Target’s decision to allow employees and customers to “use the restroom or fitting room facility that corresponds with their gender identity” is just the latest move in a national conversation on gender that’s boiling over. Target made a strategic business decision designed to win more customers than it loses. Target’s bosses have the right to lead their company as they choose. And customers have the right to shop there or go to Meijer or Wal-Mart. That’s business. But beyond simple commerce there are a few results of Target’s decision that need to be addressed.

  1. It joins those with gender-identity issues with predators. Because of the size of its company, Target’s decision has taken the national discussion to a new level. And within the conversation those dealing with gender dysphoria and predators are mentioned in the same sentence. This is unfair to those genuinely in the midst of gender-identity confusion. These are real challenges faced by many people. Mark Yarhouse has written sensitively and clearly on this in his book Understanding Gender Dysphoria. Instead of creating an atmosphere where people feel “accepted, respected, and welcomed,” Target has unfairly caused a group of people to be even more misunderstood and feared.
  2. It creates more vulnerability for women. Not only does Target’s decision lump predators in with those facing gender-identity confusion within the larger discussion, but it genuinely creates a space for  women to be preyed upon. The University of Toronto discovered this when it designated dorm restrooms and showers gender-neutral. Surprise! Men tried to film women in the showers by putting their cell phones over adjoining stalls. There are bad men out there. Why would Target create a space where these men have easy access to women in intimate spaces?
  3. It ignores Target’s family restrooms. This was a policy that was completely unnecessary. In response to criticism over the decision a Target spokeswoman pointed people who are uncomfortable with the policy to its single-stall family restrooms. But wouldn’t it have been just as easy to allow transgendered employees and customers to use these restrooms instead of inviting them into the larger restrooms?
  4. It may hurt more than it helps. Dr. Paul McHugh is a highly respected psychiatrist from Johns Hopkins. He’s not motivated by religion or political ideology. He’s simply a scientist who says decades of interacting with people who claim to be transgendered has shown him that when people are supported in their transition to their non-biological sex or gender there is often more pain for them and their family. In fact, Johns Hopkins stopped doing gender reassignment surgeries because the psychological outcomes for the patients were so poor. Instead, he encourages supporting these men and women in getting the help they need to stay in their birth gender.
  5. It continues the narrative that gender distinctions don’t matter. This is just the latest policy change in Target’s campaign to erase gender distinctions. The underlying policy downplays the scientific reality of distinctions in sex and gender. Men are men. Women are women. And God created them this way for a reason. I don’t expect Target to make its policies based on the Bible. But Christians need to explain how precious sex and gender distinctions are. God loves people and created them “male and female” in order to allow them to understand how the Father, Son, and the Holy Spirit are in relationship with one another. Certainly theirs is not a sexual relationship. But God creates people equal in value, but different in important ways in order to help us understand Him better. This needs to be celebrated!




Yes, the title of this post is provocative. Blog titles are supposed to be. But let me say immediately that I’m not trying to be disrespectful to the victims of the September 11th attacks or their families. Not at all! But, on this 14th anniversary of the attacks, please don’t say a word about it to me.

This morning I was driving on I-290 listening to a friend’s radio show on Moody Radio Cleveland on my iPhone. As they talked about the anniversary and started recalling some of the details of the heroism and loss, I started to cry. I mean really cry. There I am riding along on the Ike with tears streaming down my face. My heart was hurting. Why?

I think I’m starting to understand how the Greatest Generation feels about Pearl Harbor. For decades they’ve talked about it with tears in their eyes, usually to a generation that really doesn’t want to hear about it. Their emotion still seems fresh. You can see the pain in their eyes. One day in a place that seemed far away, our entire nation was shattered. Not only were many lives lost, but our country’s feeling of invincibility was crushed. Dead people and a rocked worldview have a way of impacting you even decades later. On the 14th anniversary of the attacks, we now have 2 generations of Americans who are removed from that day. I wonder if they are impacted by the story in the same way as people are when a senior talks about the war.

I covered 9/11 as a news reporter in the midst of thousands of people who were trying to get home via trains at Union Station in Chicago. I wasn’t in New York, Pennsylvania, or Washington. No one I know personally died that day. And yet, it hurt and still does.

Please continue to talk about the attacks so those who lost their lives (in the crashes and trying to save people) are never forgotten. They are true heroes. Relay the story so a non-Christian world will know there is such a thing as evil (and offer God as the good alternative). But please don’t talk to me about it. It just hurts too much. I can’t handle it yet. And maybe I’ll never be able to.

I like to laugh. I mean, really laugh. Neither of my jobs require heavy-lifting (props to the landscapers and bricklayers out there), but pastoring and radio work can still be stressful. So, I like to unwind with a good comedy. The problem in recent years is the famine of comedy that’s really funny without being inappropriate. There are family-friendly comedies that really aren’t that funny (in my opinion). So I’m left with crass comedy that makes me laugh a lot, but only as I ignore the subtle whisper of the Holy Spirit, “Cisco, are you sure you should be watching this?”

I ignored the Holy Spirit last week and saw Trainwreck. I had to take our car in for some work and there’s a movie theater right across the street from the shop. How ironic that Trainwreck was starting right as I had two hours to kill. “Surely, God wants me to see this movie!” While everyone else in the theater was laughing out loud, I was having a deeply spiritual experience. Instead of relieving the stress of a busy life, I was engaged in a conversation with God that finally led to me screaming “Uncle!” But it was a movie theater, so I didn’t scream out loud.

Here are three thoughts from a pastor who saw Trainwreck:

1) I’m not that mature. Maybe you’ve said this to yourself, “I’m spiritually mature enough to laugh at the good and ignore the bad in any movie. I can handle this.” I’ve said that to myself a million times and it’s a lie. Every bit of nudity, every crass joke, and every cruel insult enters my brain and never leaves. They slowly numb me so that I am less able to see a clear distinction between what is godly and what is not. It’s a subtle danger that we can try to ignore, but it’s a danger nonetheless.

2) Crass humor isn’t just for boys anymore. Porky’s, Animal House, and so many other movies in the same genre were designed by men and for men. The lead characters telling the jokes were men. It was widely understood that potty humor was for guys (not that it was God-honoring for men, but that’s a discussion for another day). That’s changed. Now, comediennes such as Amy Schumer and Melissa McCarthy (both VERY funny) are the ones starring in the movies. It’s turned crass movies into girl flicks that are good for ladies night out or even date night. So instead of fewer people ingesting this, there are more. That can’t be good.

3) Is it pure and lovely? Philippians 4:8 gives us a filter to use when deciding whether to see a movie or not.

“whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable—if there is any moral excellence and if there is any praise—dwell on these things.”

It’s hard to put Trainwreck through that filter and reach the conclusion that we should see it. Add Spy and Bridesmaids to the list too.

God works in each of our lives at His own pace. You may not agree with this post. Yet. There was a time not long ago when I thought any kind of media short of pornography was alright. But increasingly I’ve begun to see the importance of filling my mind with things that glorify God. It means I don’t get to see quite as much comedy as I used to, but my soul is thanking me.

The words of Psalm 139 are beautiful and powerful.

For you created my inmost being;
    you knit me together in my mother’s womb.
 I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made;
    your works are wonderful,
    I know that full well.
 My frame was not hidden from you
    when I was made in the secret place,
    when I was woven together in the depths of the earth.
 Your eyes saw my unformed body;
    all the days ordained for me were written in your book
    before one of them came to be.

The powerful God who created the sun, moon, and stars is described in gentle, caring terms. Like a loving grandmother who knits together a sweater for her small grandchild, so our heavenly Father takes an interest in each and every one of us. This truth builds on the description in Genesis 1:27 of humanity being made in God’s image.

That’s why it’s an outrage when we discover doctors are careful about how they abort babies so they can protect the organs because there’s a market for them in the research world. But our outrage shouldn’t stop there. It’s equally outrageous when we find out senior citizens are being abused by the people who are supposed to care for them.

As Christians we have to be a light to the world concerning the sanctity of all people regardless of their stage of life. Every person you see is someone God made in His image. That needs to be the reason we express the value of life. It’s not because I say life (and body) has value or because you say so. It’s because the God of the universe made them and declared them good.

A few weeks ago at Village Church of Oak Park, I gave an evening lecture on heaven and hell. It was a simple, straightforward discussion of the Bible’s teachings on both of these important topics. At the end of the talk I promised that I would address questions not answered in the Q&A time on this blog. I will. I promise! Those answers will begin coming soon. But I wanted to alert you to an upcoming event where I’ll specifically discuss Christian Universalism. is hosting an Apologetics Conference in Lemont, IL on May 15 & 16. There are several good speakers who will be discussing a variety of topics. My breakout session will seek to offer a balanced understanding of what Christian Universalists believe (in their own words) and several refutations.

You can get more information about the conference HERE. If you attend, be sure to say hello!

Republican Congressman Aaron Schock of Peoria resigned today after weeks of questions about the way he spent tax dollars. First, he was criticized for redecorating his office in the style of Downton Abbey. That began a steady stream of revelations about tax payers footing the bill for a private plane ride to a Bears game, among other allegations. While this is surely painful for Schock and his supporters, I think there is a word of warning in his downfall for pastors.

It appears as though Aaron Schock (like many in Congress) had no internal accountability structure that prevented him from going down ethically risky roads. Was there no one there to tell him he shouldn’t expense a plane ride to a Bears game? No staffer raised a red flag about handing tax dollars to donors to use their private planes? No accountability can easily lead to trouble for those in positions of trust.

Pastors often get the benefit of the doubt because of their position. People trust them. Maybe they get an expense account for meals, books, or mileage. If so, is there a policy in place to make sure that money is spent on what the pastor says it is? Pastors have to remember, every dime of church money spent by them comes from the pockets of hard working (or maybe Social Security receiving) Christians. Do pastors respect them (and their God) enough to ensure basic accountability practices are in place? Do other church leaders feel the same way?

It’s not always financial stewardship that can get a pastor into trouble. Most control their own calendars and as long as they show up for Sunday services, who knows what they do the rest of the week? It’s easy for pastors to begin to slack without anyone knowing. What does accountability for your time look like?

Every pastor (and elder) needs to remember time and money ultimately belong to the Lord and they’re responsible to steward them well. If you don’t have accountability systems in place right now, do it this week! Let Aaron Schock’s pain keep you and your congregation from experiencing the same.

As people ask me whether they should see 50 Shades of Grey, here’s why I’m telling them, “no.”

1) It doesn’t represent God’s design for sex. The movie features sex between an unmarried couple that involves intentional infliction of pain and bondage. Neither of these is what God intended when He gave us this gift.

There are many reasons God designed sex for marriage only. The level of intimacy is one reason. When you read Old Testament accounts of sex you’re told the people “know” one another. And marriage is  described as a “one flesh” relationship (Genesis 2:24). The sexual union is the most intimate way a couple can “know” one another. And, though “one flesh” means more than sex, when the two are joined physically their bodies form together as one. We serve a God who is a trinity, three persons in one God. Though that relationship is not a sexual one, God gave us sex and marriage as a way to give us a glimpse into who He is. That’s one of the reasons why God regularly refers to His people as committing adultery when they start worshiping other gods. God offers people the opportunity to join together in a beautiful bond and He intends that bond to only happen in marriage.

Now, the pain part. I give married couples great latitude in their sexual relationships. I think exploration is one of the joys of marriage. But I can’t see how intentionally inflicting pain is part of God’s design. Read Song of Solomon. Read Proverbs 5:15-19.  It seems God designed sex to be a mutually pleasurable experience. How does beating someone show them you love them?

2) It degrades women. In their book Pulling back the Shades, Dr. Julie Slattery and Dannah Gresh show how sexual longing is a totally legitimate, God-given part of a woman’s soul. But the things in this movie aren’t legitimate expressions of them. In the movie and the book, the lead character (Christian Grey) has a woman sign a contract that allows him to essentially do anything he wants to her (e.g., bondage, whippings, canings) and she agrees not to complain. I know some say this is somehow empowering to women, but I can’t see it. Sex should be about mutual service and satisfaction, not one partner submitting to the cruel fantasies of the other. Women have been seen as sex objects by men for hundreds of years. Why should we see a movie that perpetuates this?

We could also say it degrades men too. A man of God isn’t one who simply looks at a woman as a sex object. Job made a covenant with his eyes not to look lustfully at a woman (Job 31:1). The Bible describes the husband’s role in marriage as one of service to his wife (Ephesians 5:25-27). God didn’t create women solely for the pleasure of their husbands. Men need to live like they believe that.

3) It normalizes pornography. The rise of the internet has been so awesome! But it has also been destructive. Pornography is now accessible in an instant on your smartphone from wherever you are. But until recently, porn was still frowned upon in society. This movie seems to cap something that has been going on for several years: the mainstreaming of pornography (Game of Thrones, anyone?). When I look at the lineup at my local theater I see American Sniper, The Spongebob Movie, and 50 Shades of Grey. That sends a signal that porn is normal and just another entertainment option.

Also, pornography use among women is rising at a shocking rate. In his book Wired for Intimacy, William Struthers shows how pornography actually makes changes in the brain that are destructive. And we can’t forget, pornography is ultimately an empty substitute for the real thing. We need less porn, not more.

4) It isn’t pure. Philippians 4:8 gives us a wonderful and simple paradigm to look through when we’re weighing whether to watch, read, listen to, talk about, or even think about something. “whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable – if there is any moral excellence and if there is any praise – dwell on these things.” If not, then stay away!

5) It’s a chance to share Jesus. Many of your friends are going to see the movie because they loved the book. They’ll ask you to go with. When you say no with a gracious spirit that lacks condemnation, you’ll get an opportunity to tell them why you don’t want to see it. You can share Jesus with them and show them how your relationship with Him not only means you don’t want to see the movie, but also leads you to a greater satisfaction than any movie could ever give.