King David Hits the Campaign Trail for Trump

King David is back!  He’s been dead for thousands of years, but now he’s out there on the campaign trail, stumping for Donald Trump.

Oh, it’s not his choice.  Who in his right mind would trade heavenly bliss for a role in this year’s mudslinging presidential campaign?  But when you’re dead you don’t really have a choice.  People can use your name for whatever purposes they dream up.  And Trump’s people have put the king to work on their candidate’s behalf.

The spiel goes something like this:

Yes, we know Trump is irreverent and foul-mouthed and disrespectful and a little loony at times, but have you forgotten that David committed adultery with Bathsheba and had her husband killed?  How can you criticize Trump when one of your own spiritual heroes did things that were far worse?  You’re being hypocritical!  Shame on you!

I’ve now read some form of the above paragraph on at least 4 blogs and a half-dozen Facebook posts.  I marvel at the irrationality of such logic.

Sure, King David messed up.  Big time.  No one would argue with that.  But God made it clear that David was a man after his own heart. (Acts 13:22)  I don’t know anyone who would make such a claim about Trump.  Not even his most ardent supporters, who all must have cringed when he spoke of “Two Corinthians” at Liberty University.

How can you compare a guy who wrote parts of the Bible with a guy who doesn’t even know how to say the names of the books?  It seems absurd, yet people are doing it with a straight face.

Paul said that there is a type of person whose mind is governed by the flesh and another type whose mind is governed by the Spirit. (Romans 8:6)  The person whose mind is governed by the Spirit will still sin, of course.  But his sin will be occasional, the result of weakness, rather than frequent, the result of worldly affection.

And when sin occurs, the person whose mind is governed by the Spirit will repent.

Granted, David needed a nudge from the prophet Nathan after his scandalous dealings with Bathsheba.  But I don’t know anybody who believes David’s repentance wasn’t total and sincere.  Psalm 51 is the gold standard when it comes to Bible passages that show the true meaning of repentance.  Trump, on the other hand, is unable to say that he’s ever asked God for forgiveness.

If you’re a Trump supporter, fine.  Campaign for him all you want.  Vote for him if you choose.  But please, don’t use King David to try to make your candidate’s evangelical-minded critics feel like hypocrites.

As they say, that dog just won’t hunt.


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A Tribute to Keith McCaslin

Keith McCaslin, the man who taught me how to preach, died yesterday.  He was one of my favorite people.

Our relationship evolved over the years in ways I never would have imagined.  When I was 19, he was my teacher.  In my 20’s and 30’s, he was a sounding board and advisor.  In my 40’s and 50’s he became my cheerleader.  I can’t tell you how many emails I got from him praising my writing and encouraging me to stay with it.  Words cannot express what his support and encouragement meant to me.

Keith was many things.  Many wonderful things.  But one thing he always wanted to be was a novelist.  I’m not sure how many people know this.  He once sent me a novel he wrote, which I thought had tremendous potential.  My only criticism was that it was too short.  Word count matters to publishers and I told him he needed to find a way to expand the story a little.  But the quality of the writing showed a real talent at work.

Keith was also a resource for me.  I’ve written several books about Old Testament characters (Samson, Caleb, Solomon) and I frequently asked for his take on Scripture verses that seemed a little fuzzy.  His answers were always very thoughtful and detailed.

But my favorite thing about Keith was his sense of humor.  One story in particular says it all.

About 20 years ago I invited him to Florida to preach a revival at Poinciana Christian Church.  Just before the first service started, he said, “I’m going to step into the restroom.  I’ll be right back.”

A couple of minutes later he stepped up beside me and whispered in my ear, “Oh man, I almost broke the first rule of homiletics.”

I gave a little laugh, but the truth was that I had no idea what the first rule of homiletics was.  I’d sat through all of his classes and preached for 20 years, but nothing was flashing in my memory about a first rule of homiletics.  I was embarrassed and loathe to admit to my former homiletics professor that I didn’t know what he was talking about.

That’s when I noticed that he had a sly look on his face.

He said, “You do know what the first rule of homiletics is, don’t you?”

Sheepishly, I said, “Um, no, I guess I don’t.  What is it?”

He said, “Zip up your pants.”

I exploded in laughter.  The people in that small auditorium all turned and looked at us.  Keith was trying to look dignified, and failing.  We snickered and giggled for a minute, then walked up and started the service.

I am a better man for having known Keith.  I rejoice in his graduation to heaven and pray that God’s peace will comfort his family and friends.


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A Big Day for Sexual Sin

Today has been a big day for sexual sin.  It’s all over the news.

The Subway guy, Jared Fogle, pleaded guilty to possessing child pornography and seeking sex with minors.  (His wife has filed for divorce.)

The recently-hacked cheating website, Ashley Madison, revealed that the hackers have released the names and personal information of many users.  (Divorce lawyers, get on your mark!)

And pornographer, Larry Flynt, one of America’s most notorious exploiters of women, endorsed Hillary Clinton for president.  (Might be time for her to strike that “Republicans are conducting a war on women” line from her speeches.)

With the exception of Hillary Clinton, who was already having a bad day, all the people attached to these stories have seen their well-ordered lives suddenly take a nosedive.  Careers, marriages, reputations, and future aspirations will be irrevocably altered, if not destroyed.

What I find ironic is that we live in such a sexually permissive culture.  I mean, really, isn’t sexual freedom supposed to be in right now?  Aren’t we out-of-touch, narrow-minded, sexually-repressed Christians supposed to be the only ones who are bothered by rampant sexuality?  Why, then, are these such big stories, worthy of reporting on national newscasts?

Because, deep down, our culture still has a shred of conscience.  Even in a world that has all but lost its mind, people–both believers and unbelievers–understand that there is still such a thing as sin.  The line may have moved over the years…moved farther and farther in the direction of permissiveness.  But these stories remind us that there is still a line.  Even the most socially and theologically liberal thinkers among us know that certain behaviors are wrong.

If you’re like me, you need to be reminded from time to time that there are still points of agreement, however tiny they may be, where our message can connect with the world…where even the unbeliever has to admit that the Gospel makes sense.   It’s in these points of agreement where conversations can begin.  And in a world where yelling and name-calling is the norm, a conversation is a good thing.




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Target Goes Gender-Neutral

Have you heard?  Target is going gender-neutral in some sections of their stores.  Not the men’s and women’s and boys’ and girls’ clothing sections, but in others that aren’t so blatantly gender-specific.  A statement from the Target website says,  “For example, in the kids’ Bedding area, signs will no longer feature suggestions for boys or girls, just kids. In the Toys aisles, we’ll also remove reference to gender, including the use of pink, blue, yellow or green paper on the back walls of our shelves. You’ll see these changes start to happen over the next few months.”

You may have heard that Franklin Graham and other Christian leaders have criticized Target for this move.  Graham took to Twitter and said:

@Target may be forgetting who made their stores strong. It’s working families, fathers, mothers, boys, girls-not gender-neutral.

A couple of comments…

First, what we have here is a reminder of how powerful a small group of people can be.  A woman named Abi Bechtel took a picture of what she thought was a sexist display in a store and tweeted it, with the words, “Don’t do this.”  That’s one person.  One tweet.  But it caught on, went viral, and now a mega-corporation is changing its policy.

Instead of complaining about this, maybe we Christians ought to be taking a lesson.

Second, let not your hearts be troubled.  This is not a big deal.  ISIS is a big deal.  Violence in the streets is a big deal.  Poverty is a big deal.  Government corruption is a big deal.  Changing the bedding signs at Target to read “Kids” instead of “Boys” or Girls” is not a big deal.  I never cease to be amazed at what Christians get fired up about.

And what they don’t.

I suspect that if Target made this change without telling anybody, most people would never even notice it.  But because there was a news report about Target going “gender neutral,” Christians started having coronaries and rallying the troops.  I’ve even heard some people say it’s time to boycott Target.  They’re probably the same people who are boycotting Wal-Mart for hurting small businesses.  I wonder where those people buy their toothpaste and toilet paper?

There’s so much in this world that should inflame our passion.  Oh, that we might spend our righteous indignation on things that truly matter.


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The Great Moral Issue of Our Time?

I don’t write about politics on this blog.  Well, hardly ever.  But this morning a headline caught my eye.  It seems that Bernie Sanders, one of the Democratic candidates for President, believes that income inequality is “the great moral issue of our time.”*

With racism, human trafficking, terrorism, religious persecution, marriage redefinition, gender identity issues, drug abuse, illegal immigration, alcoholism, abortion, and a host of other moral issues dominating the news, Mr. Sanders thinks income equality is our most pressing moral challenge.

Where does one even begin to deconstruct such thinking?

It has obviously never occurred to Mr. Sanders that as long as there is education inequality (some people get PhDs and some drop out of high school), there will be income inequality.

As long as there is work ethic inequality (some people are industrious and some are lazy), there will be income inequality.

As long as there is intelligence inequality (some people are brilliant and some are not), there will be income inequality.

As long as there is dream inequality (some people have big goals and others have none), there will be income inequality.

I could go on, but you get the picture.  The mere suggestion that income inequality can be fixed is ridiculous.

But politicians will keep harping on it because it makes a good topic for a stump speech.  It gets people all riled up, especially those who have a victim mentality to start with.  And when people start screaming and stomping and waving banners, it plays well on the evening news.

I prefer to see the world the way Jesus saw it.  He said, “You will always have the poor among you.”  (Matthew 26:11)  But he didn’t use that fact as an excuse to ignore the poor.  On the contrary, the poor and the sick were always on his radar wherever he went.  Even when his disciples were trying to hustle him on to his next speaking engagement, he took the time to stop and help the underprivileged.

But my favorite fact to reflect on is that Jesus himself was a poor person by worldly standards, but seemed perfectly content with his life.  He could have gone on a crusade to denounce income inequality.  He could have made it one of his talking points.  He could have established it as a priority in his Word so his followers would carry forth the message throughout history.  But he didn’t.

Instead, he said, “God blesses those who are poor and realize their need for him.”  (Matthew 5:3)

Don’t expect to hear that line in a stump speech anytime soon.  Instead, brace yourself for more nonsense about fixing the unfixable.  In politics, it’s not about making sense, it’s about firing up the crowd.  That 15-second clip on the evening news seems to be all that matters these days.

*Today’s headline on the Huffington Post web site.



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Let Not Your Heart Be Troubled

It happened.  After reading the many faith-based blog and Facebook posts that have gone up about the legalization of gay marriage, I was convinced it wouldn’t happen.  But it did.

The sun came up this morning.

Imagine.  The world is still spinning.  Breezes are still blowing.  The birds outside my window are still singing.  My family still loves me.  The Cardinals are still in first place.

And here’s something else…

You know what I’m going to do this afternoon at 4:00?  I’m going to perform a wedding ceremony for a heterosexual couple that loves Jesus.

But wait!  I thought heterosexual marriage took it on the chin yesterday!  I thought marriage as we know it ceased to exist!  I thought the days of true biblical marriage were over!  I thought…

Boy, it’s amazing the ideas that can creep into your head if you listen to enough people yammer.

And no, I’m not minimizing the significance of what happened yesterday.  But I absolutely refuse to let this upset me.  For one thing, my God is bigger than all this.  And for another, he hasn’t put me in charge of solving this mess.  (Thank you, Lord!)  He’s called me to worship and serve him and that’s what I’ll do.  And I won’t do it any differently today than I did it yesterday.

And I am absolutely optimistic.  The basis of this optimism comes not from the POTUS or the SCOTUS or any other OTUS.  It comes from promises like this that I find in Scripture:

To the thirsty I will give water without cost from the spring of the water of life.  Those who are victorious will inherit all this, and I will be their God and they will be my children.  But the cowardly, the unbelieving, the vile, the murderers, the sexually immoral, those who practice magic arts, the idolators, and all liars–they will be consigned to the fiery lake of burning sulfur.  (Revelation 21:6-8)

God’s got it all figured out, people.  His plan is working.  He’s got everything under control.  There’s no need for me or you or anybody else to panic.  We need to just go on loving people and serving Christ.  And we need to remember that this world is not our home.

I was once taken to a luxury resort on a secluded Caribbean Island.  I was told to prepare to have my mind blown.  But when we pulled up to the shore in the small boat, we saw that the resort had burned to the ground.  I was disappointed, but I wasn’t troubled, because that resort was not my home.

Some say America is burning to the ground.  Maybe it is.  I certainly do plan to help pass the water buckets.  But I will not let my heart be troubled, for I know that a mansion is being prepared for me in a place where there is no death, mourning, crying, pain, or Supreme Court.

That is my real home.

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Return to Sender

I had an all-too-typical experience yesterday.

A young woman whom I’d never met stopped by our office and asked to speak to me.  She said she had four kids, and that one of them had cancer.  She and her husband had tried to buy a house in the area, but had been cheated out of seven thousand dollars, depleting their savings.  They had decided to relocate to Tennessee to an area where they felt confident they would be better off.  Oh, and one more thing.  None of their family members were speaking to them so they couldn’t approach them for help.

After listening to her story, I said, “So what are you asking me?”  (Because she hadn’t yet asked me a question.)

She said, “Could your church pay our moving expenses to Tennessee?”

I said no, explaining to her that she would be talking about quite a large sum of money.  I said that there were quite a few smaller things we could do for her family, but that paying their moving expense was out of the question.  Our church simply did not have the resources to provide such services for people.

That’s when it got interesting.

She said, “We used to go to church in Tennessee, and I can promise you that our pastor up there, if he saw someone in need like we are, he would reach into his own pocket and meet that need if the church didn’t have the money.”

I said, “It’s wonderful that you know someone like that.  I would suggest you give him a call.”

She explained that he’d recently had a death in the family and she didn’t want to bother him during such a difficult time.

Then she turned on the tears.

Again, I offered some smaller services: prayer, food, gas money, etc.  She threw up her hands and said with an angry tone, “Why do churches all offer prayer and food?  Don’t they know that what people need is money?”

The conversation ended with her telling me how uncaring I was and stomping out the door in a huff.

I immediately ran outside and looked up at the front of our church building.  I thought perhaps someone had put a bank sign up there without telling me!

I heard it said one time that some people will go through their entire lives and never feel blessed because there’s only one kind of blessing they recognize: money.  Offer them anything else and they feel slighted, even offended.  I sensed that young woman was just such a person, and I felt bad for her.

I picture a gigantic storage area in heaven with trillions of boxes of blessings stacked to the ceiling, all stamped with the words, “Return to Sender.”  The woman I met yesterday probably has quite a few boxes in there with her name and address on them.

Do you?

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The One Mistake I Can Guarantee I Will Never Make

I’ve made many, many mistakes.  Far too many to count.  But there’s one mistake I haven’t made, and I can assure you I never will.  I have never, ever said to another human being, “You can be whatever you want.”

I hear this all the time.  Just the other day I heard a successful entrepreneur say, “You can be anything you want.  You can do anything you want.  You’re only limited by your imagination and your willingness to work!”  Everybody hooted and stomped and applauded.  Well, everybody except me.  I rolled my eyes.

I usually roll my eyes when I hear drivel.

Truth is, you can’t be anything you want.  You can pretend to be anything you want.  Bruce Jenner and Rachel Dolezal have shown us that.  But no amount of effort, schooling, hard work, surgery, makeup, or public approval will make you something you’re not equipped to be.

You ought to see some of the manuscripts that are sent to me by non-writers who think they can become published authors because someone, somewhere told them they can be anything they want.  The following sentence is from one such manuscript:

The important significance of this point is that it matters to never go beyond where you need to be.

Don’t be looking for this literary genius’ work on the shelves anytime soon.

Some might say I’m being mean.  Actually, it’s the people who preach that you can be anything you want that are being mean.  They’re setting people up for some crushing blows by giving them false hope.

Here’s the truth: There are some things you can be and some things you can never be, no matter how hard you try.  If you want to live a happy, productive life, choose from the former list, not the latter.

The next time you hear someone tell you that you can be whatever you want, know that the person is either a fool or a con-artist.  Follow him/her at your own risk.

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House For Sale: Must Love Snakes

If you’re thinking about buying a home in Annapolis, Maryland, don’t buy the one at 631 Truxton Road.  It’s a beautiful home on an acre of ground.  You’d probably like it very much, except for one thing: It’s infested with snakes.

The current owners, Jeff and Jody Brooks, discovered this shortly after moving in.  They found snake feces and a couple of dead snakes, which was bad enough.  You can imagine how they felt when snakes as long as seven feet started emerging from the walls.

Naturally, Jeff and Jody Brooks grabbed their kids moved out.  They also filed a 2 million dollar lawsuit against the realtor who sold them the house.

But here’s the part of the story that resonates with me.  A snake expert was called in to assess the situation.  He assured the Brookses that there was no danger because rat snakes don’t eat anything larger than squirrels.

Um, I think maybe he missed the point.  I’m pretty sure the Brookses didn’t call this man because they were afraid of being eaten.  But this is typical of people who love snakes.  Their first comment is always, “It’s harmless,” or “It’s a good snake,” or “There’s nothing to be afraid of.”  Sure, unless you’re terrified of snakes!

Sometimes I think we Christians are as clueless as snake lovers.  We fail to appreciate the pain people are experiencing and start hitting them with feel-good platitudes like, “It’s okay.  Jesus loves you.  He’ll be there for you.”

I’ll bet people sometimes want to scream at us: “No, It’s not okay!  My life is falling apart here!  And Jesus may love me, but where was he when my boss decided to lay me off?  Where was he when my husband decided to have an affair?”

Sometimes what people need is not a platitude, as true as that platitude may be.  What they need is someone to sympathize with their pain and help them get the snakes out of their house.  Until the snakes are dealt with, they really can’t think about anything else.


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The London Gay Big Band

I’m a jazz buff with a special affection for big bands.  Every two or three weeks I jump on iTunes and look at the new releases, hoping to find a new album or some classic reissue to add to my music library.  This week an album by the London Gay Big band caught my eye.  The London GAY Big Band.


I couldn’t help wondering why I, as a consumer, needed to be told that the band has all gay members.  Is the producer thinking that I will be more likely to buy the album because of the sexual orientation of the musicians?  (If so, he/she is mistaken.)  Is the producer thinking that I will be impressed that gay people can play musical instruments?  (If so, I’m not.  I’ve always known they could.)  Do the proceeds of the album go to help support gay causes?  I have no idea, but I couldn’t help thinking that calling it a gay big band seemed somewhat demeaning to gays.

You see, if I were a gay musician, I wouldn’t want you to buy my music because I am gay.  I’d want you to buy it because you like it…because it’s good music.  If I thought I needed to tell you my sexual preference to get you to buy my music, wouldn’t I be admitting that my music isn’t good enough to hold its own in the wider, non-activist world where sexual preference isn’t used as a marketing ploy?

Take Michael Feinstein, for example.  He is a gay man who makes music I love.  I’ve seen him in person and have many of his albums.  His jazzy, show-tunish, great American songbook style really appeals to me.  Never has he billed himself as “Michael Feinstein, the gay singer.”  He doesn’t need to.  His talent transcends any such considerations and appeals to people of every sexual preference.

Personally, when listening to music, I never even think about whether the drummer or the piccolo player or the third clarinet player might be gay.  It doesn’t matter to me.  Not even a little bit.  I always thought that’s what the gay community wanted.  Now, I’m not so sure.


Just about the time I think I have this stuff figured out, I find out I don’t.  Perhaps that’s what being an “alien and exile” (1 Peter 2:11) is all about.  This world never really quite makes sense.




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