Who Gets My Sympathy?

I’ve spent some time lately with two men that I had never really noticed before. Both are older brothers like me, and in their culture they are due honor, and a magnificent inheritance. Somewhere along the way, though, their younger brothers ended up with the honor, the inheritance, and left them with less than what they expected. Their younger brothers are heroes, of a sort, while these two men sit in relative obscurity, depending on who you know.

The first man is named Ishmael. For a while, his father’s pride a joy, and later his father’s wife’s castaway. Left to die in the desert, God looked down and saved his life, making him into something great from what would have been another wasted life. Between he and his brother, his brother got the story, but our sympathy is with Ishmael.

The second man’s name is Esau, a man tricked, deceived and cut out by his own twin brother. Left with a consolation prize. Sure, he made some poor decisions and lived life his own way rather than follow the advice of his mother or father but did he deserve such a cold surprise? His story involves one of the most heart-achingly painful moments of realization and loss as he and his father both realize at once that they have been deceived and they tremble, not with rage, but with sorrow.

Many of our arguments and debates in America at the moment hinge on the strong opposing the weak. White v. black. Democrat v Republican. West v East. Mature v yet-to-be-born. If we follow, truly follow, Jesus’ life and message, our lives should be directed toward the weak, rather than the strong. When the next national debate comes on, ask yourself the question: “Who is advantaged here? Who is disadvantaged?” Perhaps, as in the case of Ishmael and Esau, we can all develop some empathy for the overlooked. Or, like Ishmael and Esau, as the older brothers, show humility and quiet strength in accepting the victories of the younger brothers.

Where do you see the disadvantaged that need support? Where do you see strength that needs humility? How do you explain helping those that need help to your children? What methods do you as a family use to help others?

 

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Breaking a Cultural Curse – Rape and Consent

I am quite sure that a large majority of you reading this have already read several think pieces and rants on the most recent Stanford rape case. If you have not, here is a link to an article describing the situation, and here is the viral statement written by the young woman in the case.

As a man, and a particularly white one at that, I cringe to the point of implosion when horrific situations like this arise and justice seems so far off the mark. Honestly, I cannot even contemplate what might have been going through the judge’s mind during the sentencing, but whatever it was we can say with some certainty that it probably was not justice.

Humanity has a long, brutal, grisly history with rape. We have famous, celebrated works of art with rape right in the title depicting scenes of almost gentile savagery. So what needs to happen? How can we, as parents, as a culture, begin to remove the stigma around rape and begin to fight back?

For one, we can educate our children about sexuality. And not just the mechanics. While the how-tos and basic safety are important, don’t get me wrong, there is more to sex than “how does it work?”

People may wonder why I hold a biblical view of sex and marriage. The reason is, a biblical view takes into account consent and relationship dynamics that can help people to avoid certain pitfalls.

So for Christian parents, the explanation may go something like this. Sex is a response to commitment, a response to a promise, a covenant, that is supposed to last. Marriage vows are those promises that sex is a response to. However, consent still needs to be present in the marriage relationship. Sex is a conversation, a give and take between spouses, consent is given, and can be withheld for a time (prayer, health, etc.).

And here is a the kicker in the conversation about sex and consent – no means no. Kids can learn consent at an early age through things like hugs. Children can be given the power to say “no” to a hug, and be taught that if someone else says “no” to honor that. To many people, hugs and other physical contact are intimate moments that need consent, and can be a learning tool to discuss and teach sexual consent. Also, an absence of “yes” does not mean consent has been given. A rule of positive consent should be present as we discuss this issue with our children, meaning that children should clearly hear “yes” before proceeding.

Our children need to learn that consent is a crucial social contract. It affects many areas of our lives and children need to learn earlier rather than later how to give and respond to consent. Giving children the power to give and understand consent might help them understand how to avoid abuse. Once they understand that they have the power to say no to touch that they do not want, they can respond appropriately when danger or threats arise.

Again, education about consent tackles both ends of the problem of rape. It does not victim blame by just forcing the person being touched to say “no” in as many ways as possible. Consent education also places responsibility on the person initiating the touch to be aware of positive consent, or the lack thereof before proceeding.

When we see situations like the Stanford case arise in the news, and maybe our older children begin asking questions, we can use those moments to educate and train. With younger children, we can take the reminder to proactively train them to avoid these situations by raising them into responsibility for their actions.

Again, this post will not lessen the impact or damage done in this case. But, as we grieve over injustice and pain, let us prepare our children for the world they live in today so that tomorrow they will have wisdom.

Treasure from Suffering

My family and a few other families I know have been having a rash of tough times. Between death, cancer, Alzheimer’s, infertility, theft, break-ins, and just general stress of work and home there have been more than a few people wondering what God has planned here. And, to be fair, I get it. Even Job who, early in the book named after this character, refused to offend God found himself at least questioning how this was going to end.

From what I’ve seen in my own life, suffering leads to wisdom. It can be practical, such as touching a hot stove being painful, therefore most hot things should be handled with care. To more subjective, I have experienced the loss of a loved one, therefore I can sympathize and be selective of my words around someone in mourning.

Joseph, in particular, (Genesis 37- and following) finds that wisdom is hard won. His naivete and maybe pride show in the beginning of his life when he shares his dreams of being in authority over his older brothers and father, much to their anger. He is sold into chattel slavery by his own family and bought by an Egyptian. Interestingly, with each bad turn in Joseph’s life, the phrase, “and the Lord was with Joseph,” appears. The blessing given to Abraham, passed to Isaac, and then Jacob, was being honored in Joseph’s life. God was with Joseph, and through Joseph, people were being blessed, such as Potiphar’s household and the jailer’s prison. Despite the pain he experienced, God blessed Joseph and blessed those around him as well.

At this moment in my life, I cannot say that I am suffering. I have stressors and frustrations, but very little that is breaking my back and bringing me to existential questions. Instead, I am watching Job and Joseph, and these families around me deal, cope, and struggle with the pain in their lives. I watch them rely on God’s strength, or try to handle it themselves. I watch them fall, rise again, stumble, and continue crawling on. I have to admire their determination to not simply lie down and surrender to the pain.

They all have hope, in one way or another. Many of these families find themselves relying on God through His people, the church. They retreat into the stronghold that God is in order to access that power that is made perfect in humanity’s weakness.

At the end of suffering, there is treasure: hope, wisdom, empathy. These are never replacements for what is lost along the way, just as Job’s blessings at the end of his story do not replace those he lost at the beginning. Instead, these are hard-won treasures that last a lifetime.

I bring this up because if your family is not suffering now, you might in the future. The way you handle that stress will often be inherited by your children. Do you allow yourself to be supported by God and His people? Do you run to earthly comforts or vices? Does anger begin to fester or bitterness resurface? Do your children see you develop wisdom as you progress through pain and stress?

Remember, every moment is one that can be transformed by God’s presence. Deuteronomy 6.4-9 commands God’s people to speak of God at every moment of the day, to model faithfulness and trust and submission to our King.

PS: I’ll do something that doesn’t involve pain or suffering soon. Most of the things I share here are what I am reading at the moment – which for now are Job and Joseph’s stories.

Sin Ain’t Fair

I can remember a few times growing up where either my brother or I would make the choice to misbehave. It’s shocking, really, but confession is good for the soul. Anyway, so we would be given the option to straighten up or risk losing the opportunity to participate in the family activity that day, whether it was bowling, mini golf, a movie, or whatever. The problem with having two kids involved is that if one child is unable to go to the activity, the whole family ends up staying home… And that happened a few times. Is that fair? Should the whole family be punished for the actions of one member?

Our justice system, in theory, is designed upon individual responsibility. Whoever does the crime does the time. For the most part, this is absolutely right. I mean, it wouldn’t make sense for a whole family to end up in jail because one member decided to run down the main thoroughfare robbing food trucks wearing nothing but his skivvies.

But is the family free of consequences? Not really. I mean, how many families have you seen broken and suffering because a family member has been convicted and sentenced. How many children wonder where a parent has gone and has trouble understanding their situation? How many children deal with abuse, alcoholism, the effects of drugs, or neglect?

So in Exodus 34, when God’s traits are listed, He is called forgiving, compassionate, blessing families to the thousandth generation. We like that part. We don’t like a little further down where God is described as not acquitting the guilty and punishing to the third and fourth generation. But what does it mean?

It means sin isn’t fair. The consequences of sin aren’t just individual. Western Culture (an academic term which you can probably read as “the way Western Europe, Britain, the US and Canada think”) has bought its own story that if a person makes a mistake it is his and his alone. “You do you,” is a common phrase. This is where we get the idea of relativistic morality, another academic term that roughly translates to “I get to decide what’s right and wrong for me.”

The problem with this type of morality is that it leaves off how our actions affect others. Sure, we generally only see the effects of our actions on ourselves, but that just means we’re horribly nearsighted. An abusive parent has much further reaching consequences than just one child. Addiction slowly wears away at relationships and health, which affects more than the addict. Racism and hatred are more far-reaching in their consequences than heated dinner table arguments. Children pick these things up, figure they’re the way life works, and adopt them into their own lives.

Children of addicts can become addicts themselves. Children of abusers can become abusers themselves. Children exposed to hatred can adopt that hatred themselves. Many don’t, but they have to fight hard to keep away.

Sin is like a virus rather than a punch. A punch affects one person and can heal quickly. A virus infects others and takes time, and often outside help, to recover.

On the other hand, good deeds aren’t fair either… blessings go to the thousandth generation, benefiting those years down the line! The whole system may not be fair, but it’s actually more skewed toward blessings than sin.

What are you handing down to your children? Are you handing down sins or blessings? How are you escaping the pain you might be carrying?

Fighting from the Low Ground

To fight from the low ground is to fight at a disadvantage. Having the higher ground means having a better view. Being higher means having gravity working for you and against your opponent. Would you prefer to start from the higher or lower ground?

Christians have gotten into  a bad habit over the past 1000 years. Ever since Christianity became part of an empire, we’ve been used to having enough power and authority to be able to leverage people into the kind of life we think they should live. That time is very swiftly drawing to a close. Christians are losing the high ground politically.

We’re coming to a time when legislation and power plays in politics will be harder to come by. What then, brothers and sisters, shall we do? We relearn how to function from the political disadvantage. We relearn the principles that Jesus laid out when he warned and encouraged his followers that in this world we will have trouble, but take heart, Jesus has overcome the world.

Consider that Jesus, through his disciples, was capable of turning the Roman Empire upside down to the point where governors are having to write letters to the emperor to figure out how to handle these nutty Christians. What was the early Christians’ biggest sin in the eyes of the Roman Empire? They refused to take part in politics, which were tied to emperor worship. Because of this, they were labeled traitors and “atheists.” (I’ll continue when you finish chuckling over that point.)

How did Christianity spread so quickly? Well, besides the Spirit of God moving powerfully, persecution was the biggest mover. Persecution broke out in Jerusalem, so the Christians spread out into other cities. Then those cities got frustrated and drove the Christians on to even further-flung cities and villages. Even struggling from the disadvantage proved to be an advantage for God and his mission.

For a while, we as Christians have been struggling with how to use power. We like the phrases in Genesis “fill the earth and subdue it.” And, yet, we also see that our own sinfulness has made power a very dangerous weapon to wield.

Paul makes clear that God makes the wisdom of the world seem like foolishness, and that God’s strength is made perfect in our weakness. Perhaps it’s about time we begin bringing up a generation who understands how to fight from a disadvantage.

We always bring up the Civil Rights movement when discussing power, weakness, and change. Even though many who held power resisted that movement, the quiet strength and disadvantage of the marchers and peaceful protesters was nearly unstoppable. Consider what Jesus could accomplish if we stopped depending on our own power and began acting out of our weak points so that God’s strength could be made perfect through us.

Does this mean raising a generation of weak men and women? Of course not. It takes an indomitable spirit and willingness to face danger and anger and power itself. It’s being Paul listing his suffering, it’s being Peter sitting in jail, it’s being Jesus shutting out the mocking by asking God to forgive his tormenters. These people aren’t weak, they’re strong, but their power isn’t one of violence and privilege. Instead theirs is a power of peace, determination, perseverance, and trust in a God bigger than the current suffering.

How do you and your family talk about change that needs to happen? When culture seems to be lashing back at Christians, how to you react? In what ways are you preparing your family to act boldly from the lower ground.

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 www.deliveredbygrace.com. 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.

Tl;DR:

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.

Putting Down the Gun

I was just on the internet preparing a lesson on the beatitudes and was searching for an image to use to illustrate “Blessed are the peacemakers […]” Would you like to know the first image that popped up on my screen?

A revolver. Now, regardless of your views on guns (which I’m not touching with a 39.5 ft pole) I find it alarming that the Internet’s idea of peacemaking is to point violence in the direction of the issue.

And isn’t America in a nice pickle with that thinking? Instead of stopping, sitting, listening, and discussing with one another we tend to jump straight to a pointed finger and condemning evidence.  (Ever notice that words ending with “mn” tend to be negative? No point, really, just an observation.)

There are so many issues running around right now that involve two sides shouting at one another: moral, ethical, political, theological. It boggles the mind that people who claim to follow a King who didn’t break a thin reed nor snuff a sputtering candle would sink to vitriol, venom, and verbal violence. (Oh, dear, preacher came out – look at that alliteration, would you?)

I guess what I’m getting at is the generally affluent Western, evidence-based culture we have cultivated has led us to a point where we have trouble listening to real issues, and then working to solve the problems without compromising our own values. Yes, we can help others, give them life, without sacrificing our values and morals, but it takes time, wisdom and effort.

Peacemaking is hard work. It involves careful listening, prayer, deliberation, compassion, mercy, pity, and humility. It takes time and patience. And, while, yes, pointing a gun is faster, violence is a peacekeeping action, not a peacemaking one. Death and violence rarely create lasting peace, as current world events have shown.

How do you and your family handle conflict? Is there shouting, anger, and name calling? Is there patience, understanding, and peacemaking? Are you proactive or reactive when handling difficult situations?