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September 27, 2020

Jesus Looks Different Than We Think: Five Things I’ve Learned in 55 Years

On the recent celebration of my 55th birthday, my wife asked me to share five (and a half) things I?ve learned in my half-century (+5) of life. Since five is the number of grace and wisdom I thought it might be appropriate to consider. So here we go: Five Important Things I?ve Learned in Fifty-Five Years of Life.

(1) If you want to be ?Christ-like? you must know what Christ is like

The word ?Christian? means ?follower of Christ? or, more literally, ?little Christ.? Yet it seems American Christians prefer the blue-eyed, patriotic, gun-toting Jesus that we invented, rather than the suffering servant of the Bible who constantly scolded well-to-do, religious, law-and-order people.

In biblical days, when presented with the choice of Jesus or Barabbas, the zealot who wanted to foment rebellious overturn of the government, the religious leaders stirred up the people to choose Barabbas. It very much seems today?s religious leaders would stir up people to the same choice.

The ?American Jesus? we likewise choose today simply isn?t the Jesus we’re told by the Bible to follow.

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(2) Jesus is not coming soon: ?morning or night or noon.?

?Jesus is coming soon, morning or night or noon? was a catchy ditty from a song we sang often in the church of my youth. As catchy as that tune may have been, it?s actual meaning of “if you went to a movie theater or were listening to rock music there’s a great chance, at any moment, you were going to be ?left behind? and have ?666? slapped on your forehead to mark you forever doomed to hell.

The trauma of twelve-year-old me believing my family had been taken and I had been judged unworthy to go is bad enough, but the real damage of these end times beliefs has been much more far-reaching.

The ?rapture? belief that Jesus would soon appear and take all the ?good? people out the world and blow up all the rest has caused us to neglect the environment, to feel free from any concern of people who we judge will not be going with us, and generally feel unobligated to provide for any future generations through infrastructure or preservation. It’s also the genesis of much conspiracy theory thinking as this belief causes us not only to spend an inordinate amount of time looking for evil, but to celebrate it, even if it is invented in our own minds.

The command of the Bible, however, is to treat the world as a bride preparing for the imminent return of a groom for a wedding. Nobody allows their wedding venue to be trashed and neglected. They prepare it to be the most beautiful it can be for the moment that lay ahead. Christians need to know this is their job and everyone else needs to know you?re not going to be “left behind.”

(3) If we don?t know who we really are how will We live the way we?re supposed to live

In my work as an executive coach I often deal with people struggling with their self-worth. Christians find this particularly difficult as they’ve been consistently taught to see themselves as ?dirt? – terrible creatures who are fortunate God doesn?t zap them right now. This view of a harsh God causes harshness to flow from them.

The whole of the Bible story, however, is of a creator passionately pursuing those that were created to affirm their value, That each human was declared ?good? even before they existed. Taking that story to heart causes us to want to know this benevolent creator more and thus, that benevolence can flow from us, as well.

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(4) God is OK if you change your mind. In fact, he commands you to.

The idea that we have to defend our beliefs at all cost and use a label like ?fake news? or ?liberal? to discount any idea or person that disagrees with us goes against the command of the Bible to not be ?conformed to this age? (to your own ‘bubble.’) The passage says we’re to be transformed by the ongoing renewal of our minds.

To often Christians say ?I live by scripture? when, actually they are living by their preferred interpretation of the Bible. They rarely consider the existence of other Christians who read the text differently. In fact, our churches have created a fear of ?being deceived? that implores followers to resist such consideration.

Jesus scolded the religious leaders of his day for ?taking away the keys to knowledge.? There?s a proverb in the Bible that says ?It is the glory of God to conceal a thing, but the glory of kings is to search out a matter.? In other words, God created wisdom, science, debate, learning – if we understand our true identity as valuable (as ‘kings’), we’ll accept our duty and privilege to search out deeper understanding of matters.

A person shouldn?t be afraid to learn. All that can be lost in such consideration is bondage to an old mindset.

(5) Things might get ugly, but it?s going to be OK

Much of Christian political thought today is based upon fear – ?If we don?t elect the “right” candidate, our religion will be taken away. Or we loudly scream ?socialism? or some other scary word about boogeymen coming to get us.

There’s no doubt in my mind we are in tumultuous times and deeper troubles likely lay ahead, but in the story of the Bible, those times of ?shaking? were important for causing a people to remember what’s really important and turning their faces and hearts back to God.

Yes, our culture might be in some peril now, but let?s not assume some purifying heat is the worst thing to happen. Perhaps these times are exposing heart issues to the light – particularly those of our Christian belief system – that need to be changed.

Yes, the coming weeks and months might be difficult, but I’m convinced something better is on the other side. It might take the transition of a generation, but a new and better ‘us? is ahead. 

(5 -and a half) -at my wife?s request: It?s awesome to have a son born on your birthday

I’ve shared 18 birthdays now with my son, and it is awesome – well, half awesome. It does mean my birthday is now relegated second string to his. I assure you, that is a small sacrifice to make to have this amazing boy in my life!

If I feel that way as a father, how much more must God be willing to sacrifice his pure theology and right to judge us, in order to have relationship with us? Do you think humans are worth it to him?

September 18, 2020

What If Truth Mattered?

"...You will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.”

John 8:32

"When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth..."

John 16:13

"...our press secretary, gave alternative facts."

Kellyanne Conway, Presidential Advisor

There was a day when Christians valued “truth” – almost to an unhealthy level. Those days seemingly are gone, now, however, as Christians appear more than willing to accept “alternative facts” from their side of the political aisle. Conway introduced the term into our cultural lexicon in 2017 while attempting to defend President Trump’s outrageous claims of his inaugural ceremony crowd being “the largest audience to ever witness an inauguration.” This despite clear photographic evidence to the contrary. Conway’s display of her legendary ability to say to say easily disprovable things with the seriousness of an assassin signaled to all that we were living in a “post-truth era” where facts were now in the eye – or ear – of the beholder.

Right-wing Evangelical Christians not only believed what Conway was spinning out, they seemed to prefer her “facts.” This is odd to me since my evangelical youth group training often centered on the importance of “absolute truth.”

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“That’s a brown chair, right?” Said the evangelical youth minister of my childhood as he loudly and emphatically placed an office chair in the middle of our circle. “If I told you it was a ‘blue seagull’ that would be untrue, wouldn’t it?” The question brought chuckles from the group.

“If I told you it was not a solid, that would be untrue, wouldn’t it?” he stated while rapping his knuckles on the chair. “Any other explanation of the chair would be untrue, correct?”

“Actually, it’s mostly made of air,” I said, raising my hand. The youth minister gave me a stern glance and continued on.

“That this is a solid, brown chair is an absolute truth and it will always be a solid brown chair, no matter what anyone else might say,” he stated with a serious look.

“Well, the Bible says all of these things will pass away and what is unseen will last forever…” The youth minister held up his palm to stop my statement as he closed his eyes in exasperation.

“Despite Paul’s technicalities,” he said after a deep breath, “we must believe in absolute truth so the ‘relativists’ don’t deceive us in these last days.”

The youth minister’s attempted demonstration was to highlight that “elite thinkers,” who dabbled in questioning the stalwart message taught to us in church were threats not only to truth, but to our very souls and to the Christian values that made America a great country. “Truth matters” we were told.

That was then, however, this is now.

Today, Christians are willing to put away belief in truth to follow our pragmatic hope that political alliances and victories can bring a hoped-for Christian takeover of government and an implementation of conservative Christian political causes.

Avoiding Truth in Order to Not See Truth

Example: The recent Atlantic story highlighting President Trump’s lack of respect for military personnel hardly made a blip on the social media pages of my Christian friends. That Trump called soldiers who fought in American wars “suckers” and “losers” was met with relative Christian indifference. My friends chose to believe the “alternative fact” that the use of anonymous sources made the story “fake news” with a complete blindness to the irony that many of these same people regularly follow and believe anonymous conspiracy website sources, such as QAnon.

Whether the story’s details are completely accurate, we already know this tone was already publicly set by the president’s refusal to acknowledge John McCain as a war hero because McCain “had been captured” and Trump only liked soldiers “who weren’t captured.” In normal times, such statements would be deal-breakers for Christians (who despise NFL players for taking a knee during the National Anthem, an act evangelicals and conservatives claim to be disrespectful to our military personnel.)

Example: Immediately following the Atlantic report came the recorded voice of the president saying, in February, that he knew the Coronavirus was dangerous, was airborne and could seriously infect even young children while admitting that he was publicly downplaying the virus. Surely, the president’s recorded words would be enough to prove to fervent conservative Christians that their beliefs the Coronavirus was a hoax – or at least a Democratic concoction – would melt away.

Not so, however. The evangelical community is too invested in their own narrative on the virus. Too needful of defending their own position that only another simple fib from the president is needed for the “absolutely truth” of the president’s own voice to be drown out by “alternative facts.” Believing truth is no longer the mark of a true American Christian. “Nothing to see here” pragmatism for political purposes is the new rule of the day.

Intellectual Dis-Honesty

Not only is “absolute truth” at a low ebb, but so is intellectual honesty. This was highlighted in a recent post that was cut-and-paste material on the walls of several Christian acquaintances:

The assertions in many lines of this “reasons list” misses that nearly every line has a partisan spin equating conservative ideals to a morally superior level than anyone who might think differently. This intellectual twisting shows that re-posters of this content are either gravely deceived or willfully dishonest. Either way, “absolute truth” is taking it on the chin and is down for the count.

The Dire Consequences of Alternate Facts

As of the writing of this blog we’re nearing 200,000 deaths for Covid-19. That’s 66 times the number people who died on 9/11. The cognitive dissonance of “alternate facts” has taken away the ability to grieve this horrific fact for a people commanded to “mourn with those who mourn.”

This desire for alternative facts has other dire consequences.

George Orwell wrote his book 1984 describing a day when a country would no longer be able to understand facts and, thus, would readily give over control of their government and lives to despotic leaders. Orwell called it “doublethink.” Today, we call it “alternative facts.”

Throughout history dictatorial leaders have sought to undermine media outlets and start their own propaganda agencies in order to manipulate truth to their own benefit.

When a democracy depends on a learned electorate, a lack of accountability to truth for our elected leaders is a danger to that democracy.

Our country is in grave danger of reaching this point today, if we haven’t already. Let’s face it – even most the fervent supporter of this president has to admit he at least plays a bit loose with details and willingly shares what seems reasonable in his own mind, even if it’s not true.

Truth must matter to us. “Facts are stubborn things” an elected leader once said – let’s make facts stubborn again. Securing a Supreme Court majority isn’t worth losing our ability to communicate in truth with one another. We have to let the Spirit of Truth guide us and not be afraid for public scorn for those who would try to make facts “alternate” – particularly our country’s enemies who wish to divide us against one another – can’t succeed.

Let me recommend tips on how to Avoid Sharing Fake News and this article from the Fresno State Institute of Media and Public Trust. Let’s repent of political expediency and, once again, ask God to show us his ways, which are higher than ours, so we can get a heavens-eye view of our world today and turn from our own. It’s not too late that yet God might heal our land if we do.

August 29, 2020

The Black Woman’s Crown

A Black woman’s hair: her natural Crown put there by God himself.

August 18, 2020

If You’re Pro-Life, Vote Democrat

We’ve been told that the Republicans are the Pro-Life party, what if it’s really the Democrats?

August 8, 2020

Old Evangelicalism is Dying; A New Thing is Springing Up

This new Church will have the joy and community of the first Church in Acts 2 and will add people daily who are attracted by Christian love and not repelled by Christian politics.

July 26, 2020

Trap Questions Asked by Evangelicals: A Modern Day Parable

Jesus was often confronted with trap questions from the Pharisees, what might that look like today?

July 24, 2020

Is Christian Education Christlike?

We wanted our children to receive a Christian education; we found an unlikely source.

July 12, 2020

What is the Opportunity in Covid-19

where there is pain, there is potential for transformation. Pain forces you to rethink your fundamental beliefs and approaches to life.

July 9, 2020

Dear Pastor, It’s Time to Take a Stand

Being “Not Racist” isn’t good enough. It’s time for pastors to take a stand as anti-racists. This is a Scriptural imperative.

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