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Missing: One Left Sock January 26, 2015

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It’s just possible that somewhere, hidden, are all the things I have lost in my life.  I have lost socks, mittens, gloves, collectibles, toys, books, coats, that important piece of whatever it was so I couldn’t reassemble whatever it was I had taken apart, etc.  Fishing poles.  Knives.  Spoons.  Keys.  My favorite sweater.  My favorite T Shirt and pair of blue jeans.  I guess that means I’m not so different from anyone else.  Who hasn’t lost anything, ever?     If I had stalkers and fans I would blame them, and ask for some of it to be returned.  Keep the stuff I don’t use, stuff that’s worn out or too small for me, or the stuff I’ve already replaced.

I suspect my mom may have quietly burned the holey jeans and tshirt I revered beyond the “e,” and perhaps the sweater or pants on the mending table ended up in the trash as well, after the third or fourth repair.

I’ve lost significant things.  Money.  Education opportunities.  Job opportunities.  Connections with people I care about.  These weren’t entirely my fault, although to a degree I guess I was responsible.

Today I confess, I like having neat fingernails.  I used to bite them, and leave them with the dirt until whenever they came clean.  At least I used to like washing dishes, which by happy coincidence, usually left them pretty clean.  I still like to wash the dishes.  I’ve come a long way.  If you weren’t already going to revoke my man-card because I like a clean kitchen, you might when you read this:

I like to cut my nails.  I like to shape and file them, and to smooth them with an emery board.  And I know what a cuticle cutter and spoon are.  It’s her fault.  I don’t really obsess over shaving, or clothes, or anything.  But my nails bug me when they’re not properly taken care of.  My wife started me on the road to that specific grooming habit, and here I am.  When I was in High School, I needed short nails to play my viola, so when they got clicky, I’d bite them short.  I quit doing that, somewhere between college and marriage.  And sometime between engagement and marriage, I got in the habits of filing and smoothing my fingernails, and then, trimming the rough edges of my cuticles. The problem is, I buy a cuticle tool and it disappears within a week.  Somewhere in the dark regions of the bathroom closet, somewhere buried under the carpet of the house, somewhere tucked irresponsibly in a junk drawer or a pen jar, somewhere in the black hole beside the one that holds the missing left socks, are all my cuticle tools.  I just want one.  I’ve bought whole sets of nail care tools and danged if the cuticle tool disappears from the closet where I hid the whole zipper pouch.  No one claims to have removed it, or moved it.  But it’s gone.

If you’ve never seen a cuticle trimming tool, it’s a kind of heart-shaped tool on a stick, where the top part of the heart, toward the center, is sharpened.  It’s specially designed to smoothly capture the cuticle and neatly cut it, like scissors cut wrapping paper if you get it started and hold and move them right.

I envy people with those neat pegboards with tools hanging.  Some even have the outline of their tools so they know which one goes where.  But if my cuticle trimmer goes missing, what prayer do I have of maintaining such a system?  I’m lucky to find the drill and drill bits (and that thingy you use to tighten the drill bit- I think it’s called a “chuck tightener.”- I’m not even sure what a “chuck” is.) when some next-to-impossible household maintenance project comes along.  If my cuticle cutter is representative of the rest of life, I’d end up with the neat pegboard and the outlines of my missing tools.  And a few missing pegs while we’re at it.

I wish I could just hire “the guy,” for all of that.  Especially plumbing.  But I have learned, because we didn’t hire “the guy,” how to do lots of things.  But without the tool, I can’t do much.  And without the tool I can’t cut  my cuticles.  I don’t even know if, in the modern era of blood-borne pathogen awareness, manicurists are allowed to cut people’s cuticles.  I don’t think I want them to do that for me.  But that means I need it, more often than I need a drill.

I can understand, throw it away if it’s no longer sharp.  Fine.  But put it away, or back where I left it, if it’s still useful.  This weekend I realized that yet another has slipped away into the nail-tool black hole where all of my previous fingernail clippers and cuticle tools have fallen and disappeared forever.

These missing socks and gloves and tools and cuticle trimmers are like bits of my life that I have lost along the way.  Jesus said that he was like a vine-dresser.  If I’m the vine, He said He’d come along and cut away the stuff that was interfering with my spiritual growth, so I could bear fruit in my life.  I’ve lost touch with people.  Old friends don’t call.  Not that I miss some people, but sometimes I wonder what some of them are up to.  High School and college buddies.  Most of them I really liked.  Were they a negative influence on me?  Would I have been a negative influence on them and therefore was I the one who was pruned away?  Are these as replaceable as hat and mitten and socks?  They’re lost, and I feel a bit lost without my old connections.

When I win the lottery, they’ll be coming out of obscurity, I suppose.  But until then I was just a memory for them.  Was it a good memory?  Chess club after school.  Orchestra, and being in the pit for musicals.  I’m married, now, but then, some of those actresses…  Maybe we’d have been a negative influence on each other.  (Don’t kid yourself, MJ, you were a geeky loser, and you still bear most of those traits, says the accuser in my head.  Striking, how much that voice sounds like my sister sometimes.)  Friends in college that I absolutely adored.  They made me laugh, helped me to think, carried me through the doldrum days, helped me to forget the downward cycle that I regularly find myself trapped in.  And while I miss them, I don’t have a big vacuum in my life.  Other people have come along, like replacement gloves, and I’ve cared for them until they moved along and didn’t need me any more.  Or until I didn’t need them any more.  Or they moved a little farther away.  Or I moved.

For those of you (and you know who you are) who were supportive and caring friends in my past, know that I remember and still think fondly of you.  For those of you who gave selflessly to make sure my needs were met, motivated out of Christ’s love, I want you to know that you were God’s very hands to take care of me, and I appreciate you and your effort and sacrifice.  For those of you who turned my head (whether you know it or not), know that I’m glad neither of us gave in to temptation.  It wouldn’t have gone well.  If I turned anyone’s head, I wasn’t aware of it and I’m sorry if I disappointed you or made you sad.  For all of you, I hope God’s best for you, as I believe I have found God’s best for me.  Like the old song says, “somewhere on the other side, there will be an answer.”

I wish I knew how it all fit together, so I would be able to celebrate more how God is providing for me and protecting me.  Sometimes I don’t feel very well-protected.  Sometimes I don’t feel very well provided for either.  But I know in my heart that He does.  I have to trust in His character.

Just as I would celebrate if I ever locate the missing whatever-it-is, I know that God has a special place in His heart for lost people.  When they turn up He celebrates.  I’ve read, you may have read, the kingdom of Heaven is like that.  Celebrating finding that which was lost.  If you are lost, it’s not because God wants you pruned off the Kingdom of Heaven vine.  God wants you to seek Him, and when you do, I believe He’ll find you because He’s a good shepherd.  Once we’re in the right place, having sought out the Kingdom of Heaven, what He does with us is up to Him.  “We are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God has prepared in advance for us to do.”  We are his poeima, his artwork, his craftsmanship.  And we are also promised that if He starts something with us, He’ll complete it.

I belong to God.  I believe it with all my heart.  But to be honest, I frequently feel like a tool.  If I’m in God’s tool-shed, I’ve fallen off the pegboard, back into the dust and wood chips behind the workbench, and I don’t know if He’s just found a replacement tool, or if eventually I’ll be put to any good work.  What’s my purpose?  When will I figure it out?  When will God finish the work He’s started in me?  Anyone else feel like a misplaced tool, gathering dust behind the workbench because you’re not where the Craftsman thinks you should be?  I know how the lost get found.  What I haven’t figured out is how the found get found.  I’m better off because I once was lost lost, and now I’m found.  And I’m waiting for those instructions from God, so I can feel like I’ve been found found.

I recall from the Old Testament, two people.  First, Moses.  He spent 40 years, his youth, misplaced in Egypt watching people being mistreated.  He spent 40 more years in Midian, watching sheep.  And then he spent 40 years doing what God had purposed for him, which was to lead the nation of Israel out of slavery.  Joshua, before him, spent years as a boy and a young man, dreaming the dream that he would be important.  Then he spent years after his brothers sold him into slavery, and the time he was in jail because Mrs. Hottie Potiphar didn’t get what she wanted from him, before finally helping a lot of people survive a famine.  How many years before I can work on whatever it is that God has for me?

I have had dreams, big dreams for my life, and they haven’t come true yet.  Anyone else have that dream?  You know, but you’re not sure where or how to start walking toward it, working for it?  Anyone else feel like the substance of things you’ve hoped for is broken, and with it, your faith?  Anyone else feel lost and waiting?

And while you’re looking around, has anyone seen my cuticle trimmer?

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What? January 14, 2015

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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.

It’s Not the End of the World June 26, 2014

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I talk to smart people.  I read stuff that smart people say.  And then I get the comments from my ordinary friends, from the news spin doctors, from the internet.  And then I have to make up my own mind what to think, if I haven’t already made a choice.  And what I hear the smart people saying is that it’s the end of the world.  It’s been the end of the world since 1947, according to the Science and Security Board of the Bulletin of Atomic Scientists.  I’ve heard that one before. Tick.  If people were panic stricken and prayerful when that clock was established, I only heard about the panic when I read about it in school.

If people were panic stricken and prayerful when Obama took office, they were even more panic stricken when he won reelection.  I heard from a few of them, both ordinary and smart people, all offering their thoughts on what Obama might do.  And I continue to hear from them, about what he’s done, and the track that America is on based on what he’s done.  Tick.  I heard more about the panic than the prayer back in 2008, and even less about the prayer in 2012.  I’ll admit, the lack of a prayer response from people I once respected left me wanting, and not a little disappointed.

We’ve got global warming warnings.  We’ve got earthquakes in diverse places.  The latest earthquake I was told about was a big one just off the Alaska mainland.  From 2011, we’ve got a nuclear meltdown and polluted oceans after an earthquake and tidal wave, and when the next one will be is anybody’s guess but the scientists warn it is coming.  We’ve got economic crises looming.  Those are brought up in the news whenever it’s convenient for a politician to sidestep another scandal.  And we’ve got political scandals.  We’ve got bank fraud, on a global scale.  We’ve got identity theft.  We’ve got whatever the latest version of typhoid fever, or malaria, or bubonic plague or severe flu virus.  Swine flu, avian flu, shark populations exploding, We’ve got STDs and immuno-deficiency disorders.  We’ve got gas prices soaring amid speculator investments bubbling up, and food prices going up because of weather phenomenon and supply rumors.  We’ve got fast food vendors who are in trouble for selling their food-related products, because we don’t know about all the processing that goes on to make those delicious burgers and someone took a few pictures so now we’re all supposed to become vegetarians and give up all of our delicious meat.  And in regard to that, we’ve got rumors of related diseases and a looming healthcare crisis.  And yesterday, the big news was that in America’s heartland, right here in Indiana, there are people who don’t wish to adhere to Judeo-Christian norms, and they’ve gotten a judicial foothold.  Tick.

Am I supposed to be surprised?  Am I supposed to be alarmed?  Am I supposed to be fearful?  Am I supposed to suspect, and propose, with other observers, that it’s the end of the world?  Am I supposed to jump up on a bully pulpit somewhere and tell the world how wrong it is?

I’m afraid I gave away my opinion in my title.  Sorry for the plot spoiler. I’ve made my mind up on lots of things, but lots I still ponder, and I bet you do too.  But amid the worry of the world, why am I so calm?  Am I independently wealthy?  Not yet, but keep those dollars rolling in and someday I will be.

It frustrates some of my people that I am calm, because they know why.  I don’t care.  Truth.  I don’t care that people are afraid it’s the end of the world.  I don’t care that people are facing global plagues.  Well that’s not entirely true.  I do care about incurable  and curable diseases.  I think the curable ones should be eradicated, and the incurable ones should be researched to prove they aren’t curable.  I do care about famine.  I think hungry people should be fed and not subjected to the greed and incompetence of world leaders, despots and wanna-be’s.  I do care about war-torn peoples and innocent people, children especially, who have to face the consequences of the decisions and choices of adults in the world.  I am in favor of peace and safety, but then I don’t live on that planet.  And I do care that the price of things has gotten so out of hand that it’s difficult for me and my family to survive on my income, much the more for homeless and even lower income people.  I think we should all have a safe place to live and care for one another.  If you want to help me get closer to finding my utopia, once again, keep those dollars rolling in, because there’s hope (for me and mine if you do).  And if you ask me what my standards are, or have any other questions about what I think, feel free to ask, and I’ll decide whether I care enough to answer, or if your question isn’t relevant to me.  

Here is why:

The scientists and researchers and war-mongers and child abusers and politicians and other criminals and news media people and special interest groups are yanking everybody’s chains.  They want you to buy something.  It could be a new product.  It could be their new book(s).  It could just be their theory.  Some take their theory and drive it around and repeat it and repeat it and repeat it until others just surrender and accept it and let other people tell other people as if that theory is a fact, when it’s still just a theory.  Social theory.  Evolution theory.  Big Bang Theory.  Creation theory. Grand Unification Theory. Trinification, Flipped, or Left-Right theories. String Theory. Conspiracy Theory.  It could be that they just want you to accept whatever they’re peddling as if it’s good for you, or that it’s harmless to you.  They could be selling an idea or an ideology.  Even in America there are religious groups that peddle nothing but hatred for everyone who isn’t like them, and who do things of which they disapprove.  And there are groups that say that what they are doing is okay and should be socially acceptable and normative, although other groups don’t agree with them, and historically their behavior choices haven’t proven to have the best of consequences for them or their victims.  I mean, participants.

I’m saying there are lawyer groups who represent bankers who say it should be okay for bankers to misappropriate funds and get bonuses for doing that.  I’m saying there are lawyers who represent the people who overspent the Social Security fund that taxpayers still pay into, who say it’s okay for them to “borrow” from that fund and not pay it back.  I’m saying there are special interest groups for pedophiles, who lurk in wait to abuse children, and they want their behavior normalized, though thankfully so far society is not ready to accept that.  I’m saying there’s probably a special interest group for kidnappers and rapists who want their behavior kept hidden, or if in the light, brushed under the judicial carpets.  Thank God it’s not popular in the era of social media to talk about those abuses and tendencies without getting your head bitten off.  There’s a pro-gun lobby and an anti-gun lobby, a pro choice and a pro life lobby. All sorts of stuff to distract people with, including whatever’s on the nightly news tonight. But adulterers are so commonplace, nobody bats an eye until it’s the conservative pastor who’s now some kind of worse sinner because he did what the world has been doing since almost “in the beginning.”  

Why does the world want to hold a Christ-follower to a higher standard?  It’s only fair.  “Do not judge, or you will be judged.” (Matthew 7:1)  And I may be throwing a pearl or two at a pig (Matthew 7:6) in this article.  I await your responses to see.  But Christ Followers, or those who claim to be Christ Followers, are some of the most judgemental people I know, and I’m one of them sometimes.  Just not today.  The pendulum may swing back; we’ll see.  But for now, let me be the first to say that offering Christ’s pearls of wisdom and holy things to pigs and dogs will backfire.  So, officially, I don’t care what the world does.  You may be headed for hell in a handbasket, but until you’re ready to receive holy things and Biblical wisdom, or until I’m a paid preacher targeting my audience carefully, I’m holding my tongue.

Except to say this:  What you are hearing is not necessarily the truth.  What you are thinking, if it’s what you’ve been told, is not necessarily the truth.  It’s just possible that it’s someone’s agenda, and motive, and spin, and sales spiel, and not rational, and not right, and not unbiased.  Do you know what you’re falling for?  Do you know what you believe? Is it rational or does it fall apart under close scrutiny?  And do you know why you believe that?  Was it something someone told you, or showed you until you figured it was right because it looked normal to you?  Are there consequences to you if you go along quietly, or actively participate?

And now I’m yanking too.  There are many theories about the end of the world, but most of the doom-sayers are proven wrong.  At least the ones who’ve jumped the gun on the date.  They draw large crowds of idiots with their fine speeches and their calculations, who throw vast sums of money at them.  Send me yours and I’ll tell you it’s NOT the end of the world.  Yet.

I’m not sure if it’s a pearl or a holy thing, but my Bible tells me the end of the world isn’t for at least another 1000 years, give or take. So “un-tick.”   As with everything else, it depends how you read it.  If you read Revelation 20 literally, it says the earth has to last for another thousand years after Satan gets locked in the Abyss, and then he gets out for a while to lead people astray, and then it’s the end of the world.  That clock isn’t ticking yet because Satan isn’t locked up right now and my headlines say Christ is not reigning in everyone’s hearts.  If Christ were reigning in everyone’s hearts, would he allow the poverty, broken hearts, captivity, darkness, sickness, mayhem and destruction, or would he allow good news, healing, freedom and light? (see Isaiah 61:1)

You don’t have to choose to read the Bible, although I’d encourage you to see for yourself what all the fuss is about, and read it for yourself.  When you read your Bible, if you read it, I encourage you to read what it says, considering each message and its’ primary target audience before you start getting mad or trying to redact the text to fit your choices.  When you read your Bible, ask why the message was offered to the target audience.  Was there an undisclosed medical or social reason for the instruction, that we should know about?  

Like slavery.  It was just as wrong in Exodus as it is today, but back then they had instructions in their society that said to take care of each other, whether slave or free, and the Jewish culture had a tradition of setting slaves free on a given year. Before you label me pro-slavery, I’m only reading the text, and I’m against it. It had bad consequences for Egypt in Exodus, and when we started enslaving people in America it was bad before and after 1865. I think America is still paying for it, though not the way some feel it should be paid. The Jewish people were slaves in Egypt for hundreds of years, growing worse and worse in treatment every year, so they wrote about it, fresh on their minds, as a socially accepted practice of the day to say they didn’t want people abusing other people, as God doesn’t want people abusing other people. Same with in the New Testament. If someone works for you, or is your slave, you shouldn’t mistreat them. If you work for someone, or are their slave, you shouldn’t be lazy.  It wasn’t known back in Bible times, but there are bacteria that infest raw meat, and if you choose to eat it raw, you can get sick and die.  Hand washing.  That’s just a good practice.  Does whatever instruction you’re reading apply to you?  Ask if there’s a more hopeful choice you could make, than the ones you’ve already been predisposed or taught to choose.  Ask what logical consequences and observable outcomes are still apparent in the modern world, if one should decide not to do the things we’re told to do, or do the things we’re told not to do?

Just like avian, bovine, equine and swine flu, the stuff you do has rippling effects spreading out from you and touching the world.  (Cough, Cough)  So think for yourself about it.  Are you just another goat following the herd, accepting what people have told you is right or are you exploring it for yourself?  Are you, or those who think like you and maybe taught you, making the world full of more poverty, broken hearts, captivity, darkness, sickness, mayhem, and destruction?  Or are you, or they, a messenger with good news, healing, freedom and light?  And before you throw stones of judgement, or ill fitting labels at me, remember, I don’t care what you choose to do, and in the aftermath of whatever your choice is, if I live through the natural consequences of your actions (and mine) I’m stuck on the same planet and have to help clean up the mess because Christ Followers are supposed to help (Galatians 6:10).  So although I don’t care what you choose, I’m stuck caring for whatever’s left when you’re done.  I’d prefer you keep it clean and safe and nice, and when you’re messy and dangerous and mean, please just stay away from me and my family and friends.

Thanks for your cooperation.  

The end of the world is coming, it’s true.  But not like you think.  It’s just possible that you could die without ever figuring out what the truth is and what the lies are.  If you believe the lies, you just might be headed down the broad road that leads to destruction (Matthew 7:13-14), and that’d just be sad.  A lot of people think they have it right, but according to Jesus as told by Matthew, they don’t.  And that’s something that was in the Old Testament (Proverbs 14:12) that was repeated in the New Testament.  I figure, if it’s in the Old Testament taught to the Israelites, AND in the New Testament to Christ Followers, maybe I ought to pay close attention and figure out if there’s a way I fit into that context.  Like in the Pirates of the Caribbean movie.  I need to listen to things that threaten my life, and listen intently to things that threaten my soul. (Matthew 10:28)  It’s not Elizabeth, it’s God holding the proverbial gun, and he doesn’t have to negotiate.  It’s not Lord Cutler Beckett, it’s I, who must decide whether to accept God’s terms or not.  If I died before accepting His terms of surrender, it would be an eternal tragedy for me.  How about you?

One of my encouragers popped in my email to remind me and his group of this text, and I think I said the above with the right tone. It’s my intention to encourage you to find out for yourselves, not to point out errors I might think I see in your life.  If I point out your errors, who’s going to help me with the plank in my eye before I try to help with the speck in yours?  (Matthew 7:3-5)   “Help others with encouraging words; don’t drag them down by finding fault.” (Romans 14:19, The Message)

I’ll just encourage you to search out the true truth, not the spun messages spinning all around us.  And I’ll encourage you to pray.  If there is a God and He hears and answers prayer, then it couldn’t hurt to pray.  And if there isn’t, you’ve done no harm by praying and then getting up from kneeling to do what you know is right.  Maybe the panic should remind all of us to pray.  But I don’t hear a lot of people in America doing that.  Maybe because it’s more fun to panic, or more comfortable, or more socially acceptable.  If you need me, I’ll be over here, praying.  

Intently.

Paradigm Shifts, and The Changeless God March 5, 2014

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Perceptions of universality
Agreements about what we see
Reality, at least, maybe
Archetypes from history
Direction we think we should go
Influencers of behavior
Gleaned knowledge we think we know
Models, changing as we grow

Be careful what your paradigm is and how tightly you cling to it. The harder you hang on, the more difficult it is to let go. Things change. Our perceptions of things change with the changes. Maybe the truth is we don’t really know anything. Maybe the truth is, everything we think is right is wrong. Or maybe what we think is right is right but we’re looking at it the wrong way.

People have been critical of the Bible as a sacred text, probably more critical than they are of any other text. We don’t question the words of the translated works of the Iliad or the Odyssey, attributed to Homer, written in Greek, according to the experts, somewhere around 750 or 850 BC. We don’t question and debate The Art of War, attributed to Sun Tzu, who lived somewhere between 490 and 544 BC. Sun Tsu has a certain mythical or legendary quality about him. But the translation of the Chinese text isn’t questioned for its’ meanings, or debated to death. And yet, the New Testament, with all of the manuscripts and copies of the letters, written by its various authors between 50 AD and 150 AD, is questioned by scholars, attacked for its validity, and questioned for its authorship and sources. The Old Testament scrolls were scrupulously copied by scholars who counted words and letters and had several other tests, and if an error was found, the new copy of the old scroll that was made was destroyed.

People don’t question the existences or the messages of Homer or Sun Tzu, or Buddha, or Mohammed, or Shakespeare, but they do question the existence and reality of Jesus, and His teachings. It’s fine and dandy to study the Old and New Testaments and apply them to ones own life, but woe to the preacher who tries to say it applies to everyone’s lives. All the other ancient texts are considered relevant to cultural education, but the Bible is banned from modern American public education. Or it is redacted, watered down, criticized and undermined and called irrelevant.

I cry foul.

Unfair. Why so critical? It is because we don’t like what it teaches us. We don’t like a text that calls us “bad.” We don’t like a text that calls us out and says we should change, or fear God’s judgement. If you can critique away the message, the Author, or any part of either, you can ignore what it says.

I didn’t start out intending to write a defense of the whole thing. I started out intending to write about how we read it. However, the concepts will intertwine shortly.

Consider if you will, the preaching methods of various pastors you’ve heard, and if you haven’t heard, I’ll brief you on a few. Some pastors will take a section of text at a time, take it apart and put it back together, and by the time they are done, they’ve reassembled it correctly AND applied it to everyone logically and correctly. Some pastors will speak on a topic, and by the time they are done, they have hopscotched through the Bible, until the audience is either thoroughly delighted with the connections, or completely confused and lost in the details. Some pastors will take a few texts, remove them completely from their appropriate contexts and original intents, and use them to say what the pastor believes, instead of what they actually say.

I’m trying to say there are a lot of pastors out there, and just like a cross section of humanity, there are good and bad pastors. But Mark Twain was right when he quipped that it wasn’t so much what he didn’t understand about the Bible that bugged him, it was what he did understand that was so irritating. We need to have tender hearts when we approach the Bible, so that we can understand why it bugs us, and pray for God to fix us and forgive us when we realize that His ways are right and ours have been wrong.

I hate my sins. I hate my evil heart and its bad habits. But try as I might to pray them away, God hasn’t seen fit to make me a completely sinless, perfect being. Or maybe in my heart of hearts I really adore my sins and my bad habits and I don’t want to release them. I love that the Bible teaches that God offers grace and forgiveness freely for the asking, and encourages people to just have faith.

And then I hear pastors who teach that maybe the doctrine of eternal salvation isn’t true. Maybe our habits will cost us entrance into heaven. I treasure the doctrine of eternal salvation because, despite my bad habits, I want to love a God of infinite grace and mercy and forgiveness, not a God of judgement. I want a Jesus who is a friend like a brother to the sinners and tax collectors and prostitutes, who comes to find me where I am, deserving a horrific stoning death or a crucifixion, and tells me that he’s not there to judge or kill me, but to ask me to have faith, come follow him, and join him in his mission to rescue people from eternal separation and judgement.

I need it to be true. I’m not willing to stop clinging to eternal security, because I am so very imperfect and because I believe Jesus’ sacrifice was sufficient to substitute for me and atone for my sin, and His resurrection really happened. You’ll have to see the article I wrote about Roman soldiers to understand why I believe the resurrection so strongly.

I finally got to it. Matthew 7. I have heard it preached in all manner of ways. Topical, critical, verse by verse, concept by concept, expository, judgemental, grace-filled, textual. People take that thing apart and dissect it and milk it and chop it up into steaks. And mis-takes. If I read it and take it at face value I have to believe Jesus taught it in a sitting, all at once.

I understand the value of taking apart the text. It’s hard to digest it all at once. But if Jesus sat down and gave us all of this at the same time, it means that in the same breaths He taught about judgement and condemned it, and then in the next section He taught how to judge and encouraged it. Or did He?

I used to hate other people’s sins a whole lot more. After all, of pastors Jesus said, “Watch out for false prophets.” (v 15) “By their fruit you will recognize them.” (v 16) Does this not instruct us not to trust people, but to inspect their lives to see what they produce? But earlier, “do not judge, or you too will be judged.” (v1) “Take the plank from your own eye and then you will be able to see clearly to help your brother remove the speck from his eye.” (v 5)

And then He talks about true and false disciples. “Not everyone who calls me ‘Lord’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only those who do the will of my Father who is in heaven.” (21) It doesn’t matter how good their fruit was, or how real it looked, it matters instead whether He knew the disciple. We all then have to inspect ourselves to see whether He knows us, in order to “work out [our] salvation with fear and trembling.” (Philippians 2:12)

How do you take that as a unit, addressing the whole text? First we’re commanded not to judge others unless we expect the same treatment. Then we’re told to judge others and figure out whether they are good to follow or not. Then we’re told there are disciples who think they are following but they’re not. To coin an old southern expression, “What is a boy to do?”

If God doesn’t change, how should the text be taught? How is the text to be correctly handled? I like the answer “every possible way,” as long as it encourages and doesn’t contradict anything else in scriptures. What about backward?

Reading it backward, we’re supposed to make sure of our own spiritual standing to make sure He knows us, pick our teachers carefully, and not judge other people for the stuff they’re doing that we think is wrong until we fix our own hearts and make sure they are humble before God. Fixing our own hearts should take long enough we don’t have time to point fingers and shut the doors of the kingdom of Heaven on anyone. If we’re doing it right it does.

It’s not a huge paradigm shift, but I quit calling out other people for their sins. Any more, I just read the text. If anyone gives me the opportunity to teach it, I’ll call them to examine their hearts, sure. I’ll tell them about what God considers sin, sure. I’ll tell them how special behaviors were expected of Israel back in the Old Testament, behaviors that set them apart and made them act and look different. I’ll tell them to love one another, and how in loving one another we draw people to Jesus as He taught us how to love. It’s a part of the text. I’ll tell them to examine their hearts to see whether they know Him and He knows them.

The paradigm shift for me is that I used to care a whole lot more about what other people were doing that was wrong. Slowly and systematically, my contempt for other people’s faults has been eroded, the walls of hatred and separation have been dismantled, and finally shattered completely. I was so tired of it at the end. Now, I don’t care what other people do any more; it’s really liberating. Does it mean God changed? Not at all. He changed me. I don’t care what you do any more. It makes no difference to me. The only thing I care about is that it should be called what it is, not what it isn’t.

Isaiah 5 says,
20 Woe to those who call evil good
and good evil,
who put darkness for light
and light for darkness,
who put bitter for sweet
and sweet for bitter.
21 Woe to those who are wise in their own eyes
and clever in their own sight.

I don’t want to be wise any more. I don’t want to be clever any more. I don’t want to hide or justify my sin behind a tricky intricate argument that makes my behavior OK if you look at the text in my double-secret-special way, and accept that I discovered the loophole in the sacred contract. And better still, I don’t want to judge people for their sin any more. That’s God’s job. But when He says it’s a spiritual reality, it’s real whether you can see it, or whether you believe it or not. When He says it’s wrong, and when your conscience says to quit, you should quit. (see John 16:8) And when my seared conscience substitutes, twists words and meanings, and makes up clever arguments defending what I know is wrong, it’s bad. We should call it what it is, not what it is not. Evil is evil, good is good, and no clever arguments will change God’s mind about things. “I the Lord do not change.” Malachi wrote. (3:6) If He said not to do it, that’s bad. If He said it’s your choice, it’s your choice. If He said to do it, it’s good if you do.

What He does, according to C. S. Lewis, if we let Him, is change us. We learn and grow and our perspectives shift. Our paradigms grow in understanding. Or, if we don’t let Him, they don’t. We grow hardened and darkened. We become un-useful, or worse, counterproductive, in the Kingdom of Heaven. Some of us do it and still think we are following Him and doing His will.

I’ve got my own habits and darknesses and evils, like ten foot 2 by 4s in my eyes. I frequently fail to see the way things work in God’s plan. I frequently fail to understand the way God designed me to live. I frequently fail to do what is right. Please, let me worry about that first. Then maybe I can help you with your smaller issues. So for now, I don’t care what you do, as long as you call it what God calls it. Your fine sounding arguments and excuses for what you do, and mine for what I do, make absolutely no difference to God.

There’s an old joke about a doctor’s words of wisdom. The patient says, “Dr., Dr., it hurts when I do this.” The doctor replies, “Then don’t do that.”

I think the test is simple for me: Is it loving? Do that. Is it according to God’s best design for you? Do that. Is it hateful or destructive? Don’t do that. Is it against something clear that you have read in the Bible that bothers your conscience when you pray about it? Don’t do that.

In the end, if He knows me, it’ll be because I am seeking after His heart. And more than that, it’ll be because He is merciful, gracious and forgiving, NOT because my habits or my heart are pure as a pattern.

God, forgive me for judging anyone other than myself. That is Your job, not mine. We all get the call to love one another. We all get an invitation to turn from our sins and follow You. Help me to spread that message, not one of condemnation or hatred. If there’s a heart to be changed, please change my heart first. And help me to simply encourage others, just to seek You honestly, without my agendas, interpretations and expectations, and also, without their agendas, interpretations and expectations. Help me to find Your will for me, and then, help others to find Your will for them.

Amen.