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The Truth in Love: A Dangerous Thing March 10, 2015

Posted by michaelnjohns in homosexuality, sex.
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I wouldn’t have thought this was a really drastic change of position if I hadn’t lived through it.  Swept along by a wave of peers, I missed something.  In large part I agreed with them.  And in part, I was dead wrong for it.  These peers? Well meaning Christ-Followers.  I’ve been processing this still, so if I’m repeating myself, just move along to the next blog you like.  My feelings won’t be hurt, I promise.

I’ve been accused of thinking dangerously, or maybe that my thinking is dangerous, or maybe they weren’t thinking and they thought the fact that I was, was dangerous.  My fellow seminarians joked good-naturedly that they would pray for me even back before I got here.  Some of them would be spinning in their pulpits if they knew what I think now.  Farbeit from me to think I’m special, revolutionary, radical.  I’m no trail-blazer, like a Martin Luther.  I don’t think I could even come up with 95 theses, but I have one:  “the truth in love.”  I’m captivated by the power of the phrase, from Ephesians 4:  15 Instead, speaking the truth in love, we will grow to become in every respect the mature body of him who is the head, that is, Christ.

What if God’s love is more radical than even Christ-followers give it credit for being?  If we really understood it better, and embraced it more fully, I’ll bet we would reap a few benefits.  I’m only going to share two I believe are available.

Benefit # 1:  We grow and become like Jesus.  This makes us different from a lot of people in the world, and that might just make us dangerous.

I Corinthians 13 extols the virtues of love, and proclaims, “…if I don’t have love, I have nothing.”  “I am a sounding brass, a tinkling cymbal.”  (I used the loudest-sounding translation)  For years I thought nothing of my fellow Christ-followers proclaiming the evil of sin, the final destination of unrepentant sinners.  I saw nothing wrong.  But their focus seemed to change.  I think it became too narrow.  I think it became unloving.  We went back to Jewish legalism, for people who aren’t Jewish, for people who don’t even follow Christ yet, expecting them to live by some hand-picked set of standards out of that Old Testament law code.  Sinners who are well-aware that they are sinners are rightly calling us onto the carpet for it.  It’s not loving.  It’s not gracious.  It’s not Jesus’ method.  And we don’t even live by the letter of the law we’re offering the world.  Well-meaning Christ-followers are blindly falling into it.  It’s wrong.  It’s sin, and some are still ignorant of it, or worse, in denial about it.

I hope you can stay with me, this is going somewhere dramatic.  Trust me.  This is what I’ve been meditating on:

Some Christ-followers are operating under the misconception that sin is a choice.  This has never been true.  The question that came to my mind was, “What is a sinner going to do?”  And obviously, the answer is, “we’re going to sin.” I said “we.”  It’s a radical challenge to what I have heard a lot of well-meaning people trying to teach recently, as if it were the truth. And it’s a drastic change to my prior thought process as well.

Here’s the revelation, if I dare call it that:

Hatred quenches the Spirit of God.  Hatred stops any good from coming out of your part of a situation, no matter how well-intentioned you are.  Your hatred isn’t going to change a single sinner into a not-sinner.  You can tell the truth, without love, and your true words won’t change a single sinner into a not-sinner.  Sometimes the truth alone can quench the Spirit too.  You can love, tolerating and embracing and accepting, and your love won’t change a single sinner into a not-sinner.  Sometimes just expressing love quenches the Spirit as well.  A balance of both is required.  Jesus was “the way, the truth, and the life,” but he was also very loving, which is why the people flocked to him.  Nobody but the mob is flocking to certain churches, because they don’t really “love.” They just “truth.”  And sinners who feel affirmed are flocking to churches that embrace the sin as well as the sinner –  flocking to a place where they can hear what they want to hear, nothing uncomfortable, nothing that demands “Go and sin no more,” but that’s equally wrong.  They just “love,” they don’t really “truth.”  As a Christ follower, my message is empty if I deny the sin, just as empty if I embrace and accept the sin along with the sinner.  As much as I want to teach about your sin, or their sin, I feel compelled to confess first, I’ve got a plank in my eye too.  Christ commands anyone who would follow to first repent, or turn away, from sin, and then take up their own cross and follow Him.  I have a hard time with both of these commands.

In Psalm 51:5, the writer says he was conceived in sin, and born into sin.  In Ecclesiastes 7:20 the writer proclaims “there is not a righteous man on earth, who does what is right and never sins.”  Isaiah 53:6 the writer says we’re “like sheep” and we all want to go our own way, but we’re being led the wrong direction by our selfish motives.  In Jeremiah 17:9-10 the writer says we are all crooked, “desperately wicked,” and ultimately God “rewards” us for what we do.  The story doesn’t change from Old to New Testaments.  Romans 3:23 says we’ve all sinned and none of us can even dream of reaching God’s perfect standard, His “glory.”  So we’re all sinners.  From the first time when you’re a baby and mom says “no,” and you do it anyway, or try to do it anyway, it’s sin.  But if we’re going to live by the letter of the law we should be aware of II Corinthians 3:6- the letter of the law brings death, but the spirit (intention) of the law brings life.  The letter of the law, a slavish obedience to an impossible law code, or disobeying the perfect standards of God, only bring us to eternal death.  The spirit of the law, as distilled by Jesus into just two neat commandments, gives life like in John 10:10 and John 14:6.

Guess what?  Nothing can change a sinner into a not-sinner.  We can only resist, with the power that we have inside ourselves, and that’s only if we know something is a sin and we decide we don’t want to do it any more.  It’s more blinding, more powerful, more seductive than alcohol or tobacco or any other drug.  In the flesh, we are all going to fail, and stumble into sin, even the best Christ-followers.  It’s true that we have a choice, but the choice isn’t whether we’re going to sin.  It’s what kind of sin are we going to choose?   Some well-meaning Christ-followers think sin is a choice, but it’s not.  If you believe the Bible, you should believe that we are all born into sin and we have no power to escape without the grace of God.  And some well-meaning Christ followers preach judgement and condemnation and hellfire and brimstone on certain people’s sins, while ignoring others.  Especially their own.  The only way to escape is through the truth in love, which allows the Holy Spirit of God to work on our hearts.

The pharisees used to do that back in Jesus day.  They held people to that impossible standard of behavior, “the truth,” while at the same time treating others without any regard to mercy, or “love,” which was why Jesus was so upset.  He quoted the Old Testament, “I desire mercy, not sacrifice.”  And he specifically told the pharisees, I paraphrase: “On the outside you look great, all freshly whitewashed, just like a tomb.  But on the inside you’re ugly, full of evil things, corruption and rot.”  (Matthew 23:27)  Those pharisees were ignoring their own sins of hatred and pride, while pointing out other people’s specific sins with all kinds of judgement and condemnation.  Sound familiar?

The more I consider it, the less I think of myself, because personally, I am good at the above, because I suck at love, but I know all about truth.  I can hate all day long, and I can use the truth to defend my stronghold and crush the opposition with words, thrown like stones.  I can judge and condemn, just like everyone else.  It’s easy.  I can get all caught up in my fancy proofs of whatever the thing is that I don’t like, either because it’s not my choice of sin, or because no one knows I’m another definition of “sinner.”  There are plenty of sins to habituate.  I’ve picked mine, you’ve picked yours, they’ve picked theirs and we all point fingers at each other.  I have an audience.  They think I’m so good because of the whitewashed outside.  And from there, the mob mentality is too easy to just join in, grab the big rocks along with everyone else, and start flinging.  Don’t deceive yourself into thinking you should follow me.  I do it wrong, in my own way, all the time.

That woman “caught in the very act of adultery” was a test case for Jesus.  He let the accusers think on their own hearts and decide if they were sinners themselves.  And he said, after they all left, “where are your accusers?  I don’t condemn you either, but go and sin no more.”  She was about to be stoned to death for her “sin.”  Jesus dismissed the mob though, and then quietly talked with her about her choices.  And Jesus said it was “sin.”  It was the sin of adultery, big enough it made God’s top ten list back in Exodus.  What’s “adultery?”  Any kind of sexual relations outside of “marriage.” And what did Jesus say was “marriage?”  Matthew 19:5 and Mark 10:7 have Jesus quoting Genesis 2:24, validating the text like it’s his own personal stamp of approval. “Marriage,” sorry to say, as defined by God and verified by Jesus, consists of a man and his wife, nothing else.  Anything else is “adultery.”  So I’m not discounting what she did, or what anyone else, including me, does, that God says is wrong, as if that wasn’t sin.  I’m saying we should teach things differently.  We have to dismiss ourselves from the mob mentality, drop our rocks, consider our own thing that we do that’s wrong, and turn away.  I think we lead by example, and who wants to follow a rabid mob that operates based on its’ own standards, judging harshly and without any mercy?

Jesus’ first message to everyone was that we needed to “repent,” which meant to turn away from sin, and go toward God.

I’ll still agree with the mob that sin is evil.  I still agree with the mob that unrepentant sinners go to eternal torment and hopeless separation from God.  But I think we need to shift our message to something different.  Let’s understand, before we preach against one form of sin or another, that we all sin.  That’s the truth, and it makes us more gracious.  It puts the speaker on the same level as the audience.  No denial here:  there is such a thing as “sin.”  Anyone who reads Romans 3:23 will tell you that, and it hasn’t changed from Old Testament Jeremiah 17:9 to Romans 3:23.  The heart is crooked, no one can fix it for themselves.  Only when we get to Romans 6:23 do we realize there’s any hope.  It’s the gift of God, further clarified in Ephesians 2.  We should be teaching that, instead of just the condemnation, the straining of gnats of other people’s small misdeeds, while we pass the camel of our huge self-righteous judgmental hatred.

Romans 9 is quite clear:  Israel’s standards are out of date after Jesus’ sacrifice.  The law isn’t going to save anyone, it’s only going to convict us.  Once we decide to follow Jesus, we can look into what’s important.  I for one don’t want to go back to Israel’s standards.  They had over 600 rules to obey, from clothes to food to how and when to party.  Do I really want to invest the time to figure out how to do, or not do, all of that?  Might be fun to figure out the party schedule.  But I don’t relish the idea of trying to do all the rest.  But until we decide to follow Jesus, there’s no point.  There’s good news from Romans 10:4-13.  Once and for all Jesus paid the price for my past, present, and future sin.  And if I want to follow the teaching of Romans 10:14-15, I should be an ambassador teaching that forgiveness is available through Jesus’ sacrifice.  Not only forgiveness for yesterday, but also the strength to repent, and choose not to sin, for today.  I’m so happy that forgiveness is available, even for a failure like me.  I mess it up every day.  That whitewash I show on the outside is a whitewash.  Ignore it.  It’s nothing.

All you church people, let me challenge you first, like I did myself:  Love first.  Then speak the truth in love.  Don’t leave out either part.  If you do, the audience will miss out.

If I’m nothing without love, I’m nothing without the truth as well.  But with the truth in love, expressed with grace, I bet I’ll see Benefit # 2:  “The power of God  that leads to Salvation” that Paul wrote about in Romans 1:16.  Even he put the love first, before he started talking about what was sin and what to do about it.  And after I decide to follow Jesus, Jesus boils it down to a really simple standard without all the nit-picky laws:  Love God wholeheartedly, and love others as I love myself.  I don’t think you can go wrong with those two rules.  I think if we really followed them, we might see other people deciding to follow Jesus, too.  And we all have to figure out how to love God on our own, although we can encourage each other.  That’s why there’s a church and you should go.  Yes, it’s full of us hypocrites- we’ve all stumbled at some point, on the journey of life, while attempting to follow Jesus.  Me included.  But if you come and encourage us, we all might become better Christ-followers.  A good church is welcoming (love) and challenging (truth).  Maybe you think the church isn’t welcoming.  Maybe your church isn’t challenging.  Maybe you aren’t going to a church at all.  I invite you: come and see.  If the first one isn’t welcoming and challenging, maybe the next one will be.  I hope you find a good one.

II Corinthians 5:

11 Since, then, we know what it is to fear the Lord, we try to persuade others. What we are is plain to God, and I hope it is also plain to your conscience. 12 We are not trying to commend ourselves to you again, but are giving you an opportunity to take pride in us, so that you can answer those who take pride in what is seen rather than in what is in the heart. 13 If we are “out of our mind,” as some say, it is for God; if we are in our right mind, it is for you. 14 For Christ’s love compels us, because we are convinced that one died for all, and therefore all died. 15 And he died for all, that those who live should no longer live for themselves but for him who died for them and was raised again.

16 So from now on we regard no one from a worldly point of view. Though we once regarded Christ in this way, we do so no longer. 17 Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here! 18 All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation: 19 that God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting people’s sins against them. And he has committed to us the message of reconciliation. 20 We are therefore Christ’s ambassadors, as though God were making his appeal through us. We implore you on Christ’s behalf: Be reconciled to God. 21 God made him who had no sin (Jesus Christ) to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.

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What? January 14, 2015

Posted by michaelnjohns in Uncategorized.
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The last post left readers saying, “what?”  Yesterday I tried to write analytically about emotions and that’s very difficult for me to do, especially when I’m just feeling hurt and angry, or reflecting hurt and anger from recent experience.  I wonder if any of my readers ever wrote a letter and then decided a day later not to send it because of the damage it might do.  In the modern age of instant delivery, we rant and shoot off an email or a tweet without much thought of how it might hurt the person it’s being sent to.  Or bounce back and hurt the sender.

Most people I know are all genuinely beautiful, fragile creatures who put on a hard exterior show because they don’t want to get hurt.  Most people I like are those I’ve embarked on the journey of real friendship and we’ve lowered our guard.  There’s a language to friendship just like there’s a language to love.  The scary part of that is that everyone seems to speak their own languages and we’re all like travelers in another country when we start that conversation.  We know some of the words because we were curious, but we aren’t by any means fluent.

Maybe that’s half of the problem.

If you don’t speak the language you don’t know what’s offensive.  It could be a word, a phrase, a laugh at the wrong time, even a gesture or a facial expression.  We all come with baggage of our past histories.  I’ve probably offended people unintentionally just by expressing my opinions on this blog.  But my opinion is as valid as the next persons.  I don’t claim to be expert at anything, but I know what I know, think what I think, and believe what I believe, and I try to be logical.

Love doesn’t mean validating a behavior choice.  People say they don’t choose certain habits, they are born with them, and I agree.  When we are children our habit betrays us- we like to do the thing, whatever it is, that is dangerous, and it’s a parent’s job to intervene.  The parent who is wise knows a destructive direction, and either has to divert the child, or pick up the pieces in the aftermath.  The child doesn’t know and is curious, but chooses to do the thing.  So a loving parent does not validate the child’s curious behavior choice.  The parent either corrects, or diverts, or sweeps the brokenness up later.  I can love you and not validate the way you choose to behave, if I think it’s unwise.  If you ask me, I can teach you that there’s a better choice.  And you, another adult, can tell me where I can shove it.  And I can choose to point out that it’s impossible to do that.  It’s your choice as an adult to reject wise counsel.

This opinion of mine doubtless offends people who need or want my validation of their behavior choice.  I’m a Christ follower, I read the New Testament, and I think there’s wisdom there.  I read the Old Testament and there’s wisdom there too, but I don’t get all nit-picky with those details of God’s instructions to the Hebrews, lest someone decide I’m a bigger hypocrite than I am.  I’ve said it before.  If my wisdom, that I didn’t write down for myself, proves right and your house crumbles, call me and I won’t say I told you so.  I’ll just sweep up the pieces with you.  (and if mine does, kindly do the same.) When my child grabbed my coffee cup and accidentally dropped it from counter to floor, first I checked to make sure the child hadn’t been burned by hot coffee.  Then I removed the child from the dangerous broken shards, and swept.  I did tell my child to please be more careful in the future, and I did say, “I love you,” just so the child knew they were more important than a coffee cup.

OK, the pre(r)amble is over.

Q:  Who has offended me, who has disappointed me, who has lied to me, that I ranted so long and weird about yesterday?

A:  Lots of people.  I learn, and these lessons perpetually assert themselves annoyingly into my life, on a regular basis.

These are my lessons, my laws of relationships, not yours, but maybe there’s a kernel of wisdom in them for you to apply for yourself.  When I say “you,” insert “the writer,” if they don’t fit your experience.  With a proverbial grain of salt, here they are:
Postulate:  People are naturally critical.  One thing that unravels a relationship faster than anything else is a critical spirit.  It’s equally fatal at work and in a relationship.  But we’re naturally critical creatures.  I’m not pointing a finger of blame, but if you go into a room that’s freshly painted, you’re going to notice the spots the painter missed, before you commend them on the beauty of the coat of paint that covers the rest.  It’s natural.  But it’s dangerous, if taken to an important relationship.  If you are overly, or publicly, critical of an employer, they’ll very likely fire you in favor of someone who supports the company goals (or the bosses desire to get what he wants out of the relationship).  If you are critical of your spouse, they might try harder next time, but if the criticism continues it’ll fester and boil and bubble and eventually burst. If you want it to work, try praise, or constructive criticism.  A little honey goes a long way.  But this builds the foundation for:

Law 1:  People are going to disappoint you.
People have a funny way of showing you they love you, if they love you.  They’re going to communicate it in their own language, which is not going to match what you want or need from a loving relationship.  That’s going to disappoint you.  They’re going to give you what THEY need, not what YOU need.  It’s going to disappoint you unless you get a clue and start to give them what they want, which is what they gave you.  There’s time along the way, unless you take some drastic love-amputation action, to discuss as loving adults, what you want.  And when you do, they’re going to further disappoint you when they don’t change.  Your expectations and hopes are not going to be realized unless the person already speaks love in your language, and they don’t.  They have to learn it.

Law 1, Corollary Theorem A:  People don’t change.  They’ll try hard if they really love you, and they might even learn how to speak that love language for you, but it’ll be the hardest thing they ever do, and old habits die hard.  They’re going to relapse, or hate you for asking them for what you need.  (Whoa, “postulate?”  “Law?”  “Corollary theorem?”  Who knew this was going to be like your math or science book? – cue my involuntary flashback to Sam Cooke’s “(What a) Wonderful World (This Would Be).”  The truth is, we don’t know much about any of those subjects and love is possibly the most difficult class, even for those who are avid students.

Corollary Theorem B:  People lie.  I know why that is.  They love themselves.  They want what they want, even if it’s a short-term quick fix.  People go into life with their own agendas.  Sometimes they are transparent, other times it takes a little layer-peeling to figure out if they’re hiding something, or a few bad experiences.  Have I ever lied?  Sure.  Who lies?  People who want what they want, with reckless disregard for other people.  Who has lied to me?  Lots of people.  They got what they wanted, I learned what I learned, and I got out of the relationship as quickly as was possible for me.  Or I’m getting out, if I’m stuck there for some reason.  No, I’m not leaving my wife.  She’s quirky and speaks my language with this weird accent, I’m trying to get used to it and also learn her language.  She knows me better than anyone else, and if there’s a lie that would wreck it from my viewpoint, I haven’t figured it out yet.  It’s been 22 years, and in 22 more we’ll probably still have weird accents when we communicate that we love each other.

If an employer lies, it’s a bit more difficult to unravel, and to extricate yourself.  One needs an income stream, even if the employer lacks integrity.  That is on them.  So employers that have lied to me have gotten away with it until I was able to get out, which leads me to:

Law 2:  Get it in writing.  They have employment contracts, and they have marriage contracts.  If you really want it, get it in writing, or refer to Law 1.  If your would-be employer verbally communicates some promise before you sign on the dotted line, get that in writing before you sign or it’ll be worthless and they’ll do what their integrity (or lack of it) allows.  If your marriage is built on some foundational pillars that are different than mine, get that in writing too.

I have a verbal contract with God that should properly govern my conduct within our relationship.  I also have a verbal contract with my wife.  It doesn’t always get me what I want, and I don’t always do everything I promised in the way that I originally intended.  But we’re still working through, and occasionally enjoying, the relationship.  It’s very difficult, maintaining the effort.  And if I say that it means she’d say it too.  But when Pastor Hosea said “as long as you both shall live,” and I said “I will,” I meant it.  He was a great pastor.  For her, under his wise counsel, I memorized the entire chapter of Ephesians 5.

Guys love the part where it says “Wives, submit to your husbands as unto the Lord.”  But it says “Husbands, love your wives as Christ loved the church, and gave Himself for her.”  All she has to do is render respectful submission.  But he has to love her to death, to earn the respect!  Ugh.  So difficult to love, even if, and especially when, it means putting my wants to death.  The wants keep resurrecting, don’t get me wrong, and she has her ways, with that accent, of keeping me quite content.  But it’s with an accent, meaning it’s not spoken the way I think I want it spoken.  And if you asked her she’d say the same about me.  I hope. (Makes me a little fearful just thinking about it.  It’s why the character Tevia from Fiddler on the Roof was written the song to his wife, asking if she loved him.)

I have a verbal contract with my wife.  I agreed to stay married to her for a term of 99 years, with the option of 99 more if she agrees to it, unless one of us dies in which case our contract is dissolved.  I also contracted that if she ever decided to divorce me she gets full custody of the kids.  And she also gets full custody of me.  Because I don’t really ever want out.  Compared to every other relationship I hear about, ours is pretty awesome.  I don’t ever want to leave what I know, for the level of uncertainty that comes from starting again.  I feel very much completed, by her.  If there was a missing piece in me, before we were married, it was her.  I don’t believe, when I’m happy with her, that I could be happier with anyone else.  And I could be much less happy if I tried with someone else.  The eye candy shimmers and glitters in the window.  It’s beautiful, and I leave it in the showroom.  Tomorrow it’s still shimmering and glittering and beautiful.  Sometimes I wonder, and sometimes maybe even doubt my choice.  And I leave it in the showroom because I can’t afford it.  Trust me, you don’t want to pay that cost, and if you’re paying it, or if you’ve paid it, you know what I am talking about.

Law 3:  God is not a vending machine.  Sadly, the truth is that I’ve even been disappointed with God.  As the rain falls on the unjust, so also it falls on the just.  I won’t claim to fit in the just category.  But I’ll say that when I read the Bible, things I read into the promises aren’t always intended in that contract.  I’m misinterpreting when I read it that way.  Just because I ask God for something doesn’t obligate him to give that to me.  Contrary to some preachers, God doesn’t seem to intend that all of his followers be rich and successful and happy with their circumstances.

I wish they were right, but Jesus taught, “you will always have the poor.”  Many, maybe most, of His early followers in the church were very poor.  Who’s to say that by modern standards you might find yourself rained on economically, just as everyone else is?  And while persecution and martyrdom may mark a “success,” it’s not a happy circumstance.  And just because I can see the words in the Bible that some use to justify their opinion or their belief (or mine) doesn’t make it a correct way of handling the Word of Truth.  It’s not so much that God allows bad things to happen to good people, so much as that God allows people to be selfish and evil and in His mercy waits and doesn’t destroy the wicked immediately.  And thank God for that, because I have moments of selfishness and evil.  Not that any of you ever would.

So although my prayers have been answered with “no,” or “wait,” it only makes God a good Heavenly Father, a good Heavenly parent, redirecting or correcting.  My spiritual three year old still wants what he wants, but can’t have it.  I wish I could say I haven’t ever thrown a temper-tantrum about circumstances as an adult or as a child.  I can’t say that.  I wish I had that wise fatherly view over myself, to understand how His “no” or “wait,” whichever one it is, was in my best interests.  But I don’t get it.

God is intervening, redirecting, diverting me when I’m choosing a thing, because that thing isn’t His best, or my best, for my spiritual growth and development as a child of God.  I have to trust Him and believe that He loves me.  I’m not on His level, nor do I understand things the way He does.  It sounds so cliche, but He knows what is best, and we have to learn what He says is right, or tell Him where to shove it.  And He will then gently let us know why that’s impossible.  Or not- He’s not required to answer.  “Because I said so,” is a perfectly valid answer for a parent to offer their child.  At some level, a child trusts their parent, at least until they’re maybe 14.  Maybe I’m not a three year old, I’ve become that self-reliant, petulant, mistrustful, disrespectful, eye-rolling 14 year old- I still need His help, but I wish I didn’t.  It makes me angry that I haven’t inherited independence and strength sufficient to go on my own.  Trying to be entirely self-reliant only leaves me wishing I had remembered to do my homework, and dreading the failing grade that’s coming.  And I wish I understood what He knows and what direction I should take.  I wish I just trusted and knew what He wanted me to do.  I wish I could communicate in His love language.

And in human love, and in human friendships, we have to trust each other, try to figure out how to say what we need to say to each other, how to say it so it’s understood, , and work hard not to betray that trust.  We need to speak the truth in love, not just the harsh, critical sounding truth.  We need to encourage one another.  If we fail, we’re going to break.  If we succeed, by our labor, we’ll grow up well, and become stronger together.
Blessings.

Media and The Fall (and Rise?) of Man September 12, 2014

Posted by michaelnjohns in Uncategorized.
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There’s a great writer and singer I used to listen to a lot named Carman Licciardello, who talked about dealing with temptation.  In a hilarious moment he talked about going to the beach and looking “stupid with [his] big old head stuck in the sand,” and admonished the listener to “keep your eyes on the Creator, man, and not on his creations.”  He’s got a bunch of other great songs demonstrating a brilliant sense of humor with solid teaching.  Give a listen if you feel so inclined.  I’m sure you can dig up dirt on Carman if you look hard enough and want that kind of spin.  I’m not in full-time paid ministry or under tight scrutiny from the press, or you might find my dirt, too.  But please don’t.  Suffice it to say that “…all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God,” (Romans 3:23) including me, and including you.  I’m not going to pretend I’m perfect.  And that’s why I’m the perfect person to write about temptation and failure.

The press loves this kind of thing.  Drag someone’s name through the mud, throw it up on the TV screens and magazines and newspapers and “news” blogs for all to see.  And they do it so well.  Sex sells, violence sells, and money sells.  The hype feeds itself until the readers and listeners and voyeurs are all whipped into an orgasm frenzy of hating the person they’re told to hate, or disrespecting the person they’re told to disrespect.  Instead of leading to healthy resolution for anyone, including the audience, the press drops the story right after the fall and never shows the grace that leads to restoration.  We drop them while they’re in the mud, and we leave them there to run after the next salacious tidbit, the next story of someone who did something “bad,” the next disaster.

Doctors who study behavior describe some less dangerous, non-addictive drugs as “Gateway drugs.”  The theory was, experimentation with a gateway drug like alcohol or marijuana might lead to more dangerous drugs like cocaine or heroin or LSD.  I think sex and violence have gateways too.  Turn on your TV (or don’t) and you’ll see the gateways.  Makeup commercials.  Underwear commercials.  Hamburger commercials that look like underwear commercials.  TV shows depicting illicit sexual relationships and questionable predilections, downplaying their dangers and proclaiming their “normalcy.”  And then think about the hypocrisy of people who want to proclaim these as normal human social interactions who drag one person’s “normal” life into the spotlight to say how bad they are for doing what the critic would advocate for another person.

If it’s “sin,” then it’s wrong for people who want to avoid sin, they should steer clear.  There are obvious things that everyone who’s not a sociopath would agree are universally wrong.  We have legislation that says stealing is bad, murder is bad, lying is bad, adultery is bad, assault is bad.  The gateways stab at the wrongness of adultery and throw up the possibility that maybe it’s not bad, or maybe you’ll be the special one who’ll get away with it without facing consequences.  And people fall for that, even people who would normally tell everyone that’s bad.  If it’s universally wrong and you want to stay out of jail, you’ll avoid breaking the law.  If it’s situationally bad, even if it’s not against any laws but you know it’ll possibly have natural consequences you want to avoid, you’ll avoid doing that.

People don’t like to think through their actions to their natural logical consequences, to their bad ends, but they should.  Even when I was younger I tried to think through at least some of the stuff I wanted to do, and chose not to do it because it was risky and might not have had all good rewards even if I “succeeded,” or got away with it.  Kids need to think things through, and stuff is being pushed on us at a younger and younger age.  I think of six and eight year old beauty pageant contestants. Is that really something you want little kids fighting over who’s best, or should we just tell them they’re all beautiful and encourage all of their talents to shine?  People need to think about the messages we’re giving to each other, especially what we’re saying to kids.  And people need to be wiser about their choices, including me.  I don’t always want to think about the consequence, just about what I want to do.  And my temptation leads to my failure, just the same as it does for you.  But what are we dwelling on?  What are we thinking about?  What’s put in front of us all the time, even when we’re not making an effort to think through things?  The more we dwell on something, good or bad, the more we’ll want to do that, or the more we’ll think it’s normal even if it’s bad.

If you say in one breath that certain behaviors are “all right” or “normal for everyone,” you have no right to say that for a certain segment, or worse, a certain individual, of the population, that same behavior is “wrong.”  It’s hypocritical.  Leave the preachers alone.  Leave the celebrities alone.  Stop airing their dirty laundry (or more apparently their lack of it) on the TV and news outlets.  I would rather see the news media burying sins and never reporting on them.  I would rather see stories of people striving to raise themselves to higher standards, and the good that comes of someone making restitution to society, and paying something back, or better still paying something forward.  But the rabid audience demands blood, and if it can’t have blood it wants sex, and if it can’t have sex, it wants scandal, theft or some other kind of mayhem or destruction.  I don’t want to know who’s sleeping with whom, and I wish I didn’t have to change the channel or turn off the TV to avoid hearing about it.  The news wants to tell me that he’s sleeping with her but married to her, or that she’s sleeping with her and they’re getting married.  I don’t want to know.  Some things are personal and should be private.  Stop telling me about other people’s private affairs.  Stop.

I used to like Andy Griffith, and I watched other TV shows as well.  I’m almost embarrassed to say I have enjoyed an adult show at night called “Dexter,” about a serial killer who avenges murders and prevents the killers from killing again.  It’s got a lot of adult themes, but I watch it at night after the wife and kids have gone to bed.  During normal daylight hours, I like to watch cooking shows.  Most of them, at least the ones without the rabid, expletive-shouting chefs who are angry for the sake of anger, are safe for me and my kids to watch.  But anything else on TV, I question.  I like family comedy shows, but frankly they’re gateways because the writers want to put new complications on their characters, which are very different than in the days (before my time) of George and Gracie and Mayberry and Father Knows Best.  We like to push the envelope in every area of life.  Society is being groomed for a world where everything is right and nothing is wrong, which is what Rascal Flatts was singing about- they missed living in a world “where everything is black and white,” meaning we knew what was right to do, and we were encouraged to do the right thing.  Now we’ve got crude animated shows replacing the silliness of Bugs Bunny and Popeye, and crass, highly sexualized TV shows replacing Father Knows Best, and ego-maniacal, profane chefs edging out Julia Childs.

I’d like to see the media outlets stop pushing envelopes that glorify or aggrandize the negative behaviors, with the negative consequences.  I’d like to hear about the farmer whose crops are feeding the hungry.  I’d like to hear about the company that’s hiring people and the politician whose work is genuinely stimulating the economy, not the spun report at re-election time that shows the one good thing they do that’s supposed to atone for all the bad.  I’d like to hear about the ex convict whose ministry helps other ex convicts get good jobs and keeps them on the road toward making a positive contribution to society.  I’d like to hear about the company whose CEO and management helps people get trained to advance toward more responsibility and better wages.  I’d like to hear about the charity that helps feed the hungry and provides a safe, warm place for homeless people.  I’d like to hear about the civic organization’s good work, people who pick up the trash left by others, people who work for a cleaner environment.  I’d like to hear about how people organize to help in recovery efforts after a natural disaster.  We could have a hero of the day, and report nothing but good news.  There’s room for a little sensation in my kind of news report:  Tell the citizens if there’s a rash of burglaries in a given area, so we remember to lock up and set the alarms. Tell us if there’s an assault, and where it happened, just so we know to watch out for ourselves and each other. But please, tell us how to encourage our local heroes- sure, the obvious, the firemen, and policemen, but also other civil servants:  Teachers.  Civic group leaders.  Charitable organizations and leaders.  Even good students who are on a good path.  People who are making the world a better place.

If we raise the standard for what we see on the news and on TV shows in general, maybe we’ll be inspired to avoid temptation and the inevitable fall, and start seeing society making positive progress.  I’m just thinking and hoping out loud.

I’ve had an overflowing earful, far more than enough, of hearing about the evil things that people do.  Let’s tell our kids we love them and we hold out the highest expectations and hopes and dreams for them. Let’s tell our neighbors we really care about them.  And let’s make our society-bettering heroes more well known, and better rewarded, than our criminals.