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Archive for the ‘Musings’ Category

Shades of White

I’ve always struggled to walk in the shades of white – that is, putting aside my native black-and-white perfectionism, and embracing the reality that there are gradations of good.

Shades of White

It was a reading in John Piper’s devotional book “A Godward Life” (excellent, by the way) that got me thinking more clearly about this today:

pipershades

Walking with a perfect God isn’t easy, you know what I’m saying? It’s so tempting to slip into the mindset that perfection is expected of us even in our fallen-but-redeemed state, when in fact what God is after is progress. Gradual whitening. If He is comfortable with shades of white, then I guess I need to learn to be also…

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Phil Robertson Duck DynastyA huge amount of quacking has occurred about the Duck Dynasty/A&E kerfuffle this week, where Phil Robertson has been suspended from his (hugely successful) show for speaking his mind about homosexual practice.

(disclaimer: I’ve only watched the show once. Just to be able to say that I did…!)

And make no mistake – the incident has brought to the surface some huge, brewing cultural trends that need to come out in the open – even in such a stark and public way.

Let’s not duck the fact that this is really about something far bigger than a group of offended folks, as important as that may be. So, let’s grasp the opportunity to get below the surface and expose the core of our culture war.

Put aside, for a moment, Phil and his family, or the particulars about what he said and how he said it. That’s really secondary to what has actually been going on in our society for several generations.

You see, the very same cultural disconnect is driving issues such as who uses which bathrooms in California. That state, always at the forefront of “progressive” thought, is seeking to enforce the notion that students may select their own gender for the purposes of choosing restrooms or playing on sports teams.

I am not kidding. Choose-your-own-gender.

And this starkly illustrates the crux of our societal divide. To put it very plainly – we are having to choose between gender as defined by God and/or natural law; or, gender as defined by the almighty self.

In other words, we are wrestling with a societal push towards Gender Anarchy. Choose-your-own-gender. Choose-your-own-sexuality. Choose-your-own-behaviors. Subjective identity; subjective morality. Objective realities are so last century.

Gender anarchy will, of course, manifest itself in a growing assortment of social and sexual behaviors. People on one side of the cultural divide will tend to believe in defined roles and identities and behaviors that transcend personal choice or feeling. Those who seek more personal/societal license will inevitably break down barriers in the pursuit of a more radical form of individual expression. Which will lead, of course, to the inevitable questioning of strictures against polygamy (also in the news), and an untold number of other sexual choices. Because, you know – right and wrong are shifting constructs.

To put it another way – either a transcendent God has created us with clear and understandable gender identity and purpose, or not. Either we embrace an external standard of reality and morality, or we reject it in favor of personal subjectivism.

This is binary. We can’t have it both ways.

God = Accountability. No God = Whatever I can get away with.

If there is no capital-R Right, then everyone may do whatever is right in their own eyes – choose-your-own-everything. And even though those who embrace such moral and sexual license will always try to qualify it with the idea of “consent” between individuals, that paper barrier never stands. Respect for others is rooted in transcendent values – it is not in the vocabulary of either anarchy or tyranny.

Whoever is strongest and loudest wins, and the rest must be suppressed. Not accepted – suppressed. They stand in the way of the “progress” of limitless personal choice. And right now, in our culture, the cheerleaders for gender and sexual anarchy are on the ascendancy.

Bye-bye, Phil Robertson. Shut up, Christians. Farewell, traditional morality. If you like your convictions, you can’t keep your convictions. Because your convictions offend those whose core conviction is self-determination.

So, this is not simply about A&E and ducks. It’s not merely about toilets. It’s not primarily about this or that sexual behavior or preference. In fact, when you think about it – radical self-determination is not even just about gender.

It’s about God, and truth, and objective moral reality. The rule of a REAL, objective, moral, sovereign and holy (yet benevolent) God, and the anarchic rule of man, are incompatible. Period.

That’s why we’re at war over a duck-hunting, Bible-believing family.

We’re accountable to God, or we’re adrift in a sea of subjectivism, subject to the whims of whomever has currently seized the reins of power.

When we embrace radical self-determination, as individuals or as a society, we’re at war with God. We’re at war with each other. And we inevitably lose our freedom to the tyranny of majority opinion.

Let’s not duck the real discussion here. This is about more than freedom of speech. The Duck Dynasty blowup is a symptom of something far deeper. This is about God. It is also about the club of societal power, and who wields it.

Liberty is from God (recommended reading for Anarchist-Americans: our founding documents). Or, freedom is really just all about personal moral license joined to majority rule. Pick one.

Moral “progressivism” is not freedom. It is rooted in anarchy. It is thought-policing. It is tyranny in bud, waiting for full flower. It is the enemy of freedom; and it will, inevitably, destroy all of our liberties. When presidential advisor John Podesta broad-brushes Americans of a different political party as Jonestown cultists, he merely shows his bias toward suppressive tyranny. Such hate-filled extremists are not public servants. They’re quacks.

As for me, I’m with God, with objective reality, and with the founders of our country, thank you very much. I’d choose “Duck Dynasty” over “Quack Dynasty” any day of the week.

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When I became a believer in Jesus, I was taught early on to have very regular daily personal devotions. It was a valuable discipline, which carries through to this day. However…

Form - - - Freedom

Form – – – Freedom

I have also learned that there is a balance of freedom and form in the life of worshipper.

This lesson came home to me most powerfully when we were about to have our first son. Babies have an odd habit of thoroughly disrupting anything resembling a schedule, and my wife was concerned about how the sleep/feeding cycles were going to impact her (very regular) schedule of Bible-reading and prayer. Turns out that God is perfectly capable of sustaining His people in the midst of unpredictability and relative chaos.

Most believers find benefit from a disciplined and regular schedule, and most believers also find, over time, that rigidity can be unproductive and a period of less-structured free-form devotions can be exactly what is needed. Liberating ourselves from the mentality that there is one “right” method to personal devotions is important in experiencing the freedom of grace, and giving God room to work in new ways.

Also, a word about fixed notions of the “right” time to have devotions. I am wired as a morning person, so the standard advice that one should have devotions first thing in the morning fits easily into my modus operandi. However, it is vital that we respect our internal makeup in these matters – some people feel nearly worthless in the morning but really come alive in the evening. For them, the oft-quoted maxim, “Be sure to see the face of God before you see the face of man,” while well-meaning, may lead to hopeless bondage. Instead, built your devotional schedule around your best times, and give yourself (and others!) flexibility. We are free to experiment, evolve, and discover what works best in our lives.

So, to sum up – don’t get locked in to one framework, and don’t bind others. God is big and powerful enough to accomodate our many styles and makeups. Embrace the necessity of discipline, enjoy the flexibility of freedom, and above all, walk in the liberty of grace.

How have you grown and changed in your devotional approach? Have you found a good balance of freedom and form, or are you still struggling to find a path of peace in personal worship?

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The End of Greed

There’s a lot of talk about greed in our society these days – the greed of the rich, the greed of politicians – even the greed of the unproductive.

We get agitated about the enormity of greed that surrounds (and infects) us; and when it leads to illegal and unethical activity, which it often does, our hearts cry out for justice. Well  – ahem – except for our own case. Then we have a few ready rationalizations…

While we might like to think that we live in a uniquely depraved time, in fact, there truly is nothing new under the sun. If we look back through human history, for however many thousands of years, two of the underlying bass notes of the performance have always been pride and greed.

And death. While government will never be able to “fix” greed, there is one sure-fire cure.

Here’s how it was put, many generations ago, in Psalm 49:

Give ear, all inhabitants of the world, both low and high, rich and poor together…Even wise men die; the stupid and senseless alike perish and leave their wealth to others. Their inner thought is that their houses are forever…but man in his pomp will not endure; he is like the beasts that perish…Do not be afraid when a man becomes rich, when the glory of his house is increased; for when he dies he will carry nothing away; his glory will not descend after him.

Stark, yes? And unavoidably true.

When our eyes ascend to the feeble and temporary heights achieved by those who accumulate wealth and power, we often feel a sense of fear, of outrage – and a need to bring them down. But this is because our gaze does not ascend high enough – to a just and holy God who looks with far keener eyes upon the pride and pitiful wealth of men. Rich and poor alike are like a flower in spring – vibrant but for a moment, then soon gone. Not a single greedy, wealthy, arrogant baron who elevated himself a few millimeters above his fellow man in the 1800’s is still around to be feared. And when we look around at the living faces of people in our generation – they, and we, will soon be gone.

God, however, remains – unmoved, unchanged, unsullied by our sin. He is the one to fear. He is the one to depend on. His justice will make things right.

We can’t “fix” greed – all attempts to do so by human means are misguided. We can enforce laws against illegal behavior, but a pure heart is beyond the reach of societal and governmental enforcement.

We can, however, look ahead to the end of greed, and see that it cannot and will not endure. The Lord, our Redeemer, will see to that.

There’s plenty enough for our attention to be cleansed of the greed that infests our own hearts. God can see to that, too.

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I, Me, My, You

God is not a third-person abstraction, though we often treat him that way.

We are often inclined to talk about God as if He is not personal; as if there is no genuine one-to-one relationship. And perhaps for many, there is no such personal relationship – God is best kept in some box, only to be dragged out in time of desperation and appealed to as some mystical caster of spells for my benefit in desperate times.

Ugh. Can you imagine children treating their parents this way?

Reading through Psalms 40, 41, and 42 the last few mornings, I was struck afresh by the cornucopia of first- and second-person references. Here is an extremely abbreviated sample:

  • I waited patiently for the Lord…He inclined to me and heard my cry
  • Many, O Lord, are the wonders which You have done, and your thoughts toward us
  • There is none to compare with You
  • My ears you have opened
  • I delight to do Your will, O my God; Your law is within my heart
  • Be pleased, O Lord, to deliver me; make haste, O Lord, to help me
  • As for me, I said, “O Lord, be gracious to me; heal my soul, for I have sinned against You”
  • As for me, You uphold me in Your integrity, and You set me in Your presence forever
  • As the deer pants for the water brooks, so my soul pants for You, O God
  • My soul thirsts for God
  • Why are you in despair, O my soul…hope in God, for I shall again praise Him

I, me, my, You. That is the proper language of a soul engaged with the living and personal God.

Whatever anyone may think about the God of the Bible, and the faith of those who follow Him, there is no such thing as a far-off, third-person, unapproachable deity in the entirety of the Scriptures. Unless, of course, you choose to build that wall.

From Genesis to Revelation, I see an open door…and those who seek, find.

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And He sat down opposite the treasury, and began observing how the people were putting money into the treasury; and many rich people were putting in large sums. A poor widow came and put in two small copper coins, which amount to a cent. Calling His disciples to Him, He said to them, “Truly I say to you, this poor widow put in more than all the contributors to the treasury; for they all put in out of their surplus, but she, out of her poverty, put in all she owned, all she had to live on.” (Mark 12:41-44 NASB)

One thing that is striking about this passage is that Jesus makes a completely unexpected valuation. Bypassing the (relatively) large donations of those with disposable income, He highlights the poor, anonymous, insignificant person who gives sacrificially out of loving devotion – not out of ostentatious excess.

I love the fact that Jesus notices what matters. What folly for us to measure ourselves by our wallets! Jesus sees right through all that and gazes at the heart.

Here in Haiti, the poverty is immense. Yet there are many Haitian people who are cheerful and kind givers. And while those of us who come over from a first-world country are relatively wealthy, when you view the vast need, you truly feel like the poor widow, about to cast a penny into a vast landscape of brokenness.

We are all impoverished before God, especially in anything relating to spiritual life and genuine holiness. My comfort is, that in any place, any circumstance, we can take our tiny little donations of ourselves – poor as we are – and God will receive us. Not only in Haiti, but in any pathway we all find ourselves today.

May the poverty out of which we give lead to true riches for others.

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Iridescent

Dancing and shimmering in the cool breeze, a fresh spider web reflected the dawn’s rays from its perch in the red maple above our deck.

It looked, for all the world, like the wings of a dragonfly – shades of electric blue and seductive purple and shameless red, pulsating to an unseen rhythm with the reflecting sun playing off its silken strands.

The arachnid architect had no awareness of the beauty it had spun. This, to him, was a meal ticket. But to his Designer, it was art – an intricate blueprint of glorious structure, made to capture not only flies, but also human eyes and imagination. It was a symphony of silk, a rainbow captured and displayed in strands instinctively woven overnight by an 8-legged maestro.

A web of wonder, made to fill human eyes and souls with a sense of their glorious Creator. He who is a generous and imaginative Artist, even when the masterpiece is for trolling the sky for unwitting insects.

For the spider, a fresh dinner will be the reward. For us, the reward is exceedingly greater. A fresh opportunity to worship.

Photo credit: Anne Campisi via Flickr

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When I give talks to clients about social networking, I remind them that Google is the new resume – when someone wants to know about you, by and large, the new default setting is to “Google” you.

Google finds, and rarely forgets.

And, if you’re connected on Facebook or don’t have your privacy settings restricted, there’s a wealth of information there as well.

Is privacy dead? Well, in the digital space, not really – there’s a TON of stuff that never gets revealed. You can put up some pictures here and there, tweet some ideas, compose your status throughout the day – but the vast majority of your thoughts, desires, motives, actions, and “status updates” remain unseen and unknown, even by you at times. We clearly see only a fraction of each others’ lives, and even of our own.

But then there’s this, from Psalm 139:

You have searched me, Lord,
and you know me.
You know when I sit and when I rise;
you perceive my thoughts from afar.
You discern my going out and my lying down;
you are familiar with all my ways.
Before a word is on my tongue
you, Lord, know it completely.
You hem me in behind and before,
and you lay your hand upon me.
Such knowledge is too wonderful for me,
too lofty for me to attain.

Our timeline, our status (past, present, and future), our snapshots, our thoughts, our words – all of them, every one, is seen by our Creator. Privacy settings? -there are none. Opt out? -sorry.

We all keep many secrets from each other, and rightly so. Unless you are totally out of touch with reality, you know there is darkness in every human soul, and the most horrifying possible occurrence would be for everyone to truly know what you’re thinking at any given moment. Can you imagine walking into a social setting and having people be able to see, like a scrolling Facebook status, every thought or desire that passes through your mind?

But, it’s already true. Right now. Denying God is like trying to shut a door that is free-standing in a wide open field. No secrets. No privacy. No hiding. Full exposure. 24/7.

“The eyes of the Lord are in every place, watching over the evil and the good.” Proverbs 15:3

This is a terrifying thought for some. But for those who are living in growing transparency in the fear of God – those who confess their rampant sinfulness, and receive grace from an all-knowing yet all-loving Father – it is a comfort.

You know me. All the dirt, all the warts. And receive me anyway.

Such knowledge is too wonder-full for me.

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Purpose-full

This post will be a meandering stream of consciousness. It may not be cogent, coherent, or correct. But, it will, at the very least, have alliteration in the first paragraph.

I was speaking recently with someone who had renewed energy and a more positive outlook on life. Why? Recent months had been mired in a sense of purposeless-ness. And that saps motivation like almost nothing else.

With the immense and unstoppable human drive to find meaning in life, it’s hard not to conclude that we are hard-wired for purpose. This creates a curious conundrum for those with a purely naturalistic and evolutionary worldview, however. Because when you boil that perspective down to its core philosophical inevitables, a seeking of purpose is a vain attempt to assign meaning where there can (ultimately) be none.

Yet we do seek purpose, and those who accomplish much in life are driven by a sense of purpose. What a different historical view we have of World War 2 – which was brimming with noble purpose – and the Vietnam War, which seemed to have little real purpose, meaning, and direction. Companies like Apple and Google set out to change the world, and attracted people loaded with zeal (or created them!). Dying, legacy companies may have traded their purpose for mere survival in a shrinking market. The difference is palpable.

One of the appeals of a religious worldview is the framework of a greater purpose. So much in life seems random, counter-intuitive, or downright evil. A will to press forward can come from a sense of overarching purpose, which is hidden in the mysterious mind and heart of a benevolent God. And when it comes to the evil part, the mysterious element pops out in bold and italic type. Believers can be just as perplexed as unbelievers by the flow of events. They are sustained by the hope that something actually makes sense on the other side of the tapestry being woven – good sense. Sometimes that greater good is actually seen in the shorter-term, sometimes it is not. Faith is most seen when the mists of mystery are still around us.

Of course, that sounds like a total fantasy-land cop-out to others, and I get that. If God has been locked out of one’s worldview prima facie (at first blush), then appeals to sovereignty simply look like escapism. The alternative is self-created temporary purpose or, if you go the full philosophical mile, raw nihilism. Which, actually, is another way of saying honesty within one’s chosen worldview. And I respect honesty even if when I disagree on first principles. I’d far rather talk to an honest believer in god-less-ness than a disingenuous and corner-cutting “believer” in God.

But then, how honest is it to hold to a position that leads to purposeless-ness, when every intuitive element in our souls cries out for and seeks purpose? We all seek, and desperately need, love; yet shall we say that such a need is a mere artifact of superstition, a defect of evolutionary process? Or a mere survival mechanism for passing on genes to another generation? Really? Is that our higher purpose – genetic reproduction? I don’t know about you, but in my mind, that doesn’t carry a whole lot of motivational weight. “I exist to survive and propagate.” How ennobling is that?

I fully realize that there all kinds of mysteries and complexities to supernaturalism. I came to faith with a critical and analytical mind, and I can’t stand here and say that I have some buttoned-up, 100% airtight, fully-explained worldview. Actually, with each passing year, I feel more ignorant than ever. But purpose seems so deeply stamped into our souls, that I cannot believe it is other than the image of God in man; not some temporary app to help us survive, but the operating system that reflects a brilliant programmer who means for us to do much more than, “eat, drink, and be merry; for tomorrow we die.” Perhaps others will dismiss such a perspective as wishful thinking – but then again, where do even get the imagination, the capacity, the soul-ish drive for wishful thinking?

I believe it’s hard-wired. I see it at the operating system level. To try to divorce ourselves from purpose is to try to divorce ourselves from inescapable, existential reality. The seed produces, inevitably, the plant buried in its genes. Pluck off the pedals, chop off the leaves, spray paint the stem – a sunflower remains a sunflower.

And we seek purpose. Even when our purpose is, ironically, to deny our purpose!

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Infinite Memory

Walking last evening in mid-town Manhattan, I was struck, as always, by the vast multitude of people, walking past and with me from all directions. At most, I will “know” these people in the fleeting depth of one glance, barely registering on my consciousness; soon unseated in my very limited memory by a million other sights and sounds and ideas and thoughts.

A chance visual encounter, never to be repeated; a passing glimpse that doesn’t even qualify as a passing acquaintance.

Yet – God, the Creator of us all, knows every one of those people down to the deepest atom of their bodies and souls. Every word, every thought – every moment of their lives. And millions of others in cities large and small throughout the world – towns and villages, too. And every one of our ancestors, generation after generation backwards through time – God knows and has known every person, every event, with undimmed clarity.

He even knows the unborn before we do. And the generations yet to come.

And that’s just our tiny little world. Now multiply by billions of galaxies, with countless trillions of stars – each of which God can recall by name.

I marvel at our current electronic devices, at their accelerating speed and capacity and memory. I well remember the floppy disk era of computers with 8088 processors – and yet, reading this week a new book called Turing’s Cathedral (about the development of the earliest computers in the 1940s and 50s), even those DOS-powered clunkers of the 1980’s were utter powerhouses compared to the truly primitive efforts of our earliest, room-sized machines with tiny memory and capacity.

What those earliest machines could store and compute, as marvelous as they were back then, is ant-sized compared to the most compact smartphone of today. Let alone any modern-day WOPRs (old movie trivia reference!).

Either the true God is an infinite Creator, or he is not. The Bible is refreshingly clear on this point, even if some of those who claim to believe it are rather fuzzy about who is really in charge around here. Give a fresh read to Psalm 139, which contains such provocative phrases as, “…even before there is a word on my tongue, You, O Lord, know it all…” and, “My frame was not hidden from You, when I was made in secret…Your eyes have seen my unformed substance, and in Your book was written the days that were ordained for me, when as yet there was not one of them.”

I will only learn a millionth of a miniscule percentage of what there is to know, and my memory, full of Swiss cheese as it is, will soon fade and fail altogether. Yes, as the psalm above beautifully affirms, I am “fearfully and wonderfully made” – yet God, the Maker, is far more fearfully and wonderfully not-made. Our minds and machines are mere molecules in the face of an infinite Creator and Sustainer of a massive (but finite) universe, whose fingerprints are all over everything created inside and outside of us.

Sometimes, people very casually employ the phrase, “God knows!” Perhaps we should never hear that phrase casually again.

It’s no wonder that we are called, first and foremost, to worship.

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