Monthly Archives: August 2015

Anger: The gateway drug

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Another tragedy savaged the American conscience when reporter Alison Parker and cameraman Adam Ward of WDBJ-TV were fatally shot during a live interview on Wednesday, August 26, in Moneta, Virginia. Authorities identified the suspect as former journalist (and ne’er-do-well) Vester Lee Flanagan II. Like so many of these cases, Flanagan died of a self-inflicted gunshot wound. Who knows what went through his mind before he put that gun to his head and stepped into the presence of a just God? In any case, it doesn’t take a genius to reach the conclusion that something has gone horribly wrong in America when a killer like Flanagan records his murders and posts it on social media for the world to witness the outcome of a pathological mind determined to get even with the world for his delusional woes.

Since the killing of Parker and Ward, the news media has uncovered enough dirt on Flanagan to paint an ugly picture of a man filled with rage at others over his career failures as a journalist. Apparently he was a man devoid of any capacity to examine himself. In other words, he was one of those individuals we have all encountered—the paranoid guy or gal who blames other people for their lot in life. This is not to say that other people never do bad things that affect our lives. But when a person bounces from one negative situation to another with eerie similarities between them, chances are the problem is not other people. Constantly blaming others is not a God-approved way of life for Christians. In Psalms 139:23-24 we see that the psalmist knew he needed God to examine him:

“Search me, God, and know my heart;
test me and know my anxious thoughts.
See if there is any offensive way in me,
and lead me in the way everlasting.”

One emotion (if you can call it that . . . it’s more like a malevolent presence) that blocks our ability to see ourselves accurately is anger. It also inhibits God’s ability to work in our life. Mr. Flanagan could be the poster child for anger and bitterness. He convinced himself that the world was out to get him because he was black and gay. He kept a long record of wrongs. By embracing anger and nurturing it, he opened wide the door for Satan to enter his heart and direct his actions. Anger is like heroin or crack cocaine, it feels soooo good to indulge it. Anger puffs up our feeling of moral superiority and feeds the monster of victimhood lurking in our soul. Unfortunately many people in America do not know that anger is a gateway to sin. Yep, check out Ephesians 4:26-27 (ERV):

“When you are angry, don’t let that anger make you sin, and don’t stay angry all day. Don’t give the devil a way to defeat you.”

Get the picture? Anger is a dangerous substance. Indulge it often or too long, and Satan will use it against you. That said, allow me to address a political issue surrounding this tragedy—gun control. Every time these types of tragedies occur, those who embrace the “progressive” ideology for our society zero in on guns so intently it makes me wonder if they associate the gun as the actual source of the evil that killed Parker and Ward. Granted, easy access to guns makes it easier for an evil person to destroy the lives of others, but the gun itself is not innately evil. The source of the evil (baring evidence of mental illness) is the human heart. As Christians, we have an obligation to urge the world to avoid the trap of embracing solutions that do not address the root problem. Sure, if a new law or administrative process can keep firearms out of the hands of unstable people while protecting the rights of law-abiding citizens, we have an obligation to embrace it out of love for our neighbors. But more important than that, we can show the world how we examine our own lives and rely on God’s intervention to help us change dangerous attitudes in our heart. It’s called personal responsibility, and personal responsibility is the best gun control. Maybe it’s time for more Christian Americans to move beyond soaking up the good vibe of God’s love on Sunday morning to the difficult, and courageous, work of self-examination and change.

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Subway’s Jared Fogle Bites the Big One

Jared Fogle at Courthouse

Jared Fogle at Courthouse

Many people were surprised by the news that Subway spokesperson Jared Fogle is scheduled to plead guilty in court on charges that he paid kids for sex and received child pornography. (Apparently he didn’t have access to Hillary Clinton’s tech experts to wipe his hard drive.) Jared seemed like such a nice young man, an inspiring guy who many Americans could relate to because of his struggle with weight. At least he’s coming clean about his bad decisions and owning the harm he’s done to others (and that’s huge in a world where people usually blame others when their bad behavior is uncovered). Oh how I long to see more Christian leaders who get caught in sin or bad behavior take full responsibility in public (without wavering over the long term) and caution their followers that there is no one else to blame. This would go a long way toward mitigating their damaged testimony and growing the faith of congregants who need confirmation that God is really at work in the lives of our leaders and the Christian life isn’t a sham. When we blame others for our mistakes, which incites division, well, that’s exactly how the world operates. But I digress.

What surprises me most is that the public still reacts with incredulity when these stories break about well-thought-of celebrities. For some twisted reason we continue to assume that those in the public eye are the same person in private. Yet by now we should know that human beings have a remarkable, and disturbing, capacity to live double lives. People who are completely the same in private as in public are rare creatures, if they exist at all.

History is filled with well-known people who appeared one way in public but lived completely different lives in private. Think John F. Kennedy and Richard Nixon. Several places in the Bible warn God’s people that God is not pleased when we live double lives, which is what the Bible calls having a divided mind. The recent story of Josh Duggar and his use of the Ashley Madison adultery website is a glittering example of what a divided mind looks like. (See: http://www.foxnews.com/entertainment/2015/08/20/josh-duggar-admits-to-being-unfaithful-having-porn-addiction/ ) One of the harshest Scriptures on this topic is found in Matthew 23:27-28 where Jesus says:

“Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You are like whitewashed tombs, which look beautiful on the outside but on the inside are full of the bones of the dead and everything unclean. In the same way, on the outside you appear to people as righteous but on the inside you are full of hypocrisy and wickedness.”

These verses were not directed solely at the Pharisees back in the day. They are also directed at us today. If that made you uncomfortable, 1 Corinthians 10:21 is even more discombobulating:

“You cannot drink the cup of the Lord and the cup of demons too; you cannot have a part in both the Lord’s table and the table of demons.”

Here’s the thing: We Christians are supposed to be the same in private as we are in public, the same with our coworkers as we are with our boss, the same with our spouse as we are with our neighbors, the same with fellow students as we are with our teachers. You get the idea—it’s pretty much impossible. At least it’s impossible unless we first admit we are living a double life and it does not please God. Then we need to ask God for help to be a genuine person in public and private. The whole process requires a great deal of honest soul-searching. If we close the gap between our public and private persona, we have a better testimony but we also feel more comfortable in our own skin. I don’t know if any human can completely close the gap between public and private life this side of heaven. But if the Christian life is real, the gap will continue to shrink throughout our life.

A Dangerous Prayer: Lord, am I THAT guy?

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Here is an excellent quote from Lord, I Just Want to Be Happy by Leslie Vernick: “Our pride makes us unwilling to be taught, unwilling to be warned, and unwilling to be wrong, and because of our self-deception, we don’t realize we’re so unwilling and prideful. We just think we’re seeing things as they really are. But the Bible says, ‘There is a way that seems right to a man, but its end is the way to death’ (Proverbs 14:12). When we are closed to the influence of wise people in our lives, we’re vulnerable to making poor choices.”

Listening is a difficult skill for all of us, especially when we are the topic. Peter even refused to listen to Jesus (God himself) when told that he would deny Jesus three times. (Of course it is possible Peter had adult ADHD, in which case we can give him a bit of a pass.) When we learn to openly listen to input about ourselves, it is harder to fall victim to self-deception. Also, we learn that wisdom doesn’t only come from wise grey-beards with impressive pedigrees; it can even come from people further down the ladder than us. That’s because God is not opposed to sharing his insights through the lowly. Unfortunately, pride can render even the most mature Christian incapable of listening. When life throws them an “unexpected” curve, they are caught off guard, bewildered, angry and hurt. They naturally lash out at others. But if we have a shred of teachable attitude left within us, the first thing to examine is our own heart, though we can’t accurately undertake such an effort alone. We need God’s help AND the help of other people.

One of the most important, and dangerous, prayers every Christian can pray is: Lord, is there anything in me you want to change, and if so will you please help me change? Or, in more hip vernacular: Lord, am I THAT guy or gal? This is a dangerous prayer because in my experience God ALWAYS answers this prayer (if offered sincerely), and the process of change that follows can be painful and long, sometimes taking years to unfold. In addition, the process can push nearly everything else in our life to the sidelines. The first thing God often shows us (especially us men) is pride that has crept into our life, even when we thought we were the epitome of humility. Ironically, some of the most prideful people are also insecure. But God can help us through both issues, and it sure feels good when he is finished crushing our pride. If we never pray this prayer, we will continue to screw up in new and exciting ways year after weary year. More importantly, we will continue to be obnoxious and damage our relationships.

Throughout history, stubbornness, aka pride, has wreaked havoc on God’s people. No wonder God resists the proud (and don’t I know it!), but he loves a malleable heart. In my humble opinion (sorry, I couldn’t help myself), pride is Satan’s most effective tool against God’s people, and he uses it with perverse relish. Pride, and its twisted cousin “moral superiority,” are the root of much mischief, hurts and mean-spirited behavior between Christians. Perhaps that’s why fewer and fewer people are attracted to Christianity in America.

To combat pride, every Christian would be wise to memorize ten words found in Romans 12:3: “Do not think of yourself more highly than you ought. . .” That said, it is important to understand that some psychiatric conditions have certain symptoms that resemble those of a person struggling with pride. That’s why it is important to get checked out by a trained mental health professional. If you are interested in learning more about the dangers posed by pride, below are links to two excellent articles about pride and the raw conflict and deception it can cause. They are written for church leaders, but apply to all believers.

http://www.churchleaders.com/pastors/pastor-articles/259476-pride-greatest-problem.html
http://www.churchleaders.com/pastors/pastor-articles/259479-4-magic-words-next-argument.html

Better a live dog than a dead lion: And other lessons from Cecil

Scar from The Lion King

Scar from The Lion King

Everything I know about lions I learned from Disney’s The Lion King. That’s why I was surprised by the uber-high level of public outrage over the recent killing of Cecil the lion by an American dentist using a bow and arrow while on safari. Apparently Cecil was a celebrity in Africa. You see, I grew up in an era when fathers and sons hunted as a hobby and to teach boys how to properly handle firearms. Granted, our pursuit of game was limited to pheasants, quail, ducks and the occasional black tail buck, and we ate what we harvested from nature. An African lion would have been an unusual sight in the valleys and National Forests of Northern California. As the years passed, my lethality as a hunter has declined dramatically. I’ve become more a danger to myself than any game in the field. If I had faced off with Cecil in the African bush, I wouldn’t be writing this blog. But I digress.

Let me say up front that even though I still “hunt” (or more accurately I “hike while armed”), I do not approve of hunting African lions unless it is to protect human life or livestock, or to reduce overpopulation. I know hunters who like to use a bow and arrow because it is more challenging and gives the animal a better chance (so they claim). I’m not a fan of bow hunting because I’ve also known hunters who wounded game with an arrow and were unable to track the animal and recover the meat. Bow hunting requires an extremely high level of skill to be humane. A skilled rifle marksman using the proper firearm is more humane than a bow and arrow. For that reason alone I look down my nose at the dentist who shot Cecil with an arrow. Also, one does not typically hunt African lion to eat the meat. It’s mostly a trophy thing.

The Cecil incident raises the question: Should all hunting be banned? Of the millions of people who raised heck over Cecil’s death and demanded the head of the dentist on a plate, I’ve no doubt many of them enjoy a good steak, crispy bacon, or a salmon fillet cooked on a cedar plank (an environmentalist’s worst nightmare). To the ears of responsible hunters, such protesters smack of hypocrisy. Granted, hunters in developed countries do not NEED to hunt for survival. Anyone can go to the grocery store and buy meat neatly wrapped in Styrofoam and plastic wrap. Consumers no longer have to get their hands bloody in processing the meat they consume. They certainly do not have to kill their meat on the slaughterhouse floor. Perhaps we have become too removed from the food chain.

To be completely honest, most of the time I’m not an uber-enthusiastic hunter. But an interesting thing happens every time I step into the wild in search of game: a deep hunter’s instinct stirs in my spirit. When I’m not in the field, modern life completely suppresses that instinct. I believe that instinct is present in EVERY person, and even the most zealous PETA acolyte would, given the right set of circumstances, feel that instinct. Deny it if you will, there is a hunter in the human soul. It’s part of our wiring for survival. Perhaps it was the immediate result of humanity’s fall in the Garden, or maybe it evolved after the fall. Either way, it’s very real. Unfortunately some hunters, such as the dentist who killed Cecil, misuse that instinct.

So what does the Bible say about humanity’s relationship to the animal kingdom and God’s creation in this post-fall world? Here are two verses that help guide us:

Proverbs 12:10: “Good people take good care of their animals, but the wicked know only how to be cruel.”

Romans 1:25: “They traded the truth of God for a lie. They bowed down and worshiped the things God made instead of worshiping the God who made those things. He is the one who should be praised forever. Amen.”

I don’t know if the dentist who killed Cecil is usually a good person or more evil than the rest of us, but the reaction of the millions who lashed out in anger against him, many even threatening his life, makes me believe that a large segment of society has fallen into nature idolatry. Perhaps even some Christians have crossed that line, as well. It’s like saying The Starry Night is a masterpiece of painting but Van Gogh is irrelevant, or worse, Van Gogh never existed. They call that cognitive dissonance, or as I prefer to call it: malevolent lunacy.

Our God-given role as stewards is to protect nature, enjoy it, conserve it, have a spiritual experience in it, even harvest appropriate portions of it responsibly, but absolutely not make it our god. When we worship nature instead of God, our relationships with each other get screwed up because our heart for each other grows cold. We may find ourselves going to extreme measures to live in harmony with nature, but only God can perfect nature. God gave humanity much control to affect nature, but not absolute control. In other words, despite our efforts to heal nature and live in harmony with it, we will still encounter sickness, death, exploitation, abuse and nature gone awry because we are not nature’s owner. The ultimate solution to nature’s problems is found in healing the human heart of sin. When Christ’s work in the human heart is finished, nature will be restored by God.

Trump trumps the pack of GOP candidates: Why?

Trump

Why is Donald Trump incredibly popular as a presidential candidate, other than his status as a TV celebrity? One answer: He doesn’t use politicianspeak or CEO-speak (which is ironic because he is a CEO). According to netlingo.com, CEO-speaks is defined as: “. . . the language of corporate leadership. ‘CEO-speak’ explores the metaphors and persuasive strategies used by leaders of the corporate world, for example ‘The current downturn reached sufficient strength this quarter that we could not power up against it,’ and ‘We are an issues-focused firm with high-end engagements across the board and we want to be the market leader in the industries we serve.’” Huh?

When a CEO says “The current downturn reached sufficient strength this quarter that we could not power up against it,” he or she is really saying “The economy got worse and we lost money this quarter because we did not increase sales sufficiently and cut enough costs.”

Career politicians use a similar language to make themselves sound more sophisticated and often to deceive. It’s called politicianspeak or politicianese. Urban dictionary describes it this way: “The language used by politicians for the express purpose of misleading and deceiving the voters while they figure out their next lie. It is a distinct dialect of Newspeak that has become embedded into nearly every real world language to scramble the minds of the electorate, to get them spouting doubleplusgood duckspeak; and most of all, to keep them from thinking for themselves. It is a combination of ‘politician’ and ‘speak’ put together in true Orwellian 1984 fashion.”

Regular folks know there is a high likelihood of being flimflammed when a politician uses politicianese to communicate with we the people about the very real problems we face in the trenches of life. So far, Donald Trump, whatever you think of him as a businessman or a person, has spoken directly to the people in clear simple language that everyone can understand. While I do not think Donald Trump is a particularly religious person, he has hit on a spiritual principle which I will describe below.

It might be that Trump is exceptionally shrewd and his “plain language” is itself a ruse. In other words, he may be endearing himself to the electorate via plebian vernacular to assume office and support policies in alignment with his personal aspirations (if you’ll pardon my use of politicianese). In other words, he could be lying for selfish reasons. But let’s assume Trump is sincere. If so, his use of language is more in alignment with the Biblical principle of integrity found in Matthew 5:37 and James 5:12 where Christians are told to let our yes be yes and no be no. In other words, God wants us to have tremendous personal integrity so that we do not need to say any more than yes or no in order for people to trust us. The context in these two Scriptures refers to the ancient practice whereby people made creative or elaborate oaths in order to get other people to believe what they were saying, such as in the context of a business transaction. It’s like when we were children and we said “Cross my heart and hope to die.” God takes our promises seriously. As for politicians, if they have integrity (and that’s a big “IF”), there is no need to dress up their speech with elaborate politicianese.

The unexpected rise of Trump in the polls over his run for president demonstrates how desperate people are for a politician who speaks in plain language regarding issues that are very real and personal to regular folks, even if Trump sounds braggadocios and uncouth at times. People are so desperate for plain speech that they are even willing to overlook some of the foibles coming from Trump’s mouth, and they admire the fact that Trump does not apologize when he gets blowback for his tone and the direct things he says. Either that or voters are more obtuse than I thought. Trump’s rise in the polls is an indictment of politicians in general. I just hope our lust for plain language, combined with our infatuation with celebrity, does not blind us and cause us to elect someone who will do more harm to Americans.