Monthly Archives: November 2014

Wild in the Wilderness: Reese Witherspoon gets serious

398px-Reese_Witherspoon_2009Reese Witherspoon (the actress who starred in cinema classics Legally Blonde and Sweet Home Alabama) is starring in Wild, a biographical drama about the destructive young adult life of Cheryl Strayed (oh the irony of her last name). The movie is based on Strayed’s successful memoir Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail, a book about a young woman’s journey of personal discovery in the wake of tragedy and reckless decisions including drug use and sexual promiscuity. This book and movie caught my attention because I’m interested in topics of sin and immoral behavior. Fortunately I aspire to remain non-judgmental about many issues of immorality (especially my own).

Yet whenever I hear about the type of rough story in Wild, I wonder if there was a special person in the life of the protagonist; you know, someone the protagonist cared for, someone who attempted to dissuade the protagonist from harmful behavior. Was there a parent, sibling, spouse, BFF, pastor, or priest who spoke up in an effort to get the reckless person to change direction? Did they go too far, or not far enough in their efforts? I’m intrigued about Strayed’s story, so I guess I’ll have to read the book . . . though I hear it contains some raunchy elements (which are either verboten or deliciously enticing, depending on your denominational affiliation).

Here’s where I’m going with this: What should we do when someone dear to us makes life decisions that conflict with God’s plan and loving boundaries for the way people ought to live? For example, what should parents do if their young adult son or daughter embarks on a series of casual sexual relationships outside of marriage? I suspect most parents would gravitate toward confronting their son or daughter’s harmful behavior in a firm but loving manner. If the errant son or daughter refuses to listen, what should a parent do next? Should they follow the steps described in Matthew 18 and confront their child with a witness? Should they take the problem before their church? If the son or daughter still won’t change their reckless behavior, should they cast them out of their family and the church to be ignored by all? Frankly, we don’t follow these Biblical steps very often these days. They seem … harsh and invasive to our modern sensibilities.

That said, it is important to understand there’s a difference between canceling the church membership of an unrepentant person engaging in serious sin (there would be no church members if we cancelled membership for ALL sins), and cutting the person off from ALL relationships. Some of the serious sins mentioned in the Bible that relate to this topic include: Idleness, busybodies (gossips), sexual immorality not even tolerated by pagans (I don’t wanna know what that looks like), denying the resurrection of Christ, stirring up division, and blasphemers. I suppose a fundamentalist theological scholar could make a Biblical argument for casting out an unrepentant person engaging egregious sins. Granted, there are situations where we must set a strict boundary and end a relationship for the sake of our own health and safety or the health and safety of others. On the other hand, when someone we love commits serious sin, one human reaction we might have is to hound the person we love about their sin. Our intentions might be laudable, but I don’t recall any Scriptures permitting us to hound someone about their sin. There might be some situations where hounding would work, but not many. The Prodigal didn’t hound his son. And I don’t recall Jesus hounding very many people about their sin, though he certainly hounded the Pharisees. It is important for us to understand that hounding a person about their sin can backfire. It is not uncommon for someone who has sinned to turn on anyone who hounds them about their immoral behavior. They eventually begin to twist the truth of their bad behavior and make the hounder out to be the bad guy. The scary thing is that they often come to believe their own perversions of the truth. At that point, only God can fix them. By the way, hounding a person is not the same as holding them legitimately accountable, but that’s a topic for another day.

Perhaps we overly focus on God doing some dramatic turnaround work on someone we love (and we often want God to do it in a hurry) when in reality God is also doing turnaround work in OUR life through the bad decisions of the person we love. Wrap your noodle around that! Maybe God is trying to reveal something about the nature of our relationship with the unrepentant loved one in our life. Maybe He is trying to show us that we are trying to be the perfect Christian via our own strength. Maybe He wants to show us some hypocrisy or pride that has crept into our own life. Maybe he wants to show us that we have crossed the line and are trying too hard to live by the law and have neglected God’s grace. Maybe he wants to show us that we do not know enough of the details and nuances of our loved one’s situation to form an accurate or appropriate judgment.

Maybe the best approach is for us to speak our piece about the sin and let the unrepentant person walk whatever path they choose . . . and continue to love them while God works. 1 Peter 4:8 says “Most important of all, continue to show deep love for each other, for love covers a multitude of sins.” I don’t think this verse is referring only to situations where people sin against us or wrong us. I’m just saying!

Yelping God’s House

4-5 Stars by Estoy Acqui

Now that the Republicans have taken control of Congress, we can relax in the assurance that God will not smite us with his wrath. (Unless God is a Democrat or Libertarian . . . do Libertarians smite?) Anyhow, I recently got tired of all the political ads and stories in the media and found myself looking for a distraction. I ended up perusing church reviews on Yelp (which can be like listening in on delicious gossip). After reading several reviews I realized something intriguing: Some of the reviewers praised the churches they visited and ended their reviews with statements along the lines of “This is not your typical church.” I had to laugh because the things they cited as new and groundbreaking are indeed, well, typical. Things like: “The church has a mix of modern and traditional worship music, lots of programs for children, excellent premarital counseling services, an all-are-welcome atmosphere (code for gay people are MORE welcome at our church than yours), relevant sermons, and the people are so nice and genuine.”

After many church experiences, my definition of “not your typical church” is narrower. For instance, a clothing-optional liturgical church would qualify, under my definition, as “not your typical church.” A church made up entirely of short people who all have a fear of heights would qualify as “not your typical church.” You get the idea. The modern church has lots of features that are fairly common across the board. It takes something way outside the box to classify as truly atypical.

Here’s the deeper issue. Nearly all the reviews I read focused on first-impression features of the churches they visited. They were very similar, in many ways, to reviews of a restaurant or a hotel. In other words, they were rather shallow observations. I must admit that the practice of reviewing churches on Yelp feels a tad impious to this old coot. But I also see value in reviewing churches. Reviews can help lackluster or unhealthy churches get their act together. Reviews can help those new to a community narrow their search for a church. Reviews can help people get hurts off their chest if they have been wronged by a church. Right or wrong, reviews of churches are likely here to stay and church leaders who ignore them do so at their peril.

In the city where I live, some churches currently have 4 or 5 reviews. Others have as many as 50 or more. When I review reviews (I crack me up), I generally follow the law of large numbers. That is, the higher the number of reviews the more accurate the star rating. This is because the higher number of reviews tends to balance out the opinions of angry, bitter, and impossible to please people. But aside from the number of reviews, many reviewers seem to suffer from a lack of deep observations about churches. Here’s the problem: Churches are not like reviewing a restaurant or a hotel. Writing a genuinely helpful review that touches on something deep about a church requires more than one or two visits to the church. First impressions are important, but they rarely tell the whole story when it comes to churches. I went to a church where the senior pastor blew me away with his outstanding oration and his ability to speak Biblical truth directly into my life. The congregation was huge. As time went on, I began to realize that the church was built largely on the personality of the senior pastor. People were naturally drawn to the man’s warm and bold personality. The long-term viability of the church was at risk, unless they could find an equally dynamic associate pastor. This realization took time to formulate in my noggin.’

Writing a review about your difficulty finding a parking space at a church or your frustration about the long line to pick up your child from the nursery is not deep. These are certainly problems, but they are also first-world problems. Focus, focus, focus, people! Deep reviews touch on things like: Does the congregation have a reverence and love for God? Do they have a family atmosphere where newcomers are welcome? Do they help each other and those in the community struggling through difficult times? Do they have staying power, or is turnover high in the congregation and staff? Does the pastor cherish the Bible and preach exclusively from it? Are children’s programs treated as a high priority or just a necessary evil? Is the majority of the congregation genuine, down to earth, and not pretentious? Do the people admit mistakes and ask for forgiveness when they hurt each other? Does the church honor the past while moving ahead toward the future? These are things that take more than a single visit to ascertain. I’m just saying.

Vote for . . .

Polling_StationThe legions of recent political ads on TV have inspired me . . . to order TiVo. Too many political ads flood the airwaves in the weeks leading to Election Day. I shan’t bore you with a trite plea to get out and vote as your civic duty to end the insanity. In reality, the candidates and ballot propositions are often difficult to evaluate because politics have become so tortuous it is hard for a fair-minded person to sift through the muck and find clarity. Political ads too often contain lies and half-truths. That does not mean a good Christian should give up and shun the polls. Yet followers of Christ would do well to reject shallow loyalties to a political party and familial ideologies. In other words, it is a copout for anyone to be a Democrat or a Republican just because everyone in their family was a Democrat or a Republican. I am not suggesting all Christians need to belong to the Independent Party. I’m suggesting that Christians educate themselves and commit to uncovering truth wherever we find it, even if it flies in the face of some of our cherished political leanings. We are too easily allured by superficial issues that distract us. The biggest problems facing America are not gay football players or the debate over Renee Zellweger’s new face (I thought she was brilliant in Cold Mountain).

As Christians and citizens who must care more about real life than what’s on TV or trending on Twitter, we have a precious voice in our vote. Granted, it is not much of a voice when at odds with big money and powerful special interests. But it is a voice, nonetheless. I still get goose bumps when entering a voting booth because I know what has been sacrificed by courageous men and women for me to engage in that sacred act of contributing to the voice of the people.

If you read through the Book of Hosea you find the Lord lambasting the Israelites for the flagrant immorality in their culture, religion, and politics. And every now and then in Hosea the Lord says “None of them calls upon me.” God was angry and hurt that the people didn’t bother to pray to Him for help. Prayers for elections matter. That said, Christians who vote are morally obliged to vote in line with Biblical values, or as close to Biblical values as the candidates and issues allow. It does no good to pray for an election of leaders then go out and vote for candidates or propositions almost entirely at odds with God’s values. Instead, Christians must read the Bible and get familiar with its broad context, which means they must read more than a smattering of verses in the Gospels and Paul’s letters. Prayer, Bible literacy, and astute understanding of the issues are excellent voting guides. (It’s either that or ask Willie Robertson who he endorses for political office . . . which might not be a bad idea.) It’s also imperative to have at least a basic understanding of the history of America’s founding. I strongly recommend that all voters know the history of William Bradford and the issue of “common course,” a form of agrarian communism that failed miserably and led to private agriculture. I am not advocating for a survival of the fittest society in America, but I do believe every voter must have an understanding of the ideologies that formed America.

One last thought: Do not vote expecting politicians and government to make all your dreams come true. That’s up to you and God and must be done without neglecting the Biblical value of loving our neighbors. This may become an increasingly impossible task given the current unholy marriage between politics and crony capitalism. Hopefully the American people are ingenious enough to continue to prosper and take care of each other despite the failings of government and big commerce. If not, our system will flounder and eventually collapse. And I pray the church and the next generation are prepared to rebuild when it happens. Until then, if you want greater meaning in life—go deeper than the superficial politics seen in political ads and vote wisely and in truth.