Category Archives: Confession
Honor your father and your mother, that your days may be long in the land which the LORD your God gives you. (Exodus 20:12)
I did not specifically plan to write about parents just before Mother’s Day. I guess that was just serendipity. But it does allow me to get something off of my chest. More of that in a moment – but first, let us look at this command.
Have you ever wondered why, after four commands that specifically relate to God and how we are to honor Him, that the first command that relates to our fellow humans is a command to honor our parents? This is not just important, I think this is critical to stop and ponder.
Our culture is respect phobic. Just think about what passes as humor today, what gets the biggest laughs. If a comedian can make a joke about any authority figure the house goes crazy. We disrespect the office of the President of the United States. We disrespect the Senate, the House of Representatives, the Supreme Court. We disrespect the courts and our police officers. We disrespect spiritual leaders (especially if they are conservative Christian spiritual leaders!) and we disrespect school teachers.
And all of this disrespect begins in the home. We, as a culture, have virtually dismissed the concept of respecting our fathers and our mothers.
Unfortunately, I fear a great deal of this situation began with parents who decided they did not need to be respected. Somewhere back in the 1960′s or maybe a decade or so later the latest and greatest philosophy was that parents were not supposed to be authority figures, they were to be their children’s best friends. So, respect went out the door and it was replaced with a faux friendship, something that was neither friendship nor was it parental leadership. A generation deprived of parental guidance then went on to raise their children without any real understanding as to how to be parents. Now, at least the third generation of children is being raised by parents who do not know how to instill respect, and more tragically, will not support those adults who are left who are capable of teaching respect.
Respect must be learned, but if there are no teachers, how can it be taught?
Strangely enough, it is exactly during this time that the “Hallmark Card” holidays of Mothers Day and Fathers Day (and now Grandparents Day and who knows what other day we will choose to celebrate) exploded. I think there is a telling sociological process going on here.
Simply put – we are not honoring our parents throughout our normal year, so when that one “special” day comes along we have to assuage our guilt and so we buy flowers, or an expensive necklace, or a fancy gizmo for dad, and we pass that off as “honoring” our mother or our father. How many times will you be told just before Mothers Day or Fathers Day to “honor” your mom or dad by spending a lot of money on something that is either basically pretty trashy or on something that will wilt and fade away within days if not hours? That is honor? Excuse me, but that is buying forgiveness to mollify a guilty conscience.
We don’t honor our parents by giving them some cheesy gift once a year. We honor our parents by respecting and obeying them while we are in their homes, and by continuing to honor and respect their guidance throughout our adult years. We honor our parents by raising our children to believe in and to respect the teachings that our parents instilled in us. We honor our parents by working hard and by doing our best in everything that we do. We honor our parents in the way we treat other parents who are both older and younger than we are. We honor our parents by mentoring younger parents in the craft of raising children – and that means that we demand respect from those tyrannical three year olds who absolutely refuse to offer it. We honor our parents with our words, our actions, and our thoughts. Everything that we do communicates either that we respect and honor our parents, or that we could not care less about those who raised us.
We honor our parents when, at that point we must disagree with them, or decide that we must act or believe in a way that our parents would never act or believe, that we still honor and cherish the guidance that brought us to our adult decision. No parent is ever perfect, and in a way it is no dishonor to disagree with our parents. But it is a huge sign of disrespect to mock or disparage the thoughts and beliefs that our parents held deeply. We can disagree in a most holy and honorable manner.
Our “retirement centers” and “nursing homes” and other facilities have become nothing more than warehouses for abandoned and disrespected parents. I know that many older adults can no longer take care of themselves and require specialized attention. I am not speaking about those individuals. I am speaking about those parents whose children cannot be bothered by the physical demands of taking care of an older parent and who simply ship them off to some out-of-the-way institution so that they can maintain their upper middle class lifestyle of soccer games and ballet recitals and country club events.
When we disrespect and dishonor our parents the land will vomit us out. I think that is pretty much the message of Exodus 20:12.
I do not think that day is in our future. I think it is here and now. We live in a land of mockery, abandonment, disrespect. Do not be deceived. God is not mocked. That which a man sows, he shall also reap. I think that is pretty much a New Testament principle. And, sadly, I think we are living it out right now.
“Holy God, as our eternal Father – teach us how to respect. Give us the courage both to respect our elders and to instill respect in our children. Help us to once again live in a land blessed by the sweet odor of respect and honor. Help us to see the error of our way, and lead us back onto the path that we have forsaken so long ago.
Today, command number 2:
You shall not make for yourself a graven image, or any likeness of anything that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth; you shall not bow down to them or serve them; for I the LORD your God am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children to the third and the fourth generations of those who hate me, but showing steadfast love to thousands of those who love me and keep my commandments. (Exodus 20:4-6 RSV)
As all the commands have a common thread they must all be read together. But command number two is inextricably linked to command number one, the command to have not other gods before, or beside, God. In my meditation on the first command I listed some, but by no means all, of the possible gods that we set up in opposition to the one, true God.
A graven image may or may not be synonymous with another god. That is to say, a graven image, or an idol, may actually be a false god, or it may be a false representation of the one true God. For continuity sake, in my last post I mentioned that some false gods are power, sex, glory, honor, entertainment, etc. I cannot remember if I mentioned ambition or not, but certainly ambition would be a false god. I believe each of these can be represented with a “graven image” or an idol that represents that god. On the other hand, we may have an image, an idol, that we believe represents the true God, but instead of worshipping the true God, we end up worshipping the idol, which then becomes a false god. In this regard I note that in Exodus 32 the name of the LORD was mentioned in regard to the golden calf that Aaron had created. Also, in 1 Kings 12 when Jeroboam set up the two golden calves in Dan and Bethel he said, “here is your God who brought you out of the land of Egypt” connecting the two graven images to the one true God. Thus, creating a graven image certainly violates the second command, but also may violate the first command.
What are some of our graven images today?
A gun is an idol. It is an idol of the false god of power. It can also be an idol of the false god of safety and security. If I trust in the killing power of cold steel and lifeless wood, I am rejecting the power of the life-giving and life protecting God.
The flag can certainly be an idol. It is the image of political power, and also of an ideology. This is why I am growing very uncomfortable with the concept of pledging allegiance to the flag. In a very real sense I believe we are violating the second command, and possible the first as well, when we do so.
Methods of birth control can be considered idols. They are symbols of our unending fascination and slavery to our sexual natures. When anyone, male or female, loudly protests that “you cannot tell me what I can or cannot do with my body” you can be sure they are not very far away from idolatry.
Houses and cabins can be idols. We have an idol in the cool mountains to escape the summer heat. We have an idol in the warm south to escape the winter snow. We have an idol on wheels that we can drive or pull to escape the tedium of the work week. Some of us have all three, in addition to the mundane little mansion that we inhabit daily.
Health equipment are used as idols. They are images that we worship in order to create the perfectly sculpted and healthy body.
Vehicles are used as idols.
Anything that distracts us from our daily routine can be idols: music instruments, cameras, tools for hobbies, books, computers.
How do you know if any of these, or something else in your life, is an idol? Simply follow two well-traveled trails. The most obvious is the trail of money. How much money do you spend on a particular item? The larger the percentage of your annual income the greater the possibility that it is an idol. The second trail would be the trail of attention devoted to that object, especially measured by time devoted to spending with that object and the emotional attachment you have to that object.
Absolutely unwilling to part with your guns? Say hello to your idol. Salute the flag, pledge “allegiance” to the flag, and bow down before the flag as it passes by? Welcome your idol. Spend thousands of dollars annually and countless hours chasing a little white ball around a carefully manicured park? Meet your idol.
God said not to make any graven image, especially that of something involving a creature only he himself created. We have broken ourselves of worshipping calves and birds and cats and snakes. But mark these words well – our lives are full of idols.
The question is, when we stop and spend some time meditating and thinking about Exodus 20:4-6, will we rid ourselves of those idolatrous behaviors? Or will we make excuses for ourselves, and thus end up infuriating a God who very plainly tells us He will not stand for any created thing to replace Him as the center of our lives?
Dear God, as we contemplate the deeper meaning and application of this second command, please reveal to us our graven images. Purge our lives of our idolatrous thoughts. May we truly and wholly focus on you as our one and only true and living God.
One thing I want everyone to know about this post – I am attacking myself, not others (at least explicitly). When I refer to others it is to illustrate my failings, not to heap scorn upon derision. This is a confession, not a broadside.
I have been struggling mightily with something over the past few weeks, months, and maybe even years. It has finally bubbled up to the point that I either have to deal with it or it will destroy me. Possibly it has already overcome me, I don’t know. Maybe I won’t know for quite a while.
But, political correctness is killing me. I don’t mean the kind of sloppy journalism or political hatchet jobs that continually assail me. I am talking about my own political correctness and how I seem utterly unable to confront or defeat it. For those of you who follow this blog regularly you might be surprised at that admission. There are times in my writings in which I become (or surrender to) my acerbic self. But, interestingly, that is part of the problem. This is my own little space of the cyber world in which everyone is invited but no one is forced to enter, or stay. If someone does not like what I write they ignore me. Thousands upon thousands assiduously do so on a regular basis. Knowing that, I steam and vent about subjects that are important to me, but obviously not too significant for others.
No, my issue with my own political correctness has to do with those with whom I am forced to deal on a regular, or at least semi-regular basis. I fit the description that was leveled against the apostle Paul (although, to be fair, I believe he disavowed such an attack) that his letters were “weighty and powerful, but his physical appearance is weak, and his public speaking is despicable.” (2 Cor. 10:10) I have visions of being a Great White Shark, and ultimately all I manage to portray is a spineless little jellyfish.
There are times in this world in which a person must stand up – speak up and say what needs to be said. Of course, it should go without saying that such statements need to be made in the spirit of love and correction, not hate and malediction. But still, you cannot read the gospels without seeing a Jesus that was both loving and welcoming as well as direct and, to put it mildly, politically incorrect.
And so I struggle with the balance – and all too often I find myself swallowing my words, backing off of a confrontation that I think needs to be made, weakly surrendering to the pressure of the moment or of the possible consequences should my objection be objected to. I defer – and end up kicking myself for it. Joseph, Moses, Daniel, Jeremiah, Amos, Peter, Paul, Martin Luther, Dietrich Bonhoeffer – all had the spine to stand up and confront not only the minions of politics but also the minions of religion and all either paid a huge price or at least had the threat of paying a huge personal price.
I’m tired of my own cowardice, but I’m not sure how to overcome it without being churlish and vindictive.
I’ve just had it to my eyebrows with the skinny jeans, t-shirt and goatee wearing crowd lecturing me about how to fix the church when they have already written the church off as being unimportant. I’m sick to my stomach of authors criticizing spiritual leaders who have been loving and serving the church longer than these twenty-somethings have been alive. I recoil when I hear some academically trained yet theologically ignorant sycophant use some word like “missional” or “incarnational” as if by wielding such verbal weaponry they can slay their Quixotic opponent.
I stand mute when I hear a racist or homosexual loathing comment made in a Bible class, and I offer no word of censure when the same racist or homophobe stands a few minutes later to implore God’s blessings over the table of His Son’s memorial feast. I do not confront the obvious and blatant misrepresentation of Scripture that is done in manifest adoration of “the ancient paths.” When someone who leaves his Bible on the church pew so he won’t forget it next Sunday upbraids me because my hours of preparation and reading the accumulated wisdom of centuries of scholarship do not match his preconceived ideas, I say nothing. It might cause a scene. And causing a scene is the last thing a politically correct minister wants to do.
I swallow hard, and walk away. I do so because I think that it is better to maintain peace than to cause a disturbance. The times that I have tried to stand up have not ended well. My blood does flow hot, and all too often I let passion get the best of me. But the opposite has been that I say nothing. “Keep your mouth shut and be politically correct.”
I wish, just once, I could justifiably kick over a few money-changing tables and toss some thieving scoundrels out on their ears.
Sometimes being politically incorrect is exactly what God expects. His house is no less a place of prayer and of healing for the nations today than it was in the last week of Jesus’ life.
Maybe someday I will find the balance between personal disgust and zeal for God’s house. Maybe someday before I die I will manage to find my teeth.
I can always hope.
Dr. Glen Stassen, in his article on the fourteen triads of the Sermon on the Mount, says that, ‘The structure of the next triad is straightforward.” That is helpful because some of the triads have not been exactly “straightforward,” at least to a Western, linear thinker like me. So, having something be a little more obvious is always appreciated.
The “traditional teaching” is found in verse 1, and is very similar to the “You have heard it was said…” statements in chapter 5. Jesus simply repeats a proverbial statement that must have had some currency during his ministry: Do not judge, and you won’t be judged. Dr. Stassen views verse 2 as a continuation of the traditional teaching. However, I note that verse 2 could also be the beginning of the “vicious cycle” that virtually always accompanies some self-righteous judgement. If we apply some rigid form of judging, others will apply that same form against us, but usually they will add a little bit to it. We very rarely ever give back exactly what we have been given, we always all a little vinegar along with it. The vicious cycle is then discussed more completely in verses 3 and 4. Invariably what occurs is that we begin to examine others with a microscope when our own sins are so blatant they can be identified a mile away. A mile away, that is, by everyone but us. The illustration Jesus used is meant to be ironic and I believe meant to generate some uncomfortable laughter – at least until the reality of the irony sets it. We are always far more willing to remove specks when the log is protruding from our eye.
What, then, is the “transforming initiative?” It is really quite simple. It is called “repentance.” It is removing the very large and blatant sin in our own life so that we can see clearly to analyze the problem in the lives of others. I think something else is taking place here. Jesus is not giving us a blank check to start solving other people’s problems just as long as we superficially whitewash over our own. What Jesus is saying is, “If you are going to condemn someone, start with yourself. Examine your relationship with God. How pure are you? What is your attitude? How have you acted? What is your motive? And how have your actions been in line with the thoughts, intentions and motives of God?” When we really and truly place ourselves under the same microscope under which we love to place others something transforming should happen. One, we should see just how far we have fallen from the standard we would like to think we have exceeded, and two, we begin to notice that the “speck” in our brother’s eye is not so serious at all. It may need to be removed, yes. But instead of trying to remove it with a rusty pair of vice-grips we use sterilized tweezers and an appropriate amount of anesthesia. True biblical repentance should have a profound and lasting effect upon our willingness to condemn other people.
It has often been noted that the best teacher in any subject is the person who, as a student, had to struggle intensely to overcome any misunderstandings and setbacks. I can relate perfectly. As a flight student I had a bear of a time trying to master flying with reference only to my instruments. I had a mental block, and a pretty sizable physical problem as well. Things just did not seem to want to work for me. With patience and enough time I did earn my instrument rating, went on and earned my Commercial Certificate and both Flight Instructor and Flight Instructor/Instrument ratings. Then the day came for me to start teaching students how to earn their Instrument rating. Because I had made virtually every mistake known to flight students in my own instrument training, I picked up on most of my student’s mistakes very quickly. Not only that, but I was able to sympathize with them and give them encouragement. At my first instructor job I was given several of the “problem” students because either (a) I was good enough to get them graduated or (b) I was too sympathetic to turn them down or a mixture of both. But my success rate was pretty good – something that I look back on with a certain amount of pride.
But, the person who is only able to see the faults of others makes for a lousy teacher. That person makes for even a more lousy judge. That person makes for even a more lousy Christian. The life of discipleship is a life that demands first of all that a person is willing and capable of examining him or herself and making the necessary changes before there can be any confrontation of others.
I wonder how the national debate on homosexuality and same-sex marriage would change if the church would simply focus its attention on the sexual dysfunction of its own heterosexual members before it started to “fix” the homosexual population who has no intention of ever being a part of that church to begin with. That is just one example, but the general principle should be clear. The church has a huge blind spot regarding sexual sin, greed, covetousness, racism, compromise with political powers (idolatry) and the environment. How can we justify much of our own myopic rhetoric when we are so complacent toward and complicit with so many behaviors that God specifically condemns in His eternal revelation?
Our world is bent and broken, to be sure. Of that there is no question. But the church shares that same bentness and brokeness. If we do not seek to repent and remove the log in our own eye we will be incapable of helping the world see its own bentness and brokeness. The church’s great commission does not begin in Matthew 28:16-20. The church’s great commission begins in Psalm 51:1-19 (among many other Psalms of lament). If we do not have a broken heart, no amount of preaching and teaching will ever be acceptable in the Kingdom.
I was having a bad day. Nothing earth shattering, just the usual accumulation of junk and garbage that can turn a sunny day into a cloudy one. I was feeling peevish and just a little out of sorts so I posted something on a social media site that I considered to be witty and expressive of the kind of day I was having.
Then I received the phone call.
A young father had been killed in a car accident. Dozens, if not hundreds, of lives were instantaneously broken. A few will never completely be put back together. Those that are able to move beyond the immediate tragedy will always carry the scar of the gaping wound in their life.
All at once my peevish outlook turned utterly repugnant. I was concerned about a mole hill, perhaps not even a decent sized molehill, and others were facing an emotional earthquake. I removed my trite and now worthless little rant and prayed that no one had seen it, or if they did, that they would not pay any attention to it.
I was visiting with a student who was experiencing what I would consider to be legitimate and worthy feelings of pain related to a personal issue. In the midst of this person’s grief they sobbed, “I feel so guilty because I know there are others who have it so much worse.” Ouch. Here was a young person desperately attempting to make sense of a situation that was beyond any sense being made of it, and yet they were looking through the lens of seeing the suffering of others.
My self-pity just took another hit. When I make a mistake, I really do it up good.
When we view our own miseries and discomforts it is always beneficial to ask, “From what perspective have we judged this particular pain or sorrow?” More often than not it is strictly selfish and far more often than not, it is fatalistic. Everything revolves around ME and every crisis is equal to or greater than the ending of the world.
Now do not get me wrong here – there are tragic accidents and vicious acts of violence and there are always many, many people who are left to pick of the pieces of their shattered lives. And there are many more situations where a person is attempting to bear up under a load of guilt and pain that far exceeds what they should be asked to carry. Like it or not, accept it or not, there are just evil people in the world and they inflict far more than their share of evil and misery upon others. All too often the innocent pay the greater price for the behavior of the guilty.
I guess I am just rambling here – trying to think in pixels and disjointed sentences about what I have experienced in my own life lately.
I want to tell my young friend, and many others, that it is perfectly okay to scream at God and to cry with the psalmist, “May God, My God, why have you abandoned me?” (Ps. 22:1) It has been the cry of the persecuted faithful for millennia. Jesus cried out in pain; what makes us think we are better than the Son of God? When life truly kicks us and knocks us down we receive no consolation by making believe that the dirt being ground into our flesh is actually quite valuable for growing petunias.
On the other hand, there is an eternity’s worth of difference between experiencing a rough day at the office to losing a father, a life’s mate, a son, a co-worker and trusted leader. What right do we have to compare a small sprinkle to a tsunami? Our selfishness very quickly devolves from the absurd to the obscene.
It is all about perspective. I want to (no doubt with greater and lesser degrees of success) view things from the perspective of the Kingdom from now on. I reserve the right to cry out in pain and sorrow to my God, but I pray that I will only do so when the “cords of death” encircle me.
I pray for my young friend. I pray for those devastated by the loss, or the impending loss, of a husband, wife, son, daughter, mother, father, dear friend. There are reasons to mourn for 40 days. Do not short-circuit those righteous emotions. God gave them to you. Own them with dignity.
It is all a matter of perspective. May God grant us a Kingdom vision.
Just a quick follow-up to my post of yesterday. I have noticed that when any preacher delivers a spellbinding sermon condemning any kind of sin, everyone seems to think he was preaching right at them. It’s kind of like the theory that pharmaceutical companies use to hawk their latest and greatest pill – make a slick advertisement telling people that they MIGHT have this disease or another, and that their pill MIGHT be a solution, but be sure to go talk to your doctor right away just to be sure.
I do not want anyone to think that because hypocrisy is deadly (it clearly is) that I am suggesting that everyone in the church is a hypocrite. I do not even wish to suggest that everyone who owns a gun is a hypocrite. I happen to own guns. Misguided and ignorant? Well if the shoe fits then wear it – but that does not necessarily make a person a hypocrite.
You are not a hypocrite if you condemn a certain behavior, and yet occasionally find yourself caught in that exact behavior – as long as you recognize your failing and work to overcome it. For example – a recovering alcoholic is not a hypocrite if he or she temporarily “falls off of the wagon” and relapses. That is being human and being weak, but it is not necessarily an act of hypocrisy. Likewise, a person may be a real stickler for personal honesty and integrity, and yet find himself or herself in a situation where bankruptcy is quite literally the only option. That person is not being a hypocrite – as long as they recognize their failing and work to make sure it does not recur, and as long as they are not advertising themselves as some kind of paragon of virtue that has never failed any measure of honesty or integrity.
Many people live lives absolutely terrified that they are being hypocrites for being regular church members and yet finding that they “fall short of the glory of God” and occasionally sin (Rom. 3:23). That is not hypocrisy, and it is most certainly not what Jesus soundly and repeatedly condemned (see Matthew 23 for the best known example).
Hypocrisy is knowingly and willfully leading a double life. Hypocrisy is saying you believe one thing or are committed to a certain ideal and yet living a life that is directly opposite of that stated ideal or commitment. Hypocrisy is preaching against any use of “demon rum” while you have a well stocked wet bar in your house. Hypocrisy is condemning pornography while you maintain your XXX rated subscription on your Dish network. Hypocrisy is condemning drunkenness because it is condemned in the Bible all the while you are eating yourself into an early grave through gluttony.
And, as I suggested earlier, hypocrisy is quoting book, chapter and verse to proclaim your steadfast devotion to protecting life and the process of justice while applauding our current President’s immoral and unjustifiable use of secret weapons and tactics to “remove” suspected terrorists. And, I added that hypocrisy is proclaiming out of one side of your mouth that the only thing that matters to you is the inspired word of God while simultaneously singing the praises of the 2nd Amendment, as if it were equal to Scripture, out of the other side of your mouth.
There are sane, justifiable reasons for owning a gun. Not nearly as many as some people think, but there are a few. I can think of hunting, owning an “heirloom piece” (emotional attachment) and, to a limited extent, recreation. Personally, I even call into question the idea of “self defense” as a legitimate use of a gun. For a weapon to be used as a form of self-defense it must be (1) loaded , (2) readily available, and (3) you have to have the mindset that causing death to another individual is something you are perfectly willing to perpetrate. To that scenario I simply would ask – how many children have been killed by guns that they found loaded and readily available? How many domestic violence situations have resulted in single or multiple deaths (often murder/suicide) because a gun was loaded and immediately available? [Every layer of safety that you add to protecting against accidents such as trigger locks, gun safes and keeping the weapon unloaded, etc., lengthens the time that it can be adequately used in self-defense, and thereby lessens its effectiveness, and thereby weakens the argument for using a gun as self-defense]. And, perhaps most disturbingly, how can a disciple of Christ decide that they are not only capable of killing another person, but are actually willing to do so before a crisis arises? We are not talking about military service here (that is another can of worms entirely). We are talking about loading a gun, putting it where we can reach it quickly and perhaps even coming out of the fog of a deep sleep, and telling ourselves, “Yes, I will shoot with the intent to kill perhaps without knowing who it is I am shooting or what their intent or frame of mind is.” And just to be honest here – many homeowners have killed “deadly intruders” who turned out to be nothing worse that a truant teenager returning from an illicit romp through the countryside.
As I said in my previous article, the more emotional investment we have in a particular issue, the harder it is to recognize our own duplicity. I know this from personal experience! I am not claiming perfection here. Maybe it is because I see my own duplicity here that this issue is so troubling to me. But I have lost a lot of respect for certain individuals because their willingness to defend and even perpetrate violence is absolutely opposite to the message of the one they call their Lord and Messiah. It runs counter to their stated commitment to Scripture and their reliance upon the evidence of history in regard to the way the early church responded to violence.
I’m just asking for a little self-examination here, using the Word of God as the scale. Let us each and all pray we will not be found lacking.
Two men are having a conversation. One, a devout Christian, asks the other, an avowed atheist, to come to church with him. The atheist inquires as to the location of the church. Upon finding out where the church is, he responds: “I would never attend there. That church is full of hypocrites.” “Well,” responds the Christian, “There is always room for one more.”
I cannot tell you how many times I have heard that joke. I have probably told it almost as many times. Looking at the situation rationally, apparently what the joke teller is saying is that clearly the unbeliever is a hypocrite, and so therefore joining a much larger group of hypocrites would be in this person’s long term best interest.
Somehow the joke is just not funny anymore. I wonder why I ever did think it was funny.
I remember that when I was growing up I would see numerous commercials on TV warning about this or that disease being a hideous “silent killer.” The warnings were supposed to be more dire because being killed by something you could not see was supposedly more frightening that being killed by something you could see. Frankly, I can’t think of anything more frightening that being killed by an enraged bull or some such event. However, you should be able to see the bull coming and therefore get out of the way, and if you are aware of certain “silent” diseases you can take steps to overcome them, so therefore you do not have to suffer death.
I have been thinking over the past few weeks that one of the great silent killers of faith in today’s church is the sin of hypocrisy. I know there are others, and that hypocrisy may not be the biggest of the faith killers, but it is a brutally efficient killer none the less. Notice that in the New Testament, Jesus addresses the sin of hypocrisy perhaps most frequently and most directly. That should cause us to at least ponder the seriousness of the sin.
To make a long post much shorter, let me summarize the gist of my thinking:
- Hypocrisy and hypocritical thinking is a long process made up of many small steps. We do not wake up one morning and make a promise to become a full-fledged hypocrite by the end of the day. In reality, hypocrites die a death of a thousand little cuts.
- Hypocrisy is not based in or on logic, but on feelings and intuition. If we are cured of a hypocritical stance it is usually after someone has pointed out the illogical position we are holding. The less emotion we have riding on the hypocritical stance, the easier it is to let go. Conversely, the more emotion we have riding on the contradictory positions, the harder it is to let go of one of them.
- Hypocrisy is therefore doubly painful to confess and repent of, because (1) we were wrong on the issue at hand and (2) we have invested considerable emotional capital in the error.
I have a couple of examples that (for me, at least) illustrate my points with crystal clarity. I hope I do not get too many people’s blood pressure up, because high blood pressure can be a silent killer.
The first example involves President Obama and his use of CIA drones and super-secret covert operations to kill suspected terrorists in Afghanistan and other countries. On the one hand, if a Republican president had ordered such strikes the “Doves” in the Democratic party would be positively apoplectic in their denunciations of the “illegal” and “immoral” actions of the president. Congressional hearings would be convened, the Sunday talk shows would be ablaze with their heated rhetoric. Strange, but I just do not see or hear any of those “Doves” commenting on their Commander in Chief’s actions. Hypocritical, you say? I would have to agree. But what of the Republican silence? These are the passionate, conservative, “we are a nation of laws” crowd that loves to quote the Bible and that simply cannot have enough bashing of President Obama when it comes to abortion or homosexual rights or same-sex marriage. Where is their complaint against a President who is absolutely flouting the law and biblical morality when it comes to “targeted eliminations” of “suspected combatants” that also end up killing scores of innocent bystanders. You see, when the “pot starts calling the kettle black,” there is not much left in the kitchen that escapes observation. Hypocrisy cuts deeply in both political parties.
Or, as a second example that is perhaps closer to home and one that disturbs me just as much, consider the recent (and on-going) debate concerning gun control. Consider that everything in the life of Jesus, his words and his actions, points to the disciple’s non-violent response to violence. Consider that every event recorded in the book of Acts reveals or demonstrates the fact that the early disciples understood and lived out that non-violent response to violence. Consider that for the first three centuries, our recorded history of the church convincingly supports the New Testament teaching concerning a non-violent response to violence. And then stop and consider who it is that is doing the loudest and the longest defense of owning and using a gun as a weapon of self-defense against an act of violence and you will see a long list of very conservative, very Bible believing, very Christ-confessing “disciples.”
In my own heritage, if a certain practice of worship is questioned you will find an adherent quote the gospels, quote the book of Acts, quote the letters of the early apostles, and possibly even quote an early church historian as to either why that practice should or should not be continued in today’s church.
In that same heritage, if a certain doctrine is questioned you will find an adherent quote “book, chapter and verse” to defend the doctrine (if he or she believes it to be true) or to condemn the practice (if he or she disagrees with the doctrine). That same adherent will also find evidence from writers within the first two or three centuries to defend their position.
In that same heritage if the question of gun ownership and use comes up, there is an increasingly shrill and pointed reference to…..the Second Amendment of the U.S. Constitution. Reference to the gospels is non-existant. Reference to the book of Acts is strangely missing. Voices that make reference to the rest of the New Testament or to the early church are deafeningly silent.
Honestly, the best I have heard anyone come up with is a misapplication of Luke 22:38 and some vague and as yet unsubstantiated command that we are to defend our families with the biggest, baddest gun we can own because we are to love and cherish our wives and children. Hmmm. Can’t find that exact reference in my concordance.
Returning to my oft-quoted but no longer funny joke about the level of hypocrisy in the church. That is just not funny anymore. The next time someone tells me that joke, I am going to ask them what is so funny about the church being full of hypocrites, when hypocrisy was so soundly condemned by our Lord. Instead, when the atheist or agnostic comments on the level of hypocrisy in the church, our response should be – “God forbid that is true. If it is, God will deal with the hypocrites as only he can deal with them. But I am called to a higher standard, and because you can see that higher standard as well, it is obvious that Jesus is working on your heart. Would you like to join me in working toward a hypocrite-free church?”
To be honest, I share the emotion expressed by our imaginary atheistic joke dweller. The church should be the LAST place hypocrisy is found. But that means that we as disciples must evaluate not only our actions, but our hearts and our emotional attachments as well.
Hypocrisy is a silent killer of faith. That does not make it more scary – but it should make us more diligent about dealing with it before it kills us.
I begin with a seemingly incoherent digression. My father was one of the most sure-footed individuals I have ever seen. He could scamper over rocks, tree limbs, logs – he loved the out-doors and it really did not matter where he was, he was able to keep his feet under him. I honestly cannot ever remember seeing him fall, and I have seen him in some pretty amazing predicaments. One vision is especially clear, and that is how he ferried me and my sister on his back across numerous rivers and creeks without so much as getting our feet wet. I don’t know how many times I was carried across the Pecos river, it has to be in the hundreds. No matter how strong the current we always made it across safely. When I was old enough to get my own pair of hip boots he taught me very carefully how to wade across a river. After having dunked myself in the same river more times than I really care to admit, my admiration for his sure footedness only grew.
I was especially impressed with my father’s ability to wade across a river when it was murky or even more than murky. It is one thing to cross a river when you can see the rocks beneath your feet. When you cannot see the bottom the challenge is exponentially more difficult. But, somehow he managed to feel his way along the bottom, finding just the right crevice or big rock to brace his foot against.
So, what does my father’s ability to wade across free-flowing trout streams have to do with interpreting the Sermon on the Mount? Interestingly enough, much if I do say so myself.
I have already mentioned the difficulty we as Americans have in understanding the word “Blessed.” This is illustrated in translation of the Greek word makairos that was published in the Common English Bible as “happy.” We in America want our Christianity to be a happy one, full of little smiley emoticons, full volume hip-hop music and stories that end “happily ever after.”
In my last post I discussed an equally difficult problem we have with “poor in spirit.” We as Americans are just so proud of our ability to be self-sufficient, do-it-yourselfers. We rebel against any suggestion that we are or even have been dependent upon anyone. In the words of the Pharisees to Jesus, “We have never been slaves to anyone!” And, just for good measure, we refuse to be slaves to anyone now. Unfortunately, that includes God as well.
So, we are in murky water here. This sermon, which I have labeled as “radical” is profoundly disorienting – especially to a culture such as ours. We are barely a few verses into it and already our head is spinning. That, I am convinced, is its perfect design.
So now we turn to the word “mourn.” And, I must confess right up front, the water under my feet is no more clear than it is for anyone else. There are as many interpretations of what this word means as there have been for “blessed” and for “poor in spirit.” But, using other passages as a guide, I think there is a way to understand what Jesus is teaching.
First, as I so often do, a couple of things I think Jesus is NOT teaching. One, I do not believe Jesus is advocating some kind of histrionic cataract of tears that can be called up on a moment’s notice. I have in mind the paid mourners as is illustrated in the story of the little girl Jesus raised from the dead in Matthew 9. A stout onion and a good crowd is all it takes to get some people weeping and wailing. Second, although I am not 100% sure of what he was talking about, I am not convinced that Jesus is talking about the tears that Ignatius of Loyola was talking about in his Spiritual Exercises. I am not a Jesuit, so I must admit some ignorance here.
Rather, I think what Jesus is referencing here are the tears of the great prophets – Ezra, Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel just to name a few. And, because the blessing on those who mourn comes immediately after the blessing on those who are poor in spirit, I believe the two are inextricably linked. When we realize our utter dependence upon God we realize how frail and weak we are as humans. That realization should also reveal our sinfulness and brokenness, and having come to that realization we are driven to our knees in sorrow. In other words, we mourn our human frailty and sinfulness. In his great vision of the throne room of God, Isaiah first comprehends the majesty of God, and then comprehends his own unworthiness. Isaiah’s “woe is me” is not the rambling of some deranged neurotic, but is the honest reflection of a person who has come into the presence of the Holy One. It is the response of EVERY person who comes into the presence of the Holy One as recorded in the pages of Scripture.
Second, and just as important, I believe Jesus is speaking here of our ability to weep over the sins of others. It is not only our own sin that should drive us to our knees, but also the brokenness of humanity. Jesus wept over the city of Jerusalem (Luke 19:41). Ezra wept for his people. Jeremiah has been labeled “the weeping prophet.” Our inability to weep over the sins of others is manifested in countless ways. Every year I hear of calls to march in front of Planned Parenthood offices, but I never hear of services where Christians are called to weep for the women who make use of the doctors inside those facilities. We rant and rail against all kinds of sexual promiscuity and perversity, yet how many of us weep for the young women caught up in the sex trade? How many of us weep for the men and women so broken by the world that they have lost the reality of their own gender? We cheer the death of some “terrorist” whose name we cannot pronounce, never even once stopping to ask ourselves about the manner in which they were killed, or about those who were killed with them whose only offense was that they happened to be in the same vicinity?
We cling to our “rights” as American citizens, never ever even once stopping to consider how those “rights” affect countless millions across this globe, or even how they are a part of the massacre of 26 innocent people whose only “crime” was that they happened to be in an elementary school.
Americans, and disciples of Christ in America, have lost the ability to mourn. And, following the words of Jesus, if we cannot mourn, we will never experience God’s comfort.
As long as we are self-sufficient, as long as we proudly bear the banner of our “inalienable rights,” as long as we are able to look down upon others in self-righteous contempt, as long as we are able to overlook our own brokenness and sinfulness, we may have the comfort of our own pathetic little egotistic shell. But that comfort will be fleeting, and we will have to grasp another “right,” we will have to find someone yet more contemptible, we will have to turn away from our own reflection even more violently in order to shore up our crumbling self-defense.
Or, we can hear the words of this radical sermon, and we can confess our utter and complete dependence upon God, and we can fall upon our knees in the depths of righteous sorrow, and pray that God will see our tears and hear our sighs.
Then, and only then, may we receive the blessing of comfort.
God’s people have always been plagued by a relentless fascination with idolatry.
Oh, they use the name Yahweh, or Jehovah God, or maybe just God, or more recently the name Jesus, but the Bible makes it clear that they were idolaters in every sense of the word. From Genesis all the way to Revelation, the idea of idolatry, and of committing adultery against God is ever present.
Somehow, after the Reformation, modern people thought that they could not succumb to idolatry any more. We heard sermons, and perhaps we even preached sermons, that used the word “idolatry,” but we never really came close to naming those idols. We might wave a dollar bill around our head in some voyeuristic fashion, or point out somebody’s million dollar mansion. But we always steered conveniently clear of our summer cabins in Colorado and our 5th wheel trailers with their satellite dishes and multiple roll-outs so that we can stay comfortable when we have to be inconvenienced in being away from home.
Americans are not only idolaters, we are hypocrites too, but that is for another post.
Every since the massacre of the school children in Newtown, CT, I have been bombarded with evidence that America has fallen completely in love with another idol, and this one will destroy us just as surely as the golden calves caused the destruction of Northern Israel. The idol is the United States Constitution, and nowhere is it more directly visible than in our repulsive adoration of the second amendment.
The second amendment to the Constitution would not be so troublesome, if it were interpreted with any degree of sanity. It simply says that because of the need for state militias, the right of people to bear arms shall not be infringed. Now, notice – the clauses which precede the actual “right” that is enumerated specifically states the necessity of militias – armed military groups necessary for the defense of the people. There was no standing army as such. Men were called to duty, and organized by states, as is perfectly illustrated in the Civil War.
The insanity begins when people only look at the “right” and completely overlook the “reason.” Most people, accustomed to the 30 second sound bites on TV, think that modern efforts at gun control are somehow an infringement on the precious 2nd Amendment “right” to bear arms. I know the rhetoric well. I rehearsed it every chance I got. “Guns don’t kill people, people kill people.” “Take away all the guns and only criminals will have guns.” All the slogans sound so right. Bumper sticker politics at its best. Throw a line like that into a sermon and you will get invitations to go out and eat at Furr’s cafeteria for the rest of the month.
Notice I spoke in the past tense. The murders in Newtown changed me forever. I will never use such insipid and ignorant language again. The cataracts over my eyes were ripped off in horrific fashion. I don’t know why they stayed on after Columbine, after Georgia Tech, after Aurora. But there they were, distorting my vision and making me think I was some kind of intellectual when all I was amounted to an ignorant buffoon.
That kind of does it for the politics – but what about the faith? What about the Christianity?
I’ll just be blunt and say it. I really do not think you can be a follower of Jesus the Christ and still support the 2nd Amendment as it is so devoutly defended by the NRA. And I truly do not think your Christianity amounts to a thimble of water if you are a member of the NRA – if you defend their most diabolical pronouncements. I am not condemning mere membership, although I feel that is a compromised position. What I am condemning is active defense of the most unchristian and indefensible statements made by NRA leaders and members. (Calling members of the FBI, DEA, and other Federal law enforcement agencies “jack booted thugs” or “Nazis” comes to mind).
First, the 2nd Amendment was written by a group of fallible humans who produced a fallible document that has worked (to some degree or another) for a mere 200 + years of history. To equate it to Scripture and say that we are to follow the 2nd Amendment because it is a part of the US Constitution is to declare that we are servants to Caesar and it is to him that we owe our loyalty. Jesus said we cannot serve two masters, and that our King is in heaven. We only get one choice – God or the Constitution. Choose wisely, your eternity depends upon it.
Second, Jesus came and died to destroy the power systems of this world – Satan being the chief power behind all worldly power systems. The US Constitution is just one of those worldly power systems. The 2nd Amendment grants power to those who own a tool designed, and purchased with one intent – to kill or maim another human being. Just think of how many guns there are that are designed for uses other than killing or causing great human bodily damage. Very, very few exist. Most of those are for hunting, although a few might be described as “sporting” firearms. Every handgun ever manufactured has one purpose, and well over 90 % of long guns (rifles and shotguns) are designed to kill or maim humans. That they are used for target practice does not minimize their ultimate purpose. Just to make my point even more clear, think of how many targets that are used at shooting ranges come in the outline of a human being.
Christians are commanded to think outside of this world – to have our minds transformed by the power of the One who came to save us from ourselves. Guns are designed to kill humans. Jesus died to save us from our sins and so that we could have life, and have it abundantly. The NRA, and those who steadfastly support the agenda of the NRA, exists so that others may die. It is that plain and simple. I have never heard any member of the NRA support or propose sensible restrictions to the power of human killing guns or the ammunition that destroys so much more than human flesh.
I am horrified and not just a little nauseated that so many of my “friends” within the Churches of Christ especially have devoted so much of their time in the days following this latest tragedy to support the uninhibited and unrestrained “right” to own guns. It is unchristian, it is completely opposite of the message of the crucified one, and it is a deeply ignorant position to hold. As I mentioned earlier, I was there until 12/14/12. I don’t know why it took me so long to see the sin of my position, or it’s unfathomable ignorance. But those 20 children who lost their lives in that massacre managed to do something that no other mass killing ever managed to do. They woke me up.
I won’t go back to sleep.
America’s obsession with guns will destroy it. It has already destroyed her soul. We count little first graders as “collateral damage” and we just shrug our shoulders and say, “evil happens” as if that solves any problem, or even identifies any problem. Well, people, it does neither. And as long as we have people who claim to be Christians who defend the use of assault rifles and the mass murderers who use them, America will never be free. Schools now will have to have even more security – more metal detectors, more limited methods of entry and exit, higher fences. I know some prisons that have fewer security systems. And this is freedom?
You can have it. I want the freedom that is in Christ – the freedom that comes from surrendering my rights – and that means my so called 2nd Amendment right to own a gun designed to kill another human being.
I’ve been thinking about this for a while, and I had originally planned to write through the end of the year, but times and circumstances change, so I decided there was no time like the present.
It’s time to put the plane in the hangar, at least for a while, maybe for good.
When I started writing in this space I had certain goals I wanted to accomplish. I can’t say that I have really achieved any of those goals, except one maybe, and it does not appear that I will achieve any in the near, or distant, future. So it just seems pretty pointless to try to keep going.
And, I am tired. Just bone tired. Dog tired. Dog bone tired. I love to write about as much as anything, and when writing becomes tiring I know I’ve had enough.
I attended a lecture once and the speaker said that when it was time for something to die it was better to let it die than to keep it on life support. When you run out of good thoughts it does not make any sense to just blather in the hopes that something good might show up. I feel like I have been on the blather end of the spectrum for quite a while now. Some say the hardest part of writing is coming up with fresh ideas. Actually, when the fresh ideas stop coming you have already stopped writing. It’s just that your pen, or keyboard, never got the message.
So, the old Freightdawg is going to put the plane in the hangar and call it a day. Instrument flying is incredibly fatiguing. Writing can be as well, although it does not have to be. I’m tired of trying to write when I’m tired. Mostly, I’m just tired of being tired.
Thanks to all who have made the trip with me. I’ve enjoyed the comments and the conversations. If anything I have written has helped anyone, it was worth the effort.
The blog will stay up for a while, at least until subscriptions are due again – then I will have to decide whether I want to keep the domain name or not. So, by all means feel free to browse all you want while it is still up. I reserve the right to start it up again if the mood strikes me – I am a free spirit. But at the moment that does not seem to be a particularly appealing option.
So, may the wind always be at your back, and may your landings always equal the number of your takeoffs. Be sure to keep the shiny side up. I pray your days will never be foggy, but if and when the fog arrives, always remember to keep your eyes focused on your instruments.
As Red Skelton would say,
Good night, and may God bless!
BTW – A special thanks to the folks at WordPress. This is a great blog hosting site, and if you are interested in having your own space, you cannot do any better. Thanks, WP, for all the help.