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Archive for the ‘Commentaries’ Category

The problem with continually trying to numb yourself to pain is that you eventually lose the capacity to feel anything, other than the steadily growing anxiety that your next step might hurt.

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I grew up in a military family, normally living on Air Force bases with other military families. After high school, I joined the Navy, and for another decade lived/worked amongst people with differing backgrounds, diverse ethnicity, and varying belief systems.  The military made little allowance for our differences; once you donned the uniform you were expected to work together toward the greater mission.  I didn’t recognize it at the time, but this dramatically affected my understanding of community and family.  Even decades later, I still have many friends (and family) who don’t necessarily believe the things that I believe.  They grew up differently than I did, their life experience has led them to draw different conclusions than I have, and ultimately they view the world through a different lens than I do.  To me, this is not only how it’s always been, but also how it ought to be.  This doesn’t mean that we have nothing in common.  They love their families, value their communities, and hope to live in peace, just as I do.  I find my life is enriched, and my understanding is expanded, by remaining engaged with people who don’t necessarily think, act and live like I do.  Thus, I continue to seek the common ground that we all share.

 

When social media platforms like Facebook emerged, I found them to be a great way to stay connected, especially with friends and family who are literally spread all over the world. At its best, it has allowed us to remain connected in ways we couldn’t have otherwise.  No doubt, I want to celebrate their joys with them, and pray for them when they’re in a struggle, and to honor them when they’re gone.  But these days there seems to be a lot of pressure to use social media (and every other available platform) as a bully pulpit, where we exalt our preferences, ridicule those who have a differing point of view, and dare people to “Unfriend” us if they don’t like what we have to say.  People who refuse to participate in this battle of angry rhetoric are increasingly being criticized for not taking a side, accused of remaining “neutral” on the important issues of the day, and even being compared to those who stood by in Nazi Germany, doing nothing to stop the Holocaust.  As it goes with all the other points of view floating around cyberspace, they’re entitled to their opinion, and they’re also entitled to express it, but I don’t find their arguments compelling.

 

I believe that finding and cultivating the common ground that we share makes for stronger and more united communities. Building and strengthening these bonds of community is an essential first step in addressing the larger social issues we face.  Standing on opposite sides of the street, throwing rocks at each other isn’t going to achieve anything other than our eventual destruction.  I’m not sure what people think their vitriol achieves, but if posting an angry meme on social media is the extent of one’s activism, they’ve not done much.  Getting a bunch of folks, who already agreed with you, to “Like” your post doesn’t really effect change. If there is genuine oppression, it’s going to cost a lot more than some heated words to stand up to it.  If we are successful in alienating everyone who doesn’t look, think, and act like we do, we’ll have simply set the stage for civil war.  If we want to better understand the issues, we need to engage in meaningful dialogue with people of diverse viewpoints.  If we want to battle racism, we need to engage in meaningful relationships with people of other races.  If we want to battle poverty, we need to engage in the process of creating opportunities or providing aid to the underprivileged…  If we were that committed to change, we’d probably be too busy to spend so much time on Facebook.

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It’s a dangerous thing to mistake imagination for intuition.

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When we praise the Lord, we are acknowledging what He has done in the past, what He is doing today, and what He’s going to do in the future,  We are recognizing His influence on our lives, bowing to His will, and submitting to His authority.  There can be great power in those times, and a tangible sense of connection between the spiritual and natural realms.  Unfortunately, when we indulge in self-pity, we are doing the exact same thing for our adversary.  In such moments our struggles are magnified beyond reality, and our view of God’s provision becomes eclipsed. 

 

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I heard a couple of sermons on Sunday, one of which spoke of “The King”, and the other that addressed holiness. They put me in mind of something I wrote many years ago.  I guess I never published it, because I had to dig it out of an old notebook.

 

Church Government

 

I saw a picture in my mind of the British Parliament, and I sensed the question, “Is England a Monarchy or a Democracy?”  Now this seemed to be a fairly unspiritual question, but I began to ponder my answer.  My immediate impulse was to say it was a monarchy, but the picture of the parliament reminded me that it was in fact a democracy.   While England does have a “Royal Family”, they actually have no real function within the day-to-day running of the country.  While some might claim that they still have a “monarchy”, it is not their way of government.

 

As I continued to meditate in this vein another question came; “Why are the people of England willing to pay the expense of this royal family, when they serve no real purpose in the governing of their country?”  I sensed that the answer lies in the people’s desire to be associated with the monarchy. That all of the pomp and trappings of royalty make the people feel royal about themselves, as though this distinguishes them from other countries.  It occurred to me that if the people of England really believed in the concept of a monarchy (i.e. that the royal family was God ordained and bred for leadership) that there wouldn’t be anyone else they would want to run their country; but instead they have chosen democracy as their form of government.

 

Certainly as an American I can appreciate democracy, because as a citizen I want my beliefs and desires to be reflected in the leadership of my community, my state and this nation.  There is nothing wrong with the British choosing democracy over a monarchy, but their desire to maintain the trappings of royalty creates an interesting illusion; it helps them to view themselves as one thing when they’re really something else.

 

As I continued to pray, I sensed the Lord say that this is a picture of His church.  He said that though we claim Him as “King”, He is rarely allowed to be involved in the decision making process, or the day to day affairs of the church; that decisions are primarily made by the people and for the people; that though we desire to be associated with His majesty, we do not necessarily desire to submit to His authority, and that though His name appears on the letterhead, the words of the message do not necessarily come from Him.

 

In his letter to the Colossians, Paul warned of the body becoming disconnected from the Head; he said, “see to it that no one takes you captive through hollow and deceptive philosophy, which depends on human tradition and the basic principles of this world rather than on Christ”.  It seems that much of popular Christian culture has based itself on “the basic principles of this world”, and that in attempt to become relevant to the world, we’ve conformed ourselves to what we think will be found appealing in the marketplace.  Much of the “Christian” guidance (i.e. books, tapes, seminars…) on subjects like marriage, child rearing, inner healing… are more rooted in psychology than in God’s word, and we’ve even begun to study the corporate world for marketing strategies to be deployed within the church.  Based on these strategies, which put “what the people want” at the forefront, we are now seeing new interpretations (read; not necessarily translations) of scripture, which subtly distort anything which might offend someone who has adapted to the current cultural view.

 

In the book of Revelation there are messages to seven churches, which seem to be representative of the end time churches.  Within those the Lord points out some positive things, but He also gives stern warnings about the things He has against them.  He warns about forsaking our first love (i.e. allowing something other than Christ to be at the forefront of the church); that we must being willing to endure hardship and suffering (i.e. be willing to forsake our comfort); against adhering to false doctrines, which allow us to indulge our flesh and still believe that we are righteous before a Holy God; against tolerating sexual immorality within the church; against falling asleep, and not fulfilling His role for the church and against being lukewarm in our relationship with Him.  It is hard to deny that all of these things are prominently featured within modern Christianity.

 

At the end of each message there is a promise, but those promises are reserved for those who overcome these things.  Despite warnings throughout the New Testament, the Western church seems to be falling into many of these deadly patterns.  Our only hope is to re-connect to the Head, to tune our ears to His Holy Spirit; to renew our relationship with our “First Love”, to seek the Lord while He may be found, and to be like Jesus (e.g. to only do what we see the Father doing first).

 

Within this portion of Revelation, the one group the Lord doesn’t seem to have an issue with is the church of Philadelphia, which He says kept His word and did not deny His name.  This seems to be such a basic principle and yet this is the only church of which He could say this.  If we would choose to be that church, the promises of God are waiting for us there.  “To him who overcomes, I will give the right to sit with Me on My throne, just as I overcame and sat down with My Father on His throne.  He, who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches.”

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Back in the early 1970s, Motown artists, “The Undisputed Truth” had a big hit with their song, “Smiling Faces Sometimes”. I appreciated the “Sometimes” in the title, because more often than not I believe there is something genuine behind a smile, but not always.  Aside from being a great record to listen to, the song’s lyrics contained a warning that is still worth remembering today. They said:

 

Smiling faces sometimes pretend to be your friend

Smiling faces show no traces of the evil that lurks within

Smiling faces, smiling faces sometimes they don’t tell the truth

Smiling faces, smiling faces tell lies and I got proof

 

later it adds

 

Beware of the handshake

that hides the snake

I’m telling you beware of the pat on the back,

it just might hold you back

 

The fact that people can be deceptive isn’t exactly breaking news, but within our current cultural climate I’m sensing a growing level of susceptibility toward soothing and sympathetic voices. Given the terse rhetoric that dominates our societal landscape, it’s not hard to understand the desire for a friendlier, more welcoming tone, but like the song says, appearances can be deceiving.

 

Beware of the sympathetic voice that encourages you to see yourself as a victim, it may be the thing that keeps you from overcoming the past

Beware of the compassionate voice that tells you that you can’t help being addicted, it may just want to be your new drug (e.g. Suboxone, Methadone…) supplier

Beware of the benevolent politician who offers to take care of you, they may well be working on their own private pension plan

Beware of the zealot who offers you a scapegoat for all your troubles, they may be distracting you from the real enemy

 

Remember that not everyone who agrees with you is for you, and not everyone who disagrees with you is against you.

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Growing up in mainstream Christianity, the story of Adam and Eve seemed pretty basic. God created a paradise, gave mankind one simple rule (i.e. don’t eat of the forbidden tree), and then we didn’t follow it.  Boom!  Sin enters the picture, and we’re thrown out of the garden.  Of course, there was the snake and the fig leaves, but it’s not rocket science.  Eat the good fruit, not the bad fruit; don’t listen to the guy telling you otherwise; do what God tells you, or lose paradise.

 

It’s not exhaustive, but you get the idea. It all comes down to this battle between good and evil, and you’d better end up on the good side if you hope to get to heaven.  Sure, later on you’ll hear that we’re all saved by grace, but from the beginning it’s pretty clear that what God is really after is obedience.

 

Years later, when I finally revisited this story on my own, I was surprised at how different it seemed. Most important, was the realization that the choice Adam and Eve faced in the garden wasn’t between the fruit of what is good, and of what is evil, it was fruit from the Tree of Life, or fruit from the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil.

 

Don’t get me wrong, I remembered what the trees were called, I just never attached any importance to it. Clearly the Tree of Life was the “good” fruit and the other was the “evil” fruit.  What else do you really need to know?  But upon further review, I realized God was saying something more here.

 

The tree of life is pretty easy, it’s really just a picture of Jesus. It offers us provision from the Giver of life, and like any fruit tree, we’ll need to come back daily to sustain ourselves.  He became our daily bread.  He is the vine and we are the branches.  The fruit is good because He is good.

 

Less obvious is the “Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil”. I mean, doesn’t God want us to know the difference between good and evil.  After all, if it’s really about a battle between the light and darkness, isn’t this essential information?  Why should God forbid that we eat of this tree?

 

It’s the snake that answers this question. He tells Eve that if they eat of the fruit, they’ll become like God.  In other words, they won’t have to rely on Him for this knowledge, they’ll be able to decide for themselves what is good and what is evil.  It was the choice between being completely dependent upon God or living life on their own terms.  Sin entered in when mankind chose the latter.  The punishment wasn’t because God was mad at them, He was actually giving them the life they chose; a life lived by their own wits, and sweat, and sense of what was right.

 

Repeatedly in scripture, God sets before us life and death, and encourages us to choose life. That’s what He was doing in the garden as well.  Jesus is “the way, the truth and the life”, and the Tree of Life is the way to life.  Conversely, the scriptures tell us that there is a way that seems right to a man, and that it ultimately leads to death.  That’s where the fruit of the forbidden tree takes us.

 

This whole discussion is important because, whether we recognize it or not, He sets this same choice before us every day. If it was really just a question of good versus evil, and of being obedient to the commandments, then the Rich Young Ruler shouldn’t have gone away disappointed. Jesus didn’t dispute this man’s claim of obedience, He simply required something more of him.

 

He said that people would know us by our fruit, and that the only way to produce that fruit was to abide in the vine. He warned us that simply calling Him Lord, and doing good things in His name wasn’t what He was after.  He told us that we should live by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God.  Today, just as He did in the garden, He sets before us life and death.  Let us choose life.

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