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Pride and Predjudice and Christ-Followers April 4, 2016

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I attended an adult Bible study today, and I really enjoy how thought provoking it is.  Today the discussion surrounded the historic Jezebel, with our starting point at Revelation chapter 2,

18 “To the angel of the church in Thyatira write:

These are the words of the Son of God, whose eyes are like blazing fire and whose feet are like burnished bronze. 19 I know your deeds,your love and faith, your service and perseverance, and that you are now doing more than you did at first.

20 Nevertheless, I have this against you: You tolerate that woman Jezebel, who calls herself a prophet. By her teaching she misleads my servants into sexual immorality and the eating of food sacrificed to idols. 21 I have given her time to repent of her immorality, but she is unwilling. 22 So I will cast her on a bed of suffering, and I will make those who commit adultery with her suffer intensely, unless they repent of her ways. 23 I will strike her children dead. Then all the churches will know that I am he who searches hearts and minds, and I will repay each of you according to your deeds.

24 Now I say to the rest of you in Thyatira, to you who do not hold to her teaching and have not learned Satan’s so-called deep secrets, ‘I will not impose any other burden on you, 25 except to hold on to what you have until I come.’

26 To the one who is victorious and does my will to the end, I will give authority over the nations— 27 that one ‘will rule them with an iron scepter and will dash them to pieces like pottery’—just as I have received authority from my Father. 28 I will also give that one the morning star. 29 Whoever has ears, let them hear what the Spirit says to the churches.

We chatted a little bit about the way the world seemed to be headed, and what an appropriate voice might sound like for the church.  One of our classmates was asked by her child, “What’s porn?” so she fielded the question as best she felt it should be handled, with an age-appropriate answer.  The child had been watching a television show that made a joke about a guy watching porn.  So the class discussed this in the context of Jezebel’s sexual immorality and the warning to the church at Thyatira.

We live in a time when Christians are supposed to be tolerant of everyone else and nobody seems to have to be tolerant of Christians.  What are we supposed to do?  Well, let people do whatever they want and shut up, seems like the world’s answer.  And, “deeds, love and service” sound like great and commendable works for any church, don’t they?  Except, what kind of deeds?  Love for whom?  Service to whom and for whom?

James taught about a “religion that God accepts:”  James 1:26 Those who consider themselves religious and yet do not keep a tight rein on their tongues deceive themselves, and their religion is worthless. 27 Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world.

Our class had a discussion weeks ago in which I noticed Ephesians 4:15, where Christ-followers are instructed to “[speak] the truth in love” in order to grow.  If truth and love are in balance we’ll be balanced in our approach to the world.  Ignore love and we’re hammering people over the head with our truth: you’re a sinner on your way to hell.  Instant turnoff by the non-believer. Ignore truth and we’re not doing it right either, and people will flock to hear you tolerate, accept, even embrace, their sinful choices.  And without repentant hearts, people will end up in hell because we didn’t teach the truth, that there is such a thing as sin, but God loves us and wants us to repent (turn away) from our sin and toward Him.

It’s commendable to seek not to be polluted by the world.  This was the sin of Thyatira. They tolerated, embraced, and adopted the behavior choices of the surrounding community that were contrary to God’s intent for us.  What’s a Christ-follower to do?

Sinners are going to sin.  And sinners don’t like it when their sin is pointed up to them, and called “sin.”  In the modern era, sinners want their sin to be tolerated, accepted, embraced, even celebrated.  Sinners want to be proud of their sin, not be told it’s sin.  So we have parades and television celebrating and proudly proclaiming sinful lifestyles.  If a Christ-follower says anything they  are “bigoted,” “intolerant,” “hateful,” “judgemental,” etc. We’re told from our own Bibles, “judge not lest ye be judged.”  Essentially, the answer a sinful world has for a Christ-follower who points to sin and calls it sin or calls it evil, is to shut up.  And the world doesn’t say it that nicely.

I’m afraid they’ve got a good point though.

The world wants to be proud of their sins and they want Christians to stop teaching the Bible and sharing our beliefs about what sin looks like.  The world doesn’t want us to believe  the Bible, and if they want to shut us up they use our own Bible, selected passages, to shut us up about the passages that make them uncomfortable.

Are Christians really any better?  Sure our eternity is secure.  But are we teaching only the truth and committing the sin of a certain modern church that likes to bash certain people and tell them God hates them?  Are we teaching only love and tolerance and committing the sin of Thyatira?

I’m afraid Christians have given in to the sin of pride, on both errors.  Some Christians are proud of their knowledge.  These Christians are proud of their piety.  These Christians are proud that they have found the way to eternal life.  Some are proud of their love and tolerance.  I think both are wrong.

Christians need to lead the way with a new humility.  Because, are we so far removed from the sin we used to live in that we can’t understand its’ appeal any more?  And, are we blind to the sin we currently harbor?

The antidote to pride is humility.  If we confess our sins, not only is God “faithful and just and will forgive us of our sins and cleanse us from unrighteousness,” but I think it’ll cause a revolution in the world.  They see us as “holier than thou,” intolerant hateful people because we think we’re better than they are.  We’re not, Christians.  We’re just as human.  We are holding onto our pride like a security blanket, and we need to shed that.  Nobody is going to listen to anything we have to say until we confess our sins to each other and admit to the world that we’re not that different from them, we just know where we’re headed when eternity calls our names.  When we admit that, I think they’ll be more likely to see our examples and be more apt to listen to the rest of what we have to say.

If we’re proud of ourselves, the world has no reason to pay any attention If we’re just saying “God loves me,” and “God loves you,” without any other instruction, like why Jesus was killed as a sacrifice for the sin of the world, ourselves included, there’s no reason for anyone to turn from whatever is their favorite flavor of sin.  And if Jesus is still in the tomb (He’s not) then no one has any hope at all.  But since He’s not, we’ve got His message, His truth AND His love to share. If we’re not saying there’s a better way and it’s God’s design, while admitting we’ve failed ourselves, we’re not that different than Thyatira.  If we’re saying God hates one sin any more than another, then we’re blind to our own pride.  I used to be so proud of myself.  Smug idiot.  I’ve got nothing but my  hope in Jesus, and my realization that He paid the debt for my sin.  A life of imperfection, thinking I had it right, blind to my evil character that I thought was good.  I’m not different than any other sinner in the world. God hates my sin just as much as he hates anyone elses’ sin.  I’m nothing to be proud of myself.

So that’s my humble confession.  I was smug and proud and judgemental.  But I know I have nothing to be those ways about, I’m no different, not really any better than anyone else.  God hates my sin just as much as anyone else’s sin, but He loves me in spite of myself.  And He loves you too and wants you to realize what your sin is, whatever it is, and then turn away from it and ask Him to forgive you.  And in spite of myself, I believe Romans 5:8 is written about me and the world:

 

“But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.”

I’m a sinner, but I’m not proud of it.  Just saved by the grace and love of God.  I’ve asked for forgiveness and I realize I’m still not perfect, in spite of the teaching of certain denominations.  If I call myself perfect, I’m lying to everyone.

I’m sorry, to the people of the world, I can’t keep it inside.  I have to speak it:  Jeremiah 20:9 But if I say, “I will not mention his word or speak anymore in his name,” his word is in my heart like a fire, a fire shut up in my bones. I am weary of holding it in; indeed, I cannot.

I John 1:

5 This is the message we have heard from him and declare to you: God is light; in him there is no darkness at all. 6 If we claim to have fellowship with him and yet walk in the darkness, we lie and do not live out the truth. 7 But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus, his Son, purifies us from all sin.  8 If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us. 9 If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness. 10 If we claim we have not sinned, we make him out to be a liar and his word is not in us.

I bet in your heart, if you’re honest, you know the difference between right and wrong and know your life isn’t perfect enough, holy enough, or pure enough to get into a perfect, holy and pure heaven.  At the expense of my pride, I confess that I’ve failed to be good enough to earn a place in heaven.   There are people who think higher of me than that, but it’s just not honest.  I’ve got my eternal ticket, but it’s only because I admitted my failures and because God is rich in mercy and grace, and He extends it to the humble.  If we’re proud of ourselves, or proud of our sin, or blind to it, He won’t show us favor:

I Peter 5:

All of you, clothe yourselves with humility toward one another, because,

“God opposes the proud
but shows favor to the humble.”
6 Humble yourselves, therefore, under God’s mighty hand, that he may lift you up in due time. 7 Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you.

8 Be alert and of sober mind. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour. 9 Resist him, standing firm in the faith…

 

I think if we clothe ourselves in humility, not just to the “one another” of fellow Christ-followers, but to everyone, people in the world might look a little differently at us, instead of just telling us to shut up.

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

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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.

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

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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.

Backspace June 3, 2014

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Backspace sounds like a great name for a sci-fi book. Maybe I’ll write that someday, if I ever get the other stuff finished. Note to self. Finish the other books and then write that.

As a writer, I think the one key on the keyboard I strike the most is the backspace key.

I’m a fan of Doctor Who. In my childhood (this will tell some how old I may be) I watched Tom Baker, with his curly, out-of-control hair, and that outrageous, beautiful scarf. Doctor Who is a “Time Lord,” who has adventures through the universe, helping people defeat various enemies, romping from planet to planet, from past to future to past. The Daleks. The Sontarans. The Master. Zygons, Cybermen, more recently The Silence, and the Weeping Angels, to name a few. Internal conflict. Misunderstanding. Scenery from Scotland and England was prominently featured, and absolutely beautiful, as were period costumes from journeying to the past.

I loved the stories, the humour, the companions, the Jelly Babies as a gesture of friendship. Jelly Babies are still made in Sheffield England, and I just had to order some last year to try them for the first time with my family, as my kids had discovered they rebooted the show and it was just as good as ever. And jelly babies, the real thing, are delicious. We watched Tom Baker episodes on a DVD and had a sweet treat. I recommend it as a bonding experience. “Have a jelly baby” and watch Dr. Who with family, it’s fantastic.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jelly_baby
I ordered them from Bassetts, only $5 plus shipping, it was delightful.
http://www.amazon.com/Bassetts-Jelly-Babies-215gr-7-6oz/dp/B000KCXKOQ

That’s right, #Bassett’s of Sheffield. Free advertisement.
http://www.englishteastore.com/bassetts.html

If I were a Time Lord, with my own TARDIS to travel in, assuming it didn’t violate all the laws of time and space, I’d go back and fix it. It’d be a big backspace key on my life. But I love my backspace key because in writing, as in life, I make mistakes. How many times have my fingers stumbled just typing this short note so far, and I’ve already used the backspace?

I’m not just using the backspace from accidental keystrokes in the middle of a word, or from having my fingers in the wrong places on the keyboard. My fingers get into habits, too. At work I type the names of clients and people, and it starts. My fingers habitually type certain streams of characters, and they go on autopilot because it just feels right. When I mean to type a word, the autopilot kicks in and I have to remove the half-typed name of a customer.

Our life’s choices, the bad ones and the good ones, develop into habits the same way. We get to a comfort level doing whatever it is, good and bad. The bad choices, I’ll just call those “sins.” We know it’s wrong to do that, because we have a conscience. But sin feels somehow so very natural that when we catch ourselves in doing the thing we know in our hearts is wrong, we do it anyway, because, is there a backspace key in life? Can’t back out now. Might as well go forward with it and live with the cost and the guilt. What’s one more sin, after all?

Adultery. Just a lingering, lusty look is all it takes. It doesn’t feel wrong at all. And can lead to broken families, shattered hearts, destroyed relationships. But it just feels right, or super exciting, at the time. (Matthew 5:27) It happens all the time. Murder. Just an angry word or gesture can start someone down that road, and in the moment it just seemed like the only thing to do. Lying. Yup, I do that a lot. Bet you do too. Coveting. Yeah I saw a midnight blue Mustang that was a work of art. A travel magazine, a home and garden magazine. An article about a famous writer’s latest success. It doesn’t always motivate me to work harder, sometimes I just wish I could have that. Idolatry. Money. Food. Power. I’m my own favorite idol, and I want to do what I want without consequence, with the minions buzzing around serving me like bees serve their queen.

If there was a backspace key on life, I’d hit that thing all the time, I hope. Undo those mistakes, fix them. But there isn’t. So in lieu of that, I have a strategy, but like everything else in life, I’m trying to learn how to do it right.

Step one: make it right. For me it started with not understanding John chapter 3 in my Bible, and reading until I thought, well, maybe… So I kept on reading, not fully understanding. On through Romans chapters 1 through 3 and 10, and then First John (there were 3 letters) chapter 1. Despite my lack of a complete understanding, I started by believing I could ask for grace from God to follow and obey, and ask for forgiveness from old sins. This I take as making it right, getting the fresh start, being “born again,” from John 3, starting to follow Christ, with hope. But I’m still learning to do it right, so mistakes are made. It’s not exactly a cosmic backspace key, it doesn’t undo what was done. But God “is faithful…and will forgive us our sins and cleanse us from unrighteousness.” The assertion from I John 1 is awesome comfort to me, because I am still frequently unfaithful and I make mistakes. The habits of the past, the new mistakes of the present, I trip up and blunder into it, when I know looking at it that it’s wrong. So even as a Christ follower, I still need that grace.

Step two: start over, and leave the past in the past. Philippians 3, around verses 12-16, but the whole chapter encourages me to keep going. And even Paul extends God’s grace to the reader- only strive to do what you know to do is right, and to not do what you know to do is wrong. Which means we don’t have to know everything, just what we know. We have to study and pray and keep learning, to find out what we don’t know.

Sadly, there isn’t a cosmic backspace key. There isn’t a TARDIS. We still have to live with the scars and consequences of the past- our mistakes, other people’s mistakes, but we’re able to press on. And there is time, while we are alive, to make things right with God, and to try to make them right with other people, and start fresh. Trouble with us people is we don’t always get it right, even when we try to make it right, or other people try to make it right with us. Be patient if you are working on reconciling with people. They’re not as ready as God is to extend forgiveness or grace.

Ephesians 2:1-10 encourages me too. After we figure out the first part, God puts us right to work on the good things He plans for us. Jesus forgave Peter and gave him a job right after Peter denied Jesus and Jesus was crucified. After Peter’s moment of pride and failure, when Jesus came back from the grave, one of the first things he did was to mention Peter, then to call Peter, and then to give him his task: take care of the rest of the Christ-followers.

If you’ve never read any of the Bible, I know it’s heavy reading but if you’ve bothered getting through reading all of my ramblings I’m confident you can figure the Bible out and find it worthwhile and encouraging reading. I recommend starting with just the sections I highlighted, but I believe the rest is good and trustworthy, too. Go slow, it’s not something meant to speed-read, it’s meant to linger on, contemplate and digest slowly. But as Augustine famously is said to have heard, “Take it up and read it!”

http://aureliusaugustinus.wordpress.com/2007/12/04/tolle-lege-take-and-read/

Based on what I’ve just read, I’ve got stuff to do, and I’m encouraged to work on it. I hope you are, too. To quote Tom Baker as Dr. Who from 1975, The Ark In Space, “Steady on!”

Memorial Day 2014 May 27, 2014

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My son went to a local cemetery this weekend, where, as a service project, he and his fellow Boy Scouts planted hundreds of flags to commemorate American veterans buried there.  This was not a military cemetery, and for a non-military cemetery, to me it seemed like there was a high proportion of military to non-military.  I followed along behind the scouts, finding a few here and there that had been missed by the over-excited scouts as they scattered to carry out their assigned tasks.  The few markers that were missed were small and harder to notice than the bold lettering on the grave markers.  I went to church, too.  It was Memorial Day weekend, so naturally I also watched Star Wars Episode III: Revenge of the Sith.  And after it cooled down on Monday, I worked in the yard.

At church, our pastor spoke well about wealth and how Christ-Followers ought to handle it.  As I am currently outside of that circle, I confess to have really tried to tune it out.  But what he said, to those with money, was a good message.  He wasn’t deliberately trying to avoid the subject of Memorial Day, but was following the track of preaching through his texts systematically, verse by verse, currently in Matthew 6.  A couple of weeks ago he had spoken about prayer and fasting.  I often wonder what visitors think if they come on holidays, and if they came Sunday, they probably made our church out to be another one of those that always talk about money and how we ought to give more out of our abundance.  But on the contrary, messages about money are pretty rare at this one. He tied it in a little by saying that how we use our money shows our character, and our character tells others how we will be remembered.  Do we leave a godly legacy behind, or a monument to self that is destroyed and stolen?

I thought while I was working in the yard about how people try to fake it through life.  They say one thing, but their lives, and their checkbooks, say something different.  I pulled thistles from my yard, tucked in and hidden in the corners, and I looked at them thinking about how they try to stay inconspicuous until they are huge.  While they are small, they might be mistaken for ordinary dandelions, but when they grow bigger, the thorns become more obvious.  And if allowed to mature, the blue flowers don’t match the sunny yellow dandelion.  This then, was the explanation of another text, where Jesus defends his ministry by teaching “by their fruits you will know them.”  The same Jesus told sinners to turn away from sin, told hypocrites off after He called them out, and once made a whip to redirect the livestock, and flipped over tables in the temple when they were selling grace to people who could afford it at their prices.  He didn’t fake it.  When He loved he loved, and when He didn’t like a behavior He told people to leave it and follow Him.  He called out the hypocrites because they had a counterfeit religion based on fear and power and money, not on love and helping others. 

I keep pulling the weeds of sins- temptations, bitterness, complaining, etc., out of my life, and they keep seeding my lawn like maple samaras, or “helicopter” seeds.  We have two of those trees.  I raked and my wife swept in the cool of the day Monday, and we got a lot.  But there are too many to pull every one of them up from the grass, so if any try to take root, I’ll have to mow them down.

And while the viewing of Revenge of the Sith is not my normal habit on Memorial Day weekend, it did give me something interesting to think about.  We have counterfeit weeds masquerading as dandelions, we have counterfeit lives masquerading as “good people,” and we have counterfeit religions masquerading as the real thing.  In the movie, Emperor Palpatine revealed his evil, powerful nature when pretending to be good and weak were no longer needed.  He was a counterfeit, like so many of us are in real life, pretending to be good and humble, but when given the opportunity our dark, pride-filled hearts are revealed.  Hear Lord Sidious, Emperor Palpatine, tell his “legendary” story of his own Sith master, Darth Plagueis:  “He became so powerful… the only thing he was afraid of was losing his power, which eventually, of course, he did. Unfortunately, he taught his apprentice everything he knew, and then one night, his apprentice killed him in his sleep. It’s ironic that he could save others from death, but not himself.”  

How curiously close to another familiar quote:  “He saved others; but he can’t save himself,” found in Matthew 27, Mark 15, and Luke 23.  The people thought Jesus was starting another counterfeit religion and mocked him in his “powerlessness,” not realizing what was happening around them.  When your religion, or your idol, is power, you pursue that and your life becomes memorialized by your pursuit of power, with all of its’ truth and consequences.  In the end, our pursuit of money and power becomes empty and we are gone, spent on that.  Jesus’ religion on the contrary was about giving up power- Matthew 17:25, Luke 9:24 and Luke 17:33- in order to see how powerful He is.  Because He saved others, and because He returned from death, he was evidently able to not only save others, but also himself.  “Father, Into your hands I commit my spirit,” said Jesus, quoted in Luke 23.  And then He laid it down.  It wasn’t taken from Him; (John 10:17-18) he was in control the whole time.  Strength, real power, isn’t always seen in showy displays, rumbling thunder, lightning, earthquakes like on Sinai in the Exodus wilderness.  Sometimes it’s shown by restraint, and keeping it under control.

With religion, one has to be careful to search it out and compare diligently, to make sure it’s not a counterfeit.  The real one won’t change with the times, and the bending ideologies of humans, if it’s the same God behind it.  The real one won’t have contradictions in teaching.  The real one, if followed, should be applicable to everyone, available to everyone, and make us better for following it. The real one will tell us God loves us, and we should love one another, yes, but will also honestly address and deal with the problem of sin without trying to make us work for salvation.  Because, how would we ever know if we’ve done enough good works or prayed enough prayers?  If the leader says you haven’t done enough, won’t you do more to earn your salvation?  How far will you go with that?  Will you do a bad thing, or sanction a bad thing, because your leader or your peer group said it’s good?  (Isaiah 5:20)  Will you hate other people because they don’t agree with what you believe, instead of loving them and merely hating the sinful behaviors they choose and habituate or endorse?  What about your own (what about my own?) habits that you know are bad?  Aren’t they just as bad if your God is perfect and sinless?  Better for us to adjust to the side of grace, if we’d like to receive grace ourselves.  God changes people, not by external commandment, but from inside, from the heart.  Counterfeit religion is made up by men as they go along, and will reveal impure motives of acquiring money, power or popularity, eventually.  It’ll be exposed.  Some even teach that killing another person, as long as it’s done for God, is all right, when we know from universally accepted standards of right and wrong that, basically, killing other people is bad.  Some have even written their own Bibles or extra “holy books,” or rewritten the one we have, to support their specific claims.  As good as any religion may sound, the origin of true religion that reaches God has to come from God.  If they make, or have made, a prophecy, it must have come true to be of the truth.  If it didn’t, it’s a lie.  Count the religions which predicted Jesus’ return that hasn’t happened yet.  Counterfeit religion also frequently concerns itself with outside appearances, more than on the heart.  Count the religions that say you have to dress and act this way and submit to their authority without question, to get to heaven.  There have been a number of cults that ended very badly by submitting to whatever the leader said to do.  By contrast, the Bereans in Acts searched the scriptures diligently to find out if what Paul was teaching was the truth.

In some ways, money would make it easier to make ourselves look good.  We can give larger sums of money to charity.  We can buy suits or pretty dresses, fancy cars, big houses, have facial surgery to delay the appearance of aging.  We can pay people to say nice things about us that cover over the negative things we’ve done.  In my line of work there is something called a “media search” where companies pay us to search the internet, periodicals, and other media, for comments about people.  Where there is defamatory information, one can pay to have positive things posted to make the negative harder to find.  

In my own life, I could search for myself and find a certain famous Australian singer from American Idol, season 7.  Under cover of his fame, my infamy- my blogs and my online games- are pretty much obscured unless you know what you’re looking for and have a good idea where to find it- but I do like Bejeweled Blitz on Facebook, and Pacxon.  And my blatant faithlessness and other sins against God and family are as secret as my family will keep them, since I couldn’t pay to avoid any blackmail.  If they come out I may as well confess in advance:  it’ll probably all be true.  When I fail, which happens all the time, I ask God for grace and mercy and forgiveness.  I would hope others would know that when we follow in faith, and ask, according to First John 1:9, God is faithful to forgive and clean us up, and start us on the right path again.  Thank God.

I followed behind the young scouts, looking for the less obvious markers on the graves.  I did it with the motive that if a veteran’s family came by, they wouldn’t think poorly of the scouts for having missed the one.  But God’s not really doing anything to make a church look good.  I think God will pay attention to the markers in our lives that are smaller and easier to miss than the grand, showy displays of power, like people who give out of their abundance.  He won’t pay attention to the things we do to draw attention to ourselves.  He will look for people who do what is right when no one is watching, who give in spite of their own needs.  He will look for genuine faith from people who trust and hope and give their all in spite of all the odds.  And He will make sure they are remembered.  And thanks to His efforts and restraint on the cross, my sins are covered and my debt to God is paid in full.  If He remembers nothing of what I have done because it’s been covered, I think it’s fine as long as my feet get on the right side of those pearly gates.

In the sermon, the joke about money was at the expense of the rich miser who didn’t give much at church.  (I had to laugh thinking, did the rich guys at our church listen as I did?)  His mansion was said to be smaller than the maid’s and the butler’s who gave out of their need.  St. Peter quipped of the small heavenly hovel, “we did the best we could with what you sent us.”  And maybe it’s true, the mansion is smaller when the sacrifices made aren’t sacrifices.  I don’t care about the size of any mansion or hovel; I just don’t want to be homeless in eternity, or to have too much heat, all year, if you know what I mean.

While remembering the fallen, laid to rest in their graves, I can’t help but remember that Jesus promised that we would follow where He went.  Then, He showed us death isn’t the end, and following Him means from the grave to the heavens (John 14:3).  

 

I want to follow Jesus, and His way of Love.  So I pray, Lord Jesus, lead the way, and help me follow.