“Idol” Thoughts…

I was in an odd mood the other day, and I started thinking about “Christian” Book Stores. There used to be several bookstores in the area that were “Christian” book stores. They sold Bibles, Bible study guides, devotional guides, prayer journals, hymnals and song books, contemporary Christian CDs, Christian DVDs, and all sorts of “Christian” gift items– tee shirts, wall hangings, jewelry, even candles! If it looked, sounded, felt, or even tasted “Christian” you could probably find it there.

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Many of these stores are now out of business. And it made me sad at first, but I think it’s worth a little analysis:

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  • Maybe the most obvious reason why any store or set of stores goes out of business is the law of supply and demand. As more and more Christian book stores popped up, they filled the market with more and more “stuff.” Every store had Bibles and books, but the demand was for “stuff.” Bracelets and CDs, Mother’s Day gifts, Christmas- and Easter-themes decorations…Bibles were relegated to the back of the store on a couple of shelves. And most of the stores ended up with the same “stuff” as the other stores– the same candles and t-shirts and throw-pillows and coffee mugs with the same “Christian” sayings. Other store chains caught on– you could buy the same coffee mug or DVD at Hobby Lobby, or Walmart– at half the price! And, of course, with e-publishing, streaming services and Spotify, etc., books, DVDs and CDs are almost a thing of the past, anyway. Years of buying “stuff” has resulted in families who can’t even give away all their “precious” used art and decorative items from 20 years ago. The demand just isn’t there.
  • More subtle is the psychology of the “Christian” Book store patron. Buying mugs and key chains and bracelets at a “Christian” book store is a form of virtue signaling. Buying a t-shirt with a provocative Christian message can make you feel like you’re witnessing for Christ– without actually having to engage in conversation or develop a relationship with anyone! That feels great for awhile, but the reality is that feelings and virtue signals change. It’s not trendy to wear WWJD bracelets anymore– it’s not even trendy to be a “Christian” anymore–much better to be an open-minded, accepting, and loving “Christ follower.” “Christian” has a bad connotation these days– judgmental, narrow-minded, and hateful. People who used to proudly stroll the aisles of Christian book stores are now full of disclaimers about their church affiliations.
  • More subtle still is the psychology of the “Christian” Book Store itself. There really is no such thing as a “Christian” book. There are books written by Christians, and about Christians, and for Christians, but a book is an inanimate object. It cannot be a “Christian” or a “Christ Follower,” or a “Believer.” The same is true about any of the other products sold at any store. There are no “Christian” pot holders or hand lotion sets or wall art. A store catering to a “Christian” audience must not expect to be wildly popular in a secular world. We don’t see a trending wave of Buddhist book stores or Muslim book stores, or book stores specializing in Wiccan coffee mugs– though we may see such trends come and go in the future.
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What makes me saddest about the disappearance of the “Christian” Book stores is not that there are fewer cool t-shirts to consider buying, or that I have to travel farther to find a bookstore with a great “Christian” Sci-fi section, or a larger selection of devotionals. It is that, on some level, my “Faith” became an idol. I filled my bookshelf with “good” books, while neglecting to read the most important book of all. I spent time browsing aisles of great music, but less time singing from my own heart. I spent money on items that proclaimed my Faith, but spent less time and energy living it out.

There is nothing “wrong” or sinful about “Christian” Book Stores. I am very grateful to live in a country where I can freely shop for Bibles, and even a couple of throw pillows that remind me how much God loves me. I love that I can wear cross necklaces, or listen to wonderful songs about Christ without facing imprisonment or torture. But I want to be careful not to take for granted a culture that makes following Christ easy. I don’t want to worship the “Christian” culture and not the Christ it claims to love.

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One of the first items I remember not being able to find in the “Christian” Book Stores was a prayer journal. Oh, they had several leather-bound journals where you could write notes, or ones that had “prayer prompts” written on gilt-edged pages. But I wanted one like the one I had found years before– it had pages with information on various people groups around the world as prayer prompts, and space to list names and even answers to prayer. I have since created my own notebook-style prayer journal that tries to replicate that older one.

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And perhaps that is a good thing. “Christian” books promise a lot–journals that prompt us to pray; devotionals that basically do the “worship” for us; even Bibles that speak to us in comfortable language, so we don’t struggle with unfamiliar words. But ease and comfort do not produce growth. “Christian” book stores do not necessarily produce strong Christians, either. Only Christ, through the work of the Holy Spirit, can do that. Christian Book Stores can be a valuable tool, or an idol.

God Doesn’t Vote

Tomorrow is election day in America. People have been “early” voting for weeks; many will be voting tomorrow, myself included. And then we will watch and wait.

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Pundits and professional pollsters have been trying to predict the outcome for months. They will go at it for the next several days (if not longer), trying to analyze, synthesize, and dissect the voting patterns in various regions to explain why this candidate won, that one lost, or why this race is “too close to call.”

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Meanwhile, many Christians will be doing the same thing in their living rooms, Bible study groups, and neighborhoods. Is America under God’s blessing or His curse? Is this election God’s judgment, or a second chance?

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But God doesn’t “vote.” God is sovereign; He can direct the outcome of elections. He can raise up rulers and bring them down again. He can raise up a nation from nothing or tear down empires. But God doesn’t act on our whims or even on our fervent beliefs about politics, economics, social action, or social issues. He acts on HIS plans and in His wisdom. He asks us not to vote for Him, but to trust and obey Him!

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I will vote for candidates and issues based on prayer, research, and hopefully, with God’s wisdom. But my vote is not the same as my everyday witness of how God is working in His world. I can vote for the “right” candidates or principles and still disobey God’s commandment to “love my neighbor as myself.” I can vote for the “wrong” candidate, because I am focused on what she says, and not how she treats the people around her, or how she honors God by her actions. I can not vote at all, and still work to spread the good news of the Gospel.

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God wants His people to live “in the world.” He wants us to be good citizens, interacting with those around us, even getting involved in causes, movements and social issues. But He also wants us to seek His Kingdom first and foremost (Matthew 6:33). Whether we live in a nation that has free elections; whether we vote red or blue (or purple or green); whether we take an active role in politics or sit on the sidelines– we should act in a manner that honors Him above our own ambitions or preferences. And if our candidate(s) should lose; if our nation adopts policies that continue to devalue life, denigrate families, and dishonor God– that does not give us the right to seek violence, retribution, endless recounts, or haughty isolation. We must continue to DO the right thing, in the right way, for the right reasons. We must continue to pray for our enemies, and bless those who curse us. We must continue to tell the truth– IN LOVE–and be ready to joyfully explain the hope that is in us (1 Peter 3:15).

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God doesn’t vote. He does love ALL those who do!

On The Witness Stand

Last week, I was called upon to give testimony in court as a witness to a crime.  The crime itself occurred months ago, so I was very nervous, trying to remember the sequence of events, and trying to make sure I didn’t add or leave out important details.

There is a reason the judge asks for “the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth.”  It is very easy to exaggerate, to leave out details that may reflect poorly on us or on those we know, or to add commentary or opinion.  Even the way a lawyer asks a question can evoke a certain memory or reaction that is more or less than the original event warrants.

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As hard as I tried, I couldn’t tell the entire “truth”–not because I lied or withheld evidence, but because I only witnessed a portion of the crime, and because I don’t have total and perfect recall.  No one does.  Three witnesses may testify and get certain details “wrong” or mix up the sequence of events, or be confused or hazy months after the event.  Even seeing the same event from a different perspective can alter one’s testimony.  One person hears a conversation clearly, but cannot see one speaker’s facial expressions or gestures.  Another sees the event close up, but cannot see what is happening “behind the scene.”  One person’s personal biases may come out in the way they give testimony, even if they are unaware of it. While I hope and believe that I told the truth as I witnessed it, my witness alone is not enough to determine the defendant’s guilt or innocence–nor should it be.

The ninth Commandment (in Exodus 20) warns about giving or “bearing” false witness.  We usually equate this with lying, but it is more than telling “a whopper.”  Bearing false witness includes spreading rumors, “sharing” questionable posts, omitting facts, and even “faking it” until you make it– pretending to be what we are not; hypocrisy, and false appearances.

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As a follower of Jesus, I am a full-time witness.  This is far more important even than being a witness in a court case.  I should always speak and behave as if I am “under oath.”  Not just when I know all eyes may be watching; not just when I’m with other “witnesses.”  Always.  This doesn’t mean that I aggressively volunteer my opinion and beat people over the head with commentary everywhere I go.  It doesn’t mean that I smile and say only what I think others want to hear.  It means that I speak less than I listen, but when I speak, it is truth–loving, sometimes harsh, spoken with the intent to help, heal, encourage, challenge, and bring justice.

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In prayer, it means that I repent of falsehood, pride, envy, anger, and bitterness.  It means that I acknowledge God for who He is, and myself for who I am in Him.  It means that I ask for wisdom to seek and see truth, and to see through deception and falsehood–even in my own heart and mind.  And it means that I thank God for His Truth, which is perfect and victorious.  I pray that the Truth will shine in, around, and through my life and my words, and in the lives of others.

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Many people will point out when I get it “wrong.”  They will point to other Christ-followers, other “witnesses” whose lives may look different from mine, who speak differently, act differently, vote differently, even worship differently than me.  And I need to trust that the “whole” truth will come from each of us bearing honest and full witness to what we know and experience of God’s goodness, His power, and His love.  I don’t have the “whole” truth– but I am a witness of the one who IS the whole Truth!

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