The Fire is Burning – Hot Button Issues (Death)

Over 30 years ago, I became a part of our Creator’s plan to rescue His world from our sin inspired abuse.  Overly dramatic way of saying that?  Maybe, but it seems to me that His word is pretty clear about His coordinated effort to restore the creation that He entrusted to us. What is important is that He gave us a responsibility over His creation; not a responsibility as enforcers of law, but as shepherds and stewards of His grace and love.  “So Jesus said to them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, the Son can do nothing of his own accord, but only what he sees the Father doing. For whatever the Father does, that the Son does likewise. ”  The only thing I really know of Jesus is the grace, love, and mercy that He has shown to me.  If this is the part that He has shown to me and modeled in His Son, then that is all I can share with a world that needs it as badly as I do.

[Note: I know I used the word creation.  Please do not get hung up on this.  I don’t really care how important you think it is, how stupid or blind your think the opposing side is, how you interpret scripture, what you think the humanist agenda maybe … blah, blah, blah … let’s just leave it at once there was a different existence (or lack of existence) and now somehow we are here.  Yes, I believe that there is a God that has a plan and had the plan from the beginning and brought all this into being.  You may not believe that and that is fine, you can read all this and chuckle at my ignorance, I am OK with that. You may believe in a miraculous literal 6 day creation and a day of rest or you may believe something in between.  Origins may be important to you and think I am compromising the truth.  OK that is fine too.  Feel free to shake your head and pray for me if you do that sort of thing.]

Back to the story … I stepped into a new culture that was completely foreign to me and I had no idea what this new world should look like or how I fit into it.  So like so many of us, I resorted to the same lazy method of learning that I always had … hang with the inhabitants and mimic their behaviors.  Oh and at the same time, Lynn and I were starting on that adventure of marriage and parenthood.

Music, prayer, bible study, topical sermons, and fellowship meals.  At first, being part of a fellowship with “common” beliefs was great. I was a bit of a love sponge and I was eating it up … for a while. The challenge was that we had been raised with experiences,  values, beliefs, relationships, and baggage.  What it seemed like we were being asked to do was exchange all of those things for a new set of experiences, values, beliefs, relationships … and baggage.  Obviously no one actually said that, but as young people we were all for a radical change and so we bought the whole package, especially the “hot button issues.”

After many trips, falls, failures, stops and starts there was a defining moment that brought a challenge to my belief paradigm.  I can’t even tell you what year it occurred.  It was a discussion between my Dad and my brother-in-law. They were discussing the inerrancy of scriptures and my Dad asked a simple question, “What in scripture makes you think Jesus would be for capital punishment?”  Whoa!  I could not reconcile Jesus’s character and teachings in the gospel with the death penalty.  I did not mention it at the time, but every year when I performed my annual ritual of reading the Lord of the Rings (Yes it was a book first), this conversation came back to me.

Of course this is not scripture, but it seems much like the conversation that Jesus had with a group of men who were a bit too eager to dole out death.

The scribes and the Pharisees brought a woman who had been caught in adultery, and placing her in the midst they said to him, “Teacher, this woman has been caught in the act of adultery. Now in the Law Moses commanded us to stone such women. So what do you say?”  This they said to test him, that they might have some charge to bring against him. Jesus bent down and wrote with his finger on the ground. And as they continued to ask him, he stood up and said to them, “Let him who is without sin among you be the first to throw a stone at her.”  And once more he bent down and wrote on the ground.  But when they heard it, they went away one by one, beginning with the older ones, and Jesus was left alone with the woman standing before him.  Jesus stood up and said to her, “Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?”  She said, “No one, Lord.” And Jesus said, “Neither do I condemn you; go, and from now on sin no more.” (John 8:3-11)

Admittedly, I don’t read Greek and do not have access to ancient original texts, but as I understand it, pre-Constantine Christians, (through the 3rd century) were pretty consistent in their stands against the taking of lives in any case.  As a sailor sleeping between the tubes that held enough power to annihilate millions of lives, this was a problem for me.  The thought of being part of a shooting war bothered me more than I ever admitted. As I walked about Bahrain and the United Arab Emirates and met shop keepers and their families, I began to see the world differently.  Sitting in a class room of special needs students in Kuwait City and seeing the love and tenderness that those parents had for those children softened my heart.  They saw us the same way, but thought of our government and leaders as “Christian Extremists.” I could not imagine being a part of an attack that left these families as “collateral damage.”

This is hard to admit for me all this and I can’t say that I am conflicted about it. I am a veteran.  My soldier son-in-law just came back from Iraq to a heroes welcome and my son is a Marine Reservist. It is difficult to be proud and yet so conflicted.  I think one of the things about war and violence in general that is a given that the vanquished never love the victor.  So is it our job to “defend” our nation and our freedoms or is it our mission to provide love to those who are hateful?  I don’t know exactly how to do this, but I believe that even if we think it is an impossible assignment does not mean that it is not our mission.  (I am still ruminating on this and I am not looking for someone to help me figure it out.  As I hinted to above, I am done with being told what to believe)

So what am I trying to say?  Here it comes my liberal friends … I am pro-life.  I categorize capital punishment, abortion, euthanasia, and war as violent acts that do not seem to fit into the character of a the one who set a pattern of giving second chances and healing.  Although I have been accused of being a sexist and woman abuser by a family member because of this stand, I can not reconcile taking a life just because its convenient, unfair, or tragic.  Whether it is a result of a violent act of aggression, poverty, or just oops … I believe that the life within is valuable.  Now you may be able to justify this by saying that while a baby is inside the womb, that it is not a person and is just a part of the woman’s body.  I am not a woman and I have never carried a baby inside of me (although 10 little appendages did carry the Farley gene pool from the moment of conception).  Every woman I know that was carrying a child that they wanted, considered it a child, even those who have previously had abortions.

We, (myself include) have this tremendous ability to redefine things in order to avoid the uncomfortable truth of situations.

  • Collateral damageWe raise armies, put them in snazzy uniforms, teach them words like courage, duty, and honor to protect them from the hard truth that they are becoming part of a killing machine.  We change the name of the department that they work for from the Department of War to the Department of Defense so that it sounds more acceptable. We glamorize these weapons that are designed to kill massive numbers of people from large distances so that we can comfortably take lives without even seeing the “target.”  We come up with slick marketing campaigns that label these with beautiful words like “shield” and “freedom” and dehumanize our opponents with terms like empire of evil.  It sounds rather romantic when we are painted with honorable words and the enemy is cast as monsters.  Maybe they have been deceived by evil leaders … but who is to say that we have not been deceived as well?  How can we avoid the fact that we are killing … people?  By redefining war.
  • MLK Cap PunWe have developed a nation and a society that was founded and has been maintained through violence.  It is glorified in our media (maybe with a long face, but glorified all the same).  We color manhood with a broad brush of machismo and leave our daughters completely confused by the mixed messages that we send them.  Battle lines have been established between the “haves” and “have-nots,” developing extreme arrogance on the one hand and despair on the other.  It is no wonder that we have a society with heinous and violent criminals and victims who demand justice.  Justice – a redefined name for vengeance?  We disguise the vengeful taking of a life, albeit a guilty life, behind “protecting” the public and call it justice?  Are we so quick to decide that a person has no worth? Are they beyond healing?  Is there no possibility that this person could not positively impact someone’s life in the future? How can we avoid the fact that we are killing … a person?  By redefining justice.
  • BurmaWe are a people devoid of meaningful relationships with few solid role models to teach us the important skill of loving one another.  We have defined love as an ideal to be reached or a physical bond that quiets our emptiness if only for a moment.  We have lost the concept of love, compassion and grace as a way of life. We strive for the unreachable goal of love and settle for a cheap counterfeit of physical contact. A gift that was created to be the deepest physical bond between loving human beings has been reduced to an instinct driven form of entertainment that instead of developing bonds, creates addiction.  The means for lovingly creating life has become a weapon, a crutch, or a poor attempt at imitating intimacy.  The life that was intended to bring joy and multiply love has been re-labeled a mistake, a misfortune, an inconvenience.  (“religious” families have heaped shame on their children further compounding the confusion) We have redefined an embryo, zygote, and a fetus as just a tissue that is an extension of the mother; therefore not a life with value and a plan (the actual definition calls it an offspring).  We use words like reproductive rights and the right of choice to protect women from becoming mommies.  In moments of clarity we realize that it might actually be a life, but reason that it would not be fair to bring this child into an “unfit” or “unprepared” family situation or that the child is imperfect and would not have the highest quality of life.  We say that we are actually saving lives because women would die in botched attempts to terminate pregnancies.  How can we avoid the fact that we are killing … a person?  By redefining love.

For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord, plans for welfare and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope.  (Jeremiah 29;11)

20 years ago, I sat in a rocking chair next to Lynn’s bed at Norfolk General Hospital, rocking and singing to my third son,  Andrew Cory, who had passed away before he was born.  Andrew’s life, not his death, were a part of God’s plan to renew and restore His creation. Our grief and subsequent healing over the hole that was left in our hearts were the evidence of God’s grace.  Our grief counselor at the time told us that the difference in losing an unborn child or an infant is the lack of memories.  What is lost is a future and a hope!

The value in any life is that future and hope.  When we take a life, we have made a judgement that there is no hope for that person and we reason that we are taking away a hopeless future. God’s plan of rescue is to restore that hope and He wants us to be a part of that.

 

Hope

Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen (Hebrews 11:1)

Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who promised is faithful. And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near.     (Hebrew 10:23-25)

The Fire is Burning – A New Direction of Faith

A child of the 60’s and 70’s and a self-proclaimed “lyrics” guy, I was partial to schmaltzy love songs, smooth vocal harmonies, R&B, and soft rock. (Simon & Garfunkel, Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young, Manhattans, etc) I never really appreciated the rock we now call “Classic Rock” or the up and coming “Metal”.  If I couldn’t understand the lyrics, it was not music.  When I became a Dad, I began to listen to that “hellion” music my kids were listening to and, well, I began to like it. About the same time, my friend Mark introduced me to the sound board and I began to hear things I never heard before. All of my children have in one way or another helped to evolve my taste in music.  So all of your old fuddy-duddies who are haters of the new stuff (it’s too loud, I can’t understand the lyrics, Rap is not music, blah-blah-blah)  … you are only hurting yourself and missing some blessings. (this has little to do with my subject, but if you can’t handle Switchfoot, you are missing some great lyrics not to mention some really passionate musicians)

Several years ago, Josiah and I were driving back from Bowling Green KY.  Those long road trips were always special to me.  We did not talk a great deal, but we would listen to music and sometime discuss how it affected us.  He had just downloaded Switchfoot’s “Hello Hurricane” album and this song jumped out of the speakers and smacked me up-side the head. As a sound guy I was first grabbed by the driving bass line, but then the second or third time through, the lyrics grabbed me.  I had to find out mare about this John M. Perkins guy. Here is a good overview of John M Perkins if you are interested.  I am reading in Let Justice Roll Down and I highly recommend it) Anyways … This sort of began this Drought Condition series.  I had always felt like something out by my faith seemed counterfeit.  As I read the sermon on the mount in Matthew 5-7 and the parable of the sheep and the goats (Why Are We “Acting the Goat”?), conviction began to fall hard.  The resurrected life that was modeled by the one who had rescued me was not the one I was living.  Although I should not have used this as a justification for living in the Saturday (Sunday’s not coming … it is here ya’ll), I noticed that I was not seeing it modeled by anyone around me … pulpit or pew.

So for two years I have avoided it no matter how many times I have been prodded.

I read the amazing accounts of a young man who I watched grow up with my children touching the lives of the homeless in St. Louis Drew O’Brien.  I remember just 8 or 9 years ago when we sat in the ER praying for this young man to survive a catastrophic fall, I am reading about him developing close relationships with the homeless and oppressed in St. Louis and moving on to the (Bethel Dream Center) in Alaska to take God’s love to another people group that are on the outskirts of society.  I was touched, but not enough get off the goat list.

I began to see people who were shedding the facade of “righteous” living (goats in sheep’s clothing), stopped waiting for the prodigals to come home, and jumped down in the mud to help them escape life with the pigs.  People like:

  •  Jamie – The Very Worst Missionary, who after trying it the “right” way came to a realization that what sets us apart is not our religious affiliation or our empty words, but it is our love.  Her stories or social reaching out first into her community, then into the lives of victims of the sex slave trade, and efforts to awaken the christian community to the necessity of being responsible for society as a whole.
  • Cathleen Falsani – A journalist and long time conservative religion writer for the Chicago Sun-times wrote about the skepticism that as she encountered a church that had abandoned the most urgent physical and spiritual needs of a world that desperately needs our help. She found that she had a love for mothers and that all mothers, despite their social setting want to love their children.  She used this common bond to begin touching lives.
  • Bono -yea that Bono –  I am not going to say much here, if you are interested, check out his speech at Georgetown University

These people and their views would not be welcomed in the churches I have attended.   They do not align their views with a political party.  Patriotism does rival their devotion to God.  They do not have love litmus tests like abortion, homosexuality,  addictions, and other “serious sins.”  Concern for the decay of our christian society and our christian nation are not filling the news feeds of their Facebook pages.  Life for them does not revolve around church events and productions.  Their hearts are not broken by the moral decay of our nation, they are broken for broken individuals whose lives are wrought with the decay that is brought about by living in a society that does not place the same value on them that Jesus did. The realization that we are not a church that is characterized as peacemakers brings them to their knees.

If all there is to life as a Christian is going to church, ranting about the injustice of our government towards the church, demanding 2nd Amendment Rights, worrying about the inability of our government to keep itself from reflecting the greed and immorality of our society, honoring our heroes who we send off to “defend” our freedoms, putting on dramatic and musical productions, and pray about our own sicknesses and misfortunes, then maybe this is not for me.  Fortunately, this is not the pattern that Jesus and the early church set for us, so I am not quite ready to bail just yet.

This all may sound rather self-righteous, harsh, and maybe even bitter.  That is not at all my intent.  I love my church friends and appreciate all that they have poured into me.  If it were not for the love poured into my family over the years and miraculous moves of God that I have seen, I would have abandoned my faith years ago. I just have come to a realization that maybe Jesus has a better plan for me.  My Pastor Jim Johnson in Georgia used to say over and over, “Love Jesus, Love People … it is that simple.”  I always loved that.  It might be that simple but simple does not mean easy. Loving is much harder and requires a lot more effort than we are putting forth.  Pastor Terry Sikes here in Lexington painted a beautiful picture of the church being a center of ministry that reached out into the community  being Jesus in a hurting world.  That is exactly what I felt that God was wanting to bring about a resurrection of His creation. I am longing for more than words and tire of being a goat.

So over the past year I have begun to run across the writings of others with the same longing.  N.T Wright, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Shane Claiborne, Tony Compolo … and the early church. I don’t know how to go forward, but I can’t go back.  I think I will start with Paul’s words to the Romans who were dealing with integrating a diverse society, full of sin, that was threatened by the appeal of the love that exhibited to “the least of these”.

I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.” (Romans 12:1-2)

So I have a goat brain that is in desperate need of renewal.  Not sure how a guy that is afraid of talking to his neighbors is going to move on to touching the lives of people in need, but I am confident that He will bring about the changes He has planned.

Any of my Christian friends that are still my friends, come back and see how it goes.  Any of my more liberal friends, I will be offending you as well here shortly, so don’t get to excited.

A Spark – Is Fire Imminent (Part 2)

Drought produces very little except … a fantastic supply of tinder.

Initially, the onset of drought is slow and almost imperceptible.  In humans, studies have shown that a person often mistakes signs of dehydration for hunger which even further confuses matters. As the dryness advances though, it is difficult to deny the overpowering thirst that inevitably comes when cut off from the source of life giving water.

As one might expect, I have gathered the following quote from the New South Wales Rural Fire Service (via wikipedia)  “Controlled or prescribed burning, also known as hazard reduction burning or swailing is a technique sometimes used in forest management, farming, prairie restoration or greenhouse gas abatement. Fire is a natural part of both forest and grassland ecology and controlled fire can be a tool for foresters. Hazard reduction or controlled burning is conducted during the cooler months to reduce fuel buildup and decrease the likelihood of serious hotter fires.[1] Controlled burning stimulates the germination of some desirable forest trees, thus renewing the forest.”

Courtesy of quotesbuddy.com

My own spiritual dehydration so to speak was no different.  Idleness grew into discontentment; discontentment to doubt; and doubt to despair.  Actively participating  in the stagnation of God’s people has stacked a good supply of dry tinder for quick ignition.

For you shall be like an oak whose leaf withers, and like a garden without water. And the strong shall become tinder, and his work a spark, and both of them shall burn together, with none to quench them. (Isaiah 1:30,31)

Fortunately we have a Father in heaven Who has a controlled burn plan.  Despite our apparent failure in providing proper stewardship for His creation, He is faithful to consume us with His cleansing fire.  All that is required now is a spark to the tinder.

So we have established the fact that conditions are perfect for fire.  We are no longer bearing fruit, the wood is dry, and the leaves are turning brown. (Intermission – this is where I stopped writing in 2012)

It seems ridiculous that I am picking this up nearly 2 full years later … and it is still applicable.  I don’t remember exactly what I was thinking back then.  I know that I was fed up with my own stagnation.  I was disillusioned by what I was seeing in the world and in the church.  An overwhelming feeling of internal pressure was building within me and I just knew that I was about to lift a relief valve. (The fire was already burning)

Any who followed this blog or on Facebook  may have noticed that I stay away from controversial topics.  This is not because I don’t have strong opinions.  Amazingly, even the few friends I have don’t really know where I stand on many issues.  How could that be if these are really strongly held opinions?

Let me ‘splain. When I write procedures or directions I often like to “bullet” them out for clarity so let’s just do that with a passage of scripture, Romans 12:9-21.  I think this is well within the purpose and context of this passage.

  • Let love be genuine.
  • Abhor what is evil; hold fast to what is good.
  • Love one another with brotherly affection.
  • Outdo one another in showing honor.
  • Do not be slothful in zeal, be fervent in spirit, serve the Lord.
  • Rejoice in hope, be patient in tribulation, be constant in prayer.
  • Contribute to the needs of the saints and seek to show hospitality.
  • Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse them.
  • Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep.
  • Live in harmony with one another.
  • Do not be haughty, but associate with the lowly.
  • Never be wise in your own sight.
  • Repay no one evil for evil, but give thought to do what is honorable in the sight of all.
  • If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all.

Summary: Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave it to the wrath of God, for it is written, “Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.” To the contrary, “if your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink; for by so doing you will heap burning coals on his head.” Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.

I am not the first to load my weapon with these bullets.  Although it is sometimes useful to identify points in this manner it can also be rather dangerous.  When reading a list I believe that we often infer the conjunction of our choice.  Is it and or is it or?  Let me make this clear, these are not meant to be bullets  to be loaded as we see fit, one at a time, to pick of the target of our choice.  If this was a multiple choice question, the answer would be all of the above.  It is and not or!

So what does that have to do with me keeping my mouth shut even though I supposedly have strong opinions?  “If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all.”   I have used this to justify my idleness and compromise.  Ironically (I sure hope I am using that correctly), it is the use of the “Abhor what is evil; hold fast to what is good”  bullet to justify actions, attitudes, and rants that are, in my opinion, not scripturally justifiable that had me ready to lose it.

So how do we find this balance? When and how do I speak truth and still live peaceably with all?  Well, I don’t know, but I am going to give it a shot over the next few weeks.  Fortunately, I have not done very good at developing my SEO so I will hopefully only offend a few people. (which could be everyone I know)