Wednesday, January 17, 2018

Pride & Prejudice

The proud hold me in utter contempt . . .” (Psalm 119:51). As I meditated upon these words, two prayers came to mind.

The first was: Lord, keep me from pride and arrogance. Help me to be humble.

Pride is sneaky.

C.S. Lewis observes of pride

There is one vice of which no man in the world is free . . . the essential vice, the utmost evil is Pride. . . . [I]t was through pride that the devil became the devil: Pride leads to every other vice: it is the complete anti-God state of mind.

[T]he worst of all the vices can smuggle itself into the very center of our religious life. . . . If anyone would like to acquire humility, I can, I think, tell him the first step. The first step is to realize that one is proud. . . . If you think you are not conceited, it means you are very conceited indeed.1

It seems to me that humility—pride’s opposite—is the fruit of the Spirit (Col. 3:12). So the plea, “Help me to be humble” is in fact a cry for more of Him and less of me.

Now, this doesn’t mean I am to think less of myself. (I fail to see how mulling over what an incredibly horrible person I am benefits anything. Jesus calls me to think beautiful thoughts of Him, not ugly thoughts of me.)

Morbid introspection can be a mental morass.

Thus, the Spirit probably won’t produce His humility in us by us thinking less of ourselves. Rather, as the Spirit does His quiet work in us, we will be thinking of ourselves less. (Yes, there’s a difference between thinking less of oneself and thinking of oneself less.)

The second prayer was: Lord, keep me from holding others in contempt.

How quickly and easily I look down on others!

But if I shouldn’t despise myself; should I despise others?

Hastily dismissing and holding folks in contempt are par for the course in our national—and sadly in our religious—conversations.

The divided political, cultural, and religious climate in our country encourages mutual demonization when we discover unbridgeable differences of conviction. . . . Everywhere we look we see relationships collapsing in mutual incomprehension and demonization. It is so sad.2

My prayer is that we would learn to think, listen, and speak humbly; that we would elevate our thoughts regarding those with whom we disagree.

I’m praying but I’m not holding my breath.

Hmmm. Guess I need to work on that whole faith thingy now…


_____________________ 

1C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity, p.p. 94,97,99 

2David P. Gushee, Still Christian, p. 100

Friday, January 5, 2018

Jesus & Moral Relevance

Several weeks ago I lamented the hypocritical response of the “Christian Right” to the sexual mistreatment of women and children.1

It’s a new year but nothing’s changed.

Consider this spot-on (and from my perspective heartbreaking) commentary.

Conservatives need to be clear and honest in this circumstance. The strong, moral commitment to the dignity of women and children recently asserting itself in our common life has mainly come from feminism, not the “family values” movement. In this case, religious conservatives have largely been bystanders or obstacles. This indicates a group of people for whom the dignity of girls and women has become secondary to other political goals.

We are a nation with vast resources of moral renewal. It is a shame and a scandal that so many religious conservatives have made themselves irrelevant to that task.2

I assure you, dear reader, such was not always the case. Early Christians were entirely relevant to the cause of women.

“The birth of Jesus,” said one observer, “was the turning point in the history of woman.” Another has noted, “Whatever else our Lord did, He immeasurably exalted womanhood.” Yet neither Christ nor the early Christians ever preached an outright revolution. Rather, it was His example that His followers reflected in their relationships with women, raising their dignity, freedom, and rights to a level previously unknown in any culture.3

Please note: early Christ-followers did not elevate the status of women through lobbying or legislating. No, rather they reflected Jesus’ words and ways in their relationships with girls and women in their actual lives.

So the question before us is: Are we reflecting Jesus in our actions and attitudes towards girls and women in our daily living? (I ask this of females too because girls and women can be absolutely dreadful to each other.)

Finally, for American evangelicalism to enjoy genuine moral relevance, I encourage my friends in the Christian Right to consistently follow Jesus in their homes, places of work, and houses of worship. (CAUTION: Studies have shown that consistently following Jesus can lead to leaving the Christian Right.)

Also, stop backing creepy dudes and perverts.

___________________________



3Alvin J. Schmidt, “Under the Influence,” p. 122


Monday, December 18, 2017

The Spirit of Christmas

The Spirit of Christmas! Do you have it?

When I hear “Spirit of Christmas” I automatically think of the overall tenor of the season. You know…the Christmas spirit.

Friends, families, foods, and gifts. Parking-lot fights with strangers. Hallmark movies—lots of Hallmark movies. Carols.

Things like that. 

But I’m not talking about a holiday mood. I’m talking about a divine and holy Person.

We usually refer to Him as the Holy Spirit.

You see, God the Holy Spirit is the Spirit of Christmas. It is He who overshadows the Virgin Mary; fills John the Baptist and his parents; and communicates to and through Simeon and Anna (Luke 1: 15, 35, 41, 67; 2:27-38). He permeates the Christmas narrative.

It’s no exaggeration to say, “No Spirit, no Christmas.”

We can also affirm that the Spirit of Christmas is also the Spirit of the Church. That is, the Spirit who activates the conception of Jesus also energizes the community of Jesus.

Thus, the Holy Spirit lives within followers of Christ individually and corporately. Scripture assures us that He is given to all who are Christ’s: Jew and Gentile, male and female, young and old, rich and poor (Acts 2).

In other words, when it comes to the Holy Spirit and the Kingdom of Christ there are no haves and have nots.

Indeed, Jesus teaches that it is the Father’s good pleasure to give the Spirit to all who ask for Him. The Spirit in turn enables us to help others and delights in developing Jesus’ character within us (Luke 11:13; Romans 12:6-9; Galatians 5:22-23).

So I’ll ask again: Do you have the Spirit of Christmas? Are you daily being filled with Him?

May the love, joy, and peace of intimately knowing Jesus be yours now and always.  

Merry Christmas, dear reader!

Saturday, November 25, 2017

Jesus, Creepy Dudes, and Women

As predicted, the list of rich and famous men accused of sexually harassing women is growing. It’s truly disturbing. Of course, creepy dudes aren’t confined to the upper crust. Nor are they new.

You know what is new? The responses they get.

Nowadays the liberal-leftist-Hollywood crowd eschews them while the “family values” churchy crowd elects them.  

MAKE AMERICA GROPE AGAIN.

It makes my head spin. It really does.

But something—or someone—hasn’t changed and never will: Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today, and forever.

So how did the most powerful Person to ever walk the Earth treat women?

He showed them dignity and respect.

He did this in a time and place where women were viewed through a very utilitarian lens. Basically, they were to pleasure men, cook & clean, and have children (preferably boys).

Yet even in this milieu, we find Jesus elevating the status of women from the well-to-do to the well of Jacob. Spurned Samaritans, mourning Marys, prayerful prostitutes…all were totally safe with Jesus. And they knew it. They instinctively knew it.

Perhaps it is no wonder that the women were first at the Cradle and last at the Cross. They had never known a man like this Man—there never has been another.*

The Gospels are clear: Women in general and each woman in particular had an eminent champion in Jesus.

They still do.

_______________________

Saturday, November 18, 2017

ARE YOU READY FOR SOME FOOTB—uh…?

The main cause of Rome’s persecution of Jesus’ followers came about from the tradition of emperor worship. . . .

Caesar worship was mainly a political loyalty test; a way to register someone as a “good citizen” at least as Rome defined it. But of course, it proved nothing about a person’s real loyalty. Christians, who COULDN’T participate in Caesar-worship were in fact, often better citizens than those who took the oath because their Holy Writings enjoined them to pray for those in authority.1

The above prompts me to think of the current Flag flap in the NFL.

Since 2000 there have been 872 recorded arrests and/or indictments of NFL players: raping, pimping, and beating women; murder, DUI, assault, child abuse, theft, dogfighting…and so on.2

Nobody seems to mind all that much.

But kneeling during the National Anthem? Never!

Something’s a bit wonky with our moral outrage. Don’t you think?

Moral confusion, hypocrisy, and the like are rampant in things as important as sports and as unimportant as politics. Such can be seen even within the church.

This is the fruit of devotion to Caesar. After all, we tend to become like who or what we worship.

Jesus offers a different Way. Will we walk in it?

I am the way, the truth, and the life. . .
~Jesus


__________________________




Thursday, November 9, 2017

What's Wrong With The World?

This world is indescribably beautiful. This world is ugly to the core. This world is full of life, love, and joy. This world is unspeakably sad. . . . Ours is a world where the words child and pornography are used in the same sentence. What is wrong with this world? To some extent, all religion is an attempt to answer that question: what is wrong with this world?1

Similarly, one could argue that “all politics” is also an attempt to answer what’s wrong with the world. Marx (that’s Groucho, not Karl) observes:

Politics is the art of looking for trouble, finding it everywhere, diagnosing it incorrectly, and applying the wrong remedies.2

Religion & politics haven’t served us well and I think they never will.

Why?

Because too many religionists and politicians suffer from dim eyes, dull ears, and drippy mouths. Such are the maladies of “us vs. them” mentalities where the problem is always them, never us.

It is said that editors from The Times newspaper asked: “What’s Wrong With The World?” 3

The inimitable G. K. Chesterton replied,

Dear Sirs:

I am.

Sincerely Yours, 
G. K. Chesterton

Has anyone ever said more with two words?

Chesterton echoes Christ. Jesus says,

From within, out of a person’s heart, come evil thoughts, sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery, greed, wickedness, deceit, lustful desires, envy, slander, pride, and foolishness. All these vile things come from within; they are what defile you.4

Jesus doesn’t offer hype or hypotheticals for real-world problems. He cuts right to the heart of things and the heart He’s eyeing is yours. And mine.

__________________________

1Bruxy Cavey, The End of Religion, p. 237



4Mark 7:21-23


Monday, October 30, 2017

Sinners Like Us

Before my Great Divorce, I disliked the term “war on women.”

Basically, my attitude was if you wanna see a war on women go to Saudi Arabia! (Yeah, I know…I used to set the bar like really, really high.)

Now there's Clinton, Trump, O’Reilly, and Weinstein—all accused of sexually harassing women (Trump by his own filthy mouth).  

I fear the already too long list that won’t stop growing is scarcely the tip of the iceberg.

What’s going on in the Land of the Free?

Clearly, I’ve been na├»ve regarding the progress of women in America (just as I was on issues of race). Like a child pestering his parents, “Are we there yet?” I now realize we’ve not journeyed as far as I’d fancied.

While I still don’t like the “war on women” nomenclature, I’m starting to understand it.

But what to do?

Obviously, sexually harassing women is not a “Left vs. Right” or “Democrat vs. Republican” kind of thing. No, mistreating women is totally bipartisan.

And I don’t see how “political correctness” accomplishes anything beyond confusing, angering, and muzzling folks. (Face it: Thought Police do little more than mess with our minds and then gag us.)

Furthermore, I don’t see how one can help women by waging a “war on men.” In other words, the “us vs. them paradigm is as useless as it is natural.

We’re in this together, people.

So…what does Jesus say to sinners like us?

Well, like always, He goes straight to the heart of the matter.

Anyone who even looks at a woman with lust has already committed adultery with her in his heart.

In Jesus’ time and place, there were laws—stipulating death!—against adultery. These laws, written and enforced by men, were selectively applied and enforced against women.

And Jesus was having none of it.

He understood that such laws or rules are always selectively applied and enforced. 

Don’t believe me? Go back and read the aforementioned names of two presidents accused of mistreating women. Then think about how the “Christian Right” responded and continues to respond to each. 


Not only are laws or rules selectively applied and enforced, but also they are impotent when it comes to the root of our problem: the human heart.   

Laws may encourage outward conformity but they can never instill inner transformation.

Jesus knows: rid the heart of sexual lust and then things like adultery and sexual harassment are no longer a problem.

Therefore He offers cleansing, not codes.

Thus, while He may not enjoin the battle of the sexes; He’ll win the war against lust. So let’s join Him in the fray for the heart. 

He'll probably want to start with our own.