Holy Moly Matrimony

Here are your new thought rules:

  • Marriage is generally whatever anyone wants it to be (so long as politicians, lawyers or judges can be found to back them up) between consenting adults who feel like they are in love. It’s called, “marriage equality.” No one can be excluded.
  • Humans, like animals, don’t have any real moral choice about how they love or which gender they are drawn to. They just think and act on pure instinct and/or biological programming when it comes to sexual attitudes, attractions, proclivities and pursuits.
  • Public elementary school curriculums must change to reflect the new rules.

Any questions? Actually, I have a few:

  • Does “marriage equality” require marriage to be anything anyone wants it to be? If not, what limits or inequities are you willing to support; when, where, who, how and why? Too much thinking? Sorry, let’s move on.
  • Should gender have anything at all to do with our definition of marriage? Do we need any definition at all? Of course, under the new gender-free rules, “fatherhood” and “motherhood” must yield to “whateverhood.”
  • Should 55 people be free to “marry” if they so please? How about five? Three? Should marriage laws be like speed limit laws just to keep us safe?
  • Should we also respect bisexual marriage rights? If so, each consenting bisexual “spouse” would need to have a partner from both genders with which to alternate. And the other “loving” bisexual partners would also need multiple choices. Or is “holy matrimony” only for homosexuals and heterosexuals, thus discriminating against bisexuals?
  • Isn’t it a bit dehumanizing to claim that we have no choice in our attitudes, habits, identities, influences and inclinations regarding sexuality? Maybe we can explain the sexual orientations of dogs, cats and lab rats by saying they are “born that way,” but not human beings. Are we free moral agents or mere products of programmed forces that control us inside and out?

My Declaration of Independence:

As multiple definitions of marriage “evolve,” such terms as “husband”, “wife”, “father”, “mother”, “grandfather” and “grandmother” will become less meaningful. The state of California has already passed measures to cleanse public documents from such allegedly horrific and hateful terms. Moral ‘make-it-up-as-u-go-ism’ is the new wave.

Actually, definition is necessary for meaning to exist. Holy matrimony is the willing union between one man and one woman. Thus, “marriage equality” and “holy matrimony” cannot co-exist. Holy means “set apart” or “unique.” Its’ inherent boundaries are sacred. “Anything goes” is anti-holy. Jesus defined marriage, “from the beginning,” as two (male and female) becoming one. Then He added, “What God has joined together, let no man separate.” (Matthew 19:4-6). Now that’s holy!

I hereby declare my holy independence from the new thought rules of today.

Spiritual Alzheimer’s

How important is memory? Could you have an identity without it? Could you enjoy old relationships? Could you develop new ones? Without a memory, is it possible to cultivate such traits as trust or gratitude? No, no and no. You could live forever in the moment, but is that living?

Memory loss is nothing anyone in their right mind would choose. Alzheimer’s disease is a memory killer, profoundly tragic and painful for its victims and those who love them. First, it causes confusion, mood swings, irritability and even aggression. It hinders speech and victims may lose control of their bodily functions. The short-term memory goes first and long-term memory is not far behind. It destroys one’s ability to think. It is a slow death sentence. The average life expectancy upon diagnosis is seven years. The burden on care-givers over this time is great and it must be done largely on a one-way-street. Alzheimer’s is degenerative and there is no known cure.

Let’s take the next step. When a nation loses its memory, it also loses its identity and purpose as a people. It spirals into chaos, strife and ingratitude. Citizens live for no higher a cause than themselves or their group. Living for momentary satisfaction, we idolize leaders who tickle our ears with haphazard promises. Suffering from national Alzheimer’s, we lose touch with a candidate’s history. We support whoever makes us feel better. Forgetting the past, we re-elect leaders who run up debts beyond the reach of our children and grandchildren. Such nations face a slow death.

    English author George Orwell (1903 –1950) once said, “The most effective way to destroy people is to deny and obliterate their own understanding of their history.”
    The brave and outspoken Russian author, Alexander Solzhenitsyn (1918 – 2008), wrote, “To destroy a people you must first sever their roots.”

What about Jesus’ church? Do we need a good memory? Should we strive to remember and understand our past? Or, should we just live in the moment?

These questions sound theoretical but they are huge. Every time the church takes the Lord’s Supper, we enrich our main memory. But it can’t stop there. Ignorance of church history (our story ) leaves Christians in a state of historical and spiritual “Alzheimer’s.” Lacking a good memory, we end up with a poor sense of God at work in the world over time. This diminishes our gratitude for our forebears. Far worse, it undermines our trust in God and cultivates a loss of meaning and purpose for our lives together and our role in the world.

Forgetful faith is oxymoronic and cannot stay strong for long. The worship of God in both testaments of the Bible is often described as a collective call to remember God’s marvelous deeds. Keeping our covenant with God involves the lifelong discipline of remembering His blessings and purposes. Can you articulate what they are?

Remembering is the root system for faith. Don’t let yours die.

Great Moments in Forgiveness

Forgiveness is more than a mere thought or theory. It originates deep inside but it carries little value until it comes out in action. Here are a few great out comings:

A.D. 33 (approximately):

From the cross, the dying Jesus Christ said, “Father, forgive them; for they do not know what they are doing.” (Luke 23: 34).

A.D. 34 – 36?

A believer in Jesus named Barnabas brought Saul of Tarsus (a brutal persecutor of Christians) to the apostles and explained how Saul had met the Lord on the road to Damascus and was now preaching Jesus as the Christ. This helped transform a fearful and suspicious church into trusting supporters of Saul (later named Paul). Barnabas understood that sin can be forgiven and sinners can change (see Acts 9).

March 4, 1865:

In his Second inaugural Address, President Abraham Lincoln appealed for healing and forgiveness between the North and the South with these words: “With malice toward none, and charity for all, with firmness in the right as God gives us to see the right, let us strive on to finish the work we are in, to bind up the nation’s wounds, to care for him who shall have borne the battle and for his widow and orphan, to do all which may achieve and cherish a just and lasting peace among ourselves and with all nations.” A month later, on April 9, just before Lee’s surrender at Appomattox when tensions were still tender, Union brigadier general Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain honorably saluted Confederate soldiers while commanding the Union troop at the surrender ceremony.

1947:

During World War II, Corrie ten Boom (1892 –1983) and her family in Amsterdam helped many Jews escape the Nazis. In 1944, a Dutch informant betrayed them and they were sent to a Nazi concentration camp where Corrie’s sister Betsy died. Corrie was released due to a clerical error. Three years later, while teaching in Germany, she encountered a former camp guard known to have been quite cruel. After hesitating, she shook his hand and felt God’s love in full supply. Later, she observed that victims of Nazi brutality who were able to forgive were better able to rebuild their lives. She wrote, “Forgiveness is an act of the will, and the will can function regardless of the temperature of the heart.”

October, 1958:

Elisabeth Elliot and Rachel Saint went to live as missionaries with the Huaorani people of Ecuador, the same people who slaughtered their loved ones on January 8, 1956. Elisabeth’s husband Jim and Rachel’s brother Nate, along with Ed McCully, Peter Fleming and Roger Youderian, went to Ecuador as missionaries and were killed by the natives. Years later, as a result of Elizabeth and Rachel’s forgiving efforts, many Huaorani became Christians, including some involved in the killings.

December 27, 1983:

As Pope John Paul II entered St. Peter’s Square on May 13, 1981, he was seriously wounded in an assassination attempt. Two years later, after visiting his would be killer in prison, he said, ” I spoke to him as a brother whom I have pardoned and who has my complete trust.″

September 16, 1998:

John Lewis, one of the “Big Six” leaders of the Civil Rights movement, suffered cruel beatings and multiple arrests. He understood the culpability of segregationist leaders like Alabama Governor George Wallace who made life miserable for Blacks in the South. However, three days after Wallace died on September 13, 1998, Lewis wrote in a New York Times op-ed; “With all his failings, Mr. Wallace deserves recognition for seeking redemption for his mistakes, for his willingness to change and to set things right with those he harmed and with his God.” Lewis continued, “George Wallace should be remembered for his capacity to change. And we are better as a nation because of our capacity to forgive.”

June 14, 2003:

Sixty descendants of the Hatfields and McCoys, famous for feuding from 1863 to 1891, met in Pikeville, Kentucky, to declare an official truce between their families. The truce said, “We ask by God’s grace and love that we be forever remembered as those that bound together the hearts of two families to form a family of freedom in America.” The governors of Kentucky and West Virginia proclaimed June 14 as Hatfield and McCoy Reconciliation Day.

October 2, 2006:

A heavily armed man walked into a one-room Amish school in Nickel Mines, Pennsylvania, and killed five little Amish girls, severely wounded others and shot himself. He was allegedly angry at God for taking his own little daughter. Several grieving Amish parents soon visited the killer’s wife to offer comfort and support. Many also attended the killer’s burial, which deeply moved the killer’s wife.

Today:

You have the opportunity to make this a “top-ten” list!

Forgiveness is more than a mere moment. Jesus willingly went to his death on a cross to accomplish the ultimate act of forgiveness, but that great moment in history made an everlasting difference. To this day, Christians look to the cross as the place where our sins (past, present and future) are nailed for good and forgiven forever.

When Helping Hurts

Hardship can be healthy. This can be difficult to see in the moment but the following simple questions will hopefully expand your vision:

  1. How can you kill a baby chick? Help it out of its eggshell, reducing its need to struggle.
  2. How can you kill a butterfly? Help it out of its cocoon.
  3. How can you kill a baby kangaroo? Help it get from the mother’s womb to the pouch. Fact: Mother marsupials do not assist their tiny offspring in this painstaking journey.

Of course, helping others is one of the best things we can do with our time. It can be a magnificent mission for your entire life. Do it sacrificially. But always cast your vision beyond the moment. Compassion without discernment can do great harm. Wise compassion is far more than a momentary notion or noble emotion.

Now, let’s move from the animal kingdom to human civilization:

  1. How can parents cripple children? Give them everything their little hearts crave. Solve their problems for them, do their homework and apply for their jobs.
  2. How can we destroy the family? Let adulterers pursue “love” wherever it takes them. Let anyone redefine marriage any way they please. Let polygamists pile one “love” on another. Let homosexuals make families that deprive children of a mom and a dad in the home and pretend that it makes no difference either way. Disparage marriage to protect unmarried parents from feeling bad. Then indiscriminately subsidize out-of-wedlock births. Just follow “love” anywhere it leads.
  3. How can you hurt the poor? Give them cash and walk away. Deny that most money given to transients goes to drugs, alcohol and gambling. As a minister in Arcadia, California, I learned that most of the heartfelt “I need cash” cases I heard coincided with the Santa Anita Racetrack racing season.

Real compassion is willing to work on a case-by-case basis, looking beyond the easy one-size-fits-all options. Giving kids what they want, following “love” (the pure emotional kind, that is) and throwing cash around are easy options. But “easy” is seldom the way of real love (the helpful kind, that is). Easy options can leave the needy worse off than before.

Again, hardship can be healthy. Observe…

  • Patience can only rise in a world where things do not come easy or on time.
  • Courage only rises amid fear and hardship. Real love expresses itself only where there is need.
  • Purity finds meaning only in a dirty world.
  • Integrity finds its highest expression amid difficulty.
  • Justice and righteousness rise highest where life is NOT fair.

Isn’t it from dirt that flowers grow? Likewise, genuine moral virtue grows best from the soil of difficulty and suffering. Shortcuts around hardship cannot get us all the way to the realm of virtue. Sadly, most people don’t even want to go there.

Christians do! We are resolved to help people in need, but not necessarily on their unhelpful terms and not at the price of our moral virtue. Our mission is to show compassion to those in trouble without feeding the problem. This may draw us away from one-size-fits-all easy options. Sorry. It may not bring you applause either. Compassion rooted in wisdom may not seem like “love” to those who want help on their own terms. But it is.

Remember the marsupials.

Implications!

    “Be angry but do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger.”
    The Apostle Paul (Ephesians 4:26)

What a strange verse. First it tells us to “be angry.” Then it tells us not to let the sun go down–on our anger, that is.

Actually, there are deeper implications. One is that anger itself is not a sin. An angry Jesus healed a man with a withered hand to defy the hard-hearted hypocrites ready to condemn him. In anger, he cleansed the temple from thieves, money-changers and vendors preventing authentic worship. Paul seemed angry when he wrote his letter to the Galatians. Closer to home, what father or mother would not get angry at someone hurting or corrupting their children?

Nevertheless, anger is dangerous—so dangerous that it can lead to sin. Don’t let it do that! Remember, “the wages of sin is death.” (Romans 6:23).

As for the sun going down, you can’t stop that. The deeper implication is that anger should not be ignored. Deal with it without delay! After all, anger is dangerous.

Largely ignoring its danger, American culture glorifies anger. Turn on a TV, radio or the internet and get ready to get mad. The sights and sounds of rage are pervasive. Our news and entertainment media are filled with celebrities, politicians, pundits and activists saying, in effect, “Look at me; I’m angry!”

  • The news has become an anger industry. If it bleeds, it leads. Angry score-keepers control the narrative.
  • Politicians work to keep their supporters furious at their opponents. Many accuse the other side of conducting wars on women, minorities, the poor, the Constitution and so on. Political fund-raisers apply advanced techniques to keep their donors mad enough to keep writing checks.
  • If there is insufficient vulgarity, violence and anger in a movie, song or work of art, modern critics often presume it lacks realism. For most rappers, “keeping it real” means that anger must remain front and center as a badge of authenticity.
  • If a major city has a sports team in a championship game, the local police routinely prepare for riots in the streets after the game, win or lose.

Sometimes, implications are hard to see. But that does not mean they are not real. We often learn too late how real they are. In a classic case of road rage, a NASCAR driver recently jumped out of his car to confront another driver, failing to consider the fatal implications. When angry mobs riot and loot, they are too busy grabbing stuff to grasp the implications of their anger on themselves, others and their community.

Jackie Robinson, the first black baseball player to break into the majors, achieved greatness by holding his anger back and translating it into stellar play on the field. He understood the implications. Had he exploded in righteous anger at every grievance, he might have strengthened the color line instead of breaking it. He had a right to his anger but he chose to repress it for reasons beyond himself. Don’t ignore the implications!

Annoyances and injustices are everywhere, but so are blessings. Our media and intelligentsia teach us to fall in love with our outrage while ignoring our blessings. Thus, grudges and grievances have overgrown the American soul, undermining our gratitude for our country and heritage.

Even if your anger feels righteous, it’s still dangerous. The Bible warns, “The anger of man does not produce the righteousness of God.” (James 1:20). It carries deadly implications, especially when it drags us into sin. So, as the sun heads for the horizon, guide your heart toward peace and pardon.

“Carpe Spero!”
(Dead Poet’s Society in Hindsight)

Back in 1989, I took a date to see Dead Poet’s Society. We watched as a boy, tyrannized by an overbearing father, committed suicide. We were duly horrified by the abusive parenting portrayed on the screen and we sympathized with the fictional boy.

After the movie, we went to a restaurant in the real world where a small boy (about age 5) was having an ongoing temper tantrum at the table next to ours. The father begged and pleaded for the child to stop and eat his food. After a long time, the exasperated father finally threatened a spanking outside. The little boy immediately dared him saying, “You will not and you know it!” The spineless father melted away in meekness and the boy continued his fit.

We were horrified again, but for a different reason.

The message preached in Dead Poet’s Society was fine in and of itself. However, in reality, we live in a culture bingeing on the mistrust of and resistance to authority, not to mention permissive or absent fathers. My review of Dead Poet’s was: Right message, wrong time, wrong place and wrong culture.

Dead Poet’s also preached an attractive message, summed up by the ancient Latin motto, “Carpe Diem!” (seize the day). A Chinese proverb puts it this way, “Enjoy yourself. It’s later than you think.” For some, this means not giving up even though life is short and ultimately meaningless. Have fun anyway, grabbing gusto with all your might!

“Gather Ye Rosebuds,” by John William Waterhouse (1909)
“Carpe diem” originated with a Roman poet named Horace (65 – 8 BC). Here’s a literal translation of the full sentence in which this motto first appeared in his Odes: “Pluck the day, trusting as little as possible in the next one.” On the surface, “carpe diem” comes off as an exciting call to live life for all it is worth. I say, “Amen!” However, real life moments, like feelings, have a way of flying by like the wind. Life lived under the “carpe diem” banner still slips through our fingers unseizably. Thus, there is a fundamental emptiness in that phrase. You can gather rosebuds “while ye may,” but they will not be rosebuds for long.

A century later, the apostle Paul cited a similar motto: “Eat and drink, for tomorrow we die.” (1 Corinthians 15:32). But he added that, for believers, “tomorrow” includes the resurrection from the dead. If we trust God’s promise and power to raise the dead, we can trust the future. This hope helped early Christians endure severe persecution looking forward to “tomorrow” for relief. As for living day to day, Paul challenged believers to offer their bodies “as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God.” (Romans 12:1). Can “carpe diem” inspire that?

Gusto grabbing is great for good times. However, gusto has a way of evaporating in our hands and hearts. When hardship hits you hard, “carpe diem” falls painfully short. The boy in Dead Poet’s understood the challenge to seize the day and make his life extraordinary. But in the face of great disappointment, he was hopeless when something more than a moment-seizing motto was needed.

In graceful contrast, Christians believe that humans were not merely made for time; we were made for eternity. Paul wrote, “Take hold of the eternal life to which you were called when you made your good confession in the presence of many witnesses.” (1 Timothy 6:12). So, don’t just seize the day; seize eternal life. The eternal God of the universe has made Himself personally accessible to us through Jesus who opens the door to eternity to all who follow Him faithfully.

The stark fact that life is fragile and time is short challenges Christians not just to seek enjoyable moments but to come clean inside and out, surrender our self-centered hearts to God, live pleasing to God and trust Him forever. Seize that!

So let me suggest another motto to learn and live: “Carpe Spero!” (translation: “Seize hope”). Christian hope is something you can keep for yourself by giving it away!

Undaunted Courage in the Bible and in You

“If we as God’s people refuse to speak about sin because it will make others uncomfortable, we are cowards.” ~ Franklin Graham (July 10, 2014)

Moral courage has become unpopular with some Christian leaders today who prefer to be more pleasing to the world and less controversial. Nevertheless (I love that word), I want to offer some biblical ground on which to stand for a return of moral courage in the church and our culture, always rooted in wisdom and love. This is, of course, a short list humbly offered in the same spirit as a similar but better list in Hebrews 11. Here’s mine:

  1. Noah: It was with “holy fear” and persistent faith that Noah built the ark not knowing what was coming (Hebrews 11:6). As others kept on eating, drinking and marrying, Noah kept building (Luke 17:27).
  2. Abraham left Ur for parts unknown at God’s call (Hebrews 11:8).
  3. Moses approached Pharaoh, under God’s charge, to boldly demand, “Let my people go!” (Exodus 8:1). It also took courage to pass through the Red Sea into a wilderness between the same walls of water that would soon collapse on the Egyptian army.
  4. Nathan bravely called King David on the carpet for his sins of adultery, deception and conspiracy to rub out the loyal husband of a woman he impregnated (2 Samuel 12). David could have ignored Nathan or punished him for speaking truth to power but Nathan didn’t care. He did his job undaunted.
  5. Hezekiah and Jerusalem, with Isaiah’s counsel, held firm under the threat of a huge Assyrian army whose general tried to undermine Hezekiah’s confidence and break down the morale of the last remaining Israelites. But they were undaunted (Isaiah 36-38). Hezekiah’s bravery was not without much prayer.
  6. Esther revealing Haman’s plot to destroy her people
  7. Esther showed courage when she said, “If I perish, I perish” (Esther 4:16) and took steps necessary to save her people at great risk to herself.
  8. Mordecai, Esther’s cousin and guardian, boldly refused to bow down to the haughty Haman (Esther 2:3).
  9. Daniel made up his mind not to defile himself with the king’s diet and training regimen. This scared the official administrating the regimen but God favored Daniel and blessed his courage (Daniel 1). Later, Daniel’s public moral courage got him thrown into a lion’s den. God protected Daniel once again (Daniel 6).
  10. Shadrach, Meshach and Abed-nego bravely defied King Nebuchadnezzar’s command to bow down and worship a golden image in Babylon (Daniel 3). Trusting in God, they refused again in the king’s presence enraging him so much he had them thrown into a fiery furnace. Astonishingly, God delivered them.
  11. God’s Prophets: This list would be endless if I illustrated the moral courage of all the prophets who proclaimed God’s word in rebellious and wicked times, challenging public sin and sin-pushers.
  12. John the Baptist fearlessly blasted Herod Antipas for stealing his brother’s wife, and for “all the wicked things which Herod had done.” (Luke 3:19). For his undaunted bravery and boldness, John lost his head.
  13. Jesus, in addition to his scathing rebuke of the Pharisees for hypocrisy (Matthew 23), did not pull punches when describing his entire generation as “evil and adulterous” (Matthew 12:39 and 16:4); “unbelieving” (Mark 9:19); “wicked” (Luke 11:29), “perverse” (Matthew 17:17 and Luke 9:41); and “sinful” (Mark 8:38). Yet, he wept with compassion for his generation (Luke 19:41-42). Jesus’ famous use of a weapon of force to cleanse the temple of exploitative money-changers and merchants also took moral courage (John 2:13-22). Finally, His obedient journey to the cross took moral courage to its highest level.
  14. Stephen, on trial and in the face of false witnesses, stood up to the Sanhedrin bravely proclaiming truth at all cost (Acts 7). They killed him.
  15. Peter: His cowardice in disowning Jesus three times was not fatal (at least not for Peter). Once forgiven, he bravely bounced back big time! When the church was born, Peter publicly rebuked his generation as “perverse” (Acts 2:40) and , with explicit boldness, told his audience that they had crucified the Messiah (Acts 2:36). No apostle preached with more undaunted courage than did Peter.
  16. Paul: The need for Christian courage is clear in Paul’s reference to spiritual armor in Ephesians 6:10-18 and spiritual warfare in 2 Corinthians 10:1-6, where he spoke of demolishing strongholds, arguments and pretentions that are set up against the knowledge of God.

Evil hates exposure like Dracula hates sunlight. Jesus said: “For everyone who does evil hates the Light, and does not come to the Light for fear that his deeds will be exposed.” (John 3:20). Jesus was willing to face that hatred. We too must face hostility for standing firm for our faith, for the life of the innocent and unborn, for marriage as Jesus defined it (Mathew 19:4-6), for truth in an era of lies and much more. We can lose popularity and even our lives, but moral courage remains a must, not a maybe.

Going Deep
(Wisdom Down Under)

On the surface, the book of Proverbs looks like a collection of maxims and mottos—filled with good advice. Actually, it goes deeper than that. Scratch the surface and Proverbs becomes a profound call to worship God!

Worship is more than a church service. It’s about holding God up for ultimate respect, trust and awe. Proverbs practically equates wisdom with worship. As God’s children, we are walking worship services–in the marketplace, social circles, the family, the workplace and beyond.

Need proof? In Proverbs, everything boils down to fearing God. That’s where wisdom begins (Proverbs 1:7 and 9:10). God is no afterthought in Proverbs and neither is His purpose: “Many are the plans in the mind of a man, but it is the purpose of the LORD that will be established.” (19:21). Instead of telling us to trust our insight and understanding, Proverbs advises, “Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding” (3:5). Instead of finding your way forward, “acknowledge Him” and let Him “make your path straight” (3:6). Proverbs is less about pursuing success than finding favor in the sight of God (3:4; 8:35 and 12:2). A good wife is an excellent find but God’s good pleasure is the point (18:22). Handling money wisely is crucial, but Proverbs calls us to “honor the Lord” with our wealth (3:9). That’s worship!

Our 2014 Teen Camp theme at Prince’s Pine was “Going Deep!” Since Proverbs is a deep well of wisdom, I went there for my Monday night message. I scratched the proverbial surface by recalling ten lessons I learned on a scuba diving trip I took to the land down under at the Great Barrier Reef (GBR):

  1. Awe is in order. Australia offers a whole new perspective on the wonders of God’s creation. Looking up, one sees not Orion but the Southern Cross in the evening sky. On land, you’ll see Koala bears and kangaroo. And under water, especially at the GBR, the shapes, colors and pace of life are marvelously different. Ever seen a clown fish? And Proverbs reminds us that the sea will not overstep God’s command. After all, “He marked out the foundations of the earth.” (8:29).
  2. “Pay attention and gain understanding.” (4:1). It’s fine to be in awe but when you go deep, you better stay alert and sober too. Life is healthier and happier for us all that way.
  3. Balance Learning with Living. You can’t get certified to Scuba dive by just studying books, tables and charts. You gotta get into the water. Practice! But remember, you can’t get certified without the book either. Learn and live. Live and learn. A wise man said, “Receive instruction in wise behavior, righteousness, justice and equity.” (1:3).
  4. Always go with a buddy. The first rule in Scuba diving is: NEVER go alone. During one of my 19 dives at the GBR, I ran out of air early and my buddies came up with me. They could have stayed down longer but for all the joys of the deep, people and safety come first. Under water or above, we all need friends. Back to Proverbs: “But there is a friend who sticks closer than a brother.” (18:24).
  5. Respect your limits. If you go too deep for too long, you pay! In fact, the deeper you go, the higher the risk. You must keep track of your depth, time and pressure levels respecting the limitations they impose on you. Living for the moment and following your own heart or your own “reality” is a foolish way to dive and a unwise way to live. Respecting your limits adds to your freedom and enjoyment. Real reality comes with boundaries. Ignore them and there may be no tomorrow. Listen: “There is a way that seems right to a man but in the end leads to death.” (14:12).
  6. Live and let live. Diving down under, I saw a shark just my size. I chose not to pick on it. Always remember, “It is to a man’s honor to avoid strife, but every fool is quick to quarrel.” (20:3).
  7. Communication Counts. Language is an amazing well-honed gift from our forebears. Never take it for granted. Scuba divers use sign language under water but they don’t wait till then to begin communicating. After all, “The words of a man’s mouth are deep waters.” (18:4).
  8. We never advance beyond the basics. Complications related to breathing compressed air under water abound. Yet, according to my instructor, they all boil down to this: “Breathe regularly; never hold your breath.” Life on land is also complicated. So love regularly! Never hold it in. Proverbs says, “Love covers all transgressions.” (10:12).
  9. “Whoever heeds correction shows prudence.” (15:5, NIV). I surfaced from one of my GBR dives only to reap the wrath of our dive master. He imposed a depth limit and I broke it. I was not minding #2 above. Excuses were worthless. His rebuke stood. I never did it again. Eventually, I even felt grateful.
  10. Going deep is a discipline, not a whim or sudden urge. Life presents us with amazing beauties and curiosities that call us to go below the surface, but curiosity can kill the cat. Study and train, then dive for the depths. Discipline has a way of opening up opportunities. Befriend the Bible, including Proverbs and its challenge to; “Apply your heart to discipline, and your ears to words of knowledge.” (23:12).
  11. All in all, you have not yet seen it all and you never will. Nevertheless (I love that word), keep looking. Keep learning. Keep loving! Life is an ongoing adventure in discovery. Better still, you are a walking worship service!

A Fighting Faith!

Becoming a Christian means putting up your dukes! We are called to walk in the footsteps of the following famous fighters:

  1. When Mary told Gabriel, “be it done according to your word” (Luke 1:38), she knew she was in for a fight. She wondered if even Joseph would stand by her. Well, he did and their struggle eventually forced them into Egypt as refugees. After Jesus was born, a man named Simeon told Mary, “a sword will pierce even your own soul” (Luke 2:35), but she stayed in the fight. She also knew the son she bore was in for a fight that would involve scattering the proud, dethroning rulers and exalting the humble (see Luke 1:51-52).
  2. When John the Baptist confronted Herod Antipas for unlawfully marrying his own brother’s wife, he proved he had a faith that fights.
  3. When Jesus told prominent civic and religious leaders in Jerusalem, “You are of your father the devil” (John 8:44), he was putting up His spiritual dukes. They fought back too. When He drove the moneychangers and merchants out of the Gentile court of the Jerusalem temple with a whip, His fighting faith was clear to all.
  4. When Peter heard a rooster crow for the third time, he regretted that his faith had been too weak to fight. Forgiven, he was restored to fighting form and his preaching pulled no punches. Soon after Jesus’ crucifixion, Peter brazenly preached to those who had preferred Barabbas to Jesus, “But you disowned the Holy and Righteous One and asked for a murderer to be granted to you, but put to death the Prince of life, the one whom God raised from the dead, a fact to which we are witnesses.” (Act 3:14-15). Peter was thrown in jail but thousands believed and were added to the church. A ferocious fight was coming for them too.
  5. A fighting faith got Stephen called on the carpet before the Sanhedrin where he told his judges they had “uncircumcised hearts” (Acts 7:51). Those were fighting words to them. He may have lost that round but he sure won the fight.
  6. Paul called on believers to don God’s armor for battle, not to show it off in public parades but “to stand firm against the schemes of the devil” (Ephesians 6:11). God’s armor (truth, righteousness, the gospel of peace, faith, salvation, the word of God and prayer) are essential for the good fight. Later, Paul summed up his own life in ministry as a “good fight” and Timothy understood that following in Paul’s footsteps would pull him into a lifelong battle too. If needed, Paul could write feisty letters as well.
  7. In the book of Revelation, John envisioned a beast making war on the saints (13:7). In fact, the language of war pervades John’s vision until Satan is bound and Jesus emerges victorious forever. In the end, “the cowardly, unbelieving, abominable, murderers, sexually immoral, sorcerers, idolaters, and all liars shall have their part in the lake which burns with fire and brimstone” (21:7-8). The point of the entire vision revealed to John was to encourage believers to endure faithfully to the end and receive the “crown of life.” (2:10).

You mean Christianity can get me criticized, misunderstood, beat up, hated, dragged into court, fined, driven from home, forced out of my job and even killed? Yes!

Nevertheless (I love that word), we stand and fight. After all, the battle belongs to the Lord!

Let’s Get Serious!

I love “Weird Al” Yankovic. I saw him in concert at the Minnesota County Fair years ago and I still enjoy his videos on facebook.

Can I still be a serious person?

If by serious you mean one-dimensional, then I don’t qualify. A serious passage in the Bible affirms that there is an appointed time for everything, “…a time to weep and a time to laugh; A time to mourn and a time to dance.” (Ecclesiastes 3:4). So, there is a time to be silly and a time to be serious. The key is in our ability to tell the time.

Let’s put our silly sides aside and talk. I mentioned “Weird Al” only to let you know I have one (or to get your attention). But I realize that asking readers to get serious is risky business in today’s blogosphere. If you are still with me, thank you. You probably even consider Christmas, Easter and Memorial Day to be more meaningful than April Fool’s Day. Weird.

The ancient Greeks called our serious side, “semnos.” In Latin, it’s “gravitas.” In both classic cultures, it was a virtue to be august, serious, venerable, dignified and respectful. Notice the words pompus and arrogant are not included. An early Christian theologian, Clement of Alexandra (150 – 215 AD) defined gravitas as “a life turned toward the divine.” Now that IS serious!

Semnos a serious virtue in the Bible. After all, repentance and forgiveness are serious business. The apostle Paul encouraged the Philippians to think about things semnos (Philippians 4:8). The New International Version (NIV) translated it here as “noble” and the New American Standard Bible (NASB) called it “honorable.” Paul encouraged the young Timothy to “lead a tranquil and quiet life in all godliness and semnos (1 Timothy 2:2; “dignity”, NASB; “respectful,” RSV; and “holiness,” NIV). Elders must also be men of semnos (1 Timothy 3:4). So must deacons (1 Timothy 3:8). Three verses later, women get equal instruction in semnos.

But seriously, the vast majority of biblical challenges to be to semnos are directed at men. In Titus, both old and young men are urged to seek it. Imagine that! Paul expected young men to be serious:

    Likewise urge the young men to be sensible; in all things show yourself to be an example of good deeds, with purity in doctrine, dignified [semnos], sound in speech which is beyond reproach, so that the opponent will be put to shame, having nothing bad to say about us.” (Titus 2:6-8, NASB’ “seriousness” in the NIV)

A better description of manhood has never been written.

Our culture is seldom serious. There is almost as little gravity today as there is shame. We can see the decline in semnos over the last generation on television. For instance, Jim Anderson of “Father Knows Best” was replaced by Archie Bunker (a loud-mouthed bigot), and then by Homer Simpson. Then by no one. Enough said.

Will Rogers, a 20th century humorist, said, “Everything is changing. People are taking their comedians seriously and the politicians as a joke.” Seriously, getting your political education from comedians proves you are not serious.

Your well-timed silly side is important. Nevertheless (I love that word), an inability to take your life and the lives of others seriously can have serious consequences.

Let’s get practical:

  • Most “reality” shows lack semnos.
  • Tell a dirty joke and you lose some semnos status.
  • Flying off the handle is not very semnos.
  • When presidents reply to questions about underwear, semnos suffers.
  • Playing video games all day long is very unsemnos.
  • Excessive complaining does not get you to semnos.
  • Drinking contests are as unsemnos as it gets.
  • Ignoring genocide is not something semnos people do.
  • When I see crowds swooning for charlatans, I long for semnos instead.
  • When I see wild extatic shaking and holy laughter” on stage in the name of worship, I see a semnos void.
  • Discussing a rising nuclear threat is semnos as a heart attack.
  • Defending the integrity of marriage is highly semnos.
  • Ever notice how serious Jesus was? This article has serious length limits so do your own research. It’s a no-brainer. One mark of our shortage of seriousness is the fact that the only Bible verse many people can cite from memory is; “Jesus wept” (John 11:35). He did that a lot.