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Saturday, December 15, 2018

A House Divided

Note: Biblical references are listed at the bottom of this article.

Our fragile society is about to shatter, but the good news is that it can be fixed and YOU can be the one to fix it.  What makes our society so fragile is the paradox of political correctness, which sounds good in principle, but is really just a house of cards ready to fall under its own weight. The ultimate end-game of political correctness is that everyone is offended, and when that happens, we become divided and our society shatters.  We are so close to that today that it is frightening.  Our forefathers said it rightly – United we Stand; Divided we Fall.  By the way, that is biblical.  Jesus once told his disciples that a house divided against itself must fall.  That is the direction we are headed.

Despite what social media may indicate, the problem in our society today is not the fact that everyone is a racist, homophobic, xenophobe. The problem is that we can no longer live with differences of opinion and allow others the freedom of those differences of opinion.  Furthermore, we presume everything that is said has some form of prejudicial undertone and so rather than giving the benefit of the doubt and even forgiving unintended grievances, we get offended – and I want us to see how sinful that really is.

This is going to offend you, but biblically speaking, you have no right or basis for being offended.  Do I have your attention yet or are you too busy developing your argument for why it is your right to not be offended and that I have infringed upon that right?  Actually, even according to our US Constitution, your right to not be offended is not protected, but I’m not talking about the Constitution, I am talking about the Bible.  But even now you are thinking a “Good Christian” would not want to offend me.  Maybe, but we are not talking about a “Good Christian” or even a bad Christian, we are talking about the fact that YOU have been offended and you have no right to be.  More specifically, we are talking about the social uproar caused because of your offense and the insistence that the rest of the world conform to your ideal of living in “safety” – whatever that may mean.  Let us be clear.  As a professing following of Jesus Christ, I have no desire to offend you or anyone else.  In fact, I strive to live my life in such a way as to NOT offend.  But the world has gotten so sensitive lately that the “least common denominator” of all the things that could potentially offend has gotten so large that the vast majority of us are living in slavery to the tyranny of the offended.  And let’s be honest about this.  If Rudolf, Charlie Brown, and “Baby, It’s Cold Outside” offend you, you might be a snowflake (and yes, I know the term “snowflake” is offensive).  And today even Veggies Tales is offensive.  Come on people, it’s Veggie Tales.

What is clear from the teaching of Jesus Christ and others in scripture is that we are to live in consideration of others more than ourselves.  Jesus teaches us to turn the other cheek and to forgive grievances because God has forgiven us.  Paul teaches us to consider others as being more important than ourselves and to look out for their interests more than our own.  Christianity is about denying one’s self, taking up our cross, and following Jesus.  And of course, we know that one of the biggest no-nos in scripture is hypocrisy – that is, saying one thing and doing the opposite.

By definition, being offended violates every principle of Christianity.  It puts one’s own emotional state above the other person.  It certainly doesn’t turn the cheek. Making a big deal about what offends you defies the very notion of forgiveness.  And since being offended is all about your feelings, it is founded in selfishness and concern about one’s own good at the expense of the other person.  For years, physchologists have told us how important our self-image needs to be.  As a result, we have become obsessed with eradicating anything that may be a threat to that fragile image.  Rather than considering what is best for the other person, when you get offended, you have demanded what you desire at the expense of the other person.  Maybe the other person really intended to be offensive, and that is terrible. It is more likely, however, that no offense was intended at all.  More than likely, you inferred offense where none existed because of some presumed underlying social bent or a sense of over protection on your self image.  By definition, that is prejudice – pre-judging the other person – and that is hypocrisy on your part.  In other words, the very nature of being offended is Anti-Christ at its core.

So what does this mean?  Are we to ignore social injustice?  Certainly they exist and need to be addressed.  This is true.  There are many social injustices that indeed need to be addressed, but the real social injustices cannot be properly differentiated from the sound and fury that simply has no merit.  And here is the beauty of the whole situation.  There is a way to fix this and it can start with you.

We can fix society with just a few shifts in our own thinking. As you read them, each gets harder to swallow than the one before because each requires a greater and greater level of self-denial.  By the time you get to the last one, you may even decide I don’t know what I am talking about.  However, at the very core of these is the gospel.  Grace and forgiveness – and faith in Jesus that he has all things in hand. I pray that you will consider all of them, because we truly can fix society if we consider these – but even if you can’t go all the way, if you would just adopt one or two of them, our world will be a better place.

1.     Don’t be on the lookout for an offense.  Some people see offense in everything.  This is because they are looking for offense.  Trust me.  If you want to be offended, you can find something offensive anywhere you look.  This is because words are powerful and can be twisted to mean almost anything you want them to mean.   If I say “white is my favorite color and I don’t like brown” I’m pretty sure you can find offense in that statement – if you are looking for it.  But if you are not looking for an offense, you might see a greater context where I really was just talking about colors.  If you are looking for an offense, you are a hypocrite, because you have already prejudged in your heart that an offense will happen.  Don’t be that way.  By the way, my favorite color is actually blue.  Don’t tell the grass. They might get offended.
2.     Give one another the benefit of the doubt.  Not everything that sounds racially motivated or politically or socially offensive was meant to be that way. Sometimes, it is just the result of a threshold associated with a change in social norm that some have crossed and others have not.  My grandmother was a great example of this.  She was a godly woman and there was not an ill-intended cell in her body, but I will never forget being shocked by her casual use of the n-word.  At 90+ years of age, you couldn’t tell her that using that word was socially unacceptable, but I can assure you she meant no offense in her use of it.  To her, it was the same as saying “African American”.  By the way, social norms do change over time. As I was growing up, the n-word was beginning to be considered politically incorrect, but was still used regularly. Over time, we learned to say “black” but now even that is considered offensive by some.  At some point, “African American” may become offensive.  Social norms change. We need to give each other the benefit of the doubt. Not everything is meant to be demeaning.
3.     Give Grace.  This is the epitome of considering others more important than yourself.  Sometimes things are said that truly are offensive, but were not said with intended malice.  It can’t be avoided at times because we live in a fallen, broken world.  We do have our own perspectives and backgrounds.  Most of us are not trying to be offensive, even when (at least in your opinion) we are.  The same is true of you and God.  If you really knew how much of what you do offends a Holy God, you would fall on your knees in terror and sorrow.  But the ocean of God’s grace is so deep that we will never find its bottom.  He fills our lives with His grace – let us spill that out to others.
4.     Allow for Differences in Opinion.  We are very good at allowing differences in religion, race, and lifestyle, but we are terrible at allowing difference in thought and opinion.  We demand tolerance, but we don’t see the very irony that very statement creates.  The moment we no longer allow people to think differently is the moment we have become hypocrites. Our insistence on tolerance is, by definition, intolerant.  Desiring tolerance is admirable.  Demanding it is becoming intolerant yourself.  Yes, that person may be a racist, homophobic, xenophobe, but he has every right to be that way – just as you have every right to think, live, and believe as you do.  Some beliefs are held very deeply and they may be in conflict with how you are living your life, but my belief about how you live your life does not automatically mean I hate you as a person.  It would be wrong for me to impose my beliefs on you, but it is equally wrong for you to impose yours on me.  So let us agree to disagree, and let’s talk about it civilly. Maybe I can convince you… or maybe you can convince me.  That is how our forefathers did it.
5.     Forgive. Ok, maybe there really was a bit of malice intended. We do live in a fallen world and we are all sinful.  But we are called to forgive.  In fact, we are told if we will not forgive, we ourselves cannot be forgiven.  Jesus even told us to pray “forgive our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us.”  It is not easy, but it is biblical.  In fact, Jesus essentially told his disciples that their forgiveness towards others should be without limits.  Paul even tells us that Love “keeps no record of wrong”.  It is true that if I forgive, the other person may never change, but you never know – maybe she will.  However, if I bow my back and make her an enemy, it is certain that she will never change.
6.     Choose to Love.  The bible tells us that love covers over a multitude of sin.  Love is the heart of what it means to be a Christian. Love seeks out the best in people rather than the worst. It works towards reconciliation. In fact, the more you understand love, the less offended you will become.  Yes, it is hard to love those that do not love you back, but to do so is to behave as God has behaved.  He loved you when you were his enemy.  He sought out your reconciliation. He took action… For God so loved the world, he gave his only begotten son…
7.     Turn the other cheek. This may be the most difficult of all.  To turn the other cheek when we have been intentionally smitten goes beyond our basic human instincts. But violence only breeds violence.  The bible teaches us that we earn eternal rewards for suffering unjustly.  It does not tell us that we will be rewarded for returning evil for evil.  At the end of the day, it was an act of love – not an act of violence – that made salvation possible.  We have offended an Almighty God through our sinfulness, but he gave his only son to reconcile us. 

These 7 steps may not seem rational, but if we do not begin a grass-roots movement to heal our land through grace and forgiveness and the benefit of the doubt, our society will shatter.  We are a house divided against itself right now - and that house will fall if it is not healed.

For those interested in digging deeper, here are some scriptures referenced in this article.
Mark 3:25
Matthew 5:39
Matthew 6:12,14-15
Philippians 2:3-4
Luke 9:23
Matthew 7:5
1 Corinthians 13
John 3:16
Matthew 5:11-12

Friday, March 30, 2018

How Was Friday Good?

When you consider the events of the day, how can it be a Good Friday?  It began in the wee hours with a betrayal.  One who walked with Jesus for three years, who knew him well, who sat under his teaching, who saw his righteousness, and who supposedly understood who he was sold Jesus to his enemies for the price of a common slave.  How could this be good?

That betrayal was followed by even greater treachery.  An illegal and secret religious trial was conducted where liar after liar gave false testimony about Jesus.  Furthermore, the trial was conducted with physical abuse of the accused.  The trial was such a farce and the witnesses so unscrupulous that they could not agree on their own lies enough to get a consistent testimony about Jesus.  The only agreement in testimony was in the fact that Jesus claimed that he could destroy and rebuild the temple in 3 days – hardly an offense worthy of conviction.  Finally, in desperation, the High Priest demanded that Jesus tell them whether he was the Messiah, the Son of God.  Jesus answered truthfully, for which he was condemned of blasphemy.  In itself that was a tragedy because it was neither a lie nor blasphemy – it was fact.  How could this be good?

He was then taken before the regional governor, Pilate, who repeatedly questioned him but found no fault in him.  Because he was Galilean, he sent him to Herod, who again questioned him but could likewise not find anything in him deserving of condemnation.  Nevertheless, Herod and his soldiers treated him with contempt and dressed him up as a king, mocking him before sending him back to Pilate.  Pilate tried to release Jesus because he knew he was innocent. Being Passover, he would often release a criminal as a sign of good will, so he offered as a choice to be released Jesus or a hardened criminal and murderer – Barabbas.  The Jews chose the murderer.  They then demanded the death penalty for the innocent Jesus.  Even Pilate’s wife knew what was happening was wrong, begging her husband not to have anything to do with “that righteous man.”  How could this be good?

Pilate had Jesus beaten and scoured to within an inch of his life, thinking surely this would satisfy the crowd – but it did not.  When they began talking about Jesus claiming to be the Son of God, Pilate became scared and tried everything to release him.  It was to no avail as the crowd demanded his crucifixion.  Finally, having washed his hands of the matter, Pilate had Jesus beaten yet again and delivered over to be crucified.  Knowing his innocence but fearing the Jews, he condemned him to death. How could this be good?

How can it be a Good Friday when, after all of the injustice suffered to that point, this righteous man suffered even more?  He suffered the most excruciating death possible – Roman crucifixion.  With his wrists nailed to the cross-beam of the cross, breathing was a painful and tedious process.  The hanging by the wrists meant that pressures on the lungs prevented breath unless one pushed up with the legs and feet.  But the feet also were nailed to the tree and so pushing up to breathe resulted in unimaginable pain in the feet.  Traditionally, this exhausting process could go on for days until the condemned simply no longer had the strength to push against the cross and so suffocated to death.  On this day, though, the Roman soldiers would come by and break the legs so that the deaths would happen rapidly, for the Jews would not stand for having bodies hung during this holiest of Sabbaths.  Jesus, however, was already dead.

How can we possibly call this good?

It is good because it should have been me. I am the one that deserves death, for I am a sinner - and the wages of sin is death (Romans 6:23).

It is good because despite the appearances of so many injustices, everything that happened that day was orchestrated by God the Father – with Jesus, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit in full accord.  It is good because Jesus willingly went through that pain and anguish and torture – and even more – he did it for my sake.  It is good because on that day he took upon himself all the collective sins of the world (including mine).  It is good because on that day he drank the wrath of God intended for me.  And the same is true for you - for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God (Romans 3:23).

It is what we call “The Divine Exchange” or “The Beautiful Exchange” – I give Jesus my unrighteousness; he gives me his righteousness.  It is good because he did it willingly and in love: For God demonstrated his love for us in this – Christ died for us (Rom 5:8).

It is good because it was only temporary.  Three days later Jesus would rise from the grave to live forever more – the firstfruits from among the dead.  And he is alive still today whether you believe it or not.   

It is good because if we place our faith in what Jesus did on that horrible Friday, we too can have the forgiveness of sins and eternal life – our own resurrection from the dead.  The penalty of sin has been paid for.  We are simply to repent and believe. “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.” (John 3:16 ESV)

It really was a Good Friday.  Consider the foreshadowing of this day’s events through the eyes of a man who lived over a thousand years earlier.  He also was a man who was treated with malice, was betrayed by those closest to him, and who suffered many unjust punishments.  This man, Joseph, said these words so appropriately:

“You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives.” (Genesis 50:20 NIV)

It may not have seemed good at the time, but what man intended for evil, God mean for good – for the saving of many lives.  Will yours be one of them?