Monthly Archives: July 2012

Digging Holes

Have you ever known people who seem too quick to say the tough situations in their life are part of God’s plan, or they connect nearly all undesirable outcomes with the schemes of Satan?

Perhaps we evangelicals have developed an unwholesome tendency to overuse God and Satan to avoid our personal accountability. For instance, if I run up the balance on my credit card and take out huge home equity loans to live large, do I then have license to say God orchestrated my financial Armageddon to accomplish a higher spiritual purpose? I am aware of Romans 8:28 and the fact that God can use all situations to the good of those who love him. I get it. On the other hand, there are verses in the Bible that say we are accountable for our actions. See Galatians 6:5.

Here’s the thing: We can read stories in the Bible like Job and assume that God or Satan are behind nearly all the pleasant and unpleasant situations and outcomes in our life. That’s a mistake because it makes it too easy to grant self-absolution for our actions, or inaction. Sure, there will be times when God turns bad events into positive outcomes in our lives. There will be times when the enemy brings hardship and pain into our lives. But are we mere puppets at the complete mercy of good and malevolent forces? If so, why do we have the awesome power of choice at our disposal?

Developing a default setting where we automatically pass off the fruit of our risky actions or inaction to God to use in his holy work doesn’t improve our inner spiritual health. It can be framed to sound lofty and spiritual, but it isn’t. You see, sometimes we dig ourselves into a hole with nobody helping us shovel the dirt. God might help us get out of the hole, or he might let us scratch and claw our own way out. Either way, wisdom is found in first admitting our responsibility for digging the hole. I’m just sayin’.

It Could Be Worse

I’m not much of a prophet. I’m more like an acolyte. (No I did not say a cola lite.) Nevertheless, I do follow current events and I have read a history book or two, including the Old Testament. History has a way of nagging at me about our country’s current economic malaise. In other words, if the past is a portent of the future, I think it possible that things could get much worse in America. A worsening economy is possible if corruption and self-seeking values have reached critical mass in the hearts of the people, leaders in business and government, and especially believers. Yes I know there are still many good people who live and work without succumbing to guile and avarice. The question is: Have we reached a tipping point? I don’t know the answer for certain, but it’s time we at least acknowledge that it is indeed possible.

If the economy worsens, how will the church respond? I haven’t heard church leaders talking about this very much. Most churches seem to be hunkering down while trying to ride out the storm so they can get back to business as usual. But what if there is no return to business as usual, at least for the foreseeable future? I don’t know if the Lord is smiting our economy or we are just reaping what we’ve sowed. It’s probably the latter . . . or both.

It would be prudent for the church to start talking about ways we can prepare to help believers and our local communities should things get worse, even dire. You know, do some emergency planning. I’m not talking about buying a fortified compound in Montana and stockpiling canned goods, ammunition, and water purification systems. I’m talking about collective soul-searching and modest planning.

First, it’s very important for believers to ask ourselves if we have been unfaithful to God. That is, have we made other treasures more important to us than God? If so, the only proper response is prayerful contrition and reorientation of our priorities. We have to fall in love with God all over again, make him our only first love, and set aside our idols. If we sincerely return to God, I believe he desires to restore our spiritual and tangible blessings.

If we have not been unfaithful to God, then we simply need to prepare to help believers and our local communities with things like food, clothing, shelter, medical care, job-finding assistance, and counseling. Each church doesn’t have to do it all, just do something. I admire churches that offer simple services like food banks and second-hand clothing distribution because providing such services helps the church get in shape should life get tougher for our fellow citizens. Waiting to the last minute to provide for physical needs means a sharp learning curve. I don’t know about you, but I despise sharp learning curves.

Fox Tails

Penn State and the Jerry Sandusky child sex abuse scandal was back in the news last week. A CNN report put it this way: “The most powerful leaders at Penn State University showed ‘total and consistent disregard’ for child sex abuse victims while covering up the attacks of a longtime sexual predator, according to an internal review into how the school handled a scandal involving its former assistant football coach.” The internal review was conducted by former FBI director Louis Freeh.

Whenever cases like this hit the news, I think it could happen in the Christian church today and many church leaders seem oblivious to a weakness through which it might occur. I’ll explain. Since the Catholic Church child sex abuse scandal involving some priests and church leaders, other denominations and independent churches implemented policies and procedures designed to prevent access to children by pedophiles. The thing that nags me is that the culture of our churches and denominations has not changed at the core. Nepotism and partiality are still deeply embedded, even celebrated, in much of Christian church culture. The sons, daughters, and close friends of church leaders can often track relatively quickly into ministry positions. For example, there are churches  in one relatively small community where a family of pastors have served over the course of many years. This family has a very strong presence within the local Christian community. Hypothetically speaking, if one of the pastors runs off the moral rails in an egregious or criminal way, who’s going to call it in to the denomination or the police? Will the church administrative assistant call it in and tarnish their reputation? We like to think people will do the right thing—even if puts their job at risk or makes them persona non grata—to protect others, especially children. As sad as it is, I don’t think we can afford to count on that social contract any more.

I used to think it was enough to have an official policy that a church leader can’t be in a position where they supervise a relative. I’m not so sure any more. Perhaps we need to realize that any form of nepotism is dangerous. It’s dangerous because it is a form of partiality. James 2 is not limited to favoritism of the rich over the poor. James 2 is talking about a condition of our hearts. The condition of our hearts translates to the culture we establish in the ministries where we serve. Because of our sinful nature the human heart loves to receive and bestow partiality, often for superficial or inappropriate reasons. I suspect, though I have no proof, that the culture of Penn State is probably one where it’s not uncommon for family members of employees to get hired and where many on staff have lived side by side with each other in the same community for many years, if not multiple generations. In such an environment a shrewd pedophile could use familiarity and their position in the community to their advantage.

Clearly evil is at work and has targeted our children. Even now it may be targeting the church through our children. If this is true it means denominations and independent churches will need to take a hard look at the culture within the church. I realize that most of the time a little nepotism and partiality doesn’t result in tragic consequences. In fact, you could argue that nepotism and partiality prevents the hiring or placement of unknown people in positions with access to children. I get it. But perhaps the church is entering a season when we need to admit that nepotism and partiality can also blind us to the flaws in people we know and trust. Maybe the time will soon be upon us to purge the church of nepotism and partiality. Such an effort would encounter fierce opposition. Still, 1 Corinthians 14:12 tells us to strive to build up the church. That doesn’t necessarily mean to keep doing things the way we’ve always done it.

An unknown author said, “A fox cannot hide its tail.” The question is: Do we have the courage to see the fox’s tail even when attached to someone close to us?

The Carbon Cook

When I was a teenager, my father would ride my case for trying to cook and watch TV at the same time. “You can’t cook and watch the boob tube at the same time,” he’d warn with emphatic flair and color in his choice of vocabulary. Sage advice, indeed! I still occasionally stray from my father’s philosophy on the culinary arts, only now I do it to answer the siren call of the computer (i.e. I get distracted by Mahjong as the bacon crackles in the skillet). Such is the strength of my convictions. Nevertheless, my clever efforts in the kitchen assure our family of a good night’s sleep knowing that the smoke detectors work quite well.

Forty years later I can still hear my father’s voice. I know what words he would use to guide me in almost any given situation. I know his carefully selected intonations. “Use your noggin, knothead!” was his go-to tool that frequently inspired me to immediately stop whatever I was doing and use common sense before suffering some eminent, and completely unanticipated, injury. I knew he could be gruff and direct at times, but his heart was always tender with me.

Too often I think about old sins. It’s frustrating how sins from the past can torment us in the present. While mulling over those old sins I catch myself thinking on some deep level that God can’t or won’t forgive me, that somehow my sins are more egregious than the rest of humanity’s transgressions. I don’t feel good enough. That’s when I sense God say, “Don’t insult me, knothead! I sent my son to permanently separate you from your sins.” Well, maybe God wouldn’t say “knothead,” or maybe in my case it’s a foregone conclusion. But you get the gist of what God might say in response to our thoughts of self-loathing and feeling unforgiven—“Really? You are still letting Satan shame you after all I’ve done for you?”

1 John 2:2 says, “He is the atoning sacrifice for our sins, and not only for ours but also for the sins of the whole world.”

And Psalms 103: 12 says, “. . . as far as the east is from the west, so far does he remove our transgressions from us.”

Just like nothing can separate us from the love of God, nothing can reunite us with our sins.

Tom Cruise and Katie Holmes Untie the Knot

Imagine my surprise when I saw the news that Tom Cruise and Katie Holmes are getting a divorce. I wasn’t astonished so much at their unfortunate divorce, but at the fact that Tom Cruise is fifty. Cruise will probably be just like Dick Clark—forever young. Some folks have all the luck.

This serious news junkie used to think celebrity news was drivel and beneath me. But I must admit there is an element of entertainment in reading about the lives of celebrities. We like to escape in a fairytale and shut out the ugliness of the world. I suppose it is a type of amusement akin to listening to music or playing endless games of Mahjong (my usual addiction). I can see how it can be fun to watch the antics of glamorous and talented people. We also love to see what’s going on behind the scenes in their personal lives; like peeking behind the curtain to see the real Wizard of Oz. It’s just wise to remember that much of what we see behind the curtain is probably inaccurate, as well.

Still, I feel a bit ill at ease watching the grief and pain of celebrities as a form of entertainment. They are, after all, real people. Granted, many celebrities have made bad choices that turned their private lives into train wrecks. Even so there are a lot of wonderful stories told by folks in the entertainment industry. Even Christianity has its celebrity pastors, priests, and saints who entertain us while helping us mature. We are a culture with a voracious appetite for entertainment. As newspapers wither, entertainment magazines thrive.

A.W. Tozer said, “The human heart cannot exist in a vacuum. If men do not have joy in their hearts they will seek it somewhere else.”

Why is joy so elusive . . . even for many Christians? Have we allowed the high priests of entertainment in movies, sports, music, and gaming to replace the joy of the Lord in life? Entertainment has essential artistic value, but it isn’t enough without some cerebral and spiritual fulfillment. Maybe joy can only come if we slow down and choose to let the Holy Spirit work in our heart.

Justice for Some II

The pursuit of justice can be costly. You can be squarely in the right and still get dumped on for opposing an injustice.

The movie “Flash of Genius” tells the story of Robert Kearns and his invention of the intermittent windshield wiper. In the movie, Ford Motor Company infringed Kearns’ patent on the device. The movie shows Ford Motor’s using Kearns’s invention without giving him credit or compensation. Kearns is incensed at the injustice. He launches a multi-year legal battle against Ford. He eventually won (Oops! sorry for the spoiler) but the toll for victory was high. He had a nervous breakdown. The legal wrangling cost him substantial money and time. He got divorced. His children grew up estranged from him. His attorney quit. He was a man obsessed with righting a wrong. Was it worth it?

The New Living Translation Bible says those who hunger and thirst for justice will be satisfied. Most of us have a fairly good understanding of what justice looks like, but when we encounter injustice we are often quick to cry foul and complain about it, though we seldom take action. It’s just too time-consuming and costly to fight every injustice we encounter. After a while, we don’t fight any injustice. Kearns family did not have the same hunger for justice.

Now that I’ve been on the planet a while, I think almost every person or family eventually encounters a significant injustice. Some people encounter several major injustices in their lifetime. I’m just grateful for those among us who clearly perceive egregious injustice and take action. They cherish justice. They impact this world and make it better. People who hunger and thirst for justice have a special place in the heart of God. Yes, I understand it can be a thin line between passion and unhealthy obsession.

Still, the Bible doesn’t say we won’t have opposition in pursuit of justice. It doesn’t say it won’t cost us. It doesn’t promise safety throughout the struggle for justice. It doesn’t promise we will always win. On the other hand, it does say justice is extremely valuable and near to the heart of God. Maybe God’s heart for justice should change our perspective about things like serving on a jury (just a thought).

Here’s the thing: We are not responsible for all outcomes in the pursuit of justice. There will be times when justice gets perverted. Ultimately God’s purpose prevails. Our responsibility is to push back against injustice. Also, two of the most beneficial questions a Christian can ask God are: Am I a just person? Do I confront injustice in the way I live?

On a personal level, God’s justice is indispensible. It provides the context we need to experience God’s love. If God’s love is the medicine we need, then God’s justice is the diagnosis.