Is God Fair? Should We Be?

Is God fair?  Should we be?

Blind Justice

Blind Justice

Most cultures are familiar with the statue of Lady Justice holding the scales by which a judgment is determined.  In the Latin, she was referred to as lustitia, the Hellenists called her Themis.  While there are depictions of her not wearing a blindfold, many depictions show her wearing a blindfold in order to emphasize her impartiality.

Seeing Themis

Seeing Themis

Generally people claim to want “fairness,” yet what they truly desire is “justice.”  Fairness is a concept unknown to the ancients and really didn’t begin to come into our modern vernacular until fairly recently in human history.

I really know of no one who wants everything to be “fair”—an imbalanced impartiality which fails to take into account the specifics of each and every event.  Fairness, as a concept, is dependent of the subjective nature of the one rendering the decision.  There is no consistent measure against which something is measured; regardless of the competency of a person, the circumstances in which an event occurred or the degree of an act, every decision must be equal and every instance and person treated alike.

Yet we are not all alike.  We do not discipline a child who throws a toy in the same way we would judge an adult who throws a bomb.  Regarding the child, we weigh whether this is a repetitive action, his age, how he was provoked and of course whether any real harm was done.  In the case of an adult, we hold them to a much higher degree of condemnation and their judgment is based on whether life and material was lost.

We also consider a person’s educational level, their capabilities and their intellect.  Did they truly understand what they were doing?  Are they able to comprehend the value of life and the consequences of its loss?

I am also unaware of anyone who desires to only qualify for a “fair” wage.  If someone has taken the time to do well in school, achieve the ability to attend a university and incurred the debt of both time and money to do so, they will want to be paid for what they know.

There is an old story about a Nuclear Power Plant that was experiencing a potentially dire problem and they had to call in an “expert” to remedy the situation.  On presenting his bill to the plant owner for $1 million dollars, the plant owner asked, “Why am I paying this amount of money?”  The expert calmly replied, “The switch I turned on only cost one dollar; the remainder of the bill is payment for me knowing which switch to turn.”

As a pastor, I have met many people who believe God is most certainly not fair.  We as a people have no issues with a “good” God who acts like the proverbial “Fairy God Mother” who gently touches our heads with her wand bequeathing gifts of joy on us.

Our problems come from the realization there exists an all-powerful God, who is good (and we understand this from His Word) yet evil and suffering still exist.  We have no problems receiving good things, but we are decidedly unhappy receiving what we deem as evil……….and unfair.

Our problem is we simply do not understand either what we want or what we need.  In many of the problems we encounter, we don’t really want fairness; what we need is justice.

God is not fair.  Your neighbor who won the lottery may not have really “won” anything; in fact, statistically, the vast majority of lottery winners are bankrupt in less than five years!  Your neighbor may have, in reality, been given exactly what he wanted to have; unfortunately, many of the things we “want” God gives to us knowing we will reap judgment by our own desire and hand!

No one wants fairness, because I know of no one who wants to be treated like everyone else.  When we experience difficulty as believers in Jesus Christ, we do not want God to be fair (especially since everyone deserves to go to an eternal Hell), but we want God to be just—to exercise His judgment righteously according to His person and Word!

Should we then seek to be fair?  As a parent, do you treat all of your children the same?  The Proverb says, “Train up a child in the way he should go” (ESV).  The writer had in mind every child must be taught according to how he was made.  I learn especially well through reading and seeing; yet others learn better by doing and others still by hearing.

Being “fair” is too easy.  It requires very little thought or effort when rendering a decision.  Yet to make a “just” judgment, this means we must understand the person, the problem and what we are using as the rule which guides our judgment.  Both the judge and the lawyer must know the law; for a believer in Jesus Christ—if you desire success before the Lord—we must know His Word!

Besides, if God were not “just” in His judgment, we would have never been able to experience His grace!

Three Crosses one Christ

Three Crosses one Christ

Just sayin…………

Well . . . . . . .

Writing a blog is a labor of love; though going through and dealing with the spam is more often just like labor!

It is humbling when I read the comments many have taken the time to make on this site.  The vast majority are exceptionally encouraging, the ones not in the “vast majority” fall under the headings of either “spam” or they are just annoying . . . .

First, let me get the “business” part of this post out of the way!

Writing is a difficult task!

Writing is a difficult task!

I am writing using WordPress as my blogging platform.  I have received nothing less than excellent support and help from the WordPress staff.  They have sent me not just the answers to my immediate questions, but they have also included helpful hints on site management and dealing with the dreaded scourge called “spam!”  I have yet to figure out a way to minimize the amount of spam which accumulates in my spam filter.  Unfortunately, there are far too many legitimate and good comments which may often get thrown out with the spam.

I pay a very nominal fee for a custom URL (“jimgrieme.com”).  If my web traffic continues to increase, I may invest in their “Premium” services which add to the cost, but the value is worth the expense.  There are other blogging platforms available, yet since I am very pleased with the service and flexibility I receive from WordPress, I am not motivated to look for another service.

Second, to those of you who take the time to read my posts: I have been getting a significant number of Polish readers and allow me to say (using Google translate here; I’m good but not that good!)

Poland

Poland

 

Jestem bardzo wdzięczny za tych z Państwa w Polska, którzy czytają mojego bloga. Moim pragnieniem jest, aby jasno komunikować swoje pomysły i fakt, czytasz to pozwala mi wiedzieć, to jest realizowane! Pokornie dziękuję za czytanie! Jestem Pastor i modlę się Pan nadal będzie chronić Ciebie i Twój kraj w tych czasach niepokojów politycznych na kontynencie. Bożego błogosławieństwa na was!

 

 

To my Italian readers:

Italy

Italy

Grazie per aver letto il mio blog! Ho amato il suo paese da quando ero bambino e il mio desiderio è quello di presentare le idee chiare, Dio onorare in un modo che farà la gente a pensare con la mente e il loro cuore. Sono molto grato per il vostro tempo e attenzione! Molte grazie! Benedizioni di Dio!

 

 

 

 

 

And of course there have been a few Russian visitors as well!

Russia

Russia

Добрый день! Пусть наш Господь продолжать покрывать вас Своей благодатью! Спасибо вам большое за прочитав мои мысли я написал здесь! Я возжелал посетить вашу землю с моих дней в колледже – Я изучал Россию, ее земля и ее народ и лелеяли все это! Время, которое вы потратили читаете этот блог отрадно и унизительно. Спасибо вам большое! Джеймс melvinovich.

 

In my world, I must struggle to find time to write.  Many times I will begin with an idea, write as many as two or three pages then end up deleting all I have written!  Yet even when I follow this process, I may end up enunciating an idea which will eventually become the main idea of what I finally write.  The very act of putting “words on paper” often allows me to solidify my “final” idea!

Now remember, I am a pastor (No, no, I really am a pastor!  I realize very well I do not “act” like most pastors act and I’m good with that!)  When someone says to me, “You’re not like most pastors!” I interpret this as a compliment!  My desire is not to be either crude or rude or even to act like some “unholy teenager with an attitude problem!”  My desire is to be real!  I struggle with the same things every other person struggles with: money, politics, thoughts and ideas.  I sin, I do not break into a Christian hymn when I hit my finger with a hammer and I get frustrated at the number of proverbial “morons” I encounter while driving!

I really am a pastor!

I really am a pastor!

So what’s the difference?  Years ago I encountered a person who has demonstrated He truly loves me.  He knows all of my weaknesses and my issues.  He has given me the ability to be better than who I am.  He has forgiven me, changed me, and if there is anything good in me at all, it is because of the person Jesus Christ!

My desire is to write in a manner which is real and fully human.  I would like those who take the time to read to actually enjoy yourself and understand the ideas I am communicating.  It is my prayer the Lord will use who I am and what I’ve written in such a way as to draw people to Him.

Grace to all of you!

Noah: “People are the Disease. Judgment is the Cure!”

[Spoiler Alert: Some {not all} key plot facts are discussed in this blog!]

 

In May 1986 the movie Cobra starring Sylvester Stallone premiered in the US market. While this movie made a respectable showing over the course of its release, it has managed to get on the website www.imdb.com’s list of “Movies So Bad They’re Good.”

"Crime is the Disease.  Meet the Cure."

“Crime is the Disease. Meet the Cure.”

In many ways, Stallone may be underrated as a talent; in other ways, quantity does not always equal quality . . . .

The most compelling aspect of the movie Cobra was its tag-line: “Crime is a disease. Meet the Cure.” This short seven word phrase communicated the entirety of the movie’s plot; Stallone is a tough cop who will clean up the mean streets filled with crime.

It would have been better, however, to simply add as a reprise from Rocky III the Survivor ballad, “Eye of the Tiger” to mitigate some extremely sad screenplay . . . .

This past weekend my wife and I went to see the movie Noah with some longtime friends of ours. After spending enough money to secure a very nice steak dinner and tip at the steakhouse, we settled in for the 138 minute long interpretation of the biblical story of Noah and the Ark. While Stallone fought crime, Russell Crowe fought the ecological equivalent of ignorance: people!

Darren Aronofsky who is both a writer and the director of the film Noah stated in an interview with the Washington Post he didn’t have much detail to work with from the four chapters in the book of Genesis (where the story of Noah is contained). Aronofsky observed in the book of Genesis not one word of Noah is recorded; he also points out the name of Noah’s wife, nor the names of any of the wives Noah’s three sons, were recorded. He made this point in the context he had taken liberties with the biblical story. He did take liberties, but eight minutes of spoken word cannot equal 138 minutes of film; he had to add “something” to the story!

For the moment, let’s examine some of the additions and the messages inherent in the film. The biblical story mentions nothing regarding the environmental impact of the pre-flood humanity on the earth. The film makes it clear everywhere man was prior to the flood he also destroyed the environment. Animals were hunted to extinction, lands were deforested and there was a clearly implied element of cannibalism in one of the scenes near the end of the film.

Darren Aronofsky's Noah

Darren Aronofsky’s Noah

The biblical account makes it clear there were eight people on the ark: Noah, his wife and his three sons and their wives. The biblical account also gives us a means to understand Noah’s sons were around 100 years old when they entered the ark.

Tubal-Cain, the name of a genuine biblical character listed in the Genesis genealogies, managed to become a stow-away on the ark only to be killed when discovered by Noah with Hem’s assistance. What is noteworthy about Tubal-Cain is his position as the antagonist in the movie and what he is given to say. It was Tubal-Cain who told Hem, “We are made in the Creator’s image” and man had a will to be exercised; the irony of this statement was accentuated with him stating these things while eating raw an “innocent animal!”

One of the greatest mysteries of Scripture is the awesome fact man was created in the “image of God” (imago dei); it is this fact which places the true value of man and human life into perspective. Man has value because he was created by God, made in God’s image and because of Christ’s death on the Cross, we belong to Him. To place this statement in the mouth (no pun intended here) of Tubal-Cain undermines the integrity of this fact and its importance; it also prejudices the viewing audience against the statement we were made in the image of God.

One of the most gratifying things of this movie was Aronofsky’s depiction of the ark. This was the most realistic and biblically accurate representations of the true size of the ark I have ever seen. I read several interviews of Mr. Aronofsky and his Jewish heritage and upbringing surely influenced his desire to show deference to the biblical story. I did not go to this movie expecting either biblical or orthodox accuracy, but the movie was majestic in its sweep.

For all it had, it was what it did not have which misrepresented this story of judgment, salvation and mercy! Gone was the concept of grace—a loving God choosing one man and his family from the midst of a fallen, depraved and incredibly sinful humanity. God chose Noah not because Noah was good, but because God was good and chose Noah to demonstrate His goodness to him and his family!

Aronofsky’s Noah is following a Creator who neither prepares His chosen spokesman nor provides clear evidence of His existence through revealing His plan to Noah. Russell Crowe’s portrayal of Noah, while believable and empathetic, is more akin to a wild-eyed jihadist rather than the man of God who served his Lord for 120 years—one who served his Lord while building the ark and testifying of God’s coming judgment.

The movie neglects to mention how God shared with Noah not only His intentions (judgment of all who have the breath of life in them and detailed instructions for building the ark), but also the reason why God was judging the earth; the Genesis story relates it was because of the wickedness of man which spread throughout creation. The movie would have its viewers believe it was the aggression against nature, its animals and the eco-system man had destroyed which caused the Creator to destroy the earth with a flood.

The message of the movie is just as man is destroying and has destroyed the ecology of this planet today, humanity prior to the flood did the same. In the biblical story God sent the rainbow as a testimony He would never use water to destroy the earth again (the next judgment from God will be fire according to 2 Peter and Revelation), yet it is almost ironic environmentalist today are using global warming to herald a new era of coming floods with rising sea levels which will again destroy our world.

The denouement of the movie occurs in the final few minutes of the film. Noah, in an act clearly running counter to the stated goals given to him by the Creator, refuses to following the thus-far revealed “will” he is to accomplish. Rather than choosing to end the lives of the two infants, Crowe’s character states, “As I looked I them I was filled with love” and he chose to allow them to live!

The dramatic license taken with the facts of the biblical account and even to the point of changing the motives, attitudes and milieu of the characters was understandable and I even accepted all up to this point. Face it, I did not come to this movie to receive a brush-up lesson in biblical theology! Yet the implications which resonated from Crowe’s utterance was unmistakable; when it comes to a choice between following God (in the movie, “the Creator”) or listening to what is in the heart of man, man far too often has a superior morality based on love rather than retribution from a judgmental Creator.

I am not angry about the message the writers and director are sending. The message being communicated is this: while man has destroyed the Creation (and in this movie, the creation is treated with an almost god-like worship) and the Creator has judged and destroyed man and all life for doing so, only man is capable of overriding the will of the Creator (judgment) through a perceived superior moral claim, love.

This is unfortunate in the extreme. Whether through a purposely motivated decision or through an unfortunate experience of circumstances, this movie portrays God as a capricious hateful being who forces those who would serve Him to guess and surmise His will through inference. Even though in Scripture God never expects nor asks man to act on or be judged by that which man does not know, in the movie Noah, it is Crowe’s Noah who rises above the circumstances and provides the true rescue and salvation.

Crowe’s character believed God chose him and his family to be the last of humanity for the purpose to provide a means to reseed the animal kingdom on the newly cleansed earth. It was only through a change of heart in Crowe’s Noah which allows man the opportunity to repopulate and multiply on the earth once more. After his family saw the protection of the animals and their release after the subsiding of the waters, humanity would have ended with them; in some ways this would have been but a slight change in the motivation behind some of today’s suicide bombers. They will surely die, and others with them, but it is a necessary death needed to accomplish the will of their god and guarantee them paradise.

Noah is a fast moving film with plenty of drama and action. The PG-13 rating is due to the scenes of violence and implied animal violence. The acting is superb—which is what motivated me to see this film—but the film leaves one feeling there has to be something more; a better reason, a better explanation or even a better plan for such an event to occur.

God’s intention for the believer, non-believer or even someone who is merely searching, is for them to see the need of a Savior through the events of the Genesis account and the events of our world today! Christ is our ark and our salvation who bore us through the judgment of God. Yet it was God who initially chose Noah and his family to be saved. It was God who provided an ark, the plans, the guidance and the animals to allow life to begin again on a cleansed earth. Of course in the Noah epic, man was still flawed and capable of sin and poor decisions, yet God had a plan to eventually bring His Son to this world so all people who accepted His gift of salvation could come to Him!

Those of us who know Christ are also chosen by the Father! Those who know the Son as Lord are rescued even though our bodies are corrupted by sin.  We will live again in Heaven with God when we have accepted the salvation the Father freely offers to us. One day Christ will return for us; there will no longer be crime, or disease or flaw or flood or death, for all will be perfect.

And perfection needs no cure.

Assuming America

All of us make a number of assumptions every moment of our lives.

We tend to assume what we order at McDonalds will be what we get.  We assume the person coming from the opposite direction on a highway or motorway will stay on their side of the road.  We assume the lights will come on when we flip the wall switch.

Aside from the adage claiming “When we assume, you dare make an ‘ass out of u and me,’ our assumptions far too often prove to be wrong!  The chances your McDonalds order is correct is proportionate to how far away from the restaurant you are when you check it; the person driving toward you often crosses the dividing line while answer their phone and we are always surprised when the lights do not come on as we “flip the switch.”  It’s always risky making assumptions!

One of the tacit assumptions made in history for over two-hundred years is the continued existence of America and its influence—this is especially true of its citizenry.

Please keep in mind the underlying assumption I am making here (one I make by faith—and one in which there has never been a disappointment) is the validity and truth of Scripture (remember, I am a pastor-dude).  Regardless of the pundits and the critics, Scripture and biblical prophecy has never been proved as wrong.

I remember being interviewed by a German independent documentarian when I was living in Illinois.  The question came up regarding the history of the world and Scripture; basically, what the Bible says about the future.  As I explained the Bible’s declaration of the future coming anti-Christ and the re-subjection of Europe, the Middle East and much of Asia by his government, she stated many people in Europe would be highly offended by this interpretation.

Artist's rendition of the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse

Artist’s rendition of the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse

I asked her if she understood the prophecy as a statement of further American hegemony; in other words, was she assuming Christianity and its belief system were synonymous with America and its culture?  Being from Germany and being thoroughly secular in her ideology, she saw no difference between “America” and “Christianity.”

What I then told her almost left her speechless.  I informed her there are no symbols nor is there any mention of “America” in any biblical prophecies; for whatever reason, the sovereign entity of the United States plays no role in the affairs of the world in the prophecies contained in the Bible regarding humanity’s future.

Does this mean America is no more?  Has it been marginalized politically by world events or the rise of new and more powerful world powers?  God in His wisdom does not inform us.  All we can know with surety is there is no mention of the United States in end-times descriptions.  While there are many who will try to insert an American presence into the events of the last days, it simply is not there if one follows the normal rules of interpretation.

I believe what we see playing out in the newspapers, RSS feeds and televisions news coverage certainly grants us insight into the beginning of the demise of America.  America has lost much of its influence internationally.  Because we have failed to discipline ourselves financially (especially personally), our government sees no reason to do so and our private, personal actions has granted them the permission to do likewise.

We have lost all semblance of a “moral high ground” due to our own hypocritical stances domestically—it is difficult to chide other countries for their mistreatment and slaughter of their own peoples when we have systematically killed over 50 million babies through legalized abortion.  When other countries choose to kill a group of people like this, we refer to it as genocide!

The Bible states “Righteousness exalts a nation but sin is a disgrace to any people.”  It isn’t a particular sin—it’s not homosexuality or divorce or overeating or overspending—it’s sin!  There is a reason why so many in other parts of the world assume there is a direct link between Christianity and America; for many decades this was a legitimate fact.  Yet when those who have identified themselves with Christ so blatantly ignore the very commands of God, God judges those who know Him more harshly!  The Apostle Peter reminded his readers judgment begins first with “God’s household.”

Here is something to keep in mind as those of us who seek comfort from God’s Word study it: the prophecies of Scripture never demand a particular method or means, they merely tell us what “will be” and sometimes they give us insight into the results which follow.  God has given us prophecy for the same reason He gives us all things: to increase our faith in Him.

Trusting in God’s control of our future and eternity is not an assumption—it’s a surety!

The Ugly Christian Part 4

A Marriage of Convenience

 

There are some things I do not believe I will ever understand.

 

I went into a McDonald’s a while back and there was a sign hanging on the wall: “Braille menus available.”

 

Who is that sign for?

 

There were a couple of songs on the radio in the early seventies which have always given me fits.  One was MacArthur Park: “someone left the cake out in the rain, I don’t think that I can take it, ‘Cause it took so long to bake it, and I’ll never have that recipe again.”

 

Seriously?  Forget the cake; what about the hash brownies the writer obviously inhaled before writing this jingle?

 

One of the thornier issues facing Christians in general and myself as a pastor in particular is same-sex marriage.  Over the years IWedding photo have heard some very good men make some incredibly gifted attempts to claim the existence of same-sex marriage undermines the existence and value of heterosexual marriage.  One pastor used the image of marriage being a boat and the proponents of same-sex marriage were doing the equivalent of boring holes in the bottom of the boat.  In other words, if any other definition of marriage is allowed to occur, the whole of marriage would be destroyed.

 

I cannot more vigorously disagree.

 

Heterosexual marriage, in practice, doesn’t exactly have a “moral high ground” in this matter.  The divorce rate in America still hovers around the fifty (50) percentile mark; those who identify themselves as Christians are not far removed from this mark.  Yet it seems some of the more strident voices against same-sex marriage emanate from those claiming to be Christians—and some of the verbiage they are using gets pretty ugly!

 

As a pastor, I teach the entire Bible.  Some believers have been trotting out the passages in Leviticus which describe the results of “men being with men” (my paraphrase) and “women being with women.”  Those words are there and God was serious when He wrote them—He still is.  The Bible states homosexuality is sin—along with many other activities as well.  I also realize there are many people, some of whom I am friends with—who are homosexual.

 

If you are reading this and have chosen this lifestyle, then I most likely have hacked you off bad enough for you to throw your computer across the room!  I would not recommend that action.

 

I do not dislike homosexuality any more than I dislike divorce, lying, over-eating, greed or any other sin.  In fact, I can state along with the Apostle Paul, “I am what I am by God’s grace.”  If there is anything I or anyone would consider good in my life, it’s not because I’m better or smarter, it’s because God is good.

 

Same-sex marriage is going to be what “is” in our country.  Christians are going to have to come to grips with this.  It doesn’t change what God’s Word says, it doesn’t change my responsibility to be obedient to God’s Word.  We live in a democracy.  If the people in this country decide this is okay, then believe it or not, God isn’t shocked one bit.

 

Allow me to channel my father’s words to me when I was ten years old: “I don’t care what the neighbor kids do—you belong to me!”

 

Our responsibility as believers is to love people with the love given to us by God and demonstrated by Jesus Christ on the Cross.  This “love” is not sex, the “warm fuzzies” nor are we to embrace the definition our culture demands and then has called “good” what the Bible calls “evil.”  True love is lived, it is demonstrated through our action and obedience to Jesus Christ in our lives.  We do not and cannot demand obedience from those who are “not part of our family.”  They may do as they choose.  We are called by God to demonstrate truth through obedience.

 

The normalization of same-sex marriage is an opportunity given by God for us to prove the truth of our God and demonstrate our relationship to Him through our obedience.  Christians should strive to have marriages so everyone who sees them would desire a marriage just like them!  This is the whole point of living for Christ: demonstrating the love Christ has for this world through our obedient love for Him!

 

God has placed American Christians in America.  He understands democracy and the great freedoms it gives.  He also understands the human heart.  When people reject His commands and His offer of salvation, believers should not react in hate and anger.  People who reject the tenets of Scripture are not rejecting Christians or our sensibilities (so we need to get over ourselves): they are rejecting God.

 

Of course, the demand by the proponents of same-sex marriage who say I must state their cause is just and right are just as unfortunately wrong.  I am not called to approve actions because of social pressure; I am called to be obedient to the Lord.  Just as in first century Rome when the Church was in its infancy, Christians were not persecuted because they believed in Jesus Christ or Yahweh-God.  Christians were persecuted because they refused political correctness and would not call Caesar “Lord!”  Our obedience to Christ will always make us incredibly unpopular.

 

For far too long Christians have allowed Satan to get them off task by focusing too much on what those who are outside of a relationship with Christ are doing.  Should sin be identified?  Yes it should.  But the identification of “sin” should be motivated by the same love a mother has for the child who gets too close to a hot oven: the warning is clear, it’s strong and its concern is for the safety of the child.  It’s because the mother loves her child.

 

If we speak out against the sin in this world, let us make sure it’s because we love people like Jesus does.  Our responsibilities are the same as they have always been: to love others.

 

This isn’t convenient.

 

It’s love and obedience.

The Ugly Christian Part 3

Is there Acceptable Collateral Damage?

 

 

The term “collateral damage” was unknown prior to about 1970.  The terms specific meaning is tied directly to war and the idea of “elements not directly associated with an intended target being damaged or destroyed as a result of a specific action.”  From the first Gulf War until the most recent action in Afghanistan, our military has taken great pains to develop “smart” bombs which are able to pinpoint their targets with a minimum of collateral damage.

 

A large amount of material, expense and effort is expended to identify what is an appropriate target and what is not.  Of course the enemy, knowing America and her allies desire to not harm those deemed to be non-combatants, will often set-in-place their operations in the midst of schools, hospitals and mosques in order to insulate them from attack.  Of course, far too often the press overlooks this callous disregard to life and put all the more pressure on those who desire to eradicate the threat.

 

Perhaps one of the sharpest aspects of the double-edged sword of war is militaries—unless of course they are being utilized by a dictatorship—often find themselves fighting against an antagonistic camera and press as often as an enemy action.  Such is the nature of war in our modern milieu.

 

Christianity is also involved in warfare.  Of course, the Bible makes it abundantly clear our warfare is not waged against “flesh and blood” combatants, but rather in the spiritual realm; one unseen and filled not merely with spirits, but with ideas and philosophies.  What manifests itself in the physical realm—whether in the form of atrocity, sin, death and immorality—is but a result of what is and has already occurred in the spiritual realm.

 

One of the scourges of our society is “abortion-on-demand” which has been available since the 1973 Supreme Court ruling.  I am unashamedly pro-life; the Bible teaches we are made in God’s image and life begins not merely with conception (which is our only means of observation as humans) but life is something ordained by God who is the Creator of all that lives.  As a Christian and a pastor, God expects me to not merely believe this, but also to proclaim this through my life and teaching.Abortion Protest signs

People are a complex mechanism.  By God’s design no two of us are alike.  We do have commonalities which are measurable across the masses of society (a reason for the existence of the disciplines of psychology, sociology and even history) and these provide us with incredible insight into human nature.  If my desire is to communicate the message of Scripture—what Christians refer to as the ‘good news” (Gospel) of God’s love for us and His desires for us—I cannot then ignore the reality of human nature.

 

One of the most difficult things we are faced with as believers in Jesus Christ is our call to “hate the sin” (action, attitude, idea, and philosophy) but also “love the sinner.”  I have heard those outside of Christianity scoff and ridicule this concept; they believe it is impossible to separate the individual from what the individual does (there is a whole economy built on the existence of this concept—this also ensures people will always be “defined” and “enslaved” by their sin and issues as well).  Again, I defer to what Jesus taught: “With men this is impossible, but with God all things are possible.”

 

Those who proclaim and claim the name of Jesus Christ are capable of getting “caught up in the emotion of the moment” just like anyone else.  The difference between those who have a relationship with Christ and those who do not is this: those who have a relationship with God the Father through the work of Christ have both the Holy Spirit and God’s Word to constantly judge and check their own actions.  One of the hardest to remember is that we are to “love the sinner.”

 

It is far too easy to simply allow hate to season our speech and actions.  Standing outside of abortion clinics with signs proclaiming “Abortion is Murder” and the like makes as much sense as standing outside of funeral homes with signs stating “Sin Kills!”  Abortion is murder—I agree completely!  Yet is it actually loving to paint with such a broad brush that we alienate those who are captives of their own circumstances and decisions?  Oh, and let’s not overlook the incredible sense of love fostered by those holding those signs.

 

Our churches need to communicate they are more of a place of refuge for the hurting and injured rather than a staging point for those with a desire to be “culture warriors.”  We are no more in a war with culture than a fish is at war with water!  We can battle ideas and philosophies, we can tend to the wounded and we should confront those who actively engage in what the Bible describes as sin.  Yet as we do all of these things, we cannot fail to communicate the love by which we are motivated!

 

Jesus Christ came into this world as a baby.  The Lord of Creation, the One who by His very hand created all there is and by His very existence holds all of reality together, came into a world as one of us.  He struggled as He grew; He worked in order to provide for food and clothing for Himself and His family.  He formed relationships with those around Him and the Bible tells us He grew in “wisdom and stature” with God and people.

 

His ministry was marked with compassion, healing, confrontation of sin and wrong and ultimately, He proved His love through His action: He died so those who believe in Him might live forever with Him.  The reason His words were accepted is because His love was clearly demonstrated; even the crusty Centurion who stood at the foot of His cross when He died stated “surely He was the Son of God.”

 

If Christians desire people to take us seriously, we are going to have to seriously love them!

The Ugly Christian Part 2

NMSBY (Not My Sin But Yours)

 

 

I think this is pretty much a “human” thing—a deep down desire to make other people look worse than we are and the easiest way to do this is to compare apples with oranges; or in keeping with my theme here, “not my sin but yours!”

 

I’ve been a pastor for a reasonably long time now.  I have had several “older” members in some of my churches proudly and verbally “thump” their proverbial chests and proclaim, “I have never slept with any other woman other than my wife!”  While I find the sentiment admirable, obedient and (especially in my case where death would be immediate) safe, I also find it a complete and utter lie!

 

Jesus made it perfectly clear in His Sermon on the Mount if a man even looks at another woman with lust in his heart (Seriously?  Do I really have to get more specific here?  Stay on task and pay attention—I’m trying to make a point!) this man has already committed adultery.  Does this mean if I think something then I might as well do it since I’m already busted?

 

No it does not.

 

Jesus was pointing out to His listeners (especially those who were the religious “high muckity-mucks” of His day) God knows what we think just as easily as He sees what we do.  Thinking a thought removes innocence.  Doing the deed removes mercy.  Thoughts merely demonstrate the truthfulness of the ancient statement, “There is no one who is righteous; not anyone.”  When we choose to act on a thought we remove any assumption of innocence among others and we end up “reaping the results of the action we have sown.”

 

In other words, when Sir Isaac Newton came up with his Third Law (action=reaction) he most likely had the aid of his Sunday school training; for every action there is an equal reaction and we reap whatever we sow.  So the individual who was attempting to demonstrate his superiority over others in his fidelity to his wife, only managed to demonstrate his own ignorance of the teachings of Christ.

 

This tendency to always try to make ourselves look better than others always ends up biting us on our proverbial bottoms, bums and derrieres.

 

In my part of the world there are many such things, but one which I find more annoying than most is the idea of both alcohol consumption and Sunday sales of said alcohol.  It is not my intention to discuss whether it is okay for Christians to consume alcohol, but it is my intention to point out the shrill nature of those voices who cannot seem to find anything better to complain about.

Beer & Booze Sold here!

Beer & Booze Sold here!

For some of you who live in other parts of the world (not America) even the idea of getting upset about selling a particular thing on a particular day is absurd (not even the Bible places the importance of one day above any other).  Yet follow my thought here.

 

You live in a foreign land.  In the land and culture in which you were reared taught you certain things were just wrong and your family didn’t do them.  Yet now you are not home and you live in the midst of a people who were not raised as you were.  How do you think your new neighbors would view your insistence they adhere to your “rules” in which they find both foreign and silly?

 

This is what believers in Christ need to grasp!  We must ask God to grant us the wisdom to separate symptoms from the cause.  Many Christians act like they’re angry booze is being sold on “The Lord’s Day!”  Christians have forgotten not everyone considers Sunday to be “The Lord’s Day”—especially if they do not “belong” to the Lord!

 

The only thing accomplished by making such a “big deal” about the sale of alcohol on a particular day is those who are squawking the loudest draw the greatest amount of contempt.  My desire is to present Christ in a winsome, attractive way.  I cannot hope to make Jesus appealing if I continually act like a horse’s hinter parts!  Jesus was harsh regarding attitudes and the sin of those around Him—and so should we.

 

Yet remember this: His harshest comments were reserved for those who claimed to be the most religious.

The Ugly Christian

From the 1963 film starring Marlon Brando

From the 1963 film starring Marlon Brando

Back in 1958 Eugene Burdick and William Lederer wrote the book The Ugly American.  It told the story of the hapless efforts of the United States in a fictional country in Southeast Asia (widely regarded to represent the US efforts in Vietnam) in the attempts of America to fulfill its quest to “contain” Communism and therefore continue to implement Truman’s famous doctrine.

Originally, the desire of the authors was to write a factual study, but the publishers persuaded them to transition to a work of fiction.  In doing this they were afforded greater creativity and even more freedom to both apply their version of “truth” as well as greatly expanding the means by which their work could be disseminated among various competing ideologies.  In other words, the work became a tool for those who espoused a decidedly anti-American and anti-Western philosophy.

Sadly, Burdick and Lederer accurately portrayed the reality of the American efforts in this region of the world.  Neil Sheehan in his book A Bright Shining Lie further highlights the incredible incompetence spawned by unchecked bureaucracy during the Vietnam War.  The cold reality dogging American efforts was reflected in the words of the Apostle Paul, our “good was evil spoken of.”

In many ways, Christians today are far too often and too easily viewed as ugly.  In my own denomination, there seems to be this almost puerile obsession with the habits of those outside of Christianity yet all the while they are oblivious to the ugly and insidious nature of the accepted behaviors within Christianity.  What is sad is many of these unattractive attitudes and practices come from those who are regarded as leaders and pastors.

Many of the problems arise from the assumptions made of those professing the name of Christ.  A whole industry has been built to fortify an almost revisionist-style history portraying the United States as a country began with solely Christian values.  While the underlying philosophy of our founding fathers was a definitely a Judeo-Christian paradigm, we were not and are not now a Christian nation.

There were many of our founders and leaders who were familiar with Christian nomenclature and philosophy—some even reared by strongly Christian parents—yet for every reference point given to “prove” the evangelical bent of these men there are equally as many proofs countering those claims.  Even though evangelical Christianity did not infuse every one of our founders, there were many genuine Christians among our founders.

So should those who are Christian handicap themselves by not referring to the importance of Christianity on the formation of this country?  Not at all; yet Christians cannot continue with their arrogant attitudes and patronizing actions if they (including myself) truly desire to reach those who do not have a relationship with Jesus Christ.

I wouldn’t want you to think I am immune from such silliness either.  Far too often I “catch” myself thinking some incredibly stuffy thought and then something inside me (I believe it is the Holy Spirit who resides in all who have a relationship with Christ) points out my foolishness.  My plan is to write a “series” (I usually can’t stand multi-part anything; I’m making attempts at maturity here so bear with me . . . . .) dealing with the subject began in this post.

My desire is the same as the United States Senator Adlai Stevenson: “Today, I come to you with the task of speaking; your task is that of listening.  Let us hope we all end at the same time.”

Hey, it’s a hope!

Escaping Deliverance

This is one of my most favorite verses of the song, “It’s Not Easy Being Me.”

I’m an insulin dependent diabetic.

A few months after being diagnosed in 1983, I moved to South Carolina.  I drove down with all my worldly possessions in an eight foot long U-Haul trailer—it wasn’t even full!  I left very early in the morning and hadn’t eaten breakfast yet.  So I decided to stop in a truck stop, take my insulin shot and then eat.

Welcome to Kentucky

Welcome to Kentucky

This was when the fun began.

Needles make me nervous, but they often make some people almost apoplectic!  So I head for the restroom looking for somewhere private to take my injection of insulin.  My intention was to go into a stall, take my shot, wrap my needle in toilet paper, dispose of it discreetly in a trash-can and then go get breakfast.

Oh so sorry Jimmy.  Bubble just burst.  Too bad.  Your parade has been rained on!

In this particular establishment, some genius in all of their great wisdom decided it would be better (Safer?  Cleaner?  More organized?) too remove all of the doors from the stalls!  There was nothing between me and the world.  Nothing!

Okay, since I was really hungry and I figured I could do this without much fuss, I figured I’m a diabetic, not a druggy.  So I get as comfortable as possible, I pull down my pants so I can take my shot in my thigh, swab my leg with a alcohol swab, pull the cap off the syringe with my teeth and begin to inject myself.

It was then a large, ominously breathing shadow began to block what little light was available in the bathroom stall I had chosen with such great care.

I looked up at a very large man dressed in a flannel shirt which did not quite cover his belly and he was also wearing jeans, boots, had a yellow “Cat Diesel” hat on and chewing something like Skoal or some other brand of tobacco.  He was just standing there, slouched slightly at the shoulders and staring at me . . . me, with a syringe cap in my teeth and a syringe in my hand, poised to stick it in my thigh.

Now remember, I’m trying to remain calm, but here I am, in a toilet stall without a door to provide me any privacy in a truck-stop and just across the state-line in the great state of Kentucky.  I saw the movie Deliverance and the image of Ned Beatty broke over like a proverbial shotgun began to form ever-so-clearly in my mind.

At that moment I could hear the theme song of the movie playing in the background (I could even imagine the bald-headed kid in the next stall with his banjo)—the way my day was going, Burt Reynolds was not going to rescue me with a compound bow!

As Elrod (or whatever his name was) stood there, I smiled nervously (with the syringe cap in my teeth) and announced to him “I’m a diabetic!”

He just turned his head, spit some chew on the floor and said, “Sure kid.”  He then shuffled off, mumbling to himself and eventually left the bathroom.  I quickly took my shot (I was too shaken to remember if it even hurt), got dressed and left the truck stop!  I could only imagine him telling the deputies at the counter some skinny white kid was using drugs in the bathroom!

After I got off at the next exit and procured some candy bars (the aforementioned incident rattled my menu choices), I began to seriously consider the wisdom of moving to the south.  No stall doors, there were coveralls, people chewed tobacco and nowhere for a skinny white kid to take his shot!

Fortunately, I did meet the woman who would become my wife two months later and the rest, as they say, is history.

She doesn’t chew either.

Or spit.

Criminal Thinking

Criminal Thinking

 

Crime dramas have been a major fare of TV viewing diets since the 1950’s.  Whether a show opens “On a dark and rainy night,” or we are ushered into a crime scene as the crime occurs in medias res, the crime drama continues to draw viewers.

 

Yet here’s an observation I have made: while watching a particular, unnamed drama which would fall into the above mentioned category, I noticed while the characters have no scruples about “blowing away” a bad guy with a gun intent on harming someone, no one—and I mean no one—is allowed to head-shoot the crazed dog trying to take a bite out of one of the characters portraying a cop at the order of the above-mentioned bad guy!

 

Fido with fangs gets to live; Guido the killer pimp does not.

 

Now you may be thinking, “Hey dude, it’s not the dogs fault!  I mean, dude, it was trained that way!”

 

You may believe I desire to see Fido (Fee-Fee, Rover, Claude-the Killer-Cat, whatever) get whacked, I don’t.  My wife and I are owned by five cats (“Please, call me ‘The Litter Whisperer’”) and we treat them like family—we love our cats!  My observation here has to do more with perceived value and balance.

Fritz & Murphy

Fritz & Murphy

 

There are laws and caveats always protecting the mistreatment of animals.  Animals are viewed as innocent, as creatures in need of our care and stewardship so we should not do anything which could be construed as cruelty to them.  We do not desire, as a people, to communicate anything which would denigrate and devalue the life of animals.

 

I’m good with this.  I love my animals and I have given up even the slightest desire to hunt because of my feelings in this matter.  I believe it’s fine for others to hunt, but I cannot.  My issues are more with my total dislike of death—especially death in which I would be a cause.  Yet while I personally do not desire to cause any unwanted death (yessiree, I’m one of those people who honk and brake for squirrels), I would not hesitate to make the choice between a fang-laden Cujo and me; I win and Cujo gets whacked!

 

So here’s my concern: we go out of our way not to ever show an animal being hurt, but we have no issues with shooting holes in people, with someone shot bleeding out of their mouth and with news people taking pictures of the aftermath of the Boston Bombings and putting them on the news and Internet.

 

Am I missing something?

 

Who have we become as a people?  Lines will form with angry voices screaming at the mistreatment of animals, there are cries for baby whales, walruses and seals, yet we receive nothing but silence (and occasionally applause) over the depiction of human death and dismemberment.  Are we to be extolled for protecting animals all the while we allow the wholesale slaughter of humanity–portrayed with fictional characters or in real life?

 

Has anyone ever thought this is a reflection of our values rather than an attempt to influence them?

 

I mean, really?