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As technology is my witness: So says Ray Rice

800px-Security_cameras_7_count_birmingham_new_street_stationRecently a story about hackers gaining access to electronic photos of nude celebrities really rattled me. What, after all, would I do if hackers gained access to my electronic photos? I’d hate for pictures of my glorious naked body to go public. Wait, I don’t have any photos of my glorious naked body. Nobody does (except those lascivious TSA agents at the airport). But seriously, many people blamed Apple and the hackers as the bad guys in this incident. Granted, quite a few people blamed the celebrities for taking and storing naked pictures of themselves. Wherever you point the finger of shame and blame, it can’t be denied that technology is revealing unsavory human behavior that heretofore remained mostly hidden.

When the public saw the elevator video of NFL football player Ray Rice knocking his girlfriend out with a brutal punch, the finger pointing went viral. Fortunately I have heard nobody condone Rice’s punch heard around the world. Rice’s punch in no way resembled those old comic images of Ralph Kramden flashing his fist and threatening “To the moon, Alice.” Domestic violence is a serious issue that deserves attention. Yet during the brouhaha over the Rice video I noticed the following statement by Christopher L. Gasper in the Boston Globe:

“The coaches, the general managers, the owners, the commissioner don’t really want to know what malice their players are capable of off the field, as long as they’re producing for them.”

Many fans feel the same way. In fact, I’ve heard some NFL fans decry Rice’s domestic violence and in the same breath the NFL for policing the morality of its players off the field. Leave issues of vice and criminality to the police, they say. Indeed, some NFL teams have taken this stance. But leaders of the NFL want to maintain the image of professional football as the clean cut all-American game (though some of the players have redefined clean cut). The NFL wants football to remain something for the entire family to watch. And what a splendid job the NFL has done with its image. Why, even NFL cheerleaders look like the girls you’d see at choir practice.

Sarcasm aside, aren’t most of us guilty of looking the other way when it comes to human flaws in the purveyors of our preferred entertainment? And yet in this brave new world of diminishing privacy it will grow increasingly difficult to look the other way. Technology’s prying eyes are a disconcerting reminder that even though much has been gained through technology, much has been lost. Specifically, we can no longer take privacy for granted. On the positive side, it will be more difficult to lie and keep our secrets. As the Good Book says, “. . . your sin will find you out.” Technology giveth and technology taketh away.

As an endangered species (a male homosapien who cares little for professional sports) I find myself pondering how adults can believe that issues of unchecked immorality won’t eventually infect the performance of even the most gifted athletes and celebrities. Sin resists compartmentalization in our life. It wants to spread like a virus. Genesis 4:7 warns us that sin waits at the door ready to strike. We don’t get to tell sin it can wait by some doors in our life but not others, such as the door to our career where our performance is excellent. That’s vanity. The destructive nature of sin seeks out areas where it can wreak the most damage. The only antidote is confession, repentance, and Christ.

So, to all those fans who just want entertainment without questions of morality muddying the waters: good luck with that.

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Is Phil Robertson Still Happy, Happy, Happy? PART 1

safe_imageRecently, Phil Roberson, of the popular Duck Dynasty TV show, gave an interview with GQ magazine (which made me wonder if GQ plans to feature camo attire for hipster men). The GQ interviewer asked Phil a question about homosexuality. Phil’s answer included his opinion on same-sex sex (from a heterosexual male perspective) as well as a reference to same-sex sex that is included in a list of several sins within the Bible. Since the interview, Phil has been demonized by the gay community and progressives as Satan incarnate.

Some of Phil’s comments were likely an attempt at humor. He is, after all, a purveyor of humor on Duck Dynasty. But Phil does not veil his Christian faith or his personal preferences. He draws his faith beliefs from the Bible. If you don’t believe the Bible is God’s word to humanity or if you don’t believe in a moral and loving God who sets safe boundaries for human behavior, what difference does it make to you what Phil Robertson believes? Nevertheless, enlightened progressives & representatives from the gay community called Phil a homophobic bigot and hater. They claim such bigotry is born of ignorance. That’s a two-way street. In other words, one could say the same of some in the gay community and their beliefs about Christianity.

Here’s the truth: real Christians (I’m assuming Phil is a real Christian) feel sad and empathetic when they see people hurt themselves by engaging in sins. That includes ALL sins, not just those that aren’t fashionable at the moment. For instance, greed is not currently in vogue so a great number of folks consider it socially acceptable to demonize the greedy. If Phil is indeed a genuine Christian, then his comments about sins, as described in the Bible, are not an attempt to hurt people or make them feel bad about themselves. It’s just the opposite. It is a straightforward (no pun intended) effort to encourage people to stop self-destructive behavior and draw closer to God. After all, anybody who knows Phil’s personal story knows that he has experienced first-hand the devastating effects of sin and poor choices.

I’m fairly confident Phil knows that people can’t be forced to stop making bad choices. People will ultimately do what they want, not necessarily what is best for them. Some people will even claim to be enlightened when they are actually living in darkness. But Phil’s conscience dictates that he speak truth as he understands it. Every American should take note of this and rediscover the sacred value of free speech and how necessary it is for the survival of the human spirit. Without free speech we will unavoidably become slaves to someone else’s tyranny. And free speech is not a commodity for a select few. If everybody doesn’t have free speech, nobody has it.

Real bigots are not concerned with helping the objects of their loathing. Haters are not concerned with helping the objects of their hatred. Homophobes are not concerned with helping the objects of their fear. Is Phil Roberson any of these ugly things? I don’t know for certain, but I doubt it. (Anyhow, I wonder if any gay duck hunters feel conflicted by Phil’s statements, though perhaps they have not yet come out . . . of the duck blind.)

Loaded: The Church’s Response to Violence

mafia with arms crossed and a gunon handIn the interests of full disclosure, I grew up around guns. My father taught me gun safety and how to shoot at an early age. Ever since, I have owned a gun for hunting. (Think Duck Dynasty.)

Since the Newtown massacre of innocent children and the ensuing debate about gun-control, thousands of Americans have rushed out to purchase firearms. Many of them fear the government will clamp down on the sale and possession of certain types of guns. The Second Amendment has once again become a hot topic of debate.

But what does the tragedy of Newtown say about America? If you look at the FBI statistics on violent crime, you will see that violent crime has declined in the last five years. Still, the advent of school shootings should make us pause and take a sobering look at ourselves. What is the role of the church in this generation of cavalier attitudes about violence?

When I research words like “violent” and “violence” in the Bible I am struck by how forcefully the Old Testament prophets tried to warn their fellow citizens that the proliferation of violence in their society was making God every angry. The wisdom books of the Old Testament also contained warnings. “Hands that shed innocent blood” is described in Proverbs 6:17 as one of the things God hates. This is not just a severe warning to individuals; it is also a warning to entire nations that do not take God’s loathing of violence against the innocent seriously. The strong have a responsibility to protect the innocent. Yes, God will deal harshly with individuals who shed innocent blood, but he may also deal harshly with a nation, or factions within a nation, that seek to advance agendas rather than pursue genuine safeguards that protect the innocent. I don’t think God will accept our excuse that real solutions are too expensive.

We can’t stop every evil or insane person from shedding innocent blood, but we can at least begin to explore and implement real safeguards. It is also time to rethink the unhealthy relationship we Americans have with violence in many forms.

For as long as I can remember, sexual sins have topped the list of sins that American Christianity deemed most serious. Perhaps the sin of unwarranted violence needs to replace sexual sins at the top of our list. I even wonder if the church should focus more on confronting violence against the innocent than it does on things like, say, gay marriage. I’m just saying.

Abandoned

Does God ever abandon people? If necessary, yes. Now before you demand that I turn in my saint light card, let’s take a look at the Apostle Paul’s teaching about God’s response to people who don’t worship him as he is or, at the very least, thank him. It is found in Romans 1:21 and 24: “Yes, they knew God, but they wouldn’t worship him as God or even give him thanks. And they began to think up foolish ideas of what God was like . . . So God abandoned them to do whatever shameful things their hearts desired . . .”

For some people that’s an open invitation to party time. But if that verse doesn’t strike you as a harsh response, think about the implications. It means indulging debase passions to the point of enslavement to those passions. Who, in their right mind, would want to give more control to their sex addiction, or their eating disorder, or their insobriety, or their cat-hoarding? (My personal demon.)

What’s the solution? Worship God for who he is, not what we want him to be. Also, be thankful to God for all he has done. A grateful heart can stimulate the grace of God to action. And it is God’s grace that protects us from ourselves and holds our demons at bay.

Some in our culture reject God and religion in the name of personal freedom. They are like hedonists and bohemians. It’s ironic, in a tragic way, that ultimately they will not get the freedom they desire. Here is what Romans 1:29-31 says are the outcomes when God abandons people to their debase desires:

“Their lives became full of every kind of wickedness, sin, greed, hate, envy, murder, quarreling, deception, malicious behavior, and gossip. They are backstabbers, haters of God, insolent, proud, and boastful. They invent new ways of sinning, and they disobey their parents. They refuse to understand, break their promises, are heartless, and have no mercy.”

Well, that’s definitely not the high-society bunch . . . or maybe it is. It sounds like something out of the Lord of the Flies. Here’s my point: We can’t take God’s grace for granted and it is his grace that not only forgives but also assists us in defeating chronic sins in our lives. To that end, it is very important to reject the temptation to reinvent God.

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.