Sunday, March 26, 2017

When is it allowable for heterosexuals to reject homosexuality?

These days, there isn't a more divisive topic than homosexuality.  People are touchy about the LGBT issue, it's a lighting-rod issue no doubt.  The latest fodder for the conversation is Disney's "Beauty and the Beast," so now everyone on social media wants to know if you'll see the movie or boycott it.  Which by the way, my wife and I just saw the movie today - if you think it's a pro-gay movie, you need help.

The contemporary social gauge to measure your level of tolerance seems to be your views on homosexuality.  You are allowed to hold divergent views on almost any topic in our culture, save homosexuality.  If you claim to reject homosexuality, in most circles, you are immediately written off as a hateful, antiquated, homophobic bigot.

The amount of peer-pressure our society imposes on the masses to accept the homosexual lifestyle is immense.  I think all lifestyles that are great and correct should speak for themselves and shouldn't need to be defended.  What my views on the subject of homosexuality are, aren't important or even what I'm interested in discussing.  

What does interest me is, everyone is just expected to accept homosexuality, but no one seems to be asking the question: Do heterosexuals have the right to reject homosexuality?  Can someone who disagrees with a given lifestyle, choose to have a different view without feeling like they are going to be crucified for speaking up?

What's gone wrong in our culture when people are intimidated into silence?  If it's wrong to reject homosexuality on the grounds of intolerance, then isn't it equally nefarious to force people to acquiesce to a worldview they disagree with?  Where's the fairness that's being demanded?  This modern pendulum swing seems to be quite unfair.

I feel that the main reaction to any suggestion that homosexuality is inappropriate, from most people who embrace homosexuality, is going to be negative since it's probably being filtered through the experiences with the harsh, hateful, judgmental fundamentalists who claim to represent Christianity.  I get it, there are some nasty people who use religion like a hammer.  There are some really mean people who say some very hurtful things.

But what about people who love others, who don't want to be combative, but they simply hold different values?  Why are their voices being silenced?  Is it because some knucklehead spouted off and said something demeaning or even a whole bunch of somebodys?  Does that give anyone the right to dismiss everyone who disagrees with you?

I do think it's possible to lovingly reject a lifestyle, to keep the dialogue open, to be respectful, and to speak your mind without having to insult those who you disagree with.  And that's something that should go both ways.

Saturday, March 18, 2017

Sifting through the Shack

With our culture's penchant towards entertainment that's immersed in violence, greed, or perversion, there seems to be little room left at the theaters for faith-based movies.  Most faith-based movies have been prejudged as second rate, they are known for utilizing b-rated actors, and these movies are considered low-budget.  So my guess is, the Shack will have its work cut out to draw much of an audience.

We watched the screen adaptation today.  I read the book several years ago.  So yes, I'm familiar with the story.  I resisted reading the book for quite some time after it first was released, after I started it I put it down for about 6 months.  It was only at the urging of an older couple who lost their daughter to cancer when she was college age that I returned to the book.  I wasn't really looking forward to the movie, based on my perception of most faith-based movies.  My reservations aren't theological, though I take issue with the plot.  I have a strong distaste over the use of the (implied) rape and slaughter of a preadolescence aged girl to move a plot forward.

But let's dig into the theological scandal that too many Christians seem to be offended by.   Can we portray God the Father as a black woman?  If your faith is that fragile, that you can't handle God being portrayed as a black woman, then you have deeper issues to contend with.  Most church-goers I meet have a difficult time simply articulating the doctrine of the Trinity, so it's no wonder they are upset over this notion God could be revealing Himself as a woman, a black woman "Papa," and the Holy Spirit as an Asian woman...

The bigger issue that the story dredges up falls under the scope of theodicy, which is the defense of why God allows pain & suffering,  If you are turning to the Shack to find fulfilling or complete answers as to why an all-powerful & all-knowing God would allow pain and suffering to happen, you'll be sorely disappointed.  How do you explain away a grizzly torturous murder of an innocent grade schooler?  You wouldn't.   But, I don't think that's really the point the author wanted to communicate, but he did open himself up to some criticism by choosing such a graphic backdrop to his story.

Is there anything redeeming in The Shack?  Yes, absolutely, 100%!

Of course I'm going to say the book was better than the movie, that's a no-brainier.  Either way, whether you read the story or watch the movie, I see it as a positive.  Do I agree with all of the theology or propositions of the story?  It doesn't matter what I think there.  What matters is, books/movies like this get us thinking through tough questions about God, and they get us talking about what we believe with other people.

Call it a springboard or whatever you will, we need sparks like the Shack to ignite godly conversations, we need fuel for the fire, and thank God for any opportunity that comes our way to engage others in conversations that cover eternal, spiritual topics.   So I do hope you'll read the story or watch the movie, and more so, I hope you'll take the time to talk to others about it.

Wednesday, March 15, 2017

Not everyone is smiling with you, but those who do count most

I can't believe it took me nearly 50 years to figure this out, but not everyone will celebrate your accomplishments with you.  In fact, some of the people you spend quite a lot of time with will take offense at your progress and they actually would like to hold you back.  Therefore, limit your exposure to those who don't want you to shine too brightly.

Unfortunately, not everyone is happy for you when you strive to improve yourself or your station in life, they can even get jealous or become envious.  Therefore, don't let the limitations others impose on you determine your goals, dreams, or ambitions.

Sadly, some people will distance themselves from you or become cold when you begin to advance yourself.  Not everyone thinks you should make your life better or that you should reach your goals.  Therefore, don't let others articulate for you what success is or dictate to you what's fair.

I'm blessed to enjoy the love & support of a great wife, I have the respect & encouragement of our sons, and we have some pretty solid rock'n friends who stand behind us.  Be cautious and selective with who you share life with, who you let your guard down with, and who's perspectives you embrace.

Saturday, March 11, 2017

"don't judge me" is such a cliche

In the really gripping stories, the bad guys have some secret weapon that seems to be overwhelmingly superior in strength to anything the good guys can muster, and with a bit of cunning, the enemy will surely thwart the good guys with their diabolical weapon. In these enthralling stories, the bad guys always have some powerful tool at their disposal that disables and immobilizes even the strongest hero. And while we know the good guys will win somehow, we never know how until nearly the end of the story.

How many times in your life have you had a well-intentioned conversation shut down with a simple, “Jesus said ‘Thou shalt not Judge”? It seems like “who are you to judge me” or “you christian people are so judgmental” is like Kryptonite for modern believers.

In our culture, if you feel the slightest bit uncomfortable with the direction of any conversation, simply cry out, “Don’t judge me” and like a blue-statically-fizzling-forcefield, you will be protected from a distasteful dialogue, you are instantly shielded from anything incriminating and you can go along your merry way. “Don’t judge” is your get-out-of-jail-free card, and oh, here’s your free $200 as you pass Go.

It seems like we are in quite a quandary. They have us up against the wall. Our hands seem tied. Their ace in the hole has, it seems, successfully stifled us. Who are we to judge? What gives us the right to point out the faults in others? Maybe they are right, and we should just mind our own business.

After all, didn’t Jesus clearly say, “Don’t Judge” and didn’t He say something about getting the log out of your own eye before you go fumbling around, swatting at a speck of dust in someone else’s eye? Of course He did. And isn’t it ironic that people will point to one prohibition from Jesus, that being don’t judge, to justify a lifestyle that elsewhere, had they bothered to read, Jesus would clearly denounce? Yes it is.

My goal isn’t to let anyone off the hook here; judgmental people have issues they need to deal with, and the people being “corrected” for messing up their lives have serious issues to fix too. Perhaps the missing piece for most people is the vulnerability factor. Whenever we go down the road of pointing out the faults in others, we invite in some critiquing of ourselves as well. Which after all, is not only fair, it should also be welcomed, as Proverbs 27:17 points out, “As iron sharpens iron, so one man sharpens another.” Let’s see if we can reconcile this conundrum about do we judge or do we keep our lips sealed, and let’s see if we can remain inline with the heart of Jesus along the way.

Let’s look at what Jesus actually said in Matthew 7:1-6, “Judge not, that you be not judged. For with the judgment you pronounce you will be judged, and with the measure you use it will be measured to you. Why do you see the speck that is in your brother’s eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye? Or how can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when there is the log in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother’s eye. Do not give dogs what is holy, and do not throw your pearls before pigs, lest they trample them underfoot and turn to attack you.”

Number one, there are ways to address people who are screwing up their lives without being critical or harsh or hateful. And frankly, if someone is on the train-tracks and a train is about to run them over, we have an obligation to warn them about the direction they are headed. So, yes, just like the saying, “friends don’t let friends drive drunk,” if we care about someone, sometimes we do have to interject ourselves. Remember, James writes, ” My brothers, if anyone among you wanders from the truth and someone brings him back, let him know that whoever brings back a sinner from his wandering will save his soul from death and will cover a multitude of sins.” (James 5:19-20)

Also, Jesus’ famous statement “don’t judge” comes within the context where He warns about pigs and dogs, and pearls such things, in other words He requires we make judgement calls about situations and people, without sentencing them eternally. There is a difference between judging someone and making a judgement call. Judging someone entails we know their status with God, and we are assigning them their eternal status in heaven or hell. Making a judgment call, on the other hand, is pointing out an observation on an objective fact without playing God. See the difference?

The “don’t judge me” phrase being tossed around these days forgets, we do have the obligation to discern good from evil, safe from harmful, right from wrong, and this is in the context that we need to do a little self-checking along the way. Jesus never forbids or prohibits us from stating the obvious, He simply says make sure your own lifestyle reflects someone with credibility. Be someone worth listening to. Don’t miss it, Jesus said once your log is out of the way, you’ll see clearly enough to help remove that irritating speck of sawdust from your brother’s eye.

Brother’s eye. Brother’s eye? Does this mean this passage is built on the relationships between believers, and those outside the church aren’t even at stake here? Wouldn’t that be judgmental too, though? Paul wrote in Romans 6:20, “When you were slaves of sin, you were free in regard to righteousness.” Yet, if someone is outside of Christ, don’t they deserve to hear about His saving grace? From Jude 1:22-23, it looks like yes, “And have mercy on those who doubt; save others by snatching them out of the fire; to others show mercy with fear, hating even the garment stained by the flesh.” Perhaps christians should be held to higher standards, but everyone deserves a shot at life.

One thing is clear here, our standards which we have for others will be held up for us to uphold. If we expect perfection from others, Jesus may just expect that out of us. Also, it seems like it’s human nature to point out other people’s mistakes while ignoring our own, this may be one of our greatest character flaws. But also notice, this whole paragraph requires we recognize the significance of sins, i.e., lesser & greater wrongs summed up as sawdust & logs. And, we need to be cautious with whom we distribute holiness to and with whom we share our jewels with. Events could turn bad quickly, and we could be endangered instantaneously if we are unable to make a judgement call.

So, you can’t have it both ways. You can’t be a christian who lives like a hypocrite and call out the sins in others, and, you also can’t live like a reprobate pagan and quote Jesus only on the “don’t you judge me” verse. If you want to help others live holier lives, set the example. If you want to use Jesus’ phrase about not judging others, you need to accept the rest of His teachings as well, which call us to submit to Him and live lives of holiness.

The reality of it is, there are consequences from our actions and attitudes. When we live in sinful lifestyles and when we are judgmental, we suffer and other people suffer. I could be wrong, but I think Jesus teaches in this passage that being judgmental might just forfeit our own salvation. I doubt I’m wrong about this, but I’m fairly certain that Jesus teaches several times in the Gospels sin is bad because sin separates us from the Father.

Everyone seems to think Jesus will condone whatever course of action they see fit, at the time. Would Jesus condemn a critical person’s judging of another? Yes, absolutely. Would Jesus let the one being judged off of the hook because they got “judged” by some bible-thumper? Hardly.

Maybe, if we showed more respect, lived lives that displayed unconditional love, and freely offered forgiveness, maybe people would ask us for advice or help more often? And, maybe if we didn’t make stupid choices, people wouldn’t feel obligated to point out our mistakes. Ouch.

Consistency, that’s usually what’s missing whenever we take the words of Jesus out of context and seek license to live however we want or treat others however we want. Seek for better consistency, and maybe you’ll gain the credibility you desire. I’m pretty sure consistency is the way we disarm the evil one’s secret weapon. Now, do we cut the blue wire or the red wire…?