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10 Things I Learned from Mr Rogers November 23, 2016

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I grew up watching Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood.  Which means I was at least 3 or so in 1968, when it first came on the air.  Or, um, I was three or so when I was able to watch, whenever I started, sometime between 1968 and 2001, when Mr. Rogers went off the air.  At that young an age, I could at least listen and comprehend, in my 3 or so years old way, that something interesting was on the television.  I laughed when Mr. Robinson (Eddie Murphy) came on and kind of mocked the show with a take of his own, envisioned somehow through his own neighborhood’s eyes.  But looking back now, that was kind of a sad social commentary.

Today I was reminded of the life-lessons I took from Mr Rogers’ Neighborhood, when a facebook friend said, in a sad political and social commentary, that “Mr. Rogers didn’t adequately prepare me for the people in my neighborhood.”

The sad side of this is the true side.

The true side of this coin she tossed is that Mr Rogers met neighbors who were neighborly and friendly and rational.  His neighborhood had nice people:  the mailman, the delivery man, the repairman, the policeman, the chef, the neighbor.  And many other regular neighbors and guests  He didn’t meet the selfish, the judgmental, the hateful, the angry, the bitter, the unpatriotic, the terrorist.  Well, not always.  Whenever he did meet someone who wasn’t on their best behavior (I might have seen one or two puppet characters behaving badly, or he might have read a letter about how to handle someone like that), there were gentle, loving life lessons to correct the behavior, like one might have seen in Mayberry:

I think sidewalk bike riders and other law-breakers are all  the same.  It’s just the degree of offense.  When caught early, and corrected, anti-social behavior grows up to become law-abiding, society contributing, helpful behavior.  When allowed to continue, anti-social behaviors grow up to be bigger anti-social behaviors.  Sometimes it’s not a parent’s fault.  Sometimes the kid is just that sneaky, they get away with it once and then do it again, the second time, bigger.  Sometimes it is a parent’s fault.  Sometimes the parent doesn’t offer any corrective words when appropriate, or other measures, when they may be appropriate.  A kid sometimes picks the wrong people to be friends with.  And sometimes, it’s just the kid growing up to be a worse version of their parent(s).

This is about to be a gentle, political, rant.  There’s a little x on the top left of your screen, you can click it now if you don’t want to hear it.  If you didn’t like my comment about parenting, or about your innocent, sweet little hoodlum, you probably won’t like the next sections, fair as they may be.  [x].  Before I upset you.  I’ve thought this out and so any responses will be appreciated, but not necessary.  If you like it, fine, if you don’t, also fine, but critical remarks will not be acknowledged.

Clinton said a lot of good things about her plans for America.  She has experience in the political arena and is used to brokering deals with foreign authorities.  The deals haven’t always been great for America, but she did what she did in the service of her country, and even Trump acknowledged her contributions and labors for America.  She also has a history of involvement in several scandals, from Watergate to Benghazi-gate to email-gate to the illegal trade of $400M for four out of 8 hostages being held by Iran.  The trade, though illegal wasn’t as bad as the trade of 5 Afghani Taliban terrorist prisoners for one deserter who shall be nameless because his name isn’t worth mentioning.  All these scandals were known to Democrats and they still couldn’t offer us a candidate  worth voting for.   Those who voted for her felt the scandals could be overlooked in the interest of promoting a candidate who had experience and could continue the mode and policies of the present President.  Like the bike riding kid, she got away with a lot of things, from way back in the 70s, and possibly earlier, through to recent history, earning reputation, power, and fame, and it only grew until she was the Democrats’ pick for President.

Trump said a lot of good things about his plans for America.  While not particularly politically savvy, he has experience in the business arena and is apparently a good deal broker.  The deals haven’t always been great for the other side, but Trump seemed to come out all right, so if he’s dealing for America, for all of America, maybe he’ll make us come out on top.  He also has a history of difficulty controlling his mouth.  He’s brutally honest, he talks $#!+, he thinks he’s THE $#!+, as the saying goes.  If he doesn’t like you, you know it.  If he likes you, either you’ll know it right away, or the tape will be released after it’s too late to choose a better Republican candidate.  He’s a little bit of a primate.  If he thinks you’re hot, he’ll let you know.  And apparently, some well hidden women, at least hidden or kept quiet until it was too late to choose a better Republican candidate, finally told America that Trump liked them a LOT more than they liked him, and took it upon himself to demonstrate those feelings physically.  We hope they were just a political ploy to divert votes to Clinton.  It would be disappointing, but not surprising.  Those who voted for him felt the stupidity could be overlooked in the interest of promoting a candidate who promised to NOT continue the mode and policies of the present President.  Like the bike-riding kid, he talked a lot of sass and got away with it from real estate to Miss America to Trump University, earning reputation, wealth, power and fame until he became the Republican President Elect.

You may have guessed, rightly, that neither one of these two were, in my opinion, the best candidate for President.  But the Electoral College has spoken, presumably, and Donald is headed for the White House.  Neither of these two candidates would have fared well if people had paid attention to some lessons I learned from Mr Rogers.

10)  There’s a yellow flashing light right at the beginning.  If you paid attention, when you grew up you might remember it.  And flashing yellow lights mean to be cautious, and pay attention.  In my opinion, voters threw caution to the wind when voting for either of these two.  We Americans should have exercised more wisdom, greater caution, in selecting our candidates from both parties.
9) The next thing you see is a sign that says “Hi.”  Even though you’re cautious, be friendly.  In the theme song at the very beginning, Mr Rogers reaches out in an offer of friendship.  Even though he’s asking if the listener will be his neighbor, the song conveys an unspoken offer, that the singer will be a neighbor, if the invitation is accepted.  Our candidates traded volleys of insults, verbal jabs, rude interruptions, and if we were looking for a person offering friendship, these two don’t measure up.
8) “It’s a beautiful day in the neighborhood.”  It doesn’t matter if it’s clear and bright or rainy and cloudy or grey and snowy.  The rain provides drinking water, never a bad thing.  The rain also helps plants grow, to provide food.  The snow also provides water for the earth, and the cold makes the best bread flour, and otherwise gives the earth a season of rest.  The clouds protect us from solar radiation.  And bright sunny days help our emotions, and provide vitamins, and are catalytic for plant growth during warm seasons. And we’re alive, and if we’re neighbors, we have each other for support and encouragement.  That’s how it’s supposed to be, anyway.  Our candidates and our media were all overly critical of what was bad about the candidates, instead of talking about whatever good things there were to say about them.  Even at the local level, the campaigns were so negative it was difficult to choose because every ad for every candidate I watched only talked about how bad the other guy was, and not about the good things they stood for.  I strongly disliked the negative campaigns.  I want to hear what you stand for, not what you stand against, and I want to hear what makes you a good candidate, not what makes the other person bad.
7) Mr. Rogers puts away his jacket in the closet.  We’d all do well to put away our things when not in use.  I lose things all the time, when I don’t put them where they belong.  He also takes off his shoes, or his rain boots, and puts on house shoes, to avoid tracking in mud or dirt from outside.  These habits minimize cleanup.  Not putting away now, when it takes a second, leads to a mountain of cleanup that takes a long time to process later.  Same with correcting behavior- earlier is much easier than later.  We voters need to see the dirt early and choose clean candidates, like clean shoes, and discourage the muckraking that always seems to shade the last stage of the campaigns.  Disclosure and not coverup would give us the cleanest possible candidates.  If you did something bad, unless it’s habitual and you have no intention of changing course, you should confess it, change course, and then do your best.
6) After hanging up his clothes in the closet, he gently closes the door.  He doesn’t leave it open, to be in the way, or slam it in anger.  There was so much anger from both sides of this campaign, if those two lived in the same house there would be nothing but doors slamming.  Hillary wanted to slam the door on anyone who wanted to know what she had really done, which was all of us, and Donald wanted to slam the door on anyone who didn’t believe his campaign promises were realistically possible, which was all of us.
5) While changing shoes, one shoe is playfully tossed into the air from one hand, and then caught in the other hand, with a slight smile near the end of the song.  Ordinary things are what we have, and there’s no reason not to enjoy the ordinary things in life.  If you don’t enjoy your ordinary things, and you don’t enjoy your ordinary life, and do the best you can with the ordinary, you’ll never experience happiness, the surprise of success with simplicity, of honor with humility, even if life gives you more.  I struggle with this lesson.  But I see people who don’t get what they want and they throw a fit in protest, like the kid who lost his bike.  Sometimes in life we hope for better, we hope for more, and life gives us the ordinary to see if we’ll still celebrate.  Trump said he expected to win, and wouldn’t say how he would react if he lost the election.  Clinton was far more gracious in loss than I expected Trump to be. But I hear Clinton supporters being far less gracious than their leader. I also hear about Trump supporters being less interested in building a team, and more interested in gloating. If we’d paid closer attention to the way the candidates spoke, about themselves and about their opponents, we might have done things differently. We voters should look and listen, carefully.

4) When Mr Rogers had a guest, his guest was special.  Did you see what happened, starting at 12:27, and up to 12:33?  Even the fish were special.  “And very beautiful.”  Not just the fish, but the people too.  Mr. Rogers loved the arts, and music of all kinds, and wanted us to know that behind the beauty of the music, were beautiful musicians.  Starting at 14:25, he met the quartet of talented musicians, lovely ladies.  He spoke to them respectfully, and treated them honorably.  This, Donald Trump, is how you speak to, and about, ladies, whether you’re on the record or not.  This, Hillary Clinton, is how to win elections, and how to broker better deals.  No scandal is necessary from a political official.  Only gentleness.  Occasionally firm gentleness when it’s called for, but gentleness.  This, fair candidates, is how you act, and react, when in a position of power.  Did you see Mike Pence’s reaction to being called out for standing for what he believes in?  He was gentle. He took no offense.  Mr. Trump:  do it like that.  Did you even hear one word from Clinton’s running mate during the campaign?

3) Mr. Rogers taught love for everyone.  It was love infused with truth though.  When someone acted improperly, the puppets, usually, Mr. Rogers let them know how what they were doing affected other people’s feelings, and asked them to think about how that would look and feel if it were someone affecting them.    I wish politicians did that.  I wish military leaders, and other people in power, would do that.  I wish criminals would do that.  I wish vandals would do that.  People hurt other people because they are selfish and they don’t care about anyone but themselves.  They want what they want and aren’t thinking about anyone except themselves.  We all need to think about how what we do will affect someone else.  But more than think about it, we need to let those thoughts shape what we say, and what we do.  We have a responsibility to do what we can with what we have to make the world a better place, not just for us, but for everyone.  That is the very essence of truth and love together.

2) Your feelings are OK.  As I said before, people who voted for Trump were worried about Clinton.  People who voted for Clinton were worried about Trump.  It’s OK to feel your feelings, but it’s not OK to let your feelings  motivate reprehensible actions.  It’s OK to voice your concerns calmly and rationally.  Maybe someone else hasn’t thought things through well enough to realize how something might hurt another person.  If we understand other people’s feelings, and we care about other people, we will try to act in such a way as to not deliberately hurt others.

1)  We shouldn’t live for the big moments in life, because they might never come.  Clinton, devastated by losing, is now regrouping and demanding a recount of the votes to make sure she’s fairly treated by the electoral college.  She’s living to be the President, still.  But look at her running mate.  He’s gone back to work.  He’s doing it right.  It’s the little things that add up to the big things.  If you wait until something big happens, you will not be in the right place because you didn’t work at the little things and get yourself moving in the stream toward the big things.  You’ll be left on the riverbank, because you waited and didn’t get in the stream and start swimming.

0) People sometimes make mistakes.  Well, I sometimes make mistakes.  Like ending up with 11 items on a top 10 list.  When people make one mistake, after making it right, at least after apologizing and making it clear the mistake won’t be repeated, maybe the person who was wronged can forgive.  And when I make a mistake, I want to be allowed to learn from it and continue, after making course corrections.  But anyone who doesn’t learn from their mistakes needs natural consequences and friends who will tell them they’re on a bad path.  And needs to be restricted until they learn from their mistakes.  Like the boy in Mayberry whose smart dad sold his bike.  Otherwise he’d have sold out his own father, so who else wouldn’t he hurt as collateral damage in his quest for chaos and power?  Clinton has one scandal after another.  Trump has scandals too.  Those patterns of behavior make neither one my choice.  But in the spirit of the other lessons, and this one,  I’ll do what I’ve done for each president since I learned to do it:  Pray.  I will pray, because our elected leaders need protection, wisdom, and servant hearts, to do their jobs well for all Americans.

Pride and Predjudice and Christ-Followers April 4, 2016

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

I John 1:

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

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

I Peter 5:

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

II Corinthians 5:

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

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

What? January 14, 2015

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

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

Maybe that’s half of the problem.

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

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

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

OK, the pre(r)amble is over.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.

Saint Patricks Day, White Stripes, and True Colors March 5, 2014

Posted by michaelnjohns in Uncategorized.
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I hate Saint Patrick’s Day.  It’s a monument to ignorant conformity and violent stupidity.  It was supposed to be a celebration of a legacy, a one-man campaign to lead others to God’s truth.  But instead, it is an annual excuse to drink too much, to revel, and to pollute the Chicago River, or whatever other waterway you live by.   When I was growing up, it was the bullies’ way to drag me, an unwilling participant, into a fight I didn’t care about.  As I’ve aged, Saint Patrick’s Day Parades have become less and less about Saint Anyone, and more and more a celebration of the Great American Pagan.
 
I grew up in a school where most of the kids wore green, without a clue as to what it meant.  And many of us were Protestant.  If I wore green no one would pinch me, if I didn’t wear green everyone would pinch me, and some of them really hurt.  It was war on the kids dumb enough not to wear green.  And then my mom ruined it for me, by teaching me about different religions.  She said Saint Patrick was a Catholic church saint, and Protestant people and Catholic people didn’t get along in some places.  She said pinching was nicer than killing, though, and there has been lots of killing in Ireland where the fight was between Protestants and Catholics.
 
I never wanted to be a martyr, but I was a Protestant, so I asked who Protestant people celebrated in Ireland.  She told me about her grandpa, who always wore a bright orange tie on Saint Patrick’s day.  He celebrated his Irish ancestry and the legacy of Sir William of  Orange.  She made green and orange crochetted shamrock pins we could wear. I could choose, a pinching shamrock or a non-pinching shamrock.  I tried to be proud of my Protestant, Irish heritage for a year or two.  I tried covering it up a year or two.  I didn’t like being pinched, and I didn’t like proclaiming I was something I wasn’t, even if the ignorant kids had no idea why they pinched the kids who weren’t wearing green.  They pinched even if a kid had merely forgotten what day it was.
 
Those kids.  I wish I could call them idiots for their lack of historical knowledge and their hypocrisy at acting Catholic when they went to the Protestant church.  Some of my schoolmates weren’t Irish, either.  Saint Patrick was just a Christ follower whose name and symbolism and message were hijacked by Catholics after he was dead.  Catholics claimed him, not the other way around.  But those green wearers were smart, for going along and wearing green camouflage to avoid being bullied. 
 
Certain people who encourage diverse lifestyle choices have also hijacked St. Patrick’s Day, and march in parades to celebrate their behavior choices and habits.  They also hijacked Noah’s covenant symbol of God’s promise to not destroy the earth by flood again.  They say everyone’s behavior choices should be celebrated and no one should be persecuted.  They say that people of any stripe or color or choice should be celebrated.  But if I don’t wear green, I still get pinched, so that’s a lie– they clearly don’t mean that.  I WISH it were true though, because we should all enjoy each other and get along. 
 
I don’t want to fight.  I don’t care what your habits or choices are.  Do whatever you want.  But call it what it is.  And please, if I don’t want to conform to what you think ought to be normal, don’t force me to conform, or bully me when I don’t.  Many people celebrate conformity, even if conforming takes on the hypocrisy of accepting something one doesn’t like, if everyone else is accepting it.  Bullying becomes the norm against whoever doesn’t think like the majority, or the powerful few, want us to think.
 
Saint Patrick is supposed to have used a shamrock to show people how God could exist as a trinity.  Modern people want to make their own God in their own image so they can decide right and wrong for themselves, so they hijacked that symbol and then told people that 3 in 1 wasn’t enough.  Now they say good luck comes in the form of a 4 leaf clover.  Subtle, but I take it to say that if you find one, the 4th leaf means you’re a god too. 
 
I want to celebrate.  I want to enjoy life, parties included.  I want to be invited.  But I don’t want to lie about what I am and what I stand for, and I don’t want to be persecuted or pinched or shot or blown up for what I believe in.  The Protestants and Catholics say they have been at war in Northern Ireland since King James II, allegedly a Catholic, was defeated by King William III (aforementioned as William of Orange), allegedly a Protestant, in 1690.  In the modern era, Northern Ireland has been split by civil war, more about land ownership and power than about religion.  Periodically parts of Ireland are laid waste by murderous bombings from one side or another, neither one of them doing a good job of proving how Christ-Like they are.  But each claim to do it for their church.  It doesn’t matter to me why one says they kill or bully.  It’s still evil.  
 
I think I’ll wear black and purple on March 17.  The black is because I’m in mourning for all of the hatred, violence including pinching, and hypocritical bloodshed between different people who claim to be Christ followers, who really should live in peace.  The Irish flag has a green stripe for Catholics, an orange stripe for Protestants, and a white stripe between them for peace.  The purple is because I like purple and I have a purple shirt that has a dreadlock wearing smiley face on it and the caption “Smile, Mon.”  I’m going to stay home and avoid all of the revelry and green-dyed waterways and beer.  I may even drink something without any artificial color added.  Water is good.  Or, keeping with a Jamaican motif, maybe I can avoid the rainbows and oranges and greens, and find something with a Red Stripe.  Either way, whether we like orange or green, whether we choose water or coffee or hot tea or beer, as I try not to judge your choices, please try not to be my judge.  There’s a higher authority, a higher standard we can all reach for.  I need the margin of the white stripe of peace between us.

If you’re celebrating, be safe.  Whether we wear green, orange, purple, black, white, or rainbows, if you think of me in my purple shirt, “smile, mon.”  And look into the truth St. Patrick stood for.  It’s simplified pretty well in First John 4:7-12.  http://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=1+John+4%3A7-12&version=NIV
 
 
 
MJ