Is Torture OK?

torture

I spend a lot of time in hotel rooms all across the country for my job.  Last week, I found myself in a Quality Inn in Omaha, Nebraska.  I was watching the TV and flipping through the channels and I found myself stopping on a story on CNN.  Please understand that normally I do not pay too close of attention to political matters, but I was drawn into this story.

They were talking about how the Senate Intelligence Committee had issued a 500 page executive summary of its 6,000 page report on the CIA’s use of torture.  Some of the stuff discussed in that report really made me stop and think about the idea of torture and how our country uses it.

They were talking about the case of Nazar Ali.  Ali was al Qaeda, but by no means was he one of their masterminds.  In fact, his own captors described him as “intellectually challenged.”  Despite this fact, he was held in the facilities that the CIA uses for what is described as “enhanced interrogation.”

He was not being held because he knew anything that the CIA would find useful.  In fact, no one could say that he was ever actually interrogated at all.  Instead, the report stated that Ali was detained “solely as leverage to get a family member to provide information.”  Part of the “leverage” discussed in the report included playing a tape of Nazar Ali crying for his kinsman.

The CIA is known to have waterboarded at least three other prisoners.  If you are not familiar with waterboarding, it is a way of simulating drowning and can, according to Wikipedia, cause “brain damage from oxygen deprivation,” “damage to lungs,” and, in some cases, even death.  Up until a few years ago, waterboarding was considered a form of torture, but recently, that line has become blurred.

In addition to this, other forms of torture inflicted onto prisoners of al Qaeda include, according to the report, “standing on broken limbs for hours,” and being “deprived of sleep for up to 180 hours, sometimes standing, sometimes with their arms shackled above their heads.”

Compared to others held in detention, it would seem that Nazar Ali got off lightly; or did he?

Is it me or does this just seem wrong?  I’m not talking about specific laws or policies, but just basic human common sense.  That part deep inside our souls that tells us that this is just wrong.

I clearly remember 9/11 and whenever I hear the word al Qaeda, I think of that day and the thousands of innocent people who lost their lives.  It is a day that forever changed us as a country.  Nothing we ever do will ever take away that tragedy and loss of life.

In my opinion, torture is intrinsically evil.  It is wrong regardless of the circumstances.  The use of physical and psychological violence to extract information from people is completely contrary to the idea of having respect for a person and for human dignity.  It also goes against everything Jesus taught us about loving our neighbors as ourselves.

Think of how Jesus was tortured and how terrible of a thing that was.  Jesus died in about the worst way imaginable, and even when he was being tortured he asked God to forgive those torturing Him.  That in itself should tell us how wrong of a thing torture is.

We, as Americans, can’t just turn the other cheek and ignore the fact that our government is torturing people.  We as voters have a responsibility to let our leaders know that torture is incompatible with basic human decency and it won’t be tolerated.  If we fail to do this, then we are tainted.  We are just as responsible as those who are inflicting the actual torture.

None of this is to deny that America has enemies and that swift and decisive action against those enemies is necessary.  The Scriptures make it very clear that there are times when taking a life is not only permitted, but it may be a necessary part of what it means to love your neighbor.

But the same things can’t be said about torture and the practices described in this report.  These practices trade someone else’s human dignity for a sense, which may be only illusionary, or added safety.  It’s a trade that no person in good conscience should be willing to trade.  It is also something that we should condemn.

Not only for Nazar Ali’s sake, but for our own as well.

I am very interested in hearing what you think about the topic of torture.  Are you for it or against it?  Maybe it is not purely a black and white matter, but filled with many hues of gray that making judging each individual act separately based on the circumstances.

I don’t claim to have all the answers, but I have learned with experience, that going with my gut feeling when it comes to things, usually keeps me pretty close to the path I should be on.  What do you think?

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Consumerism and the Supermarket God

supermarket

We live in a supermarket world, with stocked shelves and endless choices.  We move through the isles of the Super Wal-Marts and we carefully select items based on what moves us in the moment.  Usually we end up cramming our shopping carts to the brim with stuff we usually don’t need.  After we absorb all the satisfaction we can from these items, we simply throw the rest away.  Usually we end up throwing out perfectly good food, products, jobs, or even people.  We then just head back to the supermarket for new ones.

This is the consumerism worldview that teaches us that our desires define who we are, and our mission in life is to satisfy those desires, by any means necessary.  It is not all our faults.  It has been ingrained in us since birth.  The consumerism mindset infects how we view ourselves, how we view others, and most importantly, how we view God.

I want to discuss this how consumerism can distort our image of God.  Consumerism has distorted both our image of God and our perception of His purpose for our lives.  It even has a term associated with it.  It is called consumer-Christianity.  The distorted image we have of God is that we can go to God for any little thing we might want and that God will immediately give it to us; just like we do when we go to the supermarket.  We expect God to be the Supermarket God.  Please understand what I am saying here.  I am not saying that we shouldn’t go to God with both little and big things that we need in life, but we have to understand that sometimes God makes us wait before He grants our requests.  The problem is that we don’t want to wait.  We want it now just like we want everything else we can get so easily in the supermarket.  If God makes us wait for something, it is for a reason.  Maybe we are not ready to receive it.  Maybe our heart needs to be transformed before we can be ready to receive His gift and use it properly.  Maybe if He gave it to us right away we might end up hurting someone else or even ourselves.

Some people only want to talk to God when they need something from Him.  They don’t want to talk to Him each day and just talk.  They don’t want to take the time to praise God for the blessing He has given them.  They don’t want to ask God what He wants them to do.  They just stick God in a little box and just visit Him when they need something from Him.  This is just like we only visit the supermarket when they need to get something.  How often do you go to a supermarket when you have absolutely nothing you need to get?  Do you see how our society influences how we approach God?  I have a revolutionary idea that I want to share with you:

We shouldn’t be taking, we should be giving.

Instead of focusing our efforts on what we can get from God or what we can get from others, we should instead be asking what can I give back to this wonderful God who loves me so much?  So what do you give to a God who already has everything?  The best way to give back to God is to show love and give to all of His other children.  That means we need to be nice to and find ways to give to all those around us.  This means family and friends, of course.  But it also means strangers you meet on the streets and even enemies who show nothing but meanness and contempt toward you.  If you can find it in your heart to be kind and give to your enemies, that really fills God’s heart with joy.

Now I want to take this even a step further.  Jesus told the disciples that we were to love God, love others, and spread the Good News about Jesus throughout all the world.  Evangelism is the word we use to describe spreading the gospel to others.  There are many people who see evangelism as the best and most important solution to consumerism.  Our society trains us to believe that our value and significance as people comes from our ability to impact change in our world.  As a Christian, spreading the gospel fits in nicely to that mindset because it allows Christians to be activists for Christ.  There is one problem with placing our primary focus on spreading the gospel.  This vision is a vision of Jesus’ mission for us and not of God’s love.  God’s true message, through the gospel, for us is of love and presence, not obedience.  Jesus’ mission for us, spreading the gospel to all the ends of the earth, is very important and we should do that, but it is not the most important thing.  We need to make loving others and spending time with them and developing relationships with them our primary focus, not the mission of spreading the gospel.

Place your focus on loving others and giving to others.  Through doing this, you will develop relationships with people.  As your relationships grow and develop, there will be times when talking about Jesus and the gospel will naturally come up.  That is when you spread the gospel.  You need to do it in a way that is natural and not forced upon people.  If you try to talk to some people about Jesus before a relationship has developed, you can actually push them away from Jesus.  The absolute best way to spread the gospel is not through telling others about it with words.  The best way is to live a life that makes other people notice that you are somehow “different.”  If people approach you and want to know why you seem so different, that is when you can plant seeds by telling them about how Jesus has changed your life.  You can tell someone lots of things, but if they can see it making an impact in your life, it will have a lot more meaning and power to the person.

Saving people is not your job anyway.  Only God can do that.  All you can do is plant seeds with people by how you live your life and by showing others love and giving to them through your time and money.  It is then up to God to water those seeds so they can grow to be fruitful.  If we focus on the living right, loving and giving part, the mission of spreading the gospel will take care of itself.  This is how it was all designed to flow.  If we try to focus on the mission of spreading the gospel first before the others, we are trying to reverse the natural flow that God intended and the results will be pretty depressing.  While the mission is important, it can’t be the primary focus.  I care about the gospel too much to care about the mission of the gospel too much.

I think the Beatles really might have been onto something when they wrote, “All You Need is Love.”

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The Cure for Entitlement

entitlement

Entitlement is a word that has been thrown around more and more the last few years.  It is a word that seems to be used a lot by people and especially the media as they discuss the Millennial generation.  Just so we are all on the same page, the Millennial generation consists of anyone who is between the ages of 18 and 33.  I am four years too old to be considered a part of this generation.

Do I think that the Millennial generation has a high sense of entitlement?  Yes I do.  The truth is that we can’t really limit the issue of entitlement to Millennials though.  I think the sense of entitlement has increased greatly over the last few decades across all the different generations, at least in the United States.  In our country today, the American Dream has trained us all to want only the very “best” for ourselves, and those we wish well upon.  We want good, quality food served to us in 10 minutes or less.  If we don’t have the money to buy something we want, we have a tendency to just charge it.  We live in a country today where the average American household has more than $15,000 in credit card debt.  I think we are all a little guilty of feeling entitled.

Researchers have explained in detail why entitlement is a prevalent attitude among the Millennial generation: it was fostered and allowed by everyone else who is not considered a Millennial.  At some point, parents decided that children needed coddling, a ribbon for finishing last and whatever else they deemed necessary to ensure a kid’s happiness.  It’s easy to point a finger at specific generations, but the reality is that we all struggle with entitlement each and every day.

Entitlement is that little voice inside our heads that takes “I want it” and turns it into “I deserve it.”  We tell ourselves in our own heads something like: I’ve worked hard.  I’ve earned some extra.  I’ve spent a lot of money at this place over the years.  I deserve some payback.  Nobody else is taking care of my needs, so I’ve gotta do what I’ve gotta do.  Have you ever thought any of these thoughts?

Have you ever said or thought: “I want it now”?  A promotion?  A new pair of shoes?  A new purse?  Or what about, “I deserve more”?  A trip to the beach?  An upgrade from your flip phone?  I’m willing to bet that we’ve all felt entitled to now or more on several occasions.

So once we have established that entitlement is a problem that spans all the generations, the next logical question is what do we do about it?  What’s the antidote for entitlement?  How do we win the battle against this mindset?  There is a one word answer:

Gratitude

We need to take all those things we feel we deserve and transform those things into things that we are grateful for.  The road from entitlement to gratitude is tricky because it takes fighting against our sinful nature of dissatisfaction.  It is more natural for us to be dissatisfied with something than it is for us to be grateful for something that we have been given.  Let me give you an example.  If we are put into a room full of great things, our natural tendency will be to find the one thing in the room that seems sub-par and that one sub-par thing will be the thing that stands out to us and will be the one thing that we comment about to others.  The other things that are perfectly fine and great will just fade into a blur in the backgrounds of our minds.  To cultivate an attitude of gratitude, we have to decide to turn the blessings that God has given us into praise to God who has given us these blessings.  Let me say that one more time so you really get it:

To cultivate an attitude of gratitude, we have to decide to turn the blessings that God has given us into praise to God who has given us these blessings.

Why?  Because every blessing we don’t turn into praise to God is turned into pride that we have in ourselves.  God is the giver of all good gifts.  Allowing our hearts to return praise to God enables a spirit of gratitude to help shape us into the people God desires us to be.  When we don’t acknowledge God as our giver and provider, our pride takes control and we give ourselves credit for the work that He has done.  This is where pride and then entitlement enter into the picture.

Choosing gratefulness over entitlement is something we have to train our minds to do.  It doesn’t happen overnight, but rather it happens a little bit at a time.

Are you truly content?  I mean really, peacefully content with what you have right now in your life?  In the book Of Philippians, Paul tells us about what contentment really looks like.

Philippians 4:11-13 (NIV)

11 I am not saying this because I am in need, for I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances. 12 I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. 13 I can do all this through him who gives me strength.

Paul learned contentment during his life.  He did not always have this level of contentment, but he learned how to have it through giving praise to God for the blessings that God had given him.  You too can learn contentment as well, through the practice of gratitude.

I would like to encourage each of you to take some time to examine your life and identify where you have feelings of entitlement.  I know that one area of my own life where I felt a real sense of entitlement was my football career.  I felt that I was responsible for my own success.  The harder I worked to improve, the better of a player I became.  I saw my success as a direct result of my own efforts and I was filled with pride in myself, which led to a sense of entitlement that I would display to those around me.  I was so short-sighted then.  What I did not realize was that none of that success in football would have been possible if God had not blessed me with the gifts I would need to be successful.  Everything that I accomplished on the field was because of God, not because of me.  Once I came to understand that, I realized what an amazing gift God had given me and only then was I able to give God the praise that He had deserved all along.  My only regret is that I did not really understand that until after my playing career was over.

Once you have identified areas of entitlement in your life, then the next step is to get into a gratitude routine.  Take a moment each morning to list and consider your blessings and turn them into praise.  A good way to do this would be to write a list of your blessings and then pray those things on your list back to God giving Him praise for those blessings.  You might be surprised just how long your list of blessing will become over time.

Embracing a spirit of gratefulness will change your heart and attitude from the inside out.  Don’t be shocked if you begin to feel content with your circumstances, both in times of plenty and in your times of need.  Let’s all take the challenge of making entitlement a thing of the past and usher in an attitude of gratitude to our Heavenly Father.

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Receiving Daily Benefits

benefits

Psalm 68:19 (NKJV)

 19 Blessed be the Lord,

Who daily loads us with benefits,

The God of our salvation! 

As this verse found in Psalm 68 tells us, God loads us up with benefits on a daily basis.  When we live a life that honors God, when we obey His Word and we’re a person of excellence and integrity, the bible says that God’s blessings will chase us down and overtake us.  We won’t be able to outrun the good things that God send our way.

This can be very confusing to some people.  Some people think they have to go chasing after the blessings.  Some think that the amount of blessings they get from God is dependant upon some checklist of works they must complete before they can get any benefits from God.  Good works are great and they certainly flow from a heart that is in tune with God’s will, but the good works are not a requirement for getting God’s blessings.  But really, when we chase after God each and every day, when we make God our highest priority, the blessings will automatically come our way and follow us around wherever we are o whatever we are doing.

I want to challenge all of us to make pleasing the Lord our top priority in our lives.  Let’s let go of anything that would hold us back or weigh us down and prevent us from receiving the blessing God has in store for us.  If letting go of these other things is too hard to do, then let’s at least strive to not make them our top priority.  These things can be farther down on our list.

Instead of trying to seek out and worry about issues that haven’t even come up yet, let’s be willing to deal with issues only as God brings them to our light.  Let’s not give in to compromise and temptation that will keep us from God’s best.  If we can do this, we had better get ready because God’s blessings will chase us down as He loads us up with His blessings and daily benefits.

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Let Your Love Continue to Grow

love grow

God’s desire is to see you and I grow and increase in every area of our lives.  He especially wants us to grow in the area of our love for others.  That’s because love is the greatest thing there is and it is all that really matters when it comes to eternity.  At the end of the day, at the end of our lives here on earth, love is what will last forever.

2 Thessalonians 1:3 (NIV)

We ought always to thank God for you, brothers and sisters, and rightly so, because your faith is growing more and more, and the love all of you have for one another is increasing.

In this verse, it is telling us that love and faith are connected.  You can’t have one without the other.  It is saying that faith works by love.  Love isn’t really about feelings and emotions.  Love is about the choice to treat people the way God tells us to in His Word.  The more we know Him, the more we know His Word by reading the Bible, the more we will walk in love.

I think the biggest reason that divorce is such a prevalent thing today is because people don’t have a clear idea of what love really is.  People are basing their love for the person they marry on their feelings and emotions.  Living off of your feelings and emotions will not sustain you when the tough times come.  Feelings and emotions head south in tough times and if your love is based on those things, your love will head south with them.  Then there is nothing left to sustain the marriage and it often results in the end of the marriage.  I have seen it happen first-hand.

Instead of feelings and emotions, we need to have a love like the one that God shows to us.  It is a love that forgives.  It is a love that will always be there in the good and bad times; when things are great and when things are tough.  It is a love based on what I can do for you and is not dependent on what you do for me.  A love seen on those terms will stand the test of time and last a lifetime.

My hope for each and every one of you is that your love will continue to grow and build a solid foundation for your faith.  Take at least a few minutes each day to read your Bible.  It is the greatest love story ever written.  God has filled it’s pages with so many examples of what real love looks like.   Through your connection with God, you will be strengthened in all of your relationships as you move forward into the life of blessing that God has in store for you.

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Having a Victor’s Mentality

victors mentality

When we look into the Bible, we see that Paul went through lots of hard times.  How did he come through?  He came through amazingly well through it all and he found God on the other end.  During all of Paul’s trials, he wasn’t complaining, living in self-pity or despair.  Paul shook off any defeated mindset he might have been feeling and he chose to have a vision of victory instead.  Paul had a victor’s mentality.

What was Paul’s secret?  Paul knew he would be victorious because he knew he had God on his side.  God can’t be defeated so Paul knew that if he was on God’s side, that he could not be defeated either.

That is what we need to do as well.  We need to have a victor’s mentality just like Paul did.  Let’s use Paul’s example of how we can choose to react to trials we face in our own lives.

Paul writes to us in several books of the New Testament and gives us a great example of how we should live our lives.  I am particularly fond of this verse that Paul wrote in the book of Romans:

Romans 8:37 (NIV)

37 No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us.

You are not a weak.  You are not lacking.  The most powerful force in the universe is behind you and loves you and wants nothing more than to help you.  Each and every morning, you need to take a minute to remind yourself of this.  Wake up each morning and tell yourself this:

“I am ready for and equal to anything that comes my way.  I am full of can-do power.”

That sickness you have is no match for you.  That relationship issue is not going to keep you from your destiny.  The loss of that loved one did not stop the plan God has for your life.  When life gets tough and trials come, as they always do, don’t let it overwhelm you.  You can handle it.  You’ve been armed with strength from the most powerful God.

My challenge to you is to keep a victor’s mentality in everything you do because a victor’s mentality becomes a victor’s reality.

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Having a “I Can” Attitude

can do

When was the last time that you declared to yourself or someone else around you out loud that “I can”?  It is not something we commonly do even though we really should be doing that each and every single day.  In fact, most people, most people (including me) tend to magnify their limitations.  People tend to focus on their shortcomings.  Obviously, we have the goal of trying to improve ourselves as people and to do that you have to address limitations you do have so you can improve them.  The problem comes when we focus solely on our limitations and fail to ever spend any time thinking about the great things each of us has inside of us.

Scripture makes is very clear that all things are possible to those who believe.  That means that it is possible to see your dreams fulfilled.  It is possible to overcome that obstacle.  It is possible to climb to new heights.  It is possible to embrace your destiny.  You may not know how it will all take place.  You may not even have a plan yet, but all you have to know is that if God said that you can…you can!

Please understand that it is not saying that all things are possible to those trying to do it alone.  We all have many gifts and there are things that we can accomplish on our own, but each of us has limitations.  We will all come to a point where we can’t do everything on our own.  It is at this point, if we let God into our lives that we can let Him take over and then through Him anything is possible.  Nothing can defeat us.  We have the Creator of the Universe in our corner so there really is nothing that can take us down.

Starting today, I want to challenge each of you (including me) to open yourself up to the possibility in your future by simply declaring this verse:

I can do all things through Christ who gives me strength.

At the stoplight, when you are waiting in line, anytime you have a couple of free seconds, just quote this verse to yourself.  Let is sink down deeply into your heart.  As you do, God’s word will transform you from the inside out.  Faith will rise up in your heart and you will start to boldly embrace the blessings that God has in store for you in your life.

If you do this regularly, your limitations and shortcomings will fade away into the background of your thoughts.

Be a person that is known for saying “I can” and not for saying “I can’t.”

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