent English settlement then why do we focus so much on the Pilgrims and the Plymouth Colony as the beginning of our country?
Let the guests discuss this for a while. You may want to talk about the differences between the two settlements. The Virginia Colony at Jamestown was a commercial venture. It was established for the purpose of developing the natural resources of the New World and exporting them back to England. Tobacco quickly became the main product of Jamestown. The colony quickly developed and thrived.
For the Pilgrims at Plymouth it was quite a different story. The Pilgrims didn’t come for financial gain. They came to establish a Bible Commonwealth. That is they were…

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Everyone has their opinion about what is happening in Ferguson. I might as well give my viewpoint. I am not going to comment on the actual case. The truth is I only have some general information. The Grand Jury members are the only ones that have had the opportunity to hear a significant amount of the evidence. They decided to not take the case to trial. I am not about to disagree with them. The truth is, I am glad that I wasn’t on that Grand Jury. I wouldn’t have wanted to have to make that call. Besides, all of the opinion giving and whining and protesting and rioting is not going to change this case. This case is over, but there are still some important decisions to be made.
Whether or not this particular shooting was justified is really a small issue. There is a much bigger issue at hand. The question is why do so many people feel that the police are abusive? When people fear those who are supposed to protect them then we have a serious problem. When people no longer trust the Justice System to produce justice then we have a serious problem.
Oddly enough I don’t know who trusts the Justice System less, the civilians or the police. It seems that the police are frustrated by a court system that is slow and cumbersome and cannot be trusted to produce real justice. The criminals don’t seem to fear the courts enough to prevent crime. It must be frustrating to be a policeman working as one component of a large broken system. Sad to say, but I believe that many policeman and even whole departments have decided that they will maintain control through a system of intimidation. Make the public fear you and obey you.
When I was a child “Officer Friendly” would come to my school and tell us that the policemen are our friends. They are there to help us. We should smile and wave at them when we see them drive by. I used to believe that, but not anymore. Now I see the police as dangerous and unpredictable. They are to be avoided as much as possible. Any time you encounter the police you are putting yourself in harm’s way. I would not dare wave at a policeman as an adult. If I did I could possibly be the headline in the morning paper. “Unarmed Citizen Shot in West Covina”. “Officer says, I saw him wave his hand in a threatening manner. It looked like he had a gun.”
I may be overstating the case but increasingly there is distrust and fear of the police even among law abiding citizens. The police are saying ‘just do what you are told when you encounter a policeman and you won’t be hurt’. Is that really the answer? Should we feel that kind of fear and intimidation when dealing with the police? Is there any possibility that Officer Friendly will get an assignment on a beat instead of in the schools?
I would love to feel that I could call the police and not be risking my life or my freedom. I would love to believe that they really are here to “Serve and Protect”.
Just a few more comments. In Ferguson the animosity has grown to such an extent that it is hard to see that it will ever get better. I am all for people making their feelings known. I am all for peaceful protests. Unfortunately many times it takes big protests to focus enough attention on a problem to get it addressed.
But looting, burning and rioting are only going to make things worse. Officer Friendly is not going to show up to a riot. These people are forcing the police to use intimidation and force. They are creating a situation that reinforces all of the things that we want to change.
It works both ways. If we want officers to serve and protect then we need to be on the same side. We need to do what we can to maintain order, to discourage crime and to cooperate with Law Enforcement.
Ferguson is not the end. We will have other problems but if we are going to fully resolve this we must work to rebuild trust. We must learn to deal with each other in a civil and non-threatening manner. We must cooperate and we must stop blaming each other.

Can or May

I can remember being in first grade, I would raise my hand and ask my teacher, Miss Anderson, “Can I go to the bathroom?” She would correct me, “May I go to the bathroom?” So I would repeat, “May I go to the bathroom?” And Miss Anderson would say, “OK, but hurry back”. And off I would go.

So in first grade I learned that there is a difference between “Can” and “May” and that when you ask to go to the bathroom you are supposed to say, “May”. For many, many years it never seemed important to me that I would get it right. And it didn’t seem too important to anyone else either. Nearly everyone says “can” all of the time.

It wasn’t until I had kids that I began to understand the difference between “can” and “may”. I became aware that “can” has to do with ability, whereas “may” is a question of permission. As a parent I wanted my children to learn the difference. I wanted them to know that just because you have the ability to do something doesn’t mean that you have permission to do it. Over and over again I would have a child come and ask, “Can I go over Tony’s house?” I would say, “If you are asking for my permission then the question is ‘May I go over Tony’s house?” I want my children to realize that they are asking for my permission.

I have no idea if my children ever really got the message. It seems subtle but the difference is critical. Many Christians don’t understand the difference when it comes to dealing with God. They understand that God has given us free-will that is the ability to choose. Somehow they have mistaken that for permission. You see God has given us the ability to sin but He has not given us His permission to sin. There is a big distinction. My children have the ability to do something, but that doesn’t give them my permission. If they were to do something without my permission there would likely be negative consequences. The same is true with God. Just because we can do something (free-will) does not mean that we should do it (permission).

So the question is “can” or “may”. Our lives need to be lived in accordance with God’s will. We need to approach every activity and every decision by asking God, “May I…?” Those who simply ask, “Can I…?” Will likely end up experiencing the negative consequences that God has established for those who disobey.

I still struggle with “can” or “will”. I try to phrase my questions to use “may” when I am asking permission. It is difficult when I am at work and I ask my boss, “May I take tomorrow off?” I sound like I am in first grade again. But I say “may” anyway because the distinction is important. It may not seem important at work but when it comes to dealing with God it has eternal consequences.


Mother’s Day Father’s Day

I have heard it said that the biggest day for church attendance is not Christmas, it is not Easter, it is Mother’s Day and that the lowest day for church attendance is Father’s Day. By the way, I don’t think that is correct but there is little doubt that Mother’s Day is a big day and Father’s Day is not. The normal explanation is that Mother’s Day arrives and Mother is asked, ‘What do you want to do today?’ Mother responds, ‘I want to go to church and I want all of my family with me.’ When Father’s Day arrives and Father is asked, ‘What do you want to do today?’ Father responds, ‘I want to sleep in and then later I will go golfing or watch the game.’

Pastors think it is as simple as that; Mothers want to go to Church and Fathers do not. They seldom ask the question of, “why”? What is it about church that makes mothers want to go and fathers want to stay home? Could it have to do with how churches celebrate Mother’s Day and Father’s Day?

At the typical church on Mother’s Day, Mothers are all dressed up; sometimes wearing a new outfit. They may even have been given a corsage. They arrive with their families with the anticipation of being honored. The pastor asks all of the mothers to stand. The mothers all proudly stand, exchanging glances with their families all lined up next to them. Through a series of questions one of the mothers in singled out for special honor. “Which of you most recently became a mother,” or “Which has the most children?”…or the most children in fulltime Christian service, or the most children with you in church today. One way or another some mother receives a special gift for being there.

Then it is time for the sermon. The pastor gushes about the importance on mothers to your development. The congregation is told of the great sacrifices the mothers make for their children. We owe a debt of gratitude that can never be repaid. If the pastor is so inclined he will speak of the special plight of single mothers. He will speak of working two or three jobs and taking kids to soccer practice.

At some point in the sermon the pastor quotes a passage from Proverbs 31 ‘her husband and children shall rise up and call her blessed.’ The sermon will continue with an admonition to the family to praise their wife or mother. Kids will be told to obey and honor their mothers and do their chores without complaining. Father is told to acknowledge all of the hard work his wife does. He is told that when he gets home from work, he should take over watching the kids, or do the laundry, or fix dinner, or say, ‘Dear, I can see that you are tired. Let me take you out to dinner tonight.

The sermon ends with a touching personal story or poem. Everyone is told to take their mothers to lunch and to spend the day pampering them.

It is no wonder that mothers want to be in church on Mother’s Day.

Now let’s take a look at Father’s Day in the average church. Well, to begin with there are no flowers or special gifts. Fathers may get a greeting of, “Happy Father’s Day”. Generally the pastor does not have the fathers stand and award one of them with a special recognition.

The song choices may include “Faith of our Fathers”. As the pastor enters into the sermon, he will speak of the importance of a father’s influence in the family. He will mention how important it is for a father and daughter to have a good relationship. He will also speak of the relationship of a husband and wife.

At this point the sermon will take a turn. Instead of praising Fathers for what they do, they are chastised for what they don’t do. The Father that works two jobs will be told that he is a workaholic and he should be at home more. No mention will be made of his hard work. No one will tell the families that they should stop making demands for more and more things. No one will tell the families that going into debt will result in the father working long hours. There is a simple choice, ‘you can have things or you can have your father’.

The pastor will go on to talk about how fathers need to be there at children’s sporting events and recitals. The assumption will be that fathers are not there. No mention will be made of the many fathers that coach the teams. The one event that is missed will be the focus rather than the many times father is there. Some touching story of heartbreak due to an absentee father will be told.

There will also be the appeal for husbands to have better relations with their wives. They will be told that they need to have a date night. They will also be told how hard their wives have it and they need to help out more around the house.

In addition there will be a call for fathers to be spiritual leaders in the family. Pray with your wife and children and conduct family devotions.

By the time the sermon is over the father feels beaten and dejected. He is worn out and loaded down with the guilt of unmet expectations. Worse yet the wife and children are not taught to honor their husband and father. Instead they are convinced that the father is not doing enough and it is ruining their lives.

It is no wonder that Fathers would want to be somewhere else on Father’s Day.

Pastors, use this Father’s Day as an opportunity to truly honor fathers for the things they do and build their value in the eyes of their families.