Dear Franklin, Here Is Why I Will Still Shop at Target

Recently Franklin Graham issued a call for Christians to let the shopping store giant Target know that they are not pleased with Targets move to make the presentation of some items in their stores gender neutral. Reverend Graham’s concern is that such a move disregards the biblical teaching that God made humanity as male and female and that this is one more step in political correctness run amok as it tramples biblical truth.

As I understand it what Target has said is that some items will no longer be separated into boys sections and girls sections. Notably the examples given were things like bedding and toys. So it seems that My Little Pony and Hello Kitty bedspreads and pillow covers will be sold right alongside Transformer and Guardians of the Galaxy sets. The sign on the aisle will say, children’s bedding or something similar and not Boys Bedding and Girls Bedding. In the toy section there will be Tonka Trucks next to Malibu Barbie’s Corvette Convertible and the sign will not say Boys Vehicles and Girls Vehicles but simply Vehicles. The result being if a girl wants to play with the latest yellow bulldozer and a boy wants a cool looking convertible they don’t have to walk down an aisle clearly not meant for them.

Help me out here but how does this violate the biblical teaching of male and female? What Reverend Graham seems to be missing, along with massive numbers of people who have jumped on the bandwagon is that much of what we consider to be biblical teaching on gender is nothing more than long-established cultural practices without any biblical warrant. Nowhere in the Bible does it make blue a boys color and pink a girls color and warn that if you mix that up you are denying God’s created order.

Are there issues related to gender that the culture is pushing that do violate God’s created order? Absolutely. The whole sex change industry is a case in point. Are there people who support that position who will applaud Target’s move? Certainly. But that does not make Target’s announcement a violation of biblical principles and does not make them a legitimate target, no pun intended, for verbal attacks and boycotting of their business by Christians.

There are a few things that this kind of campaign by Christians accomplishes. The least damaging is that people outside the faith see one more set of angry Christians making a big deal out of something that is a complete non-issue for them and as a result they further tune out what Christians have to say. At worse they get their hackles up over what they perceive to be another example of unwarranted judgmentalism on the part of Christians and it serves to confirm their revulsion for all things biblical. Additionally this teaches Christians that the way to change the world is by confrontation, boycott, petitions, and angry speeches. If there is anything in all this that is not biblical it would be that.

Jesus made it clear that we change the world through the power of the Gospel as we fulfill the Great Commission and through the power of loving God and neighbor, even enemies, as we fulfill the Great Commandment. Separating from the world was never an option. Berating the world is also not an option. Paul makes that clear in 1 Corinthians 5:9-10 when he said to separate ourselves from immoral people, meaning those in the church who refuse to repent not the people of the world. He says the only way to separate from immoral people in the world would be to leave the world all together. That is clearly not an option. Rather we are to be about the ministry of reconciliation bringing the Gospel to a dying world. We are to get closer to them, not further away. We should expect them to behave like the world for they are of the world.

We must never forget that Jesus was accused of being a drunkard and a glutton by the religious separatists. He was accused of this because He got close to and hung out with and loved them. Rather than not shopping at Target, I am fairly certain that Jesus would shop there regularly. He would sit in the coffee shop and chat with people, ask them questions about what they are buying and offering them eternal life in the process.

Does this mean we never let the world know what is right and wrong, that loving people means accepting everything as good and wonderful? Of course not. Biblical love also involves speaking the truth but it is speaking it in a loving way, not a judgmental, “I am better than you kind of way”. It also means focusing on the big picture and what really matters. How boys and girls pillow cases and toys are displayed in a store is nowhere on the list of things that really matter in the sharing of the Gospel. What matters is, am I building a relationship with people who do not know Jesus so they can see the love of Jesus in me and can experience that love in their lives? Am I getting close enough to them so that they can learn that you don’t need to strive to be good enough to get into heaven but that you can have eternal life because you trust and love Jesus? I need to get close enough for them to see that I am not perfect and that I know I am not perfect. They need to see that I know my only hope in life and in death is in my beautiful savior Jesus Christ and they can have that hope too. That is why I will still shop at Target, have meals with people who do not love Jesus, get close to people who live messy lives, invite people who are far from God into my home, and love the enemies of Christ and His Gospel. I can do nothing less because at one time I was an enemy of Christ and His Gospel and some people risked getting close enough to me, in all my messiness and false beliefs, so that I could come to Him. If you are a follower of Christ that is your story as well. Let us never forget where we have come from and that we have gotten where we are only because of the grace of Christ.

Why Everything Rises and Falls on the Resurrection of Jesus

While working on my masters degree I had a conversation with another student about the resurrection of Jesus. She made a statement that at first might indicate an incredibly strong faith in God; “If the body of Jesus was found in a tomb somewhere, it would not shake my faith at all”. Far from this being an example of incredible faith, I found it to be the height of both hubris and folly. Hubris because it dared to claim a greater faith than even the Apostle Paul could admit for himself. Folly because that same Paul said that if Jesus is in fact NOT risen from the dead, then we are to be pitied above all men.

Paul put it this way when he wrote to the Christians in the Greek city of Corinth. “And if Christ has not been raised, our preaching is useless and so is your faith.15More than that, we are then found to be false witnesses about God, for we have testified about God that he raised Christ from the dead. But he did not raise him if in fact the dead are not raised.16For if the dead are not raised, then Christ has not been raised either. 17And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile; you are still in your sins. 18Then those also who have fallen asleep in Christ are lost. 19If only for this life we have hope in Christ, we are to be pitied more than all men”. 1 Corinthians 15:14-18

The woman who said that her faith would not be shaken if Jesus never had risen, did not understand the absolutely crucial, linchpin place, that the resurrection has for followers of Jesus. Paul understood that the resurrection was the game-changer. Because Jesus rose from the dead, everything was now different. It was the resurrection that vindicated Jesus after his humiliating death on the cross. It was the resurrection that demonstrated his victory over sin and death. It was the resurrection that lead to his being seated at the right hand of the Father and at whose name every knee would bow and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord.

If the resurrection had never happened then Jesus was simply one more religious teacher who led people astray, only to disappoint them in the end. Rabbi Gamaliel understood this when he told the religious leaders to leave the disciples alone. He said that if Jesus was a nobody who was still in the grave then this talk of him as a messiah would fade away, just like it had so many times before with other religious zealots. Paul understood that if the resurrection had never really happened then the whole Christian faith was a sham. It was people preaching lies about God. It meant that their faith was only a faith for this life and that was a huge waste of time and effort.

But Paul was adamant that the resurrection was real. Jesus had risen from the dead. His resurrection was the down payment for us, the guarantee that all who had faith in Jesus would also rise from the dead one day. Jesus is the pioneer who leads the way for all who trust in him and in the reality of his resurrection.

My friend from graduate school is someone who Paul would say is to be most pitied. She has a faith that really has no future. It is a faith that does not need a risen savior. Without a risen savior, one who is still in the grave, there is only the grave for us. Our faith is for this life only. If Jesus had never been risen then there is no reason to follow him. He is just a guy who died 2,000 years ago and is still dead. And no matter how much we believe in him, when we die, we will be just as dead for just as long and stay that way. No hope. No future. No life eternal. If Jesus is still in the grave then Christianity is a giant lie.

But because he is risen, we have life and hope, and a future that is beyond our most vivid and beautiful imaginations. We have a purpose in this life that will find it’s fulfillment in the next. We have a God who is worthy of our adoration and praise. We have a message to take to people that can change their lives, now and forever. We have a relationship with a very real God who loves us enough to pay the ultimate price for our reconciliation with Him. We have the power to bring that reconciliation to the world, healing to the broken, dignity to the oppressed, joy to the grieving, laughter to those who weep. I could go on and on because the resurrection changes everything. From the moment He burst forth from the tomb, nothing would ever be the same again. A world that was spiraling down into darkness and oblivion, became a world that could be lifted higher and more glorious, all because He is risen.

It is Really All About Jesus

The headline reads “Episcopal Minister defrocked after becoming a Muslim”. I suppose it should not really come as a shock that someone would convert from one religion to another. It should not even be a shock that someone who was a minister in a Christian church would convert. It happens. What is incredible to me is that they would think that in converting from Christianity to Islam that they were really not making a change of any significance and that they thought they could still be a Christian minister and a Muslim.

Anne Holmes Redding was a minister in the Episcopal Church. Three years ago she attended an interfaith gathering and was struck by the humility of the Muslim Imam as he led chants, meditations and devotions. That started her on a journey the resulted in her conversion to Islam. You can read more about it http://www.cnn.com/2009/US/04/02/muslim.minister.defrocked/index.html For a couple of years she continued to be both a Christian minister and a practicing Muslim. For some incredible reason she saw no contradiction in this. “Both religions say there’s only one God,” Redding said, “and that God is the same God. It’s very clear we are talking about the same God! So I haven’t shifted my allegiance.” I’m sorry but this just flabbergasts me. Fortunately the Episcopal church was equally flabbergasted and required that she either recant being a Muslim or give up her ordination. She refused and was then removed as a minister.

I get it that many people think that all religions are ultimately the same and that they all worship the same god. But I also recognize that most people have never really bothered to look closely at various religions to see if this “cultural truism” is in fact true. But a minister in the Episcopal Church and most churches for that matter, has at least a Masters Degree that includes a heavy dose of Bible, Theology, and Comparative Religions.

In order to believe that she has not “changed allegiance” I can only assume that she never had an allegiance to Jesus to begin with. The understanding that Christians have of who Jesus is as Lord, fully God and fully man is in complete contradiction to what Islam teaches about Jesus.  To be a Muslim is to deny that Jesus is the Messiah. It is to deny that His death on the cross was a substitution for us and for our sins. In fact to be a Muslim is to deny that Jesus even died on the cross at all. It by implication also means that you have to deny that He rose from the grave. The Apostle Paul made it clear that without the resurrection of Jesus, we are to be pitied as people following a lie and are lying about God. (1 Corinthians 15:12-20)

Being a Christian means that you are a follower of Jesus. It is not about having a religion that meets some inner need for spiritual fulfillment through prayer and meditation. It is about an allegiance to Jesus above all else. It is a giving of your life completely and totally to Him. We can talk about God in a generic sense and people will rally around that as being a unifying idea. But we can never speak of God without making sure that we understand who that God is and that our faith is really all about Jesus. As Paul told the Philippians, it is at the name of Jesus that every knee will bow and every tongue confess, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.

Is there a lesson here? I think so. As followers of Christ we must be willing to stand fast on the truth of the supremacy of Jesus. It is the hill we die on. No one comes to the Father except through Him. Mohamed  is not “a way” to God. Neither for that matter is Buddha, or Krishna, or any other human being. Keep your eyes on Jesus. It is He who is the author and finisher of your faith.