Thursday, March 26, 2015

A conscience is a terrible thing to waste!

    Back in the 1970's an ad-campaign by the UNCF (United Negro College Fund) had a very simple and catchy phrase:
Because a mind is a terrible thing to waste
    This meant that wasting anyone's mental abilities to contribute to society would hurt us all in the end and therefore we should try to help ALL people become more educated.   The campaign worked and blacks enrolling in college increased through scholarships offered by the UNCF.

     Today we may need a new ad-campaign:
Because a conscience is a terrible thing to lose
     Martin Luther, the 16th century Christian reformer, was what you might call a conscientious objector.   He was called before the Catholic hierarchy and the politicians to re-cant (take back) all he had written as he revealed how far the church had strayed from its roots and teachings.   Martin Luther asked for one day to formulate his answer and he was granted it.   After a night of prayer Marin Luther returned to the court to give his answer and here it is:

Unless I am convinced by the testimony of the Scriptures or by clear reason (for I do not trust either in the pope or in councils alone, since it is well known that they have often erred and contradicted themselves), I am bound by the Scriptures I have quoted and my conscience is captive to the Word of God. I cannot and will not recant anything, since it is neither safe nor right to go against conscience. May God help me. Amen.
     We owe much to his bravery to stand up to the powers as he was branded a "heretic" and had a bounty put on his head for anyone to collect.   He was given refuge by a German nobleman who agreed with his teaching and lived in his castle attic for many years while he took on the work of translating the Bible from Latin into German.   His willingness to stand up for his conscience freed many more like him who also no longer agreed with the Catholic churches teachings.

    A conscience is a very personal thing.   It is at the very heart of our Freedom of Religion and to have our own set of beliefs to follow.   It was once said that,

 "If you can't live with yourself then who CAN you live with?".   

    A dead conscience will eat you alive from the inside like a maggots eating rotting flesh of a deceased person.  A conscience drives us each to do what is right in our own eyes despite the opposition.   We've all been there at some time in our lives.  We were in a position to speak up for someone or some group and we chose to be silent.   We  remember those times vividly as we play it over and over again in our minds. We agonize over our choice knowing we chose wrong and the repercussions of us doing so were obvious.  It's a difficult thing to do.   Often it is occurrences like these that cause so many our war-weary-soldiers so much depression and guilt that it incapacitates them and prevents them from rejoining society.

     Today, people around our country are being asked to go against their consciences as well.   For example, people who own bakeries are told they MUST make wedding cakes for weddings they do not agree with.   You may not like their position any more than the Catholic church did not like Luther's.   But at odds is their conscience verses your insistence that they bow to your edicts that gay marriage is no different than traditional marriage.   Should they stuff their conscience away and never listen to it again?   What kind of country will we become if we force all of our citizens to ignore their consciences when they go counter to the governments or the majority's wishes?  Should they only care what the government believes is right and follow orders?   Should such people be jailed for having a difference in opinion or view?  Should they be put out of business for their faith?  Should the churches they attend be taxed or fined since it was those institutions that undoubtedly influenced them to have such a narrow view of marriage?

    Another thing to consider when you decide to use the blunt force of the government stick to get people to do your wishes is you build increasing amounts of anger and animosity towards you group rather than acceptance.  Of course you can force their physical bodies to perform the deeds you asked for, but their hearts and minds will be forever against you.   This will only require you to use increasing amounts of force over time to move the pendulum further to your side of the room.   But watch out for the day will come that you will not be able to push it any further and the pendulum will swing the other way and all that pent up energy will be released in ways that can be very destructive.   Other countries have witnessed this in their own countries (mostly African countries where one tribe rules another for so long and then it flips on them).    In South Africa this almost happened against the whites after the blacks gained control of the country and only by the grace of God through the work of Nelson Mandela did it get diffused.

    I am glad to see people of reason from the other side standing up for people of conscience and telling their people to "knock it off!" in attacking these people in the court of law and also the court of public opinion.     We need more of these people to come forward and I hope and pray they do.   I believe they recognize the value of a conscience and how it is one of our most basic rights as human beings to be nurtured and protected.  After all, a society of citizens whose consciences have been numbed will be a terrible place to live.

Monday, March 23, 2015

Twitter is perfectly named.

   In my opinion there is no better name for Twitter than Twitter as it seems only "twits use Twitter".  Not a day goes by that I don't see some person apologizing for some tweet they had just sent out earlier in order to save their job or reputation.   It happens so regularly that news programs on TV should end their shows with "Today's Twitter Apology" or "The Tweet Apology of the Day".   Maybe it should even have its own word to describe it.  Maybe, apolo-tweet or something of that manner.  Hollywood personalities and political pundits and politicians are the most notorious "apolo-twitters" around.   Einstein said nothing can go faster than the speed of light.  Well apparently Einstein never saw a celebrity apologizing for a drunken tweet as the apology almost makes it out on the internet before the offending tweet leaves the server.

    Recently a boy playing on a college baseball team sent out a tweet that put down a young girl by the name of Mo'Ne Davis who made it to the Little League World Series as a pitcher.   His tweet cost him is scholarship and he was quickly thrown out of his college.   One could say for certain, that was one expensive tweet for sure.   But even when the girl wrote the college asking for them to keep they boy on the team their decision was "final" as  there was no salvation for offensive twitter messages. 

    Personally, I just don't get it.  I don't use Twitter at all myself.   I don't see how anything of any worth can be crunched into 140 characters or less.   Can the Bill of Rights?  No.  Can the Gettysburg Address?  No.   Martin Luther's "I have a dream speech?  No.   Okay maybe John 3:16 can  ("For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whosoever believes on him shall not perish, but have eternal life") as it is only 133 characters.  But for the most part I see it as a waste of time. To me, it has more chance to do harm than it does to do good as too many on Twitter try too hard to be the next big comic by tearing others down, rather than seek to inspire and build others up.   

    Maybe a possible fix for this problem would be to have Twitter analyze your message for "offensiveness" and rate it on a scale of 1-10.  Curse words or sexual terms would be an automatic 10 for example.   Words like "stupid" or "idiot" would be a 5 but taken into context as to what you are referring to (a car or inanimate object would be fine, but a person could bump it up to a 6 or 7).   You could then set your "offensivity level" to whatever you desire so that your phone would stop you from sending anything above that level. 

    But of course, only a "twit" would need an "app for that".  The rest of us rely on our brains.

Friday, March 20, 2015

Words forgotten in the American dialect

    There are 4 (well 5 actually since one is a conjugate of 2 words) words that we seem to have gone out of style in our normal dialect that if we brought them back might solve of a lot of our problems today.   Those words are:


   We used to hear that phrase all the time back in the 60's, 70's, and even 80's.   Anytime someone took an issue with another persons personal behavior or activities this phrase would seemingly put an end to the argument almost immediately.

   You see a person smoking....                                                     IT'S A FREE COUNTRY!
   You see a person wearing skimpy cloths ...                               IT'S A FREE COUNTRY!
   You see a person living out of their car....                                 IT'S A FREE COUNTRY!
   You see a person handing out flyers for a church...                  IT'S A FREE COUNTRY!

    When did this phrase go out of style?    When did we become such a country of nannies where everyone's business is OUR business?   So what if a person decides to send a 10-year old and a 6-year old to the park on their own... that's the parent's decision ... not yours!    So what if a parent sends their kid to school with a sandwich and a Hostess Ho-Ho for lunch.... that's their business and not yours!    So what if a high school student wants to have their rifle or archery bow in their senior picture... that's their business and it's not hurting anyone.    So what if eating fast food is not as healthy as making my own home cooked meal.... it's my body and my business.

    Imagine the different results if a person concerning themselves with each of the cases above said the words "It's a free country!"  as they contemplated what to do next.   I believe it would change their outlook and their decision making in each of the cases.   But instead we have a world where everybody has their fingers in everybody's pie and making an awful mess of things while we are at it.   There isn't a day that goes buy that you don't hear a story about some person somewhere reporting a person for some violation of their social-contract.   Either they are not raising their kids they way you think they should or you think they might possible offend someone somewhere and they should be stopped before that something happens.

    Take for example a 17 year-old girl who had cancer who wished to refuse treatment (see here ). 
The state stepped in and denied her wish to be let alone and forced her to be given medical treatment.  Her body belongs to the state in their opinion (at least until the age of 18) and they could dictate to her what must be done.   Today, her cancer is in remission and now a precedent has been laid for others to follow.  Many new cases will point to this case and say "See?  We were right about that case and so we must be right about this one as well!".   Combine this case with the topic of vaccinations and dangers to "public safety" and you will have a dangerous 1-2 punch against parental control.  If vaccinations must be enforced, then why not ADHD medicine or other psychiatric drugs?   Why not contraception or sterilization?   If the doctors are always right, then why have parents in the doctors office at all?   Since their only purpose would be to agree to whatever the doctor prescribes they could save a lot of time by just staying in the waiting room while their child is taken care of and they can pay the bills (or the government pay them).  

    Of course many will say, "I don't think that will ever happen in THIS country!"  but none of them will say it CAN'T happen.   They say, "I was just trying to help this one girl.   I didn't want to see her die needlessly".    But like the old adage goes, "The road to hell is paved with good intentions".   

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

When everything becomes "political"

      Yesterday, Starbucks announced their new "race together" campaign in which they encourage their baristas to engage with their customers on the topic of race relations.   They were told if they wanted to start a conversation on race with a customer they should write the words "race together" on the cup before handing it to the customer.  This seemed like an idea that came straight out of academia because it makes no business sense.  The news articles sent out on Facebook did not take the idea to kindly as many people lamented that the LAST thing in the world they want to do when they buy of cup of coffee is spend an hour discussing race with a 20-nothing who is stuck behind a counter pouring coffee.  What if I don't want to talk about anything at all and I decline their request?   Will the barista take me for a racist and as a result put a little "special sauce" (spit) into my cup?   Do I now have to order my coffee "non-political" as well as "decaf"?    Sometimes you just want a cup of joe and that is all.  

      It seems today everything we do is seen as political in nature.  Where we shop.  What we buy.  What we eat. What we do with our free time.   People want us to constantly think about our actions in terms of political repercussions.   Unions want us to boycott Wal-Mart because so much of their products come from China,  but all I want is to buy some new underwear.   Environmental groups want us to not use plastic bags because it "may" effect "climate change" when all I want to do is make sure my stuff doesn't spill out into the parking lot.   A Hollywood celebrity wants us to contemplate a topic such bullying, or domestic violence in the middle/start of a movie when all we want is to be entertained for 2 hours.   Another group wants my children to talk about the election and why I should vote Democratic at the Thanksgiving table when all I want to do is sit down with my family, make some warm memories and thank God for how he has watched over us the past year.  

      We need to stop the insanity!  Maybe we should delegate the one month before an election as "political-discussion-month" and have ALL the other months declared off limits.   We need to stop badgering people and having "conversations" (which is just a code word for "a debate to shutdown an opposing side")  and just talk to one another about whatever comes up.  Maybe it's just the weather or how you are feeling at the moment, but it's a conversation without an agenda.

     Whatever happened to just polite conversation anyway?   Have we spent too much time on our phones reading stories on political websites that we have forgotten how to initiate them?    Do we need a phone app that knows who we are coming in contact with that can look up their political, religious, and intellectual persuasions and then based on it come up with a list of 3 topics you should discuss with them?   (I could just see it now with pop-ups coming up in your Google-glass). 

     The English used to consider political discussions to not be polite in nature.  Your thoughts were your thoughts and that was all.   You were expected to be informed by books, the newspapers and various public lecturers and then make up your own mind based on the information you were given.  You were not allowed to use your neighbors house party to lecture others on their view political views.  To do so was considered to be in bad taste as you would be hijacking their friendly forum for your own purpose and thereby ruining the event.

    But such is not the case today.

   Maybe we need to bring the English way back into style again and just serve the coffee.

Monday, March 16, 2015

We need more Ambassadors

    What comes to mind when you think of an Ambassador?

    Some common attributes:
  • Lives in a foreign country
  • Speaks their language (if not completely... at least some)
  • Seeks ways to build bridges to those cultures from our country
  • Nominated by the President
  • While they live there, they are always a U.S. citizen
  • Communicates the Presidents Foreign Policy to their leaders
  • Participates in their culture to a certain degree (parties, festivals, seminars etc)
  • Maybe has a family connection to that country (ancestors came from there)
   Ambassadors play a vital role in our foreign policy so it is important to nominate people who can express those views in a way that does not offend the people he is trying to reach out to.   Also, they must be people-persons (extraverts and not introverts) who like to get out and meet people.   If they think they can just go and live in the Embassy the whole time they are there they are seriously misguided in their thinking.

   In 2 Corinthians 5:20, Paul writes:
We are therefore Christ’s ambassadors, as though God were making his appeal through us. We implore you on Christ’s behalf: Be reconciled to God.
    Paul could not have picked a better word (led by the Holy Spirit how could he not!).   We are ambassadors for Christ in our lives.   As we live out our lives in THIS world, we are living in a foreign land reaching out to a foreign people be receive the reconciliation that God is giving them.   Jesus in his high priestly prayer prayed for his disciples to "be in the world, but not of the world".   Like an ambassador who while living in a foreign country must always remember they are citizens of the U.S. and they represent the President at all times, we too are always God's children.  Also, while an ambassador can go to parties, luncheons and other meetings, at the same time he can not participate in activities not allowed by the US.   For example the ambassador to the Netherlands cannot use drugs or go to brothels even though those activities are legal in the Netherlands they are not legal for us in the U.S.    It is a delicate balance he must maintain at all times.

    An ambassador must also learned to speak the truth to the leaders in those countries when asked about US concerns.   He cannot for the sake of  "friendship" minimize problems we have with their country.  If an African country is committing genocide or sea-piracy we cannot pretend it doesn't matter to us in the US.   They must be told that if things don't change the US will get involved and it won't be a pretty sight.  So also, we as Christ's ambassador's must speak the truth to those around us.  We cannot pretend the Bible is mum on various topics that are of concern with them.   However we must strive to remain friends with them and be there for them when the time comes.  Like the ambassador to a somewhat hostile country staying connected to them until the day comes when a volcano erupts, or a tsunami hits their coast, or dam breaks and wipes out a village, we can be there to help and give them aid.   We too, need to be engaged with our non-Christian friends and neighbors ready to help them in there day of need.  

Be IN the world but NOT of the world!

    Embassies are like miniature US retreats for the ambassador.   Many embassies provide them with American food, books, TV and entertainment for while they live there.  In fact,even the very soil they live on is considered to be US owned and is guarded by US Marines with that conviction.  But embassies are not meant to be where the ambassador spends 100% of their time, but only serve as a retreat for him/her.    Likewise, we as Christians seek to create Virtual-Embassies where we try to separate ourselves from the world around us (man has always sought to be closer to God by separating themselves from other humans).   But this is not what God desires for his people at all ("Be in the world, not of the world").  We do this by closing ourselves off from those around us who are not Christian by creating Christian-schools (K-college), Christian-day-cares, Christian-music, Christian-radio, Christian-TV, Christian-movies, Christian-books/magazines,  Christian-clubs,  Christian-gyms, Christian-coffee-shops and even Christian-dating-sites.    How are we to reach a world we have nothing in common with?   An ambassador that secludes themselves away inside the US Embassy and never venturing out into the country they are sent to, is of no use to the President who sent them.  So also, we are of no use to God who has sent us ("As the Father has sent me, so I am sending you!"  John 20:21) if we don't engage with the world around us. 

What we an learn from Paul

    Paul writes in  1 Corinthians 9:20
20 To the Jews I became like a Jew, to win the Jews. To those under the law I became like one under the law (though I myself am not under the law), so as to win those under the law.
    Here we see "Ambassador Paul" giving us advice on reaching the world around us.  Nowhere in the book of Acts does Paul illustrate this better than when he was asked to speak at the Areopagus to a group of Greek philosophers.  Paul went and gave them a short dissertation on the Christian faith, but he did not quote scripture to them at all.  Instead he quoted an inscription on the base of an idle ("TO AN UNKNOWN GOD") and one of their own poets ("We are his children").   By doing this, he showed them that he was connected to them and engaged with their culture and not some nut-job-preacher from another country.   In fact he only gets to talking about Jesus until the very end of his speech to them at which point they tell him that they want him to come back later and some who heard him received the Gospel and became followers.   We can see from other writings by Paul he took part in the Gentile life as he uses analogies from athletics (running, wrestling and boxing) and even quotes Greek philosophers ("The stomach is made for food and food is made for the stomach" - 1 Corinthians 6:13).  Paul uses these worldly-props as springboards for the Gospel to reach as many people as possible.   When we choose to disengage with the world we lose these opportunities altogether.  We may try to relate our world to them but much will be lost in translation.   Like an ambassador trying to use a "American football" as an illustration to a country that knows only soccer,  they just won't understand what they are talking about.

    Will it mean that we might have our sensibilities offended some?  Probably.  Paul undoubtedly attended Olympic sporting events given the numerous times he talks about running a straight race and throwing off everything that might entangle him.   These foot races were run entirely in the nude and woman were barred from viewing them (except the Vestile Virgins).   Did Paul grow up seeing these races?  Probably not, but he obviously did now as a missionary and God was able to use his attendance to give his people a visible form of how we should conduct ourselves in our Christian life. 

Modern day opportunities

    Recently I was watching the last episode of the Matrix trilogy (for some reason I never got the chance to watch it before).   When I did I was astounded at how much of the movie's ending mirrors that of the gospel.   If you have not seen it, I urge you to go and see it for yourself.   Not only do the characters names have Christian meanings (Trinity, Neo) but also the hidden city of the free-humans is called Zion.   In the last scene when Neo is taking on Smith (who represents Satan) in the virtual world controlled by the machines, Neo is laid out on the ground in front of the mainframe (which represents God) in a cross formation with wires connecting him to the virtual world.  The machine wants to rid itself of the Smith-virus but it cannot without a human to "bridge the gap".   Neo realizes that the only way to destroy Smith is to let him kill him and destroy him from the inside.  Neo becomes Smith and then destroys Smith ("He who knew no sin, became sin for us") and the mainframe machine says "It is done!".   The people in Zion rejoice saying "It's done!  The war is over!  The war is over!".   

    What a wonderful springboard for us to reach our non-Christian friends as they will not go see a Christian-movie, but they will talk to us about one of their most popular science fiction movies of all time.  But we can't talk to them about it unless we have first seen it.   Does the Matrix contain graphic violence and foul language?  Of course it does.   But if Paul can watch naked men run across and open field, I think we should allow ourselves the opportunity to watch movies or listen to music that connect us with the world around us.

   It's time for us to venture outside the Embassy and engage with the people we are sent to share the Gospel with around us and be the ambassadors Christ wants us to be!

Tuesday, March 3, 2015

How God's word has changed my view on homosexuality

   I recently wrote a blog called,  "What's your bungee cord made of?"  in which I layout that all of us have sins that pull us back away from God and the life he wants for us to have.  For the rich man who comes to Jesus looking for the one thing that would put him in good standing with God ("What must I do to inherit the Kingdom of God?"), its his wealth that pulls him back and keeps him chained.  I too like the rich man have been chained as well in many ways.  Like most men, sex is a very potent drug that tugs at our very being and in our society it is used everywhere to get our attention.  I recently went to the gym and could not believe what the woman next to me was wearing as "gym clothes".   She looked like she just stepped out of a Victoria Secret catalog for their push-up bra line.  There she was, jogging (not walking) on the treadmill next to me.    I strained to keep my eyes looking straight ahead at my TV screen as she bounced along (she was voluptuous to say the least).  But I had a choice:
  • Keep trying to look ahead ... but peeking whenever I could get a chance 
  • Move to another treadmill.  

    My option was the second one...but not without a lot of contemplation of #1 first and I must be honest that it took me much longer to come to this decision than what it should have.   Did I feel superior in making this decision?  No, not really.  In fact it made me realize even more how sinful I really am that I could not stay put where I was.   Like a laser-pointer in a presentation it brought to my attention even more how weak I am  (maybe that is what God meant when he told Paul, "My grace is sufficient, because my strength is made perfect in weakness") .

    After writing the previous blog I have a had a lot of time to contemplate how Jesus handled the situation with the young rich man.   It says, "he looked at him with love".   Not anger or righteous indignation.   Either of which he would be totally entitled to but yet he did not.   And even when the man left "sad",  Jesus did not point at him and say anything angry or negative to him.  Did he call for the man to be stoned?  No.   Instead he makes a very truthful and sadly profound statement when he says, "How hard it is for the rich to enter the Kingdom of God"  and then later "It is easier for a camel to enter through the eye of the needle than for a rich man to enter the Kingdom of God".

     I think Jesus said this with a tear in his eye (though the Gospel doesn't say so).   We too will come in contact with many people who will "walk away sad" after hearing the Gospel.  Either they will think it too easy to be true or too difficult to accept.   We are all given choices in our lives to either follow Jesus or stay attached to the things in this life we want more.  Jesus understood this more than any of us and yet he still went to the cross for the rich young man as well.   We too must have the mind of Christ as well and have compassion for those who choose NOT to walk with us and let them walk away in peace.

    Another section of verses that have greatly influenced me are from the apostle Paul in 1 Corinthians 5:9-13
 I wrote to you in my letter not to associate with sexually immoral people— 10 not at all meaning the people of this world who are immoral, or the greedy and swindlers, or idolaters. In that case you would have to leave this world. 11 But now I am writing to you that you must not associate with anyone who claims to be a brother or sister[c] but is sexually immoral or greedy, an idolater or slanderer, a drunkard or swindler. Do not even eat with such people.
12 What business is it of mine to judge those outside the church? Are you not to judge those inside? 13 God will judge those outside. “Expel the wicked person from among you.”[d]
     Here Paul lays out for how the church should deal with those who are sexually immoral, greedy, swindlers or idolaters.  But note the little phrase in verse 10 where he says, "not at all meaning the people of this world".   To the people in the legal profession this is called, an exception clause.   He even shows them that to  avoid these people in the world would require you to hop on a rocket move yourself to another planet.  Instead the people should be avoided ONLY if they pretend to be followers of Jesus and are in the church.  There is the line in the sand that Paul draws for us to pay heed to.   He later in verse 13 even goes on to remind them that "God will judge those OUTSIDE (the church)".

    Does this mean we don't speak the truth to the homosexual community?   Not at all.  Just as Jesus was not afraid to speak the truth to the rich young man ( I wonder how many lackeys the rich young man had following him were unwilling to tell him this truth Jesus was telling him to his face).  But we must do so in love.  We must be willing to confess our own weaknesses and sins and show them that it is BY GOD'S GRACE we are forgiven and that we are made righteous by what Jesus already did for us on the cross.   We need to understand however that they have some very strong "bungee cord" attached to them and that it will take a miracle of God's grace to help them walk away.   

    Recently my wife and I were in Carmel CA on vacation.  We were being served by a young man who by his own way of speaking you could not but notice he was gay.   In the past I would have probably opted to go find a different place to eat, but because of God's grace I was able to smile at the young man and allow him to serve us our food.   Did we talk about faith or anything?  No, we did not.  He was there to work and serve others and to do so would keep him from doing so.  I did pray for him that God would reach out to him some way through those around him.  Maybe some already have, I don't know.    I just pray that whoever does talk with him someday has this mindset and not one that seeks its own self-righteous indignation as I might have a few years ago.