Step Aside!

An oft quoted partial Bible verse is found in Psalm 46:10; being the familiar “be still and know that I am God”. Like many verses removed from their context, the intent of this passage is not what has long been held by both preachers and church members.

The word translated “still” is a Hebrew word that means “to be weak, to let go, to release, be feeble”.

The intention is not to offer comfort to those who may be struggling as often used, but rather hints at a command to “STEP OUT OF THE WAY” and cease to play as though we were God ourselves! Recognize wherein the Power lies. A relevant command for Christian Nationalists to heed today.

This command, rightfully given to the church, is the charge to not usurp God’s power and, in essence, push the Divine off of the throne as is currently being politically forced upon society. But the challenge is rather to recognize one’s own limited capacity to horn in on those areas that God has reserved for the Divine and cease to meddle in areas that God alone has authority.

Sadly, “faith” has been so distorted in the minds of many Christians as for some to be unable to discern the church’s responsibility to be “lights” rather than enforcers of “assumed righteousness”. Such activity might serve the ego, but fails to be representative of genuine spiritual conversion. May be a good time to determine what the gift of humility means as opposed to attempting to force one’s human will upon others. 😮

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The Blind following the Blind!

No doubt this will be received by some as a controversial statement. But it is my conviction, based upon observation, that much of the evil experienced in our country can be laid at the feet of religious individuals. Doesn’t much matter what righteous claims are made by these groups, the fruit of turning a blind eye to the full spectrum of ungodlike and insensitive behavior in all of its manifestations is in itself an indicator of a seared conscience.

Beating the drum for one or two pet peeves of social iniquity without embodying the full magnitude of the evil around may provide a false sense of holiness. When one’s righteousness easily ignores a much broader representation of the character of the Divine it can be readily defined as clothing oneself with a robe that is a cover for dead men’s bones.

I believe the epistle to Timothy is addressed specifically to these religious souls who in effect support the corruption of devious leaders who essentially stand for nothing and build their influence by inflaming people’s emotions and a divisive appeal to the degenerate nature of humanity. Discern what the Spirit is saying: “The Spirit clearly says that in later times some will abandon the faith and follow deceiving spirits and things taught by demons. Such teachings come through hypocritical liars, whose consciences have been seared as with a hot iron.” 1 Tim 4:12. Telling, is the lack of the ability for shame of the participants.

Faith is not defined simply as believing the right things. It has much to do with the transformation of the mind and the humility to recognize when there’s a need for and submission to repentance. Through repeated denial of the full spectrum of evil that goes beyond a few chosen “righteous causes” for rallying around, a person’s sense of right and wrong can become numb to the point that a person can no longer easily distinguish between good and evil (or even care about the distinction). This is what the unpardonable sin entails. Stubborn resistance to self-evaluation and full submission to practicing the nature of Christ.

And what is the end of such transgression against the Spirit?: “He has blinded their eyes and hardened their hearts, so they can neither see with their eyes, nor understand with their hearts, nor turn—and I would heal them.” John 12:40. It might be a good idea to check to see what type of spirit is actually driving one’s emotive divisiveness and the character of the leaders that one prefers to represent them. Blindness is most disastrous when the blind are unable to recognize their own condition.

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Be reasonable!

“For the wisdom of this world is foolishness in God’s sight. As it is written: ‘He catches the wise in their craftiness’.  1 Cor 3:19

Greek lesson for the day: “panourgia” = craftiness, cunning, a specious or false wisdom.  Paul uses this term in 1 Corinthians 3:19 to describe the category of mankind’s wisdom that is considered to be foolishness.  Herein lies much confusion in creating, for some, a false equivalency of Paul’s intent with the divinely endowed gift of human reason.  The outright rejection of human reasoning has caused all types of problems with members of the church. 

In reality identifying spiritual “truth” requires one’s ability to be able to utilize the divine gift of reason effectively.  The ironic outcome faced in society today is that many within the church have confused “truth” with “dogma” as a result of relying upon the “panourgia” of charismatic leaders.  The outcome has been disastrous and been instrumental in the inability of some to discern what is false from what is real.  Instead of calling upon personal spiritually guided reason, some have simply allowed others to do the thinking for them and end up with a secondhand religious knowledge fed to them.  

If one’s religion relies upon others to do their thinking, then it is not truly their own.“But the wisdom that comes from heaven is first of all pure; then peace-loving, considerate, submissive, full of mercy and good fruit, impartial and sincere”.  James 3:17  In sincerely trying to be reasonable, a look at the strident militancy of some purported Christians in the political arena provides adequate justification for questioning whether they are guided by divine reason or by a corrupt dogma.  Perhaps it’s time to take to heart “’Come now, and let us reason together,’ says the Lord….”  Isaiah 1:18 and reject the false belief that reason is somehow subservient to dogmatic doctrine. Don’t become a victim of blindly rejecting things as they really are in lieu of an unreasonable expectation of how one might like them to be.

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Transcendent Motivation!

Been pondering a statement of a TV news guest. This statement was made during the massing of Russian troops around Ukraine prior to the invasion. The essence was that “it is a hopeless situation for the Ukrainians and that they should not resist but accept their fate in order to save their lives”.

Perhaps that is one way of looking at it and responding to evil aggression, but I believe there is a deeper spiritual reality that needs to be considered. Ancient insight provides a greater perspective on sacrificing life and limb for the greater good of humanity.

Two timeless statements reveal a depth of understanding that is not focused on one’s own personal injury but on a sacrifice that, though painful, moves humanity toward the ultimate goal of the Divine for mankind. Ponder what these mean:

“Very truly I tell you, unless a kernel of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains only a single seed. But if it dies, it produces many seeds. Anyone who loves their life will lose it, while anyone who hates their life in this world will keep it for eternal life.” John 12:24-25

“Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.” John 15:13

Ukrainians have en masse resonated with this spiritual reality. Whether or not the means to this end are agreeable to others, their driving spirit to protect others from evil lists high in rank among all transcendent motivations and at great cost.

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Is Your Thumb on the Scale?

It seems to be a phenomenon in American religious culture that some of those most strident in their defense of Christianity and the Bible may have metaphorically “put their thumb on the scale” regarding their personal assessment of their own “weighty” commitment to God.  The real weight of their commitment is too often manifested in their combative demeanor and attitude toward anyone outside of their “tribe” or system of belief.  This is a worrisome development for the church at large and a sign of deterioration in the application of the Christian moral scale.  That which is plain teaching has been hijacked by distorted interpretations such that it would appear that a selective view of a verse in Romans has become the new mantra for some: “Let us do evil that good may result?” (Romans 3:8)

There appears to be two moral realms: “good” and “evil”.  Though they show up in many forms, the basic elements are morally determinableEvil can be generally any action that causes suffering, injury or animosity without a genuine noble purpose.  On the other hand, good represents anything that enhances and magnifies shalom, well-being and brotherly love.  Neither one is necessarily related to any specific acts (though they may be) but are identifiable in outcomes that impact all parts of God’s Creation in all of its forms.  If one’s Christian faith weighs more heavily on one side of this “good-evil” scale in dealing with politics, society, creation or other people (irrespective of their views), recalibration of belief and practice may be required to bring one’s saving faith into balance.  The call is for genuine transformation and to weigh in for “just scales”.  Christian faith, in order to be truly “weighty”, requires believers who are “heavy weights” for good and who resist evil and refrain from attacks on others.

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And, What’s so “Great” about a Culture War?

“So justice is driven back, and righteousness stands at a distance; truth has stumbled in the streets, honesty cannot enter. Truth is nowhere to be found, and whoever shuns evil becomes a prey.” Isa 59:14-15

It seems that history is repeating itself. As it was for Isaiah, so today the same warning is dismissed by those who profess to be the enlightened ones. The inability of some to distinguish truth from lies is driven, not by a genuinely holy impulse, but rather by a “cult messiah” appealing to base animal instincts, with the sole purpose of creating a culture war rather than some grand purpose of making things great! Instincts that demonize others, passively accept hate, engender divisiveness, encourage tribalism, etc. None of which can find justification under a faith that calls on the Name.

Democracy and Christianity face an existential crisis, a “crisis of character”, a crisis that has morphed from commitment to spiritual roots to one of devotion to a “corrupt messiah”, a cultish fanaticism. “Whoever shuns evil becomes a prey.” Those who would stand for integrity of character and speak out against this spiritual corruption are targeted and threatened for their stance. The seeds of truth are spread abroad, will there be a sufficient abundance of good soil for truth to take root? That’s a decision of the heart and a question answered by a critical look in the mirror. Who is brave or wise enough to take a serious look at where their loyalties lie?

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According to Code

As a student of theology, I often pull tidbits out of memorable texts that personally strike me in a vulnerable spot.  One such tidbit: “…their work will be shown for what it is….”  I Cor 3:13

Building construction proves to be a useful metaphor in ancient texts.  The Bible recounts a number of construction issues, and I’m not sure how active building inspectors were in those ancient days.  In the New Testament alone we hear of a tower that falls and kills some people, a house built on the sand collapses, a structure with material of wood, hay or straw in danger of burning up.  No, these illustrations are not purposed to be a manual for construction workers, but rather a reference about how life works.

I need to be reminded on a daily basis that the choices that I make, particularly as it relates to others, are, in a sense, materials that determine the quality of the life structure that I am in fact in the process of building.  In the end we are each handed a figurative box of tools and the option of what material those tools will be used on.  I’m going to suggest that the materials most relevant to this discussion have much to do with one’s character and, in this case, the elements of character that define compassion, integrity, kindness, and such like traits.  The contrasting materials that make for a faulty structure would be indifference, dishonesty, mean spiritedness, etc. 

Now, some may spend a great deal of time building a structure for a “taskmaster” god.  Such a relationship is typically fraught with fear of failure.  From that perspective, the quality of the building materials is likely to be suspect or counterfeit.  Even if genuine, the fabrication of their spiritual building will show fault lines and be unstable.  On the other hand, those who have a picture of being in a cooperative relationship with God, are destined to create something beautiful, though they themselves may be imperfect in their own building skills.  In such a partnership, one is not consumed with looking over their shoulder to be tagged by a feared inspector, but are joint inspectors of progress toward the end product, a structure that will stand as a testimony to quality workmanship.  What kind of builder would you prefer to be?

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Building Tombs

For those somewhat familiar with the Bible you will probably make a New Testament connection with the two words of the title of this post immediately.  This short presentation will only be an oblique reference to this famous passage found in both Luke and Matthew and perhaps shed a little light on present day hypocrisy.

Jesus may, in modern eyes, be accused of being somewhat rude in this address.  After all, these righteous men had only had the best intentions.  They built tombs to honor those who died in service to God.  Why would Jesus be so hard on those who had shown reverence for these ancient heroes?

Let me make a possible suggestion.  Jesus considered them to be hypocrites and did not buy their token reverence for the prophets and the lives that the prophets had sacrificed to bring the nation back to God.  The tombs had in essence become their claim to have righteous character.  Now, can anyone fault someone for wanting to honor these fallen patriots?  That, in the eyes of the religious, would be blasphemous.  Now assuming that the essential meaning of this “tomb building” issue is beginning to come out, let’s see if there’s a modern comparison.

Ask anyone about American iconic sports and “cricket” does not rise to the top of the list.  One would not be accused of being unamerican if they shouted out “baseball and football”.  However, we’re not here today to excoriate these American idols.  Rather, let’s take a look at a phenomenon that is fairly well “the talk of the town” related to at least one of these sporting venues. 

There appears to be some divisiveness derived from athletes on the field who take a knee during the National Anthem.  This enrages many who create a mental story in their minds that this is an insult to the many military and civilian lives devoted to our liberties.  Lives that were given in a sacrifice that brought us freedom.  Well, not being able to read the minds of these purported “offenders” who do this “sacrilege” , I must confess that any judgment of the intent of their action is a fiction created in one’s own head and not something they themselves publicly declare.  So, rather than becoming incensed at the “offenders” actions, why not give the benefit of the doubt that they may honestly be trying to draw attention to something important; attempting to enjoy the same freedom that the military and civilian warriors had sacrificed their lives for?

Back to the tomb analogy.  You see, shouting from the stands and casting proverbial stones at those purported to be dishonoring the fallen, may also be a subject that Jesus would call out as hypocrisy.  I suspect for many who are offended by this purported “disrespectful” gesture themselves have failed to comprehend what the sacrifice made, for all of them, was all about.  You see, there’s another important element lying behind the actions of Jesus.  Perhaps it can best be illuminated by an ancient declaration: “He has shown you, O man, what is good. And what does the LORD require of you? To ACT JUSTLY and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.” 

Here’s my personal take on it.  Honoring the fallen, or the prophets as it were, is not about worshipping a symbol (i.e. TODAY’S TOMB = a costless symbol of patriotism), but rather committing to a life that honors what the fallen have stood for.  That commitment entails JUSTICE, MERCY and HUMILITY.  Worshipping a tomb, or for that matter any symbol of purported righteousness without the commensurate commitment to live out the demands of an honest worship, demands the chastisement of one’s hypocrisy.  I know, I often need to be chastised myself!

In summary, modern “claimed patriotic” symbols often are mindlessly worshipped as though they were the substance of righteousness, when all the time real devotion is demanded of the heart, not from the volume of our personal and judgmental protests.  Hypocrisy is a deceptive thing to which all are susceptible.  We are beckoned to stop writing fictional and judgmental mental stories about others via a corrupt mind. Allow the Spirit to moderate and guard the heart against a failure to discern the shadows from the substance. Symbols are shadows. If what they sacrificially stand for and demand from us is ignored, we may end up as painted sepulchers full of dead men’s bones, not the spiritually purported individual we may claim to be.

Don’t stop at the specific issue identified in this post! There are many more examples we need to be on guard against that go beyond the football field.

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The God I don’t believe in…

When somebody says to me, “I don’t believe in God,” my first response is, “Tell me about the God you don’t believe in.” ~ Marcus Borg

While questioning belief in God tends to set certain religious folk’s hair on fire. One’s expression of doubt may be a response to the image projected and dogma attached to the word “God” by certain “believers”. Far be it from me to create a definitive theology of God. Frankly such certainty is miles above my paygrade and such a “divine self-revelation” clearly would be within the capabilities of this purported unknown Source of being and I resolve to leave it in that corner.

Well, for me, there is a satisfying solution regarding my challenge to describing a relevant picture of God. Rather than attempt to defend beliefs that define hair color, gender preference, furnishings in the divine dwelling, and any other numerous attachments assigned to a Creator of the universe, I condense my theology down to a simple yet profound description; LOVE. My most significant issue with such a description is that I’m not fully comfortable or spiritually capable of actually understanding the full implications of such a belief, nor of how such a belief translates into how I personally reflect that same image. Like all relationships, however, a deeper understanding should evolve over time.

Where do I stand at the moment? Confession, we are told, is good for the soul. Well, I confess, I shed masked tears during sad movies, I hurt when I see others suffering unjustly, I become incensed when I observe cruelty, and ultimately I long to see a world filled with peace and prosperity for all creation. My inner being informs me that I fall short in manifesting perfectly all of these areas of sentiment when it comes to personal practice, yet I “know”, without doubtful wavering, that that is how I envision God to be. No, not like me, but how I would like to be.

Put aside for a moment all the physical representations that have been assigned to the Creator by stale anthropomorphic theology and dogma, and intensely focus on what LOVE actually describes as a force of moral character. You may not be able to hang a picture on the wall of your favorite Benefactor, but I believe you will come much closer to who God is as an energizing Source of LOVE and perhaps a Divinity that others could believe in. Give LOVE a chance, it’s guaranteed to be life changing!

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The “Abraham Prop”!

A partisan discourse made by some in our day, rather than using logic or rationality, falls back on “props” or symbols that should carry valuable meaning. These “props” are used for argumentative justifications only, rather than signifying any deep attachment to what underlies their symbolism. “Flag”, “Jesus”, “Bible”, “Troops”, “Patriotism”, “America”, etc. are convenient rhetorical tools to shut down anyone attempting to shed light on reality. An alternate universe is thus brought into existence where “righteousness” is defined by tossing out “props” rather than addressing their underlying significance.

This is by no means a modern phenomena. In fact, there is evidence that “Abraham” was at a time used as a prop. Though the use of “association” was intended to solidify an identity with being “chosen” by God, there are numerous incidents found in the NT that such attempts at association demonstrate how the use of a prop is a vain effort to establish reality or define personal devotion.

Those religious leaders who opposed Jesus at every turn, assumed their authority was based upon their ancestral heritage. “Abraham is our father,” they declared! (the prop). The actual reality was, “You belong to your father, the devil,” was insightfully offered by Jesus (the reality). ~ John 8

You see, the power is not in words used as “props” to attempt to identify oneself with high moral principles. That is a superficial use of symbols. Symbols should declare something about our character. Unfortunately, shout as loud as one might like, reality will always outshine an alternate universe of self-justification. Don’t let Bible lessons go to waste (failing to derive the insight shared there) and end up pulling a “Father Abraham” prop that fails to address the truth.

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