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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.

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January 4, 2016

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I sat in church for the first Sunday of the year, yesterday, and feel this so bad it hurts.

THIS!  This is what I want for the new year.  Dear God, please,
“Wake me up inside.”

“…Call my name and save me from the dark
Bid my blood to run
Before I come undone
Save me from the nothing I’ve become

Bring me to life

Frozen inside without Your touch
Without Your love, Darling
Only You are the Life among the dead.”

One of our pastors spoke in his own simple eloquence, about us determining whatever it is God wants us to do and who He wants us to be.  I know the answers to those questions, what I lack is the inner life to do it, to be it, to live it.

I feel dead inside.

I feel frozen inside (no Disney jokes, or songs, PLEASE).  I’ve become less than worthless, I am nothing, I am negative.  I look backward and see chaos, madness, sadness, destruction, sin, loss, debt.  I look forward and see the labor required to dig out, and it’s hopeless.

I admit it.  I did it to myself.  Partly.  I starved myself spiritually, only having the meagerest of snacks maybe every other day, but I knew I was missing out on the banquet.  I did it to myself because I feel kind of abandoned by God.

Say it all you want, if you’re one of those conservatives you’ll believe that if I feel the abandonment, it’s because I abandoned Him.  That may be true.  That the spiritual “snack” was there at all says maybe God was there sustaining me through the spiritual “drought.”  Or maybe like Cain from Genesis, I offered what I thought was the best I had to give, from a heart that was as good as mine could be, and still felt rejected.

I’m going to try something different today.  And maybe, this year will be different.  I’ll let you know, if I live to tell about it.  If He is “the Life,” maybe He’ll share.

On the positive side, I feel “only mostly dead,” which, if you’ve ever seen The Princess Bride, means there’s hope, but “it’ll take a miracle.”

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.

Fish Sandwich: Bait and Switch? February 16, 2015

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In the mail we received a coupon booklet.  It has a lovely picture of a fish sandwich on it, right on time for those people who routinely eat fish during Lent.  I’m not going to mention the name of the restaurant, but it is a fast food establishment.  It’s very popular logo is supposed to resemble their french fries I think.  I pass three or four of them every day on the way to and from work.  They are everywhere, and their food is just sinfully delicious.  I love fish sandwiches no matter what time of year it is.

The reason I’m not going to mention the name of the restaurant is because I’m giving them up for Lent.  And because I want an apology.  I made the mistake of reading the fine print of all of the coupons, which is better than if I had actually gone in looking for a couple of fish sandwich and trying to use one of the coupons.  If I had actually gone in and had to be embarrassed by the wonderful staff, who are only just abiding by the policies of the corporation, I might never go again.

The advertisement featured their fish sandwich on the front cover, an open invitation suggesting we all try that, and inside, there were a number of buy-one-get-one offers for sandwiches.  However, the fine print of the coupon mailer, on the back of each tiny tear off coupon that referred to sandwiches, excluded the beautiful one pictured on the front.  That’s right, a fish sandwich picture on the front, and fine print on the back, excluding the fish sandwich from any of the offered coupon deals.  Laugh it up at the literal nature of the pun if you will, but I feel we were baited and switched. I’m sure it’s just my impression, but it just feels evil.

Everyone in my neighborhood must have received that mailer!  I wonder if it was a national campaign or a local one.  Did they bait and switch all of the United States of America?  I’m kind of horrified.  Was it intentional, or just some unfortunate accidental misprint, from not reading and correcting the fine print on the back of the previous coupon print-run?  If it was intentional, I can picture the Mcxecutives sitting in their top-story office suites, laughing maliciously at the joke played on their customers.  If it was unintentional, I wonder if they’re wringing their hands at the gaffe.

It may have been a forgivable sin, but unless I get an apology from the corporation I’m giving up eating at this restaurant for Lent, because as much as I love their delicious fish sandwiches and the rest of their great food, I hate being baited and switched by anyone.  There are other vendors who sell excellent fish sandwiches, and they are also on my commuting route.

It’s me.  I’m sorry, it’s just me.  I’m too easily offended.  I tend to think the world at large and all the people in it have some kind of personal whatever against me.  I shouldn’t be so overly sensitive, say my friends and family.  I’m just constantly feeling the sting of everything and everybody who has done something that hurt my feelings, whether deliberate or not.  Everybody, and I mean everybody, has told me to just suck it up, toughen up, accept it and deal with it and move on.  That’s a wonderful suggestion, but I can’t.  In my world, people should treat people right. But in the real world, some people are wrong, tell lies, and do evil things that hurt innocent people like me.  Honestly, I just want to stay innocent and be treated right.  It’s my expectation, fair or not.  That injury hasn’t had a recent chance to heal; the psychological wound keeps getting re-opened and I don’t trust anyone any more.  So I know, it’s just me.  And I hear you saying, “The world does not have it out for you.  Toughen up, suck it up, and move on.”

The trouble is, EVERY time I read the fine print, someone is lying to me.  Right to my face.  I call the bluff and they hand me a line of verbiage that smells like something from the backside of a bull, and they proceed to tell me it’s actually rose blossoms and my smeller is misfiring.  So they tell me it’s my fault and everything I’m thinking is wrong.

With this persecution complex in mind, I’ve written not to suggest I actually expect an apology, but to say I hope everyone else will continue to go to this fine restaurant during the Lenten season and beyond, and not be offended like I was.  I tend to take things personally, especially things that land in my personal mailbox.  But if you go, you won’t see me there until after Easter.  Or if I actually get a written apology, perhaps with coupons for 40 days of fish sandwiches, or maybe even a years’ supply, just a suggestion I’ll put on MY hook to throw out to the corporate heads of that wonderful restaurant.  If they do something nice like that, I’ll let you all know.

I just checked my email and there’s another advertisement including fish sandwiches from a different fast-food place.  I might try them, but they’re a little out of my direct way home.  And I haven’t read the fine print yet.

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!”

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.