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 Sharing the Gospel is Not Enough

In recent weeks my quiet time of prayer and Bible reading has included an in-depth study of Paul’s 1st and 2nd Letters to the Thessalonians. As Paul writes to the young Christians in that Greek city he makes a curious and profound statement in chapter 2 verse 8, “So, being affectionately desirous of you, we were ready to share with you not only the gospel of God but also our own selves, because you had become very dear to us”. This verse strikes me as the perfect balance in an ongoing debate over the relationship between evangelism that focuses on speaking and preaching the Gospel and that which focuses on serving people at their point of need.

Why is it that so many of us in the Christian community are unable to hold things in tension and balance. We so quickly go to extremes. We want to make so much of following Jesus into an either or proposition when much of following Jesus is “both/and”. We have been doing that when it comes to preaching the Gospel or living the Gospel and doing so for generations. This is not an either or proposition.

Clearly Paul preached the Gospel. He verbally shared that wherever he went. He lived out what he says in Romans 10:14 How then will they call on him in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in him of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone preaching?” We cannot get caught in the serious error that downplays the necessity of people actually hearing the truth of Jesus. The famous quote attributed to St Francis, “At all times preach the Gospel, when necessary use words”, may have been a great corrective for those who only used words, but to somehow use that to make preaching the words of the Gospel into a last resort tactic, is wrong-headed in the extreme. Paul makes it clear, we must, absolutely must, tell people the Good News that Jesus came and died and rose again so that by trusting and following Him as Lord we can have eternal life. That is non-negotiable.

Yet just as clearly Paul believed it was not enough to only preach the Gospel verbally. He was compelled to share his very self, his life, with the Thessalonians. The way that played out was that Paul served them, loved them, lived with them as a brother. He was open, transparent, and vulnerable. As a result his life became another way to demonstrate the Gospel. When that life was coupled with the preached Word, then you had a powerful testimony to Jesus Christ.

It shouldn’t be at all surprising that our message is to come in the form of BOTH the spoken, preached Word, AND the shared life of Christ followers. The is exactly what Jesus did. He didn’t send a message from on high, a voice coming out of the clouds, with the truth of trusting in Him. He actually came into the world and shared in our lives. It is what the incarnation is all about. Jesus came into the world and took on flesh, He lived among us, shared our joys, griefs, temptations, and victories. He became like us in all things with the exception of succumbing to sin. Jesus lived a both/and life. He spoke the Gospel and He shared His life.

For some of us the speaking part is easy, the sharing life is hard. For others the sharing life is easy but the speaking part is hard. Let me propose that followers of Christ embrace both in their lives. We must, absolutely must develop a culture in which we both speak the truths of the Gospel, hard as they may be, and share our lives with those around us, both those following Jesus already and those not yet, as hard as that may be.

The result of people like Paul sharing their very lives and speaking the truth of the Gospel was that the early church became of community of people who did the same. As they did so, others on the outside of the community wanted to be included on the inside. Some wanted in because they resonated with the preached word. Others wanted in because they resonated with the love they received. Some wanted in for both.

Are you more a speaker than a life sharer? Is it the other way around? What do you need to do to become better and speaking the Gospel? What do you need to do to become better at sharing the Gospel through sharing your very life?

Saved: FROM something or FOR something?

“But an hour is coming, and now is, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth; for such people the Father seeks to be His worshipers” John 4:23

When I listen to much that passes for Gospel preaching these days I get the very clear impression that the Gospel is all about me, my happiness, my comfort, my freedom, and my being delivered from the effects of sin that would send me to Hell. Certainly there is an aspect of the Gospel that is about our being delivered from the punishment due us because of sin. But that is a far cry from the common message that makes being a Christian all about my happiness. I wonder if the American ideal that we are to be free to pursue, “life, liberty, and happiness” has not crept into our understanding of the Gospel. Preachers call people to accept Jesus into their hearts so that they can be forgiven and be assured a place in heaven and so they can experience all the wonderful happiness that life can offer.

The problem is, this is so incredibly short sighted. At best it leaves people thinking that since they have punched their ticket to Heaven and are saved from Hell, then it is just a matter of waiting for that day. At worst it progresses into a theology that says God wants you healthy, wealthy, and full of happiness and if you are not then something is wrong with you. What this completely misses are two major points; it is not about accepting Jesus into your heart. It is about giving Him complete control of your life. And it is not only about what you are saved from. It is about being saved to a life that follows Christ and lives for Him, no matter what.

When Jesus spoke to the woman at the well he made it clear that God was calling people to Him for a purpose. That purpose was to be people who worship the Father in Spirit and in Truth. That is an active thing. It is about giving your life to Jesus and seeking to glorify Him everywhere, everyday. In that sense it is fulfilling our original created purpose. We were made to be stewards of creation and to life in a relationship with God that honored Him. The redemption that we experience in Christ is intended to get us back to that relationship. We are to be people who exercise dominion over the earth and our lives so that God is honored.

Often times that honoring comes most, not in the times of our lives that are sweet and easy and pleasurable, but in the times of hardship and struggle. When the Apostle Paul was in prison in Rome, he wrote a letter to the Philippians. In it he commends them because his imprisonment, rather than making them fearful, has actually encouraged them all the more to share Christ with others. He even commends them for their willingness to endure hardship for the sake of Christ. In that suffering they share in the fellowship of Christ. They count it a sign of their faith and a privilege to suffer for Jesus. How different is that from the so called Gospel preached today that says if you suffer it is because you don’t have enough faith.

We have been saved for a purpose, a life lived in honor of Christ. We are to worship Him with our lives everyday. We are to honor Him with our service. We are to rejoice in all things, even, especially in the midst of hardship. We are to count it all joy when we suffer for His name sake and for the advancement of the Kingdom. That is Provocative Christian Living. It is living out the Gospel in a way that causes people to ask, how can you do that? It causes people to long for a faith like that in their own lives. It rings far more true and is far more powerful than the weak, distorted Gospel they have heard and tried and found wanting.