Monthly Archives: July 2014
Some might accuse me of an obsequious manner when I’m at work. “Obsequious” is a highbrow word for brown-nosing. I resent the implication. After all, it’s not like I mow my supervisor’s lawn on weekends. (She prefers that I wash her car.) Aside from my “obsequious” endeavors on the job, I do indeed appreciate the work itself. Work provides a strong sense of purpose and human dignity. God himself worked when he created our world. God gave humanity work that included purpose right from the start. Rick Warren wrote a famous book titled “The Purpose Driven Live.” Agent Smith in the Matrix told Neo: “There’s no escaping reason, no denying purpose, for as we both know, without purpose we would not exist. It is purpose that created us, purpose that connects us, purpose that pulls us, that guides us, that drives us; it is purpose that defines us, purpose that binds us.” I don’t agree with all of Agent Smith’s assertions, but he does make a valid point about the significance of purpose.
During a Sunday sermon not long ago, I daydreamed about work, purpose, and retirement. (Before you judge me for not paying attention to the sermon you should know that the Bible says old men will dream dreams.) As someone with one foot in the workplace and one almost in retirement, I am beginning to understand how disconcerting it can be when the routine of daily work begins to fade away. For some folks, it gets abruptly yanked away. Advanced age, declining health, organizational restructuring, family issues, a host of reasons can move a person from productive employment to a completely different stage of life we call retirement. It can feel like the death of one’s purpose.
I used to look forward to retirement with joyful anticipation. It would be a chance to do what I want with my time. But the reality of advancing years and creeping problematic health issues that threaten to catapult me into retirement have made me realize how much work is essential for survival . . . or I should say the survival of purpose. Aging has revealed something startling about me: I was not ready to give up on dreams of advancing my career or doing something great in service to God, though the reality of life’s limitations say otherwise. I am not in absolute control of my destiny. The fear of losing purpose is a terrible thing. You see, I felt certain God was taking me in a specific direction . . . the direction I wanted to go. It turns out that was not the case. (Go figure.) Accepting this reality has been a classic study in denial and resistance. Here’s the thing: The more I deny and resist, the more painful it is.
Just because I can’t see what lies beyond a fading responsibility to rise and go to work each day does not mean there is nothing more to do or be, no purpose. In other words, this is one of those times in life where faith is either real or lip service. Ecclesiastes 3 talks about the seasons of life under the heavens. When one season ends another begins, and the new season can be the opposite, or very different, from what we did in the previous. And the thing about seasons is we do not always get to pick when they begin and end. Ultimately, when the time comes to hang up one’s work shoes we discover if we really have the peace in our heart we claim to have as Christians. I believe the purpose we crave will arise somewhere other than at the job site . . . if we have a malleable heart. We are not a piece of unused furniture gathering dust in God’s garage. Or so I hope.
My point is not to blast Limbaugh for hypocrisy. I just want to use his example to demonstrate how easy it is for ALL of us to be hypocrites. (I prefer to focus on the hypocrisy of others rather than my own . . . and that of course is the point.) We are told in the Bible not to judge, and yet a recent Church Leadership article titled “7 Signs You Are ‘Judging’ Others” pointed out that Jesus did a lot of judging. The article rightly points out that Jesus did not follow-up his judgments with condemnation. The article goes on to state:
“Dietrich Bonhoeffer said that one of the first signs of Christian maturity is a frustration with the hypocrisy of the church and a desire to separate from it.
But the next sign of growth is recognizing that the same hypocrisy in the church is present in oneself.”
Bonhoeffer had a gift for striking a little too close to home. I have been there . . . am still there. It is soooo easy to see hypocrisy and faults in other people and institutions. It ain’t so easy to face up to them in oneself. Facing up to our hypocrisies chokes that exquisite sinful feeling of moral superiority. I am not suggesting that we can never speak up about an issue for fear of revealing our own hypocrisy. The Bible instructs us to confront one another with a spirit of love, not moral superiority or condemnation. Accepting that we might be a hypocrite regarding faults we see in others should inspire us to have an attitude of love, or so I hope.
Matthew 23: 1-3 says:
“Then Jesus said to the crowds and to his disciples: ‘The teachers of the law and the Pharisees sit in Moses’ seat. So you must be careful to do everything they tell you. But do not do what they do, for they do not practice what they preach.’”
This is a hard lesson to live. Some leaders and key people in our lives have tremendous wisdom and spiritual and moral instruction that we would be wise to implement. But then we see them fail to practice what they have preached. And wham bam the virus of hypocrisy gets passed to us. Even young adults who decry the hypocrisy they see among their elders (with a certain flair of self-righteousness, I might add) wake up one day and realize they too are hypocrites in many ways.
What is a Christian to do with this dilemma? The healthiest thing is to focus on our own hypocrisy and concern ourselves less, if at all, with the sins of others. Or we can refuse to acknowledge our own hypocrisies and remain in a place of stagnation. I don’t know about you, but I have enough hypocrisy on my own plate to deal with.
A few days ago a video went viral showing a California Highway Patrol officer punching a woman on the ground beside a road. The video elicits a visceral reaction from viewers, resulting in an emotional public outcry. (I know, thank you Captain Obvious.) But let’s set aside the video for now and think about the broader issue of the relationship between the California Highway Patrol and the public they serve.
Years ago, the California Highway Patrol had a reputation as being the best of the best in the world of uniformed law enforcement. They put the safety and trust of the public above their own interests. I don’t know for certain, but I hope that is still true today. This incident with the officer punching the lady on the ground is an opportunity for the Highway Patrol to conduct a transparent investigation that leads to the truth, or as close to the truth as humanly possible. Whatever their leadership does, it is hoped their response will focus exclusively on even-handed justice AND the trust of the people they serve and police. We give them a badge and tremendous authority and we pray they do not abuse our trust.
What does this have to do with faith and the church? It has to do with trust. Trust is similar to virginity; once it’s gone it’s gone. I’ve read studies that indicate people don’t trust as much as they used to. They are suspicious and fearful of other people and they don’t trust formerly venerable institutions, and sometimes that includes the church. People instinctively know that most institutions have a tendency to prioritize the needs of the institution and its leaders above the people they serve. Of course institutions would never admit to such a culture within their ranks. They may not even be aware of the ways they damage trust. They proclaim to always put their customers and constituents first.
Jesus was clearly more interested in advocating for the common people. He did not participate in maintaining the positions and nests of those in power, and that included the religious machine of the day. In fact, he did just the opposite. He shook the foundations of their entrenched corruption. Luke 11:45 says:
Jesus replied, “And you experts in the law, woe to you, because you load people down with burdens they can hardly carry, and you yourselves will not lift one finger to help them.”
I am fearful that the modern church has lost a great deal of public trust, at least here in America. There could be legions of reasons for this loss of trust, some valid and some imagined. For instance, some point their accusatory finger at highly public failures of institutions to protect the most innocent and vulnerable among their ranks; think Catholic Church or Penn State sexual abuse of children scandals. Others believe institutions just want their money and do not care about them as a person. Still others see their political leaders as blind and deaf to the situations of average people, pandering more to the wants of the wealthy and connected. Restoring the trust of the people could be a long process, and it won’t happen unless we first admit that the trust has been damaged and something needs to be done about it. I suspect Christ’s church is the most appropriate place to start focusing on rebuilding trust. And here’s a hint: it can’t be accomplished with a six week sermon series. I’m just saying.
Gird your loins Christians of America, the day of television reckoning has come upon us. Barna Research released a fascinating report about which TV programs we watch in 2014. They found that the top five programs Christians watch are:
The Big Bang Theory (ironic)
Dancing with the Stars
Only one of my favorite programs made the list. (This shook my faith and caused me to question whether my name really IS written in the Book of Life.) Fortunately my sense of self-righteousness took over and reassured me that there is nothing wrong with me or my viewing preferences. I simply prefer a more highbrow television experience. For instance, I watch Downton Abbey (only because my wife refuses to surrender the TV remote when DA is on). Nevertheless, there are times when my faithful wife acquiesces to my authority as lord of the manor (specifically, when she is away from the manor) and, like Frodo in possession of the precious ring, I take possession of the TV remote. Lest you doubt my snobby taste in television, here are MY top five programs:
Man vs. Food
Fox News and CNN (Wait, are they news programs, reality, propaganda, or drama? . . . It’s hard to tell.)
Now that’s what I call a sterling lineup of classiness. The good folks at Barna also discovered that 74% of Americans turn on their TV every day. This begs the question: Who are the remaining 26% who do not turn on their TV every day . . . household pets? It wouldn’t surprise me if my own quadrupeds were watching TV all day while I’m at work, given their propensity to swipe snack foods from the kitchen counter and lounge on the sofa in perpetuity. Barna also found that 30% of people watch five or more hours in a typical day. Viewers no longer have to wait for each episode of their favorite miniseries to come out week after week. They can go online and watch them all in one sitting, like binge drinking.
The problem with TV is that it jams a lot of vicarious living into short amount of time. Real life is much more mundane. Personally, I have to be careful about letting TV make me feel like I’m not living an exciting life like everybody on TV. Hey, after all, who wouldn’t want the glamorous life of Si Robertson on Duck Dynasty? Anyhow, I recently read a devotional that described how the writer of Ecclesiates warns us about many of our strivings that are meaningless under the sun. The writer goes on to explain that it is OK to enjoy the simple pleasures, so long as we accept them for what they are—simple pleasures. The point being that we have a human tendency to want more out of just about everything. TV feeds that beast. The Bible reminds us that a lot of the “more” that we crave can’t be had in this life. And that is why it is OK to enjoy the simple pleasure in this life. It helps us live more richly in the present.