Pondering The Good News: An Introduction

jumpI am usually not one to leap before looking, to venture out on a limb before pondering the consequences. However, after publicly stating my intention, way way way back at the beginning of 2012, to dive into The Bible book by book here at The Manofesto, I began to wonder what exactly I had gotten myself into.

 

I consider myself to be a pretty decent writer, but with no shortage of Bible studies, concordances, & A Bible studyanalyses of The Good Book out there…especially in The Information Age…what do I bring to the table that’s any better or different?? There is no way that I can even be in the same league as the God-inspired authors who wrote The Bible…men like Moses, Paul, & Peter. How do I approach the task??

 

procrastinateLike a true procrastinator I have spent several years pondering this idea. Have I come to any solid conclusions?? To be honest…no. But I know three things. I know that I learn best by doing. I know that this project will be beneficial…certainly to me, and hopefully to others. And I know that sometimes one just has to jump in with both feet and get started.

 

I have stated many times here & in speaking to people personally that, while I am a Christian, I am not a very mad-man-pulling-hair-outgood one. I fall victim to temptation more often than I care to admit. I don’t think I exhibit the Fruits of the Spirit consistently. I am far too cynical. I become frustrated too quickly & anger too easily. I am frequently distracted by meaningless trivialities. I make poor use of my time. Too often I allow fear, anxiety, & general neuroses to rule my life. I haven’t been “all in” on Jesus. Oh sure He’s a swell dude that did & said a lot of cool things…but do I sincerely trust Him?? On an intellectual level…yes. But down deep in my bones I know I’m not where I need to be.

 

bowlThis internal confrontation with my own shortcomings is nothing new and I have alluded to it before. However, events in the past few years have introduced a sense of urgency. My brother The Owl & I have often commiserated about mutual frustrations & disappointments. He & I have always thought of ourselves as inhabitants of The Island of Misfit Toys. It’s not that we are smarter than everyone else or the only two people to recognize the dark path our world has been traveling down, but we do tend to feel marginalized on many levels. We have observed things occurring in America that aren’t completely surprising, but that doesn’t make them any easier to comprehend or accept.

 

What has become clear is that there is only one answer. Again…intellectually I have always known this, but I have not fully embraced it on a solitudespiritual level. As pop culture, the news media, elected leaders, & commerce go full throttle down a road built on political correctness, sin, & misguided good intentions the wickedness becomes harder & harder to ignore. It has become pervasive in almost every facet of daily life. Ideally one would move to the wilderness like Thoreau and disengage from the chaos & madness, but unfortunately that isn’t a practical solution (or is it??).

 

bible11350One may not be able to completely separate from the aggravation & disillusionment, but we can choose that on which we focus. It is obvious to me that the only path is Jesus Christ. It is time to “put away childish things” and stop being lukewarm lest He vomit me out of His mouth. Most of that involves areas of my personal life that citizens of The Manoverse need not be concerned with and surely have no interest in, but it does mean that I want to follow thru on what I originally talked about doing a few years ago.

 

I will warn you ahead of time that we’ll be skipping around a lot. It is unlikely that I will start with Genesis and end bible3with Revelation. What can I say…I’m a non-linear, outside-the-box, avant-garde kinda cat. As usual I make no promises involving timetables or structure. I enjoy learning, but more importantly The Lord is gently persuading me that this is the next step in my growth process. It’s time to stop dipping my toe in the water and dive in. He won’t allow me to drown. It is time to block out the hatred, discord, & destruction. It is time to stop becoming frustrated with the darkness and find joy in the light. #JesusWins

The End of My Sambatical From Organized Religion – The New Hope

Please check out Part 1 & Part 2 or else you will be thoroughly confused. Thanks!!

I had said for several months, as church friends would interact with me online or I’d see them at family events and they would say they missed me & encourage me to come back, that I was bothered by the fact that the one person who I should be hearing from was the one person I hadn’t…the minister. He himself had taught our youth about the Parable of the Lost Coin (Luke 15:8-10) about 15 years ago at a lock-in when I was assisting with that particular ministry. The story had always struck a chord with me, and this past year I had felt kind of like a lost coin. The only difference was it seemed like no one was really looking for me, atleast not in the earnest, diligent way the woman in the parable searches for her drachma. Does this reflect poorly on my own insecurities and self-esteem?? Probably. But it was bigger than me. I feel like it is a microcosm of how the church as a whole operates in 21st century America. The machine keeps humming along and no one really notices when people go missing. There’s a scene in my favorite action flick Die Hard when one of the federal agents given the task of dealing with the crisis at hand says “I figure we take out the terrorists and lose 20-25% of the hostages tops”, with his partner replying “I can live with that”. That’s the church these days. The end justifies the means. It all seems a tad bit cool & detached. A lesson learned in The Godfather  – ”it’s not personal, it’s just business”. Maybe it’s just me, but when the line between the church & the mafia becomes blurred it is disturbing.

 

At any rate, my minister & I had a polite, pleasant conversation on that lazy Saturday. He needed me to sign some papers because I am still on the Board of Trustees and they are getting a loan for some upkeep on the church. Of course…business…The Machine…money. It never stops. He asked me to come back and I expressed some of my concerns. We didn’t dive in too deep, and really there was no need to. I’m not angry and I don’t hate anyone. The people in that congregation have been a part of my life for the vast majority of my existence. My Mom worshiped there, as did my grandmother and several aunts, uncles, & cousins. Its home and I’ve missed it. The fact is that the flaws within the church will be there whether I am or not. My mistake was in expecting the church to be accountable for things for which I need to take responsibility. I am responsible for feeding my body, so why should I assign others the task of feeding me spiritually?? Yes I know that that SHOULD be the first priority of the church, but when they fall short I can either throw a hissy fit about it or get busy doing it myself. I have spent the past year doing the former but now realize I need to do the latter. I have also made the mistake of getting too caught up in the busy work of the church at the expense of my own spiritual well-being. Again, that stuff will exist whether or not I am present. I am the one who allowed it to drag me down.

 

I spent the next few weeks in considerable ponderation of the situation. My ego felt as if returning would be admitting defeat and letting “them” win…a tacit admission that I had been wrong. After all, it isn’t like things were suddenly going to be markedly different. On the other hand, I realize…have always known…that no one in this little drama is really to blame. I don’t think there are people in my little country church or in any other church that set out to go down the wrong path. While I am smart (and cynical) enough to know that bad people with malevolent intentions certainly exist, I choose to believe that the vast majority of folks just do the best they can and try to make the wisest decisions possible. Mostly though, I finally really understand the difference between religion & faith, between being a churchgoer & having a relationship with Jesus Christ. I had always been under the impression that I comprehended that concept, but I guess one is never too old to keep on learning.

 

So now I am back. The sambatical is over. I am rested & renewed. I have returned to the weekly routine of Sunday school, worship, Bible study, committee meetings, and fundraisers. All those things have their merit and meet a need. I have always known that their place on the proverbial totem pole should be fairly low, but I now recognize that they do indeed have a place, atleast in my life. I am fully aware that selling hot dogs or building a picnic shelter or spending as much time drinking coffee & eating cookies as discussing scripture on Wednesday evening won’t get me or anyone else into Heaven. I know that going to church can only provide an outline and that it is up to me to pray, study, and build a relationship with Christ in order to write the full story. My expectations of myself have grown exponentially as I have lowered my expectations of others. All of us are human. We make mistakes. My pride & resentment have not represented me well, but they were things I needed to work through to grow. There is a reason for everything. This past year has been yet another time period I would probably change if given the opportunity, but then again maybe not. I still believe it is possible…maybe even advantageous…to experience Christ, to worship Him, to spread His good news, and to be a shining example of His teaching without chains. A church is still simply a building…land…stuff…money…business. It is easy to get caught up in the work, the responsibility, the politics…the humanity. It is easy to become insulated and not “make disciples of all the nations”. These are weaknesses which rob the modern church of its power & authority. However, I have made the decision to separate religion and faith, as I should have already been doing anyway. And I have decided that the two do not have to be mutually exclusive. Frustration with the business of the church need not rob me of my “blessed assurance”, and dedication to a more genuine relationship with The Lord does not preclude church attendance. The two should ideally intersect more often than not, but when they don’t then I need to assess the circumstances and react appropriately & rationally. The truth is that I have missed my friends. I’ve missed my family. I’ve missed those opportunities to gather together and attempt to do something good for the community or even just have some good old fashioned fellowship. None of that stuff has anything to do with my salvation or loving Jesus Christ, but I have come to appreciate their place in my life. Your mileage may vary & my conclusions may not jive with yours, and that’s okay. We all do what we gotta do, right?? Or maybe…just maybe…you recognize kernels of similarity between my story & yours. If so I hope my experience provides some insight, a pleasant read, and some fodder for your own ponderation.

 

Faith 101

It has been said that imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, and it’s a proven fact that some of history’s best ideas were…borrowed…from others. I am not sure if I am borrowing or flattering today, but I will readily admit that what follows are not my own words. I was reading an introduction to the book of James in a new Bible I purchased recently and it was so good I feel compelled to share. This is probably the best exposition about faith that I have ever read. Enjoy, but more importantly, soak the words in and put them into action in your own life. I was convicted by some of these words and intend on putting a better foot forward in an effort to live up to them.

Faith without works cannot be called faith. Faith without works is dead (James 2:26). A dead faith is worse than no faith at all. Faith must work. It must produce. It must be visible. It must inspire action. Verbal faith is not enough. Mental faith is insufficient.

Faith endures trials. Trials come & go but a strong faith will face them head-on and develop endurance. Faith understands temptation and will not allow us to consent to our lust and slide into sin. Faith obeys the Word. It will not merely hear and not do. Faith produces doers. Faith harbors no prejudice. Faith is more than just words, more than knowledge. It is demonstrated by obedience and overtly responds to the promises of God. Faith controls the tongue, a small but immensely powerful part of the body that must be held in check.

Faith acts wisely. It gives us the ability to choose wisdom that is heavenly and to shun wisdom that is earthly. Faith produces separation from the world and submission to God. It provides us with the ability to resist Satan and humbly draw near to God. Faith waits patiently for the coming of the Lord. Through trouble & trial it stifles complaining.


 

Amen

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Proudly Closeminded and Intolerant

Facebook is a mixed blessing, a double edged sword. On one hand it provides the type of beneficially mindless entertainment that even those who rail against such frivolity need in appropriately moderate doses and serves as an avenue to stay in touch or reconnect with friends and family. Conversely, it can, as much as one allows, lay bare attitudes and behaviors that may be otherwise unknown by the masses. I am one who probably puts a little too much out there, providing access to my beliefs and views on everything from religion & politics to sports & pop culture. I also observe what others opine and post. I know for a fact that some are outraged and flabbergasted by my sentiments, and I am oftentimes saddened and flummoxed by theirs. This can create regrettable tension. Theoretically these are your friends and you are their friend, but in reality the relationship is often tenuous. The person you went to high school with but haven’t seen for 20 years probably isn’t a true friend, especially if you weren’t even friends in school. The co-worker from that job you had for 6 months ten years ago probably isn’t really your friend either. So when you combine the flimsiness of the relationship with polarizingly passionate perspectives on issues that some may take more seriously than others it is a combustible cocktail. Fortunately the inevitably disastrous fracturing of the fragile association is fairly painless. You can choose to just not have the stuff your friend posts appear in your news feed, you can delete them, or you can ban them completely so that you won’t even see their interactions with mutual friends. I have done all three, and it is likely all three have been done to me by others.


It is never my intention to anger or offend, and I am not easily offended myself. But one of the things I have observed over the course of the past few years is a growing sense of moral relativism. Society has a progressively increasing “if it feels good do it” attitude. Anything and everything is rubber stamped as long as there is no heinous crime being committed or no one is being physically hurt. Those who espouse opinions that go against the grain of this laissez faire attitude are on the receiving end of a rather vitriolic backlash wherein they are labeled intolerant and close-minded. I have been called those things a few times myself over the years, and I used to get upset and angry, loudly proclaiming that I am indeed tolerant and open minded despite what those who disagree with my principles may think. However, I have begun to reassess this standard defense of my values. Maybe I am a little intolerant and somewhat close-minded. And I think that is just fine with me.


Tolerance is a tricky term. Being tolerant used to mean the ability or inclination to put up with things one did not agree with or like. For example, a non-smoker tolerating a friend lighting up in their presence, or a Pittsburgh Steelers fan (like myself) tolerating a Dallas Cowboys fan (such as my sister). It is an absolute necessity that makes our world more interesting. Afterall, how prosaic would life be if everyone agreed about everything?? The key is something my Dad taught me…disagreeing without being disagreeable. But over the course of the last few decades tolerance has found new life as a politically correct code word meaning “anything goes” and not only blurs the line between right & wrong but obliterates it completely. The only wrong in this politically correct universe are those that attempt to insert any type of ethical standards into the situation, especially if they invoke Christian values and the name of God in the process. Likewise, being open minded theoretically means the ability to be receptive to new or different ideas. This too has unfortunately evolved into terminology that means acceptance of all manner of obscenity and abject ideology. The PC crowd has been enormously successful in weaving these thought processes into society while demonizing God and morality.


What I have been trying to work out in my own heart and mind is this: Where is the line between being judgmental and simply standing up for one’s beliefs ??


The Word tells us in Matthew “judge not lest ye be judged”, but I think maybe that is a passage that has been twisted into a self-serving bit of hyperbole by the tolerance police. It is a sad fact in 21st century America that a growing segment of the population openly mock God, but there is another growing portion of society who, while they profess a belief in God, want to water Him down into an easygoing, relaxed, permissive entity who doesn’t care how far off the path we veer. They treat God like a substitute teacher or a benevolent grandparent who will let us goof off, break all the rules, and still give us milk & cookies before reading a bedtime story and tucking us into bed. Even loyal churchgoers who theoretically study their Bible regularly say things like “love the sinner, hate the sin” which, to my knowledge, cannot be found anywhere in God’s Word. It is true that God is love, that He commanded us to love our enemies and our neighbors as we do ourselves, and that He is so desirous of a personal relationship that He sent Jesus to die on the cross so that His blood can wash away our sin, but we shouldn’t mistake kindness for weakness. Jesus did not hesitate to call people out on their BS, so to speak. He was no pushover and ticked a lot of people off. I mean let’s face it…He was crucified!! That doesn’t happen to a lackadaisical milquetoast. We are to emulate Christ and I believe sometimes that means being a bit more of a radical revolutionary than a pushover. Should we go around picking fights?? No. But I think it means we don’t walk away from them either. It’s all in the approach.


And that is the point at which I currently find myself. I have come to realize that my approach may need some…tweaking. Maybe I do come across as judgmental and a bit harsh on occasion. I have had to diminish my exposure to various political media because, whether I strongly agree or completely disagree with the biased angle being presented I tend to get a little too fired up either way. This is when Facebook gets me in hot water because it offers an immediate forum where I can vent my frustrations before taking the proper time to ponder and cool the engines. At the same time, I do not want to sit on my hands and not express my views, especially when it comes to faith. We are to be “fishers of men” and “make disciples of all the nations…teaching to observe all things that Jesus commanded”. Jesus said “they persecuted Me they will persecute you also” and “you will be hated by all for My name’s sake”. He taught that “blessed are you when men hate you, and when they exclude you, and revile you, and cast out your name as evil, for the Son of Man’s sake. Rejoice in that day and leap for joy”. This is a uncomfortable thing for most to grasp because we don’t enjoy rejection. We want to be liked and accepted. We want to fit in, to belong. Especially for Christians it can be difficult to embrace that we are to be a peculiar people. Who really wants to be thought of as peculiar, aka unusual, strange, or weird?? But at the end of the day I think there are times when we must stand our ground and refuse to back down. There are situations in which we need to be close-minded and intolerant.


I suppose it all goes back to what Dad taught me about disagreeing without being disagreeable. We can stand up for our principles without being hateful, even if “hate” is another word too easily thrown around by touchy feely humanists to condemn anyone who disagrees with their warped outlook on all sorts of subject matter. George Herbert, a 17th century poet and clergyman, said that “living well is the best revenge”. Similarly, maybe the best way to convey Godly principles is not to argue but to live a Godly life with Jesus Christ as our role model. Values like salvation, forgiveness, wisdom, grace, mercy, love, peace, faith, kindness, etc. shouldn’t be treated like a product others have to be convinced to buy under duress or like abstract concepts from an tedious book that are taught in a dry, uninspired lecture. They are to be practiced daily. My Mom always said that you can get more flies with honey than with vinegar. Conforming that notion to the present discourse it seems that a better strategy in proving God’s way is the right way…the only way…is to become the best example possible. Stay positive and show the power of God in one’s own life rather than being critical of others’ choices. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. used civil disobedience or non-violent protest to make his case, and at the end of the day let’s face it…he made a heck of a case and changed the world. I cannot honestly say my protestations are always as civil as they should be and that is something The Lord and I are ironing out, but I plan on continuing to stand up for what I believe to be right, and on the occasions that I am perceived as being captious or abrasive I will need to decide if that is truly the case and what exactly must be done…or not done.