Tuesday, September 19, 2017

Slowing Down

It is fairly popular today to tell people to "slow down" in order to improve their life. In a world where marketers and culture is saying "Buy more! Do more! Get more! Have more! Be more!" it is only natural that some segment rises up to fight back against it. The "slow down" movement instead says to have less, do less, and that ultimately, "less is more."

Now notice I only said it is popular to tell people to slow down in order to improve their life. I never said it was popular for people to actually do it. You see, it is far easier to talk about  than follow through on, because if we follow through on it then we might get bored or miss out. FOMO (Fear Of Missing Out) is a real thing, and it keeps people from slowing down even when they say they want to. This seems to be especially true in the realm of making decisions.

When was the last time you took a significant amount of time in order to make a decision on something? Now I am not talking about analysis paralysis when choosing whether to buy Cereal A or Cereal B. Rather, when was the last time that you put a decision on hold in order to figure out what was should be done in a given situation?

Often there is a great deal of pressure upon us to make a decision "right now." The pressure says that if we do not decide right now, we will miss the opportunity and be stuck always having wondered what could have been, and we will never get another chance like this one. Its "now or never," and we've got to "strike while the iron is hot," less this one and only chance escapes our grasp forever.

Now to be fair, there are occasional circumstances where we must make a decision quickly. There are moments where time is up and something has to happen. But more and more I am beginning to feel like that is the exception rather than the rule. Where the world around us (especially in marketing) tells us you have to choose now, in reality, we do not. How many times have you seen an email or commercial saying "Last Chance for 20% off!!! Today Only!!! Final Sale for Real this Time!!" only to see another one the following week saying very nearly the same thing? How often have you felt pressured to make a decision about something in life right now when waiting a day or two would make very little difference if any at all?

In those moments when pressure is being applied to decide now, I want to encourage you to take a step back, figure out if it really must be decided on right this instant and if not, take a breather and take some time to move through the process of making the decision.

In the ancient world it looks like this is what people did. There were no cars or planes. There were no phones or emails. If you wanted to do something or get something chances were it would take at least a few days before it would even be possible to get there. Then you had to go through the process of the work without modern technology and get back. Life moved at a slower pace because the environment demanded it. There was no other option.

It is this slower pace of life that (I believe) encouraged and enabled people to take the time to make decisions on important matters. I also believe that this led to a less stressful life with a deeper sense of meaning about what was happening. When we rush through decision after decision based on whim or feeling or a random internet review we might "do" a lot but the decisions are often shallow. When we take our time to think through choices, see what they will cost us, and discover whether or not they are truly worthy of our time we may "do" less, but the decisions carry a good deal more weight and allow us to experience more deeply the things that we actually care about. Furthermore, it allows us to make better decisions and end up with better results.

The book of Acts if full of waiting and taking time to make decisions. In chapter 1 the disciples are praying, fellow-shipping, and waiting for the promised Helper. In chapter 6 they take time to seek out men worthy of the service of widows. In chapter 13 Barnabas and Paul are appointed to be missionaries only after spending time fasting and teaching with the church in Jerusalem, and the list goes on and on. We read it as one thing happening after another, but there are days, weeks, and months between many or most of these events and choices being made. Those down-times are often spent fasting, praying, and seeking God's will. They take time to figure things out and, more importantly, they take time bringing their needs and questions before the only One who can truly give them the answer.

We need to ask ourselves, are we taking the time to do this? With everything going on and the pressure to "get more done," are we relying on the help of our Father and King, or are we relying on our own instincts and desires?

I want to encourage you to take the time needed to slow down and make decisions thoughtfully, slowly, and prayerfully. Let us as a people reject the frantic hamster wheel of decision-making the world desires to place on us, and be a people who seek God's will and take the time the listen for His answer before giving ourselves over to something.

Let us be a people of depth and weight, and allow our God to bring us into that depth and weight on His time, through His plans.

Wednesday, August 30, 2017

Fashionable Heresy

Fashionable: observant of or conforming to the prevailing custom of style of dress, etiquette, socializing, etc.

Heresy: any belief of theory that is strongly at variance with established beliefs, customs, etc.

Fashionable Heresy: a belief or theory conforming to prevailing popular thought that is strongly at variance with established belief

I wish I did not have to write on this topic. I wish I didn't because it frustrates me and I am not quite sure how exactly I should go about it. But it is something that has been bugging me for a while now and I cannot ignore it any longer. Y'all...this thing I have named Fashionable Heresy is tearing the Christian faith apart at the seams. We have got to get a handle on this. It has been around since The Way of Christ began, it is never, ever stops. Like the lovely image above, it has no brakes.

Who is it that you follow when it comes to spiritual matters? I know there are some people that I do. I like what they say, how they say it, and the conviction behind their words. There are times where I disagree on some relatively minor points, but that's not a problem. I know where they stand and I know where I stand, and if we met somewhere one day I would not be afraid of speaking and discussing both our similarities and differences. I am sure we would both walk away better for it and happy to have met another member of the family of Christ. We even have Biblical evidence for doing so. In I Corinthians 11:1 Paul writes "Imitate me, as I imitate Christ."

So the question that must be asked, the question that must be answered, is this: do you follow someone, or do you follow them as they follow Christ?

It is very fashionable to hold certain positions in our society. Some of that is good, but some of that is bad. Furthermore, some is simply based on poor theology.

Take poverty for example. It is a real and pressing problem. A good position that is also fashionable is that we should take care of the poor around us. That is a Biblical, sound position to hold. No one who has the right idea of what Scripture says is going to argue against it (and they should be arguing for more of it).

A bad position that is also fashionable is that we must force everyone to take care of the poor by taking what they have and giving it to others. That is not a Biblical position to hold. Christians are told to take care of the poor and hurting, but we are not given leave to force others to against their will. Rather, it is our job to do what we can in following Christ the King as we walk through life.

A position that is based on poor theology would be "we can eradicate poverty!" Unfortunately, though it sounds great and wonderful, it is not Biblical. Jesus says explicitly in Matthew 26:11 that "you will always have the poor among you." There will always be those who are marginalized, exploited, and poor, and we must do all we can to help and aid those in that position. It is not a popular idea, but it is a truthful and sound one.

The problem with Fashionable Heresy is that it takes what is Biblical and inserts ideas that are in tune with the times but not with God. In doing so we either get watered down truth, or the truth is drowned out by the lie. Take the above example and put it together:

"God says we should take care of the poor, so we need to create new government programs and raise new taxes so that we can eradicate poverty."

It sounds nice. It is even couched in Biblical language. But it is not a position based in Scripture. The Bible says nothing about government programs, and specifically states we will never eradicate poverty. If you think it is the government's job to help the poor, that is fine, but you can't make the case through Scripture (that is what philosophy, social commentary, and politics are for).

But do you see how easy it is to inject Fashionable Heresy into a topic? You can make it sound nice, and even holy. But if it does not stand to the test of Scripture we need to be able to see that and call it out. Here is another one (this time a real example):

"If the fruit of doctrine regularly and consistently creates shame, self-harm, suicide & broken hearts, families, and churches, we should listen."

Again, we have Fashionable Heresy injected into a Biblical topic. It is laced with both truth and lie. It also makes an assumption by putting doctrine in the place of the failure of people. It is couched in Biblical language by talking about "the fruit of doctrine". It takes what Jesus says about being wary of false prophets by seeing their fruit in Matthew 7 and applies it to theology.

The problem, however, is that this statement places the blame on doctrine when it should be on people. The doctrine in this case (homosexuality is sin), is blamed as the cause of the bad fruit. But doctrine is nothing more than words on its own. People may use it poorly or produce bad fruit by it, but that does not mean the doctrine is wrong, it means the people are. I can take a hammer and use it to build a house for the homeless or kill someone with a quick whack to the head, but that is not the hammer's fault. I am at fault for how I used it, and no one else (not even the person who made the hammer).

And so we have lies mixed with truth that sounds great and wonderful and Biblical, but that cannot hold up to revealed Truth. The Bible states both implicitly and explicitly that homosexuality is sin, as is sex before marriage, cheating on your spouse, and any other type of sex outside of marriage between a man and a woman. It also states that all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God, and all are invited to come to Jesus, repent of their sins, and be washed in His blood to live a new life, no matter who they were or what they have done. The doctrine is sound and in line with what God has said. It is people who have messed it up from time to time.

Now yes, there is bad doctrine. It exists in spades in the religious world, even among believing Christians. If there were not we would not have to be warned against it in Scripture so often. But there is also good doctrine used badly. The point is we must be able to tell the difference.

You see, every doctrine, every scrap of it, must be parsed through the lens of the Truth. There are doctrinal truths that all of Christianity, regardless of time, place, and denomination (or lack thereof) has agreed upon for the last 2,000 years up until about 50-60 years ago. That should probably warn us that if we are going to change something, we had better be really, really sure of what we are doing and that it is in line with what Jesus, the Word of God, has revealed. If it is not, we need to run, not walk, away from it.

Please. Do not fall for Fashionable Heresy, no matter what the topic is. It shows up in every way and on every subject. It is so, so easy to get caught up in it because someone writes well, or speaks well, or has passion, or is doing so many other great things. But even Fashionable Heresy is still heresy, and it is still dangerous to our life and faith.

So be strong, stay faithful, and keep informed. :-)

Tuesday, June 27, 2017

Of Mice and Men

I don't know what made me think of it, but for some reason out of the blue I decided to watch the ending to Of Mice and Men. I would have read the the ending of it, but unfortunately I do not have a copy of the book. It was as sad as I remembered it being in high school.

Of Mice and Men has one of the saddest, worst, best endings of any book I have ever read. I would even consider saying of any book ever. It is a hard book in general that forces you to think through its controversial ending. It will not settle for being ignored.

In my senior English class we had to read the book, discussing each part of it during the weeks it was assigned. When we got to the end, there were several camps on if George did the right thing (I am not going into specifics here so as not to spoil it for future readers), and what he could have done differently. I still remember my position, though I continue to wonder if it was the right one or not.

What makes the issue in that book so unclear is the fact that it deals with the reality of man and the situation. Lennie has done a great wrong, people are rightly angry, and he is too simple to know what is going on. In that day and age there were no resources for people like him, so should he be doomed to a life of terror and fear or freed? The author gives no clear-cut answers, nor does he expound over whether George's choice is right or wrong. All we know is George loves his friend Lennie, and wants the best for him. Beyond that we are offered no answers in the book. 

This post is not about whether George was right or not, but about how we as Christians need to take life and deal with it as it is, and not as we wish it were.

Far too often I hear fellow brothers and sisters in Christ speak about the world in terms that either whitewashes or sidelines uncomfortable truths. Some things I hear are:

"Christianity is not in decline, revival is just around the corner!"
"The kids are fine. Everyone has smartphones these days."
"We'll make it to church next time. Scouts/sports/school/etc. is so busy this time of year!"
"What racism?"
"What police brutality?"
"What attacks on police?"
"What war atrocities?"
"What illegal immigrant problem?"
"We both have to work if we're ever going to get ahead."
"If only politician/political part XYZ would win, things would be better."
"This generation is so narcissistic and weak."
"We can't associate with that church, they [fill in the blank]."
"LGBT issues are settled."
"Why are you worried about LGBT stuff? It's never going to affect you."

And on and on the list goes...

Now if I have done what was intended, you found at least one of those to be offensive or something you would rather not think about. I know I found at least a couple of them to be, but that is the point. If we never stop to really consider what is going on around us and what the issues are, we are not grappling with the world as it is in reality, but only as we wish it were. This will never get us anywhere, because unless we deal with reality we will never make any progress in dealing with the world around us.

We as Christians do not get the luxury of ignoring what is going on around us. If we do that we will have no answer besides the standard cut-and-paste rhetoric of a Facebook post. For us to reach the world we have to be ready and willing to face it head-on as it is. That is how Jesus interacted with the world after all.

Consider the things Jesus dealt with without resorting to platitudes and standard, rehearsed lines: prostitution, adultery, disease, politics, poverty, hunger, inheritance, God, marriage, children, purpose, racism, Heaven, Hell, Jerusalem's destruction, death. I could go on for a while here but I think you get the point. Instead of pretending like they did not exist or moving them off to the side, Jesus looked at it straight-on, considered it in the context of God's Will and Plan, and dealt with it accordingly. There was no rhetoric when it came to how Jesus spoke. Each situation was dealt with as it was - an individual situation. There was no one-size-fits-all solution for every issue. He did the hard work of not only dealing with the issue, He also went to those who were involved in it. He empathized with them, then lead them to the truth of God in love.

As followers of Christ, we are called to do the same.

Today's post is a call to put away the rhetoric, put away the self-reinforcing news feeds, put away the talking heads and pundits, and come before God Almighty for the real answers to the real issues in life. Today is a call to reject the wisdom of this world and all those who are not giving their lives over to God in favor of His Word and the wisdom of those who strive with all their hearts to follow Christ wherever He leads. Forget the politicians, the celebrities, the bloggers, the memes, the YouTube videos and the Facebook friends who tell you what the world wants you to hear instead of what God wants you to know.

Come to God. Pray for His Spirit to lead you in His Word. Look for His Will and His Truth to come from what He has provided for us. There is only One who we can look to in order to be refreshed by the water of life and nourished by truth.

Let us face the hard issues straight-on with honesty, empathy, and open eyes. Let us face them as Jesus faced them. Let us face them in the truth and love of God.

Monday, March 20, 2017

Beauties, Beasts, and Art

Should I see it? Should I not? AAAAAAAHHHHH!!!!
I wasn't really planning on writing about this. It wasn't particularly on my radar, and I was pretty much prepared to ignore the Beauty & The Beast release and not worry too much about it. I don't get to go to the movies much, but if I could make it, great!

Then director Condon came out with his big "gay moment" line and the news, Facebook, and everyone blew up and everyone had a meltdown. Many Christians said they wouldn't go, many LGBT activists were overjoyed, and many others kind of shrugged and said "whatevs".

Now this has never been a blog about saying "whatevs", nor has it ever focused on LGBT things (though we have talked about it). What we have done on this blog is try to deal with real issues and the real things behind them, without compromise or backing down. I realize I am not perfect at that, but hey, I'm trying. :-)

So to get back on topic, after the B&B Meltdown, it came to light that in fact the whole "exclusively gay moment" (director Condon's phrase), was very short and not easily noticeable. In fact it was so small that if you didn't know it was there, you would probably miss it.

And so...many Christians who had bemoaned what the director said about the movie...went and saw the movie.

Then...went on social media and gushed over how amazing the movie was.

Then...chided other Christians who were choosing not to see the movie as making something small into a big deal.

Then...started linking to every blog and Facebook post by other Christians who thought the same thing they did so that the people who chose to stand their ground and not see the movie would...just go see the movie already because its great and the story is awesome and the gay thing is no big deal and if the director hadn't said anything you wouldn't even know and besides why are you making such a big deal out of something that is so small and insignificant so just go see the movie already.

I kid you not, this has been my Facebook non-stop. I am not exaggerating. The movie has been out for 3 days, and I cannot log on without someone trying to convince me to go see it.

This. Has. To. Stop.

We're going to take this in 2 parts, because there are 2 different issues here. 

The first is this: why are some Christians trying to convince others to break their conscience to go see a movie?

The second is this: can we so easily rationalize away something which the director of the movie himself says was his goal? How do we square that circle?

I will try not to make this incredibly long. Hopefully I will succeed.

The first issue should be a no-brainer. Remember what Paul wrote in Romans:
14:15 - Yet if your brother is grieved because of your food, you are no longer walking in love. Do not destroy with you food the one for whom Christ died.
14:21 - It is good neither to eat meat nor drink wine nor do anything by which your brother stumbles or is offended or is made weak. 
15:1-2 - We then who are strong ought to bear with the scruples of the weak, and not to please ourselves. Let each of us please his neighbor for his good, leading to edification.
This is really very clear. If you know other Christians are of tender conscience about this movie, don't be telling them to go see it. In fact, do not be bragging about going to see it. To do so is to do harm to your brother and sister in Christ and treat them in an unloving way. This is unacceptable behavior for the Christian to engage in, and we should take no part in it. If conscience allows someone to go see it, great! I cannot personally judge that, as my conscience is not theirs. However, I can say without any hesitation that to go bragging about it and telling everyone it is fine, or even worse that they should just go see it already (when they have doubts & reservations) is, in fact, a big deal, and should be avoided at all cost.

We can walk in love and encouragement toward our fellow travelers in Christ, or we can put stumbling blocks in the way.

The second issue is a little more murky and difficult to deal with. Has anyone really stopped to ask why some people are holding out on seeing the movie? All I have heard are people who do see it saying about those who refuse, "they're making a big deal out of nothing," when they weren't the ones who made the controversy in the first place.

Remember, it was not some random blogger or even an actor who said,
"He's confused about what he wants. It's somebody who's just realizing that he has these feelings. And Josh [Gad, who plays LeFou] makes something really subtle and delicious out of it. And that's what has its pay-off at the end, which I don't want to give away. But it is a nice, exclusively gay moment in a Disney movie."
That was the director, Bill Condon. He's the guy who calls the shots and gets to decide what the movie is about. So the controversy does not fall on the shoulders of people who, for reason of conscience, choose not to see the movie. They did not ask for nor bring up the issue. The man who made the movie did. He, not those who see it, gets to decide what the movie and its moments are about. If he had said that when the Beast tosses Gaston off the roof that is represented the feral nature of man overcoming his self-righteous, deified self, that's what it would have been about. If he had said Belle's imprisonment and escape was about women rising up to overtake the patriarchy and bend it to her will, that's what it would have been about.

I still have a visceral reaction against this,
but at least I know what it is about.
Basically, whoever is the creator of something gets to decide what it is for and what it represents. So if the director is hyping up his "exclusively gay moment", then that is what it is. I can determine if I believe it is good or beautiful, but for me to say "that's not really what it is", is ludicrous. It would be like me viewing the art piece titled "Piss Christ" and claiming it is a strictly anti-Christian piece of propaganda. That's not what it is about, and it is ridiculous for me to say so when the artist himself states that it alludes to a perceived commercializing or cheapening of Christian icons in contemporary culture. It is the creator, not the viewer or even the participant, who determines meaning.

This is why Christians must be so careful in what they support and what they are involved in. It must be remembered that those with the microphones and those who create are the ones who get to decide what something represents. We don't get to be involved in something and say in our hearts "well, I'm really here for this other reason." It simply doesn't work that way. It is only the organizer, creator, or one with the megaphone, who gets to decide what something is for. Everyone else is simply along for the ride.

As a side-note, this is one reason why worship is so beautiful. Because even though I may mess up or have the wrong mind-set or struggle during that time, Christ, as the Author and Creator of faith, decides what worship is really about and brings me along for the ride. In doing so He makes sure that through Himself, my worship is made perfect despite my imperfections.

I get the feeling that this is the real reason why conscientious objectors to the movie are holding back. It is not whether the moment or scene is big or small, open or covert. Rather, it comes down to what the publicly stated goal of the director. In saying what he said he turned it into a referendum on if it would fly in a Disney movie. Considering it made $170 million in its opening weekend (the largest March opening of all time), I think it is safe to assume that the answer was "yes".

The bottom line is there is a real reason why some people continue to object to the movie. If someone does not agree, that is fine. But please, please remember to always walk in love and to never put a stumbling block in front of our brothers and sisters. It is never OK to try and force someone in Christ to accept what is against their conscience toward God. It is also never OK to mock or treat as ridiculous the reason (any reason) someone chooses not to do something because they are trying to honor God. That is something that should always, without fail, be praised and admired in a person.

So always walk in love, always give in so others may be build up, and always, always choose the path that you believe will honor and glorify God in your life, whatever that choice may be.