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Pride and Predjudice and Christ-Followers April 4, 2016

Posted by michaelnjohns in Uncategorized.
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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.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

II Corinthians 5:

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

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

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.