That's not what HE said

Watching kids play games together can be pretty comical. Somebody always has to be "in charge" and that means that he pretty much makes up the rules as he goes. Many of the domestic disturbances that I am called in to officiate between my own children can be traced back to a flexible rules system that is always slanted to the advantage of the one in charge of score keeping. Extra swings of the bat, "short cuts" while playing Chutes-and-Ladders, establishing "base" at the nearest tree before someone tags you out - whatever it takes to make sure that things go your way.

This is nothing new. In fact, man has been trying to bend the rules in his favor for centuries. It's not that we are necessarily Lance Armstrong level cheaters; we just don't like to lose. So we tweak a word here, change a sentence there, until the narrative matches more clearly with the story in our heads. There's nothing wrong with that, is there?

What if I told you that if you are a Christian then drinking alcohol is a grave sin? Or if you commit suicide then there is no chance for you to go to heaven? Or a certain version of the Bible is the only accepted form of Scripture in God's sight? Many of you have heard these words before and you might even believe they are true. If challenged, you might even be able to dig around in your Bible and find something to support your view, even if you have to extrapolate the text a bit to fit your desire.

So let's be brutally honest: There is a lot that we believe - much that we stake our faith on - that is based more upon tradition and personal preferences that it is on the truth of God. Think about it. How many times have you been convinced of a certain teaching or conviction that you've held for years but you just can't find anywhere in the Bible to support it? Still, you KNOW it must be true because godly men and women taught it to you since you were in child in Sunday school so it MUST be true. God really does only help those who help themselves, right? Cased closed.

Not even close.

Jesus was a pretty savvy guy. As he walked the earth proclaiming the kingdom and dispensing His gospel message, He regularly encountered religious guys who challenged Him with iron-clad notions wrapped in their own traditions and opinions. One day a bunch of these fellas told Jesus they had a bone to pick with Him (Mark 6:1-13). It appeared that His disciples were not observing the traditions and customs of the elders, things such as ceremonially washing their hands before they ate and the scrubbing of other eating utensils and pots. These men did not deny that these were traditions passed down through the ages; they simply chose not to challenge Jesus on what was actually written in Scripture. They only cared to debate about man-made rules crafted to fit their own agendas.

Jesus was quick to dismantle their house of cards. Quoting from Isaiah, Jesus told them that they were guilty of "teaching as doctrines the commands of men" (vs.7). He went on to tell them that when they pushed their personal ideology on others, these guys were really "Disregarding the command of God" (vs.8) and they "revoke God's word by your tradition that you have handed down." (vs.13) In other words, all of those ideas and rules they were trying to push on others were not biblical. God did not command these things, nor did Jesus. They are the words of man, nothing more. Moral as these rules might appear, they are not ensconced in God's word.

This sounds familiar.

I was once told that I needed to wear a tie to church because God expects my best. A man once said to me that most of today's worship music was of the devil because it contained a "double beat" (whatever that is). This same person was also convinced that the version of the Bible he read from was more inspired than the original Greek and Hebrew from which his version of the Bible was translated. Seriously. And then there are the many overweight gossips who are secretly addicted to porn that are convinced that a drop of alcohol will send you to the fiery pit of hell for all of eternity.

I see a pattern here, don't you?

Please, hold fast to your convictions and do nothing to cause a brother or sister to stumble in their faith. But beware of holding others to the shackles of your opinions that are not founded in the word of God. And for the love of all that is good and holy, please don't ever preach a gospel founded on prosperity promises that are curiously absent from the pages of Scripture. Let me leave you one last word on the matter.
Every word of God is pure; He is a shield to those who take refuge in Him. Don't add to His words or He will rebuke you, and you will be proved a liar. (Proverbs 30:5-6)

Controversy: An American Addiction

Although I love to write and record my thoughts and observations, I'm not exactly the reading enthusiast that I want to be. Picking up a book is thrilling at first, but unless it just wows me beyond measure I often struggle to trudge through to the end. I've never been diagnosed with ADD or anything like that, but I do believe that my attention span is severely hampered by my overactive brain and imagination.

I know some guys who spend what seems like hours each day reading blogs. Theological blogs, political blogs, social-commentary blogs, whatever they can get their hands on. As a blog writer myself, one would think that I would take great pleasure in perusing the blog landscape that is so vast and dynamic. But I don't. I rarely read blog posts. Yet everyone once in awhile when a controversy arises and I see all of the related blog entries linked on social media sites, I will take a detour to enlighten myself with the opinions of man.

It seems to me that the more controversial an issue is, the more blogs will be written by those who want to cash in on the controversy. Take for instance the whole Ducky Dynasty drama from a couple of weeks ago. As a fan of Duck Dynasty and a follower of Christ as Phil Robertson is, I took to the blogosphere to uncover the varying points of view that were sure to follow after Phil aired his opinions in an interview for GQ magazine. The results were rather predictable.

Those blogs written by men and women of faith were quick to point to Phil's dedication to Jesus and integrity. They did not excuse the coarse language that he uttered in his interview, but they stood by the truth in what he said. On the other side of the aisle was a smaller yet very vocal group who lambasted Phil Robertson for words that, in their opinion, were offensive at least and bigoted and racist at worst. I lost count of the massive amounts of blog posts relating to the subject.

Now that the dust has settled a bit on the Duck Dynasty controversy, the blog world has grown a little more quiet and subdued. That will all change when the next controversy hits the front page of the news, but for now we have a bit of a reprieve. Which brings me to my big question:
Why is controversy so appealing to us?
Admit it - you pay attention more when the stories are a bit more daring and scandalous. We all do! That's the only way that news stations can stay in business. If your local newscast was filled with nothing but happy stories of people living normal, healthy lives, no one would watch for very long. Why is that? I believe it's because we thrive on controversy.

Think about it. If someone messes up big time, you have the opportunity to be a social or political or religious critic from a distance. From the comfort of your computer screen, you can follow all the banter and unceasing gluts of information while remaining anonymous if you choose. Then, when you meet the ladies for coffee or grab lunch with the guys, you feel empowered to join in the conversation when it inevitably rolls around to the latest controversy that's been stirred up.

If you are gifted at writing, controversy fuels your stories and blogs. Just read the editorial section of any newspaper. Just how pithy and crass can you be without sounding too arrogant or hostile? And it doesn't matter if the popular controversy directly affects you or not; throwing your opinion out there is the American way. 

We often feel the need to feed the beast of controversy, especially when the facts surrounding it are scant. This is especially true if you disagree with the philosophy or ideas of the person embroiled in controversy. How bad was a presidential decision? That all depends on whether you voted for him or not. Is there a controversial issue out there that stands in stark contrast to your values and beliefs? Then feel free to demonize the opposing side as much as you can in spite of the facts or lack thereof that are out there. If you continue to feed the beast, you will have more time to take it out for a walk.

I have a suggestion for all of us when it comes to controversies that plague our headlines daily: Pray for those who are struggling under the weight of poor decisions or ill-advised words. Before you type that blog or post about it on Facebook, pray for them. And then do something else: Consider whether or not your input is truly needed in the matter. Sure, you have an opinion - we all do - but will your opinion make things better or only invite more controversy? If you can't wait to see how many people comment on your post, then you already have your answer.

One more thought on the whole controversy issues. What if you were the one at the center of the controversy? How would you want others to respond to you? Would it delight you to see animosity and ill-informed opinions posted at your expense? Probably not. While those who act or speak poorly should be held accountable, it's probably not your or me who will get to do the rebuking. So when you pray for those who are embroiled in controversy, make sure to extend to them the grace that you would so desperately want if you were behind the bulls eye. When we refuse to feed the beast of controversy, it's funny how quickly it dies and goes away.

Where did all the good people go?

I'm a people watcher. When I observe the actions of others and hear their words, I try to discern their true intent, if that's possible. My wife has what is known as a "woman's intuition" but, as a man, I wasn't exactly blessed with that gift. So I observe and take mental notes.

Now before you accuse me of being some creepy guy that stalks people at the local mall, let me explain. When I say that I observe others, I do what most of you do as well. As I live my daily life I encounter people who do and say all sorts of things, sometimes to me but usually directed at others. And it is to these things that I pay attention.

As a father of four kids, I am around kids a lot. I go to the schools in an effort to stay engaged in their educational life and I am around their friends when they are at my home. As a pastor, each week I interact with hundreds of people who cover the spectrum of emotional and mental stability. When I grocery shop, there is a whole other level of consumer mindset that I encounter. Everywhere that I go I encounter people, many of whom I have at least a casual conversation with.

Do you know what I've discovered by just watching? Many people are downright awful to one another. I've had mental images pop up in my head about whipping out my belt and giving a butt-whooping to kids who I have observed being incredibly cruel to a class mate (and yes, I did restrain myself, instead letting the teacher know what I observed). If there is one thing that I hate, it's bullying, and that's probably because I tried to be one myself in middle school (FYI, my career at being cruel was short-lived because I was a lousy bully). When I see and hear students treating each other like discarded waste, I grieve for those affected.

When was the last time you were at a restaurant and saw another patron absolutely lambasting the server when a part of their meal was not right? The last time I checked, the server's job is to serve the food, not prepare it. Yet some of the most venomous language I have ever heard has been in restaurants and retail stores. "Isn't it a great idea to take out all of our anger and hostility on those who aren't even responsible for the product?" said no one ever in their right mind.

So what is my point in highlighting all of this negativity? Am I saying that people in general are awful? Yes, I am. Before you get offended and leave me a hateful comment that will further prove my point, allow me to share some truth with you. Jeremiah 17:9 in the Old Testament of the Bible says that the heart is deceitful above all things. Matthew 12:34 goes on to say that out of the overflow of the heart, the mouth speaks. What this says is that our mouths cannot help but express what is in our hearts. We can fake it and speak sugary words when we need to, but the true self will eventually come out for others to see.

Not trying to be too much of a downer here, but we also have to consider what Romans 3:10 says about us: There is no one righteous, no not even one. Ouch! "But wait!" you say. "What about all the really kind and generous people in this world? Are you saying that they are awful, too?" No, I'm not saying it. God is.

Our culture celebrates human depravity. Don't believe me? Then turn on the TV at night or go to a movie. From the heart flows our true intent. Good deeds might get a quick blurb at the end of a newscast, but the majority of media and entertainment is obsessed with covering the bad.

Here's the deal. We weren't created to be good. We were created to know God. And until your life has been made right with God through Jesus, then you are incomplete. Sure, people who do not know God can do many great and beautiful things - they do and I am glad for it! - but the root issue is not how good we are but rather how great God is.

In writing all of this let me make this clear: I do not hate people. In fact, I really love people. Some of my best friends are those who believe the opposite of what I have typed here. Yet I cannot and do not hide from them the truth found in Jesus Christ. Only Jesus is good enough. Because of the sacrifice on the cross that Jesus made, all of our sinfulness and filth can be covered when we place our faith and trust and hope in Him. When our hearts are transformed and renewed by the gospel of Jesus then our lives will truly realize what they were created for.

Who's got your back?

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