Sunday, September 30, 2012

Here Come The Judge

Have you ever been told: “Who are you to judge me?  You don’t know me!”  How many times have you felt that way when someone judged you in some setting?  Was it a teacher, a coworker, a friend…a pastor?  I’ve often thought that Christians are the most judgmental people on the planet, largely because they have a set of immutable standards given them in the Bible.  Unfortunately, it often goes further than that because they judge out of a sense of “I’m better than you,” which is a horrible thing to do...and a false concept as well.  Oftentimes the judgments go beyond the standards given by God and are applied simply because of superficial things that have no real meaning.   For example, the guy with all the tattoos is judged as a bad person by some people, or the woman with the tattered and dirty clothes is judged as a bad person, and the list goes on.

But aren’t I being naïve if I fail to judge?  We are born with an innate ability and need to judge.  It keeps us safe. We make judgments on the weather based on the clouds; we judge the driving risk when the road is wet.  We avoid dark alleys and certain areas at certain times.  Or maybe we see a rickety bridge or even a hungry cougar and decide it isn’t safe.  But sunny days come along and roads dry out.  We judge an event or condition based on time.  Things change…and people change, too.  I remember the vivid image in the Scarlet Letter of the woman who committed adultery being shunned and forced to wear a big red “A” on her clothes forever.  She was judged.  There is a huge difference in judging versus disciplining.  I would hate to be judged that way forever on my mistakes and sins.  How about you?  Those early pilgrims were taking on the role of God in permanently judging character rather than giving loving discipline over behavioral mistakes.  Our court system was fashioned on this principle, yet so often the ex-criminal carries the stigma of judgment like a “Big Red A” on their chest even if they are completely reformed by their “discipline” in the court process.

I worked with the Major Crimes Task Force for several years, and we rotated undercover officers out of those drug and prostitution environments regularly.  It was not a place to hang out for long.  It would be naïve to continually and closely associate with people who constantly involve themselves in sinful behavior as men like the well-known “Preacher of Bourbon Street” in New Orleans found out.  That’s the kind of  “judgment” we all have to make to take care of ourselves.  Going to wild drug parties or cruising around in cars with people who plan to commit burglaries would be pretty dumb. Telling those people that their behavior is wrong would not be.  Jesus hung out sometimes with serious sinners for the express purpose of disciplining their behavior and beliefs, but his close inner circle, that he spent most of his time with, were those he picked for their more mature qualities.  Were they perfect…not in the least.  And when they were visibly imperfect, Jesus disciplined them with love…but he did not judge them.

He was the only one who actually had the right to judge them and he didn’t…can we do no less?

Saturday, September 29, 2012

Weighing In On A Slight "Slight"

Years ago when I was instructing martial arts to police officers, I had a student in the training class who was comparing the difficulty of taking control of someone who was really big with someone that has a “slight” build…at which point she aimed her finger at ME as an example of the “slight” build!  Just days before my doctor had just told me that I was overweight by all standards and needed to lose at least 15 pounds to be on the mark.  So what was she talking about!  My build wasn’t “slight.”  It was a silly thing to react to, but I think its implications are more serious than they might seem.

People in America are so overweight that we consider ourselves, or someone else, normal or even thin when they really are not, and I think we are so influenced by the society that we live in that we have trouble distinguishing what is correct in matters way beyond just how much we weigh. The same issue applies to the relativism we apply to our behaviors.  “It’s OK because everyone does it!”  So that unreported income and underpayment of our real income tax due, the excessive amount of alcohol we all consumed at that “great” party at Joe’s house, that lie we told to keep from getting into trouble at home, that person we flirted with outrageously at work or even maybe slept with while our spouse was out of town—they all become normal and we tell ourselves we are OK.  How often is that kind of moral relativism taking over our lives because of what we learn from the media and others’ presentations and opinions?

The only real standard to measure against is God’s word.  It becomes the “weight chart,” so to speak, that we need to measure ourselves against.  The only way to do that is to read it and listen to it, instead of reading and listening to what the world offers.  Let it become the seed on the good ground that flourishes and grows in your life.

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

It's The Oldest Profession and Also the Oldest Problem

I’ve been avoiding this subject for several days.  But, I’ve spent time chewing on it and I just have to bring it up here.  It’s really personal, but I think it’s important.
We live in a morally decadent society in a broken world, which is nothing new.  It’s been that way since creation, and it’s just what we are given to deal with.  And one of the most pervasive things that seems to crop up is how we see sex and what our resultant beliefs and actions are.  In America we are rapidly losing Christian believers as a proportion of our society.  “New Age” and “Spiritual but Not Religious” philosophies are taking over and they are quite comfortable with sexual experimentation and also living together or engaging in sex before marriage.  Even inside the Church for those who remain, huge numbers of members are involved sexually outside of marriage with little or no conviction before God.
Is all this moralizing by those who follow the Bible misguided?  Isn’t sex just a normal act between two consenting adults (which sidesteps the whole teen sex scene involving over half of our young people.)  I’ve heard it argued this way by so many, but I still can’t accept it.  Don’t get me wrong, I know you can wind up having sex and know it’s wrong and reset your goals not to do that (like any of the other many sins we all commit as imperfect beings.)  I’m talking about those who have no thought to avoiding sex.
Why do I think all this is important?  Because I think sex should be an outgrowth of a relationship that absolutely will be there regardless of whether sex is involved or not.  “I would love you and be with you if we never had sex” is the goal.  Then sex becomes an awesome plus to a relationship, and often produces children that fulfill that relationship even more.
I get the “You are just a prude who doesn’t like sex” thrown at me, and nothing could be farther from the truth.  I miss it terribly.  It is awesome.  I also get: “Yeah, but I need to check out the merchandise before I buy it, what if they aren’t any good in bed!”  Well, did you ever think that maybe you might not be any good in bed yourself?  How do you think anyone satisfies another person sexually?  They talk about it and learn it…with each other…because they care enough about each other to be together even if there were no sex…ever!  That is caring and love that seeks to offer oneself and really satisfy each other.  That’s what we need.
I also think that all too often people engage in sex early, outside of marriage, and that REALLY short circuits the whole process of developing the relationship.  Oh sure, you realize you may like them as a sexual partner, but you may find you can’t stand the idea of being around them the rest of your life.  Plus, there is always some kind of psychic debris resultant from any sexual relationship that goes awry and breaks up…it has to do with the power of the act.  It’s like putting superglue on something you find out you don’t want to join together…when you tear it apart it rips everything all to pieces and leaves scars.
I’ve got enough scars from a whole bunch of things in this life.  I don’t need more.

Those Annoying Shirttails

My shirttails keep coming untucked throughout a typical day.  I’ve always thought that ought to be something that someone could invent a way to prevent (comfortably please!)  For some reason, thinking about that set me on a train of thought that literally derailed on a weird siding.  You see, I have often struggled with the idea that we are to be a new creature and filled with a need to live a righteous life and be guided by the spirit.  That’s what they always define a “real” Christian to be.  Clothed in the Spirit.  But you see, my shirt still comes  un-tucked! 
Bottom line is I’m not perfect!  Does that mean I’m a failure as a Christian and need to be shunned by all my fellowship?  I don’t believe that.  We are in process, not perfected.  Perfected in the Spirit in this context is a verb (a process) not a noun (a condition.)  I don’t get a free pass though.  As a Believer, I am required to recognize my failure and seek forgiveness from the appropriate entity.  Sometimes that is confessing it to God and committing to do better…sometimes it may even be harder and require confessing it to the ones I have wronged.
To me it’s like learning to shoot a basket on the court or hit a tennis ball.  You don’t succeed every time, but if you keep practicing, get good coaching and have the right attitude about your failures, you eventually get much better at it.  Or to bring it all back home, it’s like tucking that shirt back in and stepping out into life.

Friday, September 14, 2012

Hey, I'm Outta Here!

A recent survey gave the following as major reasons young people say they leave the Christian church.  I’ve paraphrased and synthesized a bit in making this list for brevity sake, but I think I have captured the general idea of their reasons:

  1. Christians demonize everything outside of the church and stifle everything like movies, video games, etc.
  2. Church is boring and not relevant to my interests, career, etc.
  3. Churches are antagonistic to and out of step with science
  4. Church is simplistic, judgmental and out of date in teachings on sexuality and birth control.
  5. Church is afraid of the beliefs of others and not eclectic and accepting enough.
  6. The church is unfriendly to those who have doubt or questions about faith.
Sadly, I can relate to all of those things in my church experiences over the years.  Every group of Christians I’ve associated has had some of these elements pop up in some fashion.  I think it bears thinking about.  Do we carefully consider the effect of our words and actions in dealing with other Christians?  Are we inclusive of others in our churches?  After all, the most important thing about Christianity is our relationships with God and the body of believers.  If all we do is go sing a few songs and hear a sermon message that may not strike home and then leave, then we are missing the most important part of what church is about…worship and fellowship and the building UP of each other!

Paul said he became all things to others in order to reach them.  I think he was certainly speaking in hyperbole to some extent, but the point is well made.  To reach someone you must reach out…you must be reachable…and you must find some common ground...and you must find acceptance and unconditional love.  I’m not sure we do that very well with youth (or anyone.)  We think bringing in a guitar and some modern praise songs is all it takes -- “give ‘em a great show!”   I think that is deluding ourselves completely.

Certainly, some of these reasons for leaving the church are not really good reasons at all.  Teachings on sexual morality, for instance, don’t go out of date like a loaf of bread on the shelf at the store.  And some video games and movies probably deserve to be demonized.  I’m sure more could be said about many of these “reasons” for abandoning the church.  But we must be careful that we consider these reasons and examine our behavior and our institutions closely to make sure we aren’t failing to meet legitimate needs of those who seek to find a relationship with our God and with each other.

Sunday, September 9, 2012


Don’t judge Christianity by Christians.  I’ve heard it before, and I understand what some people are trying to say.  Society and the church have been troubled by imperfect people since the dawn of creation.  And who needs a Savior if you are already perfect, right?  We’ve got some whoppers of examples of leadership in the major religions that have faltered in their behavior and the example they set.  David comes to mind, so does Solomon.  The church hierarchy in the Middle Ages had lost its way entirely with buying your way into heaven and priests having mistresses.  Then there are the Jim Bakkers of today to point to. 

But, I can just imagine what would happen if we said “don’t judge government by its elected leaders, or don’t judge schools by there teachers.”  Never happen.  People wouldn’t stand for it.  We make assumptions and judge all the time based on what we see and hear.  It’s an important way to protect yourself if you are looking for good outcomes.

We will continually be judged by our behavior and how consistent it is with the standard understood and expected by those who see us in our daily lives, and it will never cease to be important to attempt with our imperfect selves to live up to the standard that is expected of us by God.  I have heard it best said, “we are the only Bible some people may ever read.”

So how do we ever live up to the example we are supposed to set?  In my life I’ve had houses with great views out…but the best views I ever got were the ones looking inside at my family.  In other words, examining yourself instead of always examining others is a valuable tool, and prayer has a way of looking inside and illuminating with an incendiary flame what is beautiful and important to both God and us (not always the same, by the way! -- LOL.)  Prayer is not always talking either…sometimes we just need to listen.  Perhaps if we spend a bit more time that way seeking God’s face, we will be able to live up to those expectations that others have of us the rest of the time. 

Thursday, September 6, 2012

What I Learned From The Woodpecker and Sparrow

I saw a sparrow hop up and watch a woodpecker this morning as he went to work.  I’m pretty sure I heard the woodpecker mutter to the sparrow, “You would not believe my Advil bill every month…and I don’t even want to talk about what I spend on my beak repair bills...and I’ve got double vision, do you think I could be getting a brain tumor? 

The woodpecker works hard, alone and endlessly to dig through and under the tree bark.  He knows when he hits a soft spot and gets in there, lots of tasty bugs are likely to be lounging around.  The sparrows work in groups and scavenge the surfaces, the cracks and the leaf litter for food, looking for the easy pickings. They must think the woodpecker works too hard, although some hang around to join in his feast after he’s done all the hard work. 

Are you a woodpecker or a sparrow?



I overheard a conversation in town last night:

“Hey, haven’t seen you for a while, are you still married?”  That’s what I heard a 50+ year-old man say to a young lady of about 25 that was sitting near me in a restaurant. 

Good grief, is that what it has all come too now?  The expected hail is not “how are you” or “great to see you,” it’s “are you still married” which carries with it the implied assumption that you likely might not be.  I can’t imagine a conversation starting out like that 50 years ago, or even 20 years ago.  We have come to the point where we treat marriage and sexual control as antiquated concepts of ancient history.  “Who needs ‘em,” we say.  The statistics bear this out with around 50% of all marriages ending in divorce, and an even higher percentage of re-marriages ending that way, as well.  Many just choose to live together for a season with no evidence of commitment before man or God, and most of society has no problem with that.

On the other hand, we have gays clamoring for the right to get married.  How weird a contradiction in our civilization is that!  Marriage and family are fundamental to the health of our society…any society.  When that breaks down, everything tends to break down.  I know from personal experience how difficult it is for everyone in a family to go through divorce and to raise a child alone.  The increased vulnerability to all sorts of economic, social and moral problems and failures can’t be overstated. 

Are there genuine reasons for divorce?  Sure.  Dangerous abusive relationships, adultery, and some others come to mind.  But if the mind-set in our society is that when the flush of romance dies I get to “opt-out,” then I think we’ve gone too far.  We also need to spend more time on looking at who we marry and why (basic compatibility.)  Most people rarely know their mate well enough before marriage it seems, and that sows the seeds of disaster all to often.  Perhaps the requirements for a marriage license ought to be more like getting a driver’s license (some would say even a physician’s license – LOL), in that you have to prove you’ve learned a few things about making lasting relationships work before you are allowed to marry.

I suspect we have moved away so far from God’s standard that we just may have lost our way entirely.  If we look at world history or even just Biblical history, collectively moving away from God’s standards doesn’t usually bode well for a country…it’s time to make some changes or else prepare for really tough times ahead.  We may not find ourselves hauled off to captivity into Babylon like the Jewish nation was, but there is all manner of creative ways to be hauled off into captivity these days, and I don’t want to find out what it looks or feels like.

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Struck By Lightning

I hear that President Obama has changed the venue for his convention speech in the outdoor arena in Charlotte and is going indoors due to the predicted storm.  Perhaps he’s afraid he may be struck by lightning during his speech for lying.  If so, no politician of any party would ever venture outside in a storm. Shading the truth seems to be their stock and trade all too often.  I even heard today that there is a big controversy over the insertion of God and support for Israel and for their capitol city to be Jerusalem in the Democratic Platform, at this year’s convention.  The voice vote was clearly not showing a two-thirds majority in favor of the proposal, but it was inserted nonetheless.  But what is a platform to any political party?  Do they truly bind the president to its principles?  If we review the actions of our leaders, it is clear that it is often just jargon and media hype to convince people to vote for them.  History is full of that story (enough so that God saw fit to make it a commandment for all of us that we not lie, and that we live up to our commitments.)

I wonder if any of us are much different than our leaders. None of us is perfect. We wouldn’t need Jesus if we were.  Still, it makes life so much simpler if we are honest with others…and honest with ourselves.  I remember one friend who had come to grips with this fact.  He told me that life was so much simpler for him when he quit lying to everyone, because he didn’t have to remember and keep straight exactly which lie he told to whom any more.  And just as important, he doesn’t have to lie to himself any longer, either. What an amazing freedom there is in that!!

OK, so back to politics!  We also have a responsibility to hold our leaders truthful and accountable to their promises.  Actually, accountability and responsibility are important for all of us to show in every aspect of our daily lives.  I look at my son when he borrows $20 and says he’ll pay me back.  If he never does, or does so only one in every ten times, I am at fault for not holding him accountable and responsible for his promise to pay me back.  I do him and myself no favors by failing to do so (and it is very hard for me  to write this, because I do fail often in this…and many other things!)  With our leaders I think it works the same way, and I have that same obligation to vote in a manner that holds all our leaders accountable for their promises.

So, pay close attention in this national election season.  Evaluate what both parties’ candidates say against their past perfomance no matter what your party or candidate preference is at the moment.  Get involved and be informed.  Especially watch the debates.  Much is at stake in this country not only as to the religious freedoms we hold dear, but also as to the economic viability and moral health of all who love this nation.

Sunday, September 2, 2012

Look Ma, No Hands!

I was walking downtown today and happened to encounter a man and his very young son.  The boy was on a bicycle without training wheels.  Mom was walking a little ways back as he picked up speed.  Today was the big day, apparently, where he would hopefully learn to control the bike and ride on his own without crashing.  Dad was there holding the seat slightly out of the range of the kid’s vision.  I can imagine all the days with training wheels, and all the times after the wheels were removed that that father watched his child jackknife and start to fall.

Today was going to be different.  The excitement was visible in this humble spectacle, and even I enjoyed watching and remembering going through the same exercise with my son and daughter years ago.  Nothing is more satisfying than to see them succeed at the task.  It is rewarding to them, and it is especially gratifying to the parent when they succeed.  One day they even surprised you by riding with no hands...they finally got it all figured out and it comes naturally.

I couldn’t help but draw the parallel to God’s careful instruction to us on how to live.  His desire is for us to succeed and to be able to “balance” and reap the rewards.  We balance living in a world of self-centeredness that ignores God, and our job is to worship Him and love one another, and try our very best to live according to his guidance as we grow up in Him.  When he lets go of our “seat back” and watches us roll down that sidewalk of life, he is always there like that little boy’s father ready to catch us if we lose control.  He may be behind us out of sight, but he is there. 

Nothing could make him happier than to see us living according to his guidance, and riding that bike safely with perfect balance.

In A Pig's Eye

I just got through reading the story in the New Testament where Jesus runs across this whopping scary dude in the rocks who nobody wants to tangle with.  He is flat stone crazy, screaming and cutting himself all day and night.  Who wouldn’t want to detour around the block to avoid him?  Yet the locals put up with having him there.  Now Jesus shows up, and lo and behold the man starts talking in fear and revealing that there are many who have taken up residence inside him.  These evil spirits are immediately in fear of Jesus because they recognize him as all-powerful and beg him not to send them back to the abyss, but to send them into a herd of pigs nearby instead.  It’s kind of interesting that the first thing they do is run the pigs they now inhabit off the hill and into a lake and kill them all.  Guess setting up house inside a pig isn’t all that much fun even for demons (and since I’ve seen pigs wallow and I’ve seen what they eat, I’m not surprised.)

So what’s the outcome of this in Jesus’ generation?  Everyone marvels and then immediately wants Jesus to leave because they fear him.  He’s cured this guy and is sitting talking to him normally, and yet they don’t find good in all that…they reject it.  I suspect the same thing would happen today.  The newspaper would carry the story “Itinerant religious wacko kills farmers swine herd -- Lawsuit for theft of property pending.  Preacher being held in county jail for disturbing the peace.”  We live in an unbelieving generation much like in Christ’s day, where recognizing good and evil is rare.  We rationalize and excuse behavior, and we seek only after material gain and power. 

We are still rejecting the good over the evil far too often, and the cost of that will be high.

Saturday, September 1, 2012

Who Am I

I had my identity stolen last week.  It was a very disconcerting experience when credit charges started actually piling up by the minute.  When I called my card companies charges were coming in as we spoke on the phone…and yet they gave me the assurance that I wouldn’t have any of those charges held against me, and that all I had to do was cut up my card and a new one would come in the mail the next day.

It set me to thinking: My identity is probably one of the most important things I have to be concerned about.  Not just my day-to-day identity for social security, bank loans, credit cards but my identity for eternity.  Who am I?  How does that matter?  I am a musician, I am a writer, I am a firefighter/medic, but none of those identities have any long-term value like my identity in Christ.  I am a Christian.  I that a nominal label that means nothing more than which pew I sit in?  Or is it a relationship with God that makes it so I am not held accountable for the charges against me?  What a cool credit card that is, if not only the things I am not responsible for are excused, but also the things I am responsible for are cleared from my account as well.  I don’t even have to fill out paperwork or cut up my membership card, it all happens automatically…and for me, probably pretty regularly.  I try not to run up those charges, but I’m not perfect.  Boy am I not perfect.  But I am perfected in Christ through his death on the cross.  It’s a done deal.  A contract signed in blood.

What is your identity?

(P.S.  I want a credit card like that!)