You May Have an Idol in Your House an Not Even Know It!

Throughout the Bible, God’s main concern is where His people are placing their trust and worship. Israel found itself constantly caught in an affair of worship with false gods, and Jesus and Paul were usually challenging what it meant to worship God in truth and in spirit. So what about today? We’ve solved our worship problem… right?

I will admit that today I am tired. I have received a visit from my old friend A. Sinus Infection last night and we are currently having tea together in my office. (He always overstays his welcome, and as a friend, I call him “jerkface.” He doesn’t seem to mind or get the hint to leave.) Regardless, I have reached the end of my processing ability for the news lately… or maybe I’ve just reached the end of my processing ability for the reaction to the news.

To begin, I am in Numbers right now, which deals with the struggles of godly leadership and the perils of ungodly leadership. I have seen in the before and after shots what effect the presidency has on the men who have occupied the role. I cannot imagine the stress and massive sense of responsibility that comes with that office. That said, I have little to no faith that things will change overly much for good or ill regardless of who’s in the White House. I’ve said before, America boasts a government for, of, and by the people, so the guy in the big chair is simply the byproduct of whatever the country may be feeling, not necessarily the ultimate decider of its destiny.

I know some of my readers feel otherwise. I know some people on Facebook who seem to believe that any opposing political viewpoint is a personal attack. Why is it a personal attack, I wonder? It could be that one is simply interested in a fair and balanced examination of the facts, taking into account facts, experience, and feelings? Maybe it’s to challenge blind faith? Or maybe, because our trust is placed in something earthly, mortal, fallible, and we’re scared we may be proven wrong?

When Israel asked for a king, God gave them one, along with the caveat of what happens when kings come into power. (It’s a long, nasty list.) But God had a different plan in mind from the beginning. He wanted His people to be royal priests, responsible for caring for one another and creation while also giving due glory to God. Idolatry is handing one or both of those responsibilities to something, or someone else.

Where is your trust? Are you handing your God-given authority and responsibility to something or someone else? Worship is more than singing, worship is a lifestyle of reflection – of God into the world and praise back to God. When we place our trust and hand over our power to institutions, persons, or objects, that’s where we are giving our praise and worship, and that’s who, or what, we’re reflecting back into the world.

Stop and reflect the next time you become angry when you bump up against an opposing viewpoint and become angry or defensive. Why are you feeling that way? Does it lead to positive action sustained by love of others? Does it lead to dominance-seeking exchanges of words and articles? If it’s the latter… maybe you should start to wonder if your worship is in the wrong place…

How do your reactions with your children and family show where your worship is going? How do your priorities illustrate that you take your responsibility to and from God seriously? When is it hardest to fully put your trust in God?

Oh, and check under the driver’s side seat in your preferred method of transportation, I understand that’s a good hiding place. (Genesis 31, particularly v.34-35)

Photo Credit: Billy Idol 2012.JPG via Wikimedia Commons

And if you got the joke, good for you.


Pre-Christmas Mu”Seuss”ings

Ah, the crisp autumn air is beginning to creep into our fair valley as the leave’s colors turn deep. As I wander the stores I am puzzled and floored as the Christmas decorations on the shelves have been stored.

“I know what this means,” said I feeling poor, “the time now is coming for the ‘Holidays’ war.”

It comes every year with a bang and a clash, and vanishes by new year in hardly a flash. The moaning and shouting comes from the Christmas crowd, making every Facebook page seem a little too loud. Of course, we could let it go, some may say, but those foolish souls won’t live past the day. The rage and the froth produced by the hoards silence and cover up those faint wisdom chords.

Be jolly and merry, be giving and kind, don’t let this fine season leave you behind. Live out the Christmas spirit of joy, instead of bitterness causing you to annoy. The reason is Jesus, we can certainly attest, and showing that with your own life would be best.

In other words, if greetings and cups and decor grind your gears, be sensitive, please, to your friends’ gentle ears. Don’t shout or fight, or repost that meme, instead act out with pride your dear Christmas dream.


Arguing with God

Betting is not something my family does often. In fact, I was taught growing up to, “Only bet if you know you’re going to win.” And, really, at that point it’s not so much gambling as it is an investment with no money upfront. I’ve only ever won two bets in my life (with actual money on the line) and it was over things as silly as what kind of batter was used on the Marietta Diner’s Monte Cristo sandwich and whether or not Sicily was an independent state apart from Italy. Regardless of the winner, I learned that debates often get settled and can end on good terms, or can end up with both parties frustrated.

So what happens when we argue with God? Or, maybe a better question is, “can we argue with God?”

To answer the second question first, yes, we can argue with God. Moses debated with God. The psalmists argued with God. Abraham bargained with God. Jesus had some back and forth in the garden. Jacob wrestled with God, and Job called God to a court date. So as far as the Bible is concerned – go for it. Now, the only caveat there would be the first question – then what?

Well, it turns out remarkably well for most of these people. Moses and the psalmists are reminding God of His promises, and those promises are honored. Abraham is bargaining for the lives of some fairly questionable people, but still in line with God’s character as described in 1 Peter where God is patient and wants everyone to come to repentance. Jacob leaves with a blessing… and a permanent limp. And Job… well… let’s talk about Job.

Job’s life was great, until it wasn’t. God had enough faith in Job to call the Accuser’s bluff and allow a trial by fire. Job had nearly everything taken from him, along with his health. And he wonders out loud how this sort of thing happens. Job calls on God to answer him, to just give him some reason of why. Job is willing to admit his guilt, if there is something un-confessed and un-forgiven, and to submit to God, if only God would answer. Obviously, from chapter one, we get to see that Job’s and God’s relationship is mature, clear, and healthy, but suddenly Job is thrown into uncertainty and just wants an answer. He gets a little terse with God in his speeches, though not going so far as to blaspheme or speak against God.

Then God shows up. And God is ready for the trial. He uses the same confrontational tone Job does, respecting the relationship, and calls Job to the floor asking him to explain how the universe works and asks Job if he has the power to run the world. Job realizes what having a full-on come-to-Jesus meeting really means and answers demurely that God’s right. God, however, keeps going, creating more questions than answers. And we have to assume that over the course of those questions, Job begins to realize that God had never forgotten him or looked away, despite the horrific pain Job experienced. (God speaks about watching over the lives of animals who live far from human eyes – and why wouldn’t God keep an eye on Job if He kept an eye on them.)

We have full rights as children to question, debate, bargain, and argue, but we have to consider what we will do when God does show up. What happens when we offer up something huge to God and he actually calls our bluff? (I still feel like God smiled a little too quickly when I halfheartedly filled  out an application to teach English in China. My bluff was called and I ended up going.) God is our Father, and we can often act pretty childish sometimes. But the more our relationship with God matures, we realize that we can speak openly,plainly, emotionally, and vulnerably with Him. And, He will respond in kind, by leading us through questions and situations that help us to better understand our relationships and lives.

You can argue with God, but, remember, “With great power comes great responsibility.” When God does answer, and does show up… how will you respond?

How do you handle debate and argument in your family? Do your children feel able to come to you openly and vulnerably? Are discussions shut down quickly or is understanding reached? How does your style of discussion and debate model God’s responses to His people?

Success Doesn’t Equal a Deal with the Devil

I’m starting to understand how highway truckers must feel retreading the same highways over and over again with very little changing with each pass. So, we are going to retread some familiar territory, with a slightly new twist today. (See this post and this one, for similar topics.)

So I did an internet search yesterday, and I’m finding myself starting to get sick with the number of Christian bloggers who feel it is their job to “protect” the flock from what they consider false or flagging teachers. Brothers, sisters, we have a society that is all to eager to bring the Church down, why are we giving it the satisfaction of watching us tear it down with our own hands?

For all of my harshness there, I can see the good intention underneath the knee-jerk reactions and misunderstandings. I’m sure many of these writers are truly looking out for the best for those that read their work. On the other hand, I don’t often see any of these writers reach out to the people they criticize to ask for any kind of further information or clarification.

One of these I recently read was this article by an author named Josh Buice on He wrote clearly, and succinctly, on the topic at hand, and I admire his ability to communicate clearly and effectively. (If you want succinct, though, I have a hard time with that aspect of writing.)

Andy Stanley has been coming under fire lately for several statements that may not have been as clear as they were intended to be. I could write page after page on how often I’ve had to pause to clarify something I’ve said myself after watching the faces of friends and family wrinkle in confusion. Being able to say the phrase, “I’m sorry, that came out wrong. Let me try that again” or asking the question, “What did you hear me say just then?” are wonderful tools in any person’s communication box.

Stated Problem #1 – Andy Stanley Doesn’t do Verse-by-Verse

Now, personally, I prefer this method… However, I also understand that not everyone learns the same way I do. Andy Stanley’s goal is to make Jesus as accessible as possible, and sometimes that means not going through verse-by-verse, but rather focusing on the big topic or main story. Andy Stanley also talks about the idea of the “sticky thought.” He wants people who hear him speak to come away with one idea that they can put into practice the second they walk out the door. I’m ok with this. Jesus taught this way – using stories and illustrations that all focused on one point, but could be unpacked and delved into for even greater meaning.

Stated Problem #2 – Andy Stanley Designs Church for Unchurched People

Ok, real talk. If Jesus showed up at our churches with his friends, we might turn him away. We’d be able to smell cigarette smoke and wine on him from a party the night before (Matthew 9:9-13; 11:18-19) and maybe a few days of unwashed sweat and road dust. You’d take a look at his hard-living, sea-and-road-hardened followers and note thieves, revolutionaries, and a not a few fishy (pun) fellows with him. Not the dressed-up, showered, middle-to-upper class people we’d expect in a suburban church environment.

So, no, Andy Stanley doesn’t want to make church for church people. His goal is to get out there and get a hold of those people who are hurt by, scared of, or even hateful toward the church by giving them something they’ve never gotten – a warm welcome. There’s a phrase – I’m not sure who said it – that says, “Any system is perfectly designed to get the results it is currently getting.” If you notice that a church isn’t having many baptisms and seems to attract people who are simply finding a new church – then that church may be designed to draw “church” people.

Jesus didn’t hang around the traditionally “religious” people, he hung around the sinners, drinkers, cussers, and morally confused. Are our churches a place where these kinds of people would feel safe, like they could re-orient and heal in the presence of Jesus?

Stated Problem # 3 – Andy Stanley Isn’t Hard on Homosexuality

See paragraph above. Also, if Andy Stanley prefers to handle this issue in a personal way, without blasting people with a sermon, he’s approaching the situation like Jesus did on occasion. Take John 8:2-11 for example, when Jesus doesn’t say anything to the adulterous woman until everyone has left, and then says, “Go, and sin no more.” As a church, we should see that picketing and shouting has done nothing but anger people we want to save. Sure, we have good intentions, we want people to see where they’re outside of God’s will, but when has anyone ever changed their mind and life by being shouted to deafness? Relationship and time are the tools to address deep seated issues. “Wounds from a friend can be trusted […],” is what Proverbs says. If we want change to happen, we have to begin at a personal level and not try to wage some kind of culture war.

Stated Problem # 4 -Andy Stanley Won’t Say, “The Bible Says…”

And I agree with him. I cannot tell you how much damage has been done by the phrase, “the Bible says.” Whenever I hear that phrase, my immediate thought is, “Does the Bible say that, or does this speaker say that?” I also go to this scene in Fiddler on the Roof. (Scroll to timestamp 2:32 for the long version or 5:16 for the punchline.)

I understand that there is always interpretation involved when speaking about the Bible, but all Andy Stanley is doing is giving his listeners the ability to go back and see if the Bible really does say that. How? Well, Andy Stanley, instead of saying, “the Bible says,” gets more specific, saying, “Philippians 2:3-4 says…” He’s not questioning the authority of the Bible so much as he is giving people the option to be like the Bereans and, “examine the scriptures daily to determine whether these things were so.” (Acts 17:11b)

Stated Problem # 5 – Andy Stanely Questions the Bible’s Truthfulness

Ok, here’s one where it’s much harder to defend the quotation used from Stanley, but I’ll try to explain his reasoning, at the very least. Here’s the point: the Bible cannot mean something that it never meant originally. So, to use the Bible as a scientific textbook is to look at God’s Word in entirely the wrong way. There are also many places where we have had issues in translation or copying that have made life difficult as far as interpretations are concerned. (Just research the King James Version and its translation and copying errors, including one of the first printings that excluded “not” in “Thou shalt not commit adultery.”) Historical-Literary Criticism (which isn’t as bad as it sounds) helps to better understand the worldview and mindset of those who wrote down the words we have in the Bible, so that we can better understand what it means for us today. I could go into this deeper, but suffice to say, high-level biblical training does come in a variety of methods and practices, and it can be used to bolster belief, or crush it entirely. It would be beneficial for Christians to better understand the Bible: who wrote it, who read it, and the copying and transmission methods that got it from the original pens to our hands today.

Stated Problem # 6 – Andy Stanley Said Small Churches are Bad

See this post…

Stated Problem # 7 – Andy Stanley Wouldn’t Use the Bible as a Starting Point

If you read the original post, here again, Mr. Stanley’s phrasing is poor. What I hear Mr. Stanley trying to say is that immediately jumping into the “Roman Road” may not be the best method for convincing someone of the truth of Jesus’ Kingship. Stanley says something about there being thousands of Christians before the Bible – by which he probably means the New Testament, in which case he’d be correct. The Bible that Paul refers to in many of his letters would have been the Hebrew Bible, because the New Testament was written several years after the Resurrection. This means that the stories about Jesus and his resurrection would have been passed along by word of mouth until they were written down.

So, in effect, Paul, especially when speaking to Gentiles, who for the most part would have been unfamiliar with the Hebrew scriptures, would have begun with the idea of the resurrection. (Acts  17:16-31, for example) So many people in today’s world view the Bible as a book of rules and laws that would hamper their life and remove all joy and happiness. And looking at the way some Christians have used the Bible, I cannot blame them. So, maybe, taking a leaf out of Jesus’ playbook and announcing the Kingdom of God with stories and illustrations that lead back into the Bible and its great story of God working to right the world might be a good idea for some situations.


Maybe instead of just pointing out one another’s flaws, we should first contact that person in question (or at least PR people) and ask for clarification before writing our thinkpiece. Also, can we as a Church please avoid making broad sweeping generalizations about people and listen more?

To wrap up: words are so important. Words were a part of creation.  Jesus is called the Word, who began a new creation at the resurrection. We are a part of that new creation, being called onward and upward by the transformation and renewal of our minds. We are, in effect, messengers, ambassadors of a Kingdom that stretches backward and forward through time, and we serve the King that is above all. Why then are we seeking to bring down others? As the title suggests, sometimes success does not mean that someone has sold their soul to the devil, or to secular society. Perhaps, that person has been blessed with some manner of clear vision and the ability to make it a reality. But remember, to place any human being on a pedestal is a recipe for disappointment. So let’s work to support one another, offering personal correction  and clarification when it’s needed. And, really, we’ve all had a day when we said something the wrong way and managed to anger or disappoint someone.

Identity Crisis

(Insert probably needless hedging statement here about how this is an observation and generalization that doesn’t necessarily apply to everyone. And as you read, you’ll realize just how oddly appropriate this is. Skip to the bottom for the too long; didn’t read summary.)

Recently, I have noticed more and more that language is beginning to get rocky as more and more things are considered problematic to say in public. Pronouns, opinions, and jokes are getting tossed aside left and right in order to create safer communication where no one gets offended. And, yet, I see people getting offended at trying not to offend people. And then people getting offended at those people… And you get the idea.

So what’s the issue? One part of the issues (because, I’ll say the unpopular, “There’s never just one thing wrong or an easy fix,” that news sources and a lot of popular writers conveniently ignore) stems from a severe lack of identity. I’m noticing more and more that the word “identity” is coming up more, but losing its meaning. The question, “Who am I?” continues to be muddied as people seem to be increasingly dependent on one aspect of who they are to define their entire reality.

If that happens, then some people can quickly devolve into shouting matches when they feel their identity is threatened… and I see this happening with lots of different people. Gun rights advocates, sexual identity, Republicans, Democrats, and even Christians.

Why does this happen with Christians? Why, all of a sudden, did Christians flip out because of a Starbucks cup or over saying “Merry Christmas” or “Happy Holidays?” It may, in part, stem from an identity issue.

Jesus, in the Sermon on the Mount, begins with the Beatitudes, a list of individuals who, according to some, would be ineligible for the Kingdom, but Jesus is letting them know that regardless of who they are, they can be a part of God’s family. He’s effectively saying, your identity is based on me and what I am doing instead of anything this world has to offer. In other words, “Find your identity in me, the one who loves you unconditionally, and you’ll have an identity beyond questioning.” (Don’t misunderstand this as being someone who never has doubts, but rather someone who knows who they are.

People who find their identity in Christianity (or a particular way of practicing their belief) get offended just as easily as those who find their identity in something like their physical abilities or beauty, intelligence, charisma, shrewdness, or sexuality. Take a few minutes on your Facebook wall and notice how many fights Christians get into on the internet – especially in the name of “defending Christianity.” Honestly, if they wanted to defend it, they’d get out of the way and let their love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, gentleness, and self-control do the talking and allow Jesus to work through that. Normally, though, frustration, anger, contempt, fear, and reflex take over and that doesn’t leave Jesus much to work with. The problem here is that Jesus, for Christians, is God. If he is God, then we don’t need to defend him. Read Revelation 19 sometime and note who actually gears up for battle. (Spoiler: It’s not Jesus’ followers. We stand by without so much as a Christmas wrapping paper tube to swing while making light saber noises.) Or read Luke 9:51-56 and see how Jesus himself dealt with people who rejected him.

If our identity truly is in Jesus, then mean words and phrases don’t mean quite as much, because we are loved by the King. If we mess up and lose our cool, we can humbly ask for forgiveness because we are loved and forgiven by the King. If we see someone with amazing talents and gifts, we can rejoice with them because we are loved and cherished by the King.

If our identity is anywhere else, we lose the ability to not get defensive and protect our ego. If our identity is in Jesus, we’ve already faced the idea of handing over our ego (day after day). And, if he’s holding it, then it’s protected.

This isn’t a quick-fix that will make every day sunshine and roses and fluffy clouds and unicorns. It’s a day-to-day, minute-to-minute decision to find our worth, our hope, our trust, our identity in the one who created us. It’s not easy, and it might hurt a little at first. Doctor’s visits rarely end with me saying, “Boy, howdy, that was fun!” Instead, they end with me rubbing a sore spot or puncture wound saying, “Well, at least I’m getting better now.”

TL:DR Summary:

If our identity is solidly based in the fact that the King of the Universe, the Creator, loves us, then we can stop ourselves from getting caught in the cycle of endless offenses. It’s not easy, and may hurt at first, but it’s a necessary part of being transformed into the image of Christ.

Where is your identity? Ask yourself truly… Who or What would make you angry, or disappointed if it didn’t meet your expectations? What’s the one thing that’s hardest to give up or let go? What is it that causes you to get offended most often. Why?

How hard is too hard to smack my brother?

Those of you with siblings know the struggle between wanting to smack your sibling and wanting to hug them into a coma. The question going through many sibling minds is, “How hard can I smack this person before they cry and I get in trouble?” So the mental math ensues and generally older siblings always overestimate the amount of force it takes to silence a younger sibling, crying ensues, and suddenly one (or both) siblings find themselves at the receiving end of a stern talking to.

Ok, but what’s this got to do with real life? Well, lately, I’ve noticed that Christians and parents have a lot of good things to say. (Not that those groups are mutually exclusive…) What tends to happen though, is the way things are said tend to intercept the good message and replace it with a bad Google Translate version of whatever we were trying to say.

There are several big talking points floating around right now, one of them being gun laws vs gun rights. (Put those down, I’m not picking sides on this one, hear me out.) The way we have the discussions often changes the meaning of those discussions. I don’t know about you, but when one of my beliefs are challenged  I can sometimes take it personally and end up angry at the other person for attacking me. What I tend to forget is that my opinion is not me, it’s an idea. Now, if someone were to poke me with a sharp stick, that’s a different story, but simply having an opinion attacked is a very different story. Lashing out at the other side rarely wins them over, instead, it tends to make the other side that much more determined to hold their own opinion rather than to consider a different one.

Let’s get personal for a second. When one of these talking points comes up, how do you and the people in your household talk about them? Now, imagine those same words coming out of your child’s mouth. If it sounds perfectly logical and loving and cute, great. If it sounds out of place, perhaps the way we discuss these issues could use some work. Kids learn how to interact with others and their opinions through their parents.

So the question stands, when I see someone who seems to have a wrong opinion, how hard should I bring the book down on them? Depends. Do you want to have a fruitful, engaging discussion that could end with the two of you understanding one another and perhaps winning a friend or a fellow believer in whatever opinion it is, or would you rather have a heated argument that leads to broken friendships and not being invited over for tea ever again.

How do you have discussions at your house? Are your disagreements spoken with a mind to the other human beings involved? Are they spoken with the idea that the other human beings involved are children of God?

He’s Not Correct, He’s My Brother

I love humor, maybe more than most people. In fact, as unhealthy as it might be, it’s one of my coping mechanisms. I am a believer that in difficult circumstances, we have two main options, laugh or cry. Now, some people fall along the area between those two, but I prefer to laugh. My love of humor and comedy have been a point or disagreement between my wife and I because she tends to shy away from pure comedy movies and shows, while I tend to gravitate toward them. (However, if we can find a show/movie that has a few laughs along with a good number of explosions, we’re both happy for the most part. And, yes, she’s the one that needs the explosions and action.)

I have noticed a growing trend

I have realized more and more that Christians have a tendency to rib one another from time to time… forcefully… with verbal knives… to the heart… And I have grown to have some issues with this. Yes, there will be brothers and sisters of ours who have their differences and particular beliefs and practices that we disagree with, but we’re still siblings.

“That’s all fine and dandy,” I hear some say, smugly, with a cheeky grin spread across their faces, “but we can’t all be right!” The assumption here being that these smugly smiling siblings are correct… And, no, I’m not going to preach about which group is most inherently correct on a particularly minute theological point that seems so insurmountable compared to the resurrection and subsequent Kingship of Jesus Christ and His command and prayer for His people to be one as He and the Father are One – Oh wait, that tiny point doesn’t seem so massive anymore…

We can all learn from our fellow believers. We can learn a sense of awe, wonder and reverence from the Catholic and Anglican liturgies. Lutherans’ focus on grace is exceedingly admirable, as is the Reformed traditions reliance on Scripture. We could all benefit from having at least one Charismatic friend, because, goodness knows, we don’t talk about the work of the Holy Spirit much in most groups. And we can certainly learn something about fellowship from Baptists. (I know there’s so much more to each of these groups, but if I kept going, we’d be here… well… longer than I care to type today.)

So instead of constantly putting down our siblings, why don’t we work together? First, let’s start with our commonalities (Jesus being the primary one) and work out of the command to be unified and take care of others. And, second, if we must deal with our differences, let us learn from former Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams and use those differences to better define our own beliefs. Hearing how someone else believes can certainly allow us to think through our own belief and explain to ourselves why we believe the way we do.

So, Internet (I’m looking at you specifically Facebook), let’s show a little more grace toward our fellow Christians. If you truly feel someone is wrong, maybe go to them in person, or with a phone call – public debates don’t usually end with the statement, “I sure am glad you called me out in front of the entire Internet, my mind is completely changed now!”

I seem to recall Jesus saying something about this… *cough*Matthew 18:15-16*cough*

Working with kids, this is especially important. Kids will pick up on prejudice very quickly and often in shocking ways. The way we talk about other believers in our homes and in our churches will impact the ability of the next generation to look at a fellow Christian and see Christ instead of an enemy.

How do you talk about other denominations in your home? What were you taught about other denominations? Do you know anyone from another Christian denomination?

(Full Disclosure: Being from the Christian Churches/Churches of Christ [Stone Campbell Movement] means that my own group’s biggest focus is… wait for it… unity. Also, if anyone has any Stone-Campbell movement jokes and would like to share, please do. I’ve heard so many about other people’s groups, but never about my own… We might have more jokes if more people knew about us, but that’s ok, too!)