My point is not to blast Limbaugh for hypocrisy. I just want to use his example to demonstrate how easy it is for ALL of us to be hypocrites. (I prefer to focus on the hypocrisy of others rather than my own . . . and that of course is the point.) We are told in the Bible not to judge, and yet a recent Church Leadership article titled “7 Signs You Are ‘Judging’ Others” pointed out that Jesus did a lot of judging. The article rightly points out that Jesus did not follow-up his judgments with condemnation. The article goes on to state:
“Dietrich Bonhoeffer said that one of the first signs of Christian maturity is a frustration with the hypocrisy of the church and a desire to separate from it.
But the next sign of growth is recognizing that the same hypocrisy in the church is present in oneself.”
Bonhoeffer had a gift for striking a little too close to home. I have been there . . . am still there. It is soooo easy to see hypocrisy and faults in other people and institutions. It ain’t so easy to face up to them in oneself. Facing up to our hypocrisies chokes that exquisite sinful feeling of moral superiority. I am not suggesting that we can never speak up about an issue for fear of revealing our own hypocrisy. The Bible instructs us to confront one another with a spirit of love, not moral superiority or condemnation. Accepting that we might be a hypocrite regarding faults we see in others should inspire us to have an attitude of love, or so I hope.
Matthew 23: 1-3 says:
“Then Jesus said to the crowds and to his disciples: ‘The teachers of the law and the Pharisees sit in Moses’ seat. So you must be careful to do everything they tell you. But do not do what they do, for they do not practice what they preach.’”
This is a hard lesson to live. Some leaders and key people in our lives have tremendous wisdom and spiritual and moral instruction that we would be wise to implement. But then we see them fail to practice what they have preached. And wham bam the virus of hypocrisy gets passed to us. Even young adults who decry the hypocrisy they see among their elders (with a certain flair of self-righteousness, I might add) wake up one day and realize they too are hypocrites in many ways.
What is a Christian to do with this dilemma? The healthiest thing is to focus on our own hypocrisy and concern ourselves less, if at all, with the sins of others. Or we can refuse to acknowledge our own hypocrisies and remain in a place of stagnation. I don’t know about you, but I have enough hypocrisy on my own plate to deal with.
A few days ago a video went viral showing a California Highway Patrol officer punching a woman on the ground beside a road. The video elicits a visceral reaction from viewers, resulting in an emotional public outcry. (I know, thank you Captain Obvious.) But let’s set aside the video for now and think about the broader issue of the relationship between the California Highway Patrol and the public they serve.
Years ago, the California Highway Patrol had a reputation as being the best of the best in the world of uniformed law enforcement. They put the safety and trust of the public above their own interests. I don’t know for certain, but I hope that is still true today. This incident with the officer punching the lady on the ground is an opportunity for the Highway Patrol to conduct a transparent investigation that leads to the truth, or as close to the truth as humanly possible. Whatever their leadership does, it is hoped their response will focus exclusively on even-handed justice AND the trust of the people they serve and police. We give them a badge and tremendous authority and we pray they do not abuse our trust.
What does this have to do with faith and the church? It has to do with trust. Trust is similar to virginity; once it’s gone it’s gone. I’ve read studies that indicate people don’t trust as much as they used to. They are suspicious and fearful of other people and they don’t trust formerly venerable institutions, and sometimes that includes the church. People instinctively know that most institutions have a tendency to prioritize the needs of the institution and its leaders above the people they serve. Of course institutions would never admit to such a culture within their ranks. They may not even be aware of the ways they damage trust. They proclaim to always put their customers and constituents first.
Jesus was clearly more interested in advocating for the common people. He did not participate in maintaining the positions and nests of those in power, and that included the religious machine of the day. In fact, he did just the opposite. He shook the foundations of their entrenched corruption. Luke 11:45 says:
Jesus replied, “And you experts in the law, woe to you, because you load people down with burdens they can hardly carry, and you yourselves will not lift one finger to help them.”
I am fearful that the modern church has lost a great deal of public trust, at least here in America. There could be legions of reasons for this loss of trust, some valid and some imagined. For instance, some point their accusatory finger at highly public failures of institutions to protect the most innocent and vulnerable among their ranks; think Catholic Church or Penn State sexual abuse of children scandals. Others believe institutions just want their money and do not care about them as a person. Still others see their political leaders as blind and deaf to the situations of average people, pandering more to the wants of the wealthy and connected. Restoring the trust of the people could be a long process, and it won’t happen unless we first admit that the trust has been damaged and something needs to be done about it. I suspect Christ’s church is the most appropriate place to start focusing on rebuilding trust. And here’s a hint: it can’t be accomplished with a six week sermon series. I’m just saying.
Gird your loins Christians of America, the day of television reckoning has come upon us. Barna Research released a fascinating report about which TV programs we watch in 2014. They found that the top five programs Christians watch are:
The Big Bang Theory (ironic)
Dancing with the Stars
Only one of my favorite programs made the list. (This shook my faith and caused me to question whether my name really IS written in the Book of Life.) Fortunately my sense of self-righteousness took over and reassured me that there is nothing wrong with me or my viewing preferences. I simply prefer a more highbrow television experience. For instance, I watch Downton Abbey (only because my wife refuses to surrender the TV remote when DA is on). Nevertheless, there are times when my faithful wife acquiesces to my authority as lord of the manor (specifically, when she is away from the manor) and, like Frodo in possession of the precious ring, I take possession of the TV remote. Lest you doubt my snobby taste in television, here are MY top five programs:
Man vs. Food
Fox News and CNN (Wait, are they news programs, reality, propaganda, or drama? . . . It’s hard to tell.)
Now that’s what I call a sterling lineup of classiness. The good folks at Barna also discovered that 74% of Americans turn on their TV every day. This begs the question: Who are the remaining 26% who do not turn on their TV every day . . . household pets? It wouldn’t surprise me if my own quadrupeds were watching TV all day while I’m at work, given their propensity to swipe snack foods from the kitchen counter and lounge on the sofa in perpetuity. Barna also found that 30% of people watch five or more hours in a typical day. Viewers no longer have to wait for each episode of their favorite miniseries to come out week after week. They can go online and watch them all in one sitting, like binge drinking.
The problem with TV is that it jams a lot of vicarious living into short amount of time. Real life is much more mundane. Personally, I have to be careful about letting TV make me feel like I’m not living an exciting life like everybody on TV. Hey, after all, who wouldn’t want the glamorous life of Si Robertson on Duck Dynasty? Anyhow, I recently read a devotional that described how the writer of Ecclesiates warns us about many of our strivings that are meaningless under the sun. The writer goes on to explain that it is OK to enjoy the simple pleasures, so long as we accept them for what they are—simple pleasures. The point being that we have a human tendency to want more out of just about everything. TV feeds that beast. The Bible reminds us that a lot of the “more” that we crave can’t be had in this life. And that is why it is OK to enjoy the simple pleasure in this life. It helps us live more richly in the present.
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MNCzSfv4hX8 When I was a child, the church taught me the great Bible stories. The Garden of Eden, Noah’s Ark, Moses and the parting of the Red Sea, Jonah in the belly of a fish; these are classics we grew up on. It was easier as a child to accept without hesitation the miraculous and supernatural elements of these stories. But soon after entering my fifties some doubts began to creep in. Having spent a fair amount of time in the Bible I began to wonder if some of those stories were allegories or didactics meant to teach a moral lesson. After all, Jesus himself used parables to convey spiritual truths. By the way, allegory is defined as:
“A representation of an abstract or spiritual meaning through concrete or material forms; figurative treatment of one subject under the guise of another; a symbolical narrative.”
As the years passed, it became easier to entertain the possibility that extraordinary Bible stories such as the Garden of Eden or lions lying down with lambs might be allegory instead of literal. It just seemed like the path of least resistance given the constant assault by the scientific community to discredit such stories. But then I occasionally come across things like this video (click link above) of Kevin Richardson, a park ranger in Africa. I don’t know if Richardson is a believer, but the image of the male lion embracing him like a friend reminds me that God does indeed pull off supernatural events and those events are not as far from our “real world” as we might think. This video is a glimpse into what it might be like when God is finished making all things new and the lion indeed lays down with lambs. And it ain’t no allegory.
A pet peeve is not something my ill-mannered dog leaves on the kitchen floor. It is a grievance (such as the grievance my dog has with me for neglecting to let him outside to go pee). Some peoples’ attitude about water really kinks my garden hose. Allow me to elaborate.
I have lived in California all my life (please don’t hold that against me). When I was a child, they built Whiskeytown Lake just west of Redding, California. I remember my dad taking me out there to watch the heavy equipment moving all that dirt to make way for the lake. It was impressive to behold. That’s when I fell in love with Tonka Trucks. When the project was finished, President John Kennedy flew to our little town and dedicated Whiskeytown Lake. That was the last time I witnessed the construction of a lake. In fact, it was the last time I even heard of a lake under construction in California. I will be 58 years old this month. In other words, decades have passed since the glory days of water reclamation in California, at least from my humble perspective as a water addict.
California is now in a drought, and if we do not get a wet winter in 2014-15, it will be an epic drought. Here’s the thing: I recently adjusted my automatic sprinkler system to only water on Saturdays and Tuesdays, just as the City of Sacramento requested. But I forgot about Program B in my watering system, which means it continued to water every day. This resulted in my receiving a nasty letter from the City advising me of the consequences of wasting water. I wondered who of my smiling neighbors squealed on me. Fearing that the City’s water soldiers would submit me to waterboarding, I quickly fixed the problem. Soon thereafter, Cindy and I were having lunch with friends when the sensitive topic of H2O conservation came up. My friend said he would start conserving water when the City communicated with him that it was mandatory or when his neighbor emptied his swimming pool. I detected a tone of irritation in his declaration. I quickly realized that should the water police pick me up for questioning I would have to deny that I know the man. I would not want to be seen as collaborating with water wasters.
At a family gathering I heard someone blame farmers in the Sacramento Valley for using too much water. I think this is what psychiatrists call cognitive dissonance. Anyhow, these incidents heightened my awareness of water usage in my neighborhood. Yesterday I noticed a neighbor watering his lawn in a furtive manner in the middle of the day. Watering in the middle of the day is verboten in the City. For a moment I experienced a flash of resentment towards my neighbor for not following the rules. Cindy asked if we should turn him in. Sigh! So this is what the Bible refers to about neighbor turning against neighbor, children against their parents, I thought to myself.
Where am I going with this topic? Human nature can cause people to turn on each other when everyone does not play by the same rules, and rest assured EVERYONE will never play by the same rules. Ideally, we should not get angry with our neighbors for sneaking some extra water on their lawn, the lawn they labored hard to maintain for the sake of beauty and property value. Instead, we should direct our scorn towards political leaders who have not planned accordingly to deal with this problem. Their focus is off course. For instance, California political leaders are pushing that we spend billions of dollars on a high-speed rail system. High-speed rail sounds cool, European, sophisticated, and forward thinking. But compared to the State’s failure to keep pace with the water needs of millions of new people who have moved to California since I watched them build Whiskeytown Lake, their priorities are dangerously wrong.
Well, I need to go put some bricks in my toilet tank. It’s either that or stop flushing.
Recently, a man vied for a promotion at work. He was convinced that he was the perfect fit for the new job. Some people in his church even told him that the Lord had showed them that he would be chosen for the promotion. It threw him for a loop when someone else was selected for the job. Granted, it is possible he could eventually get the promotion at some point in the future. But this situation made me wonder what we, as Christians, should think or learn when “prophecies” don’t come true.
Jeremiah 14:14 says:
“Then the Lord said to me, ‘The prophets are prophesying lies in my name. I have not sent them or appointed them or spoken to them. They are prophesying to you false visions, divinations, idolatries and the delusions of their own minds.’”
This is a strongly worded verse. The context of the verse is a situation where the nation of Israel faced drought, famine, and war. A bunch of false prophets were telling the people of Israel that everything would be fine. The Lord wanted the people of Israel to know that they were indeed facing drought, famine, and war; the opposite of what the faux prophets were saying.
If you read between the lines of Jeremiah chapter 14, it strongly implies a caution from the Lord that both the prophets AND the people who listen to the prophets have a responsibility to confirm that a prophecy is from the Lord, good news or bad. In other words, it can be questionable for prophets to prophesy only what the people want to hear and risky for the people to crave good news so much it blinds them to unpleasant realities. Today, many Christians view the role of prophet as cool. In reality, the role of a legitimate prophet is serious business, even dangerous. It is often an unpopular role because legitimate prophets are occasionally asked by God to be heralds of bad news. There’s no shortage of wannabe prophets, but fewer people than we think are anointed by God to actually BE prophets in the church.
I suspect many would-be prophets in the church today draw prophesies from their imagination. It’s understandable since humans have a very active imagination and a powerful yearning for communication with God. But we have a sober responsibility to not utter prophesies without absolute assurance that they come from God and not our own mind. Better to say nothing than something false. Also, there is nothing wrong with getting second opinions from other mature Christians before speaking a prophecy. It is also essential to pray about a prophecy and meditate on it before speaking it out in the world.
There is one more danger for would-be prophets. The nature of being a prophet entices us because it can make us feel important in the ecosystem of the church. For instance, I might never be the esteemed senior pastor, but I can be the go-to guy if I have the gift of prophesy. After all, some of the most famous people in the Bible were prophets. It’s tempting to go down that road, even if we belong on a different and less celebrated path.
The story of King Jehu is found in 2 Kings 9 and 10. Jehu’s tale reads a bit like a Game of Thrones; fraught with barbaric gamesmanship. The Lord had Jehu anointed King and instructed him to wipe out the House of Ahab. (Ahab was a rather detestable fellow who encouraged the worship of a false god.) Anyhow, Jehu utterly destroyed the House of Ahab. Near the end of chapter 10 the Lord honored Jehu for following instructions. But there was a caveat with the Lord’s praise of Jehu: Jehu did not keep the law of the Lord with all his heart. Jehu’s policies caused the people of Israel to continue sinning. As a result, the Lord limited the House of Jehu’s reign to four generations. The Lord also began to reduce the size of Israel and their status in the region.
So what, specifically, did Jehu do wrong? The Bible says Jehu did not abandon the sins of Jeroboam, a nefarious former king. In other words, Jehu allowed the people of Israel to continue worshiping a golden calf. He also allowed them to worship God in an unauthorized place and he allowed unauthorized people to enter the priesthood. Jeroboam innovated in the wrong way and Jehu did not correct Jeroboam’s mistakes.
I never understood why Jehu would follow the Lord’s instructions requiring the removal by violence of an evil leader’s administration, and yet fail to follow the Lord’s instructions regarding worship. It wasn’t like Jehu was a wimp. It didn’t seem to add up. But then I noticed something interesting 2 Kings 10:16 where Jehu greets an associate just after slaughtering a bunch of Ahab’s followers:
“Jehu said, ‘Come with me and see my zeal for the Lord.’ Then he had him ride along in his chariot.”
Note Jehu’s braggadocios zeal for the Lord. Or was it for the Lord? I’m going to stick my neck out here and suggest that this statement sounds to me like someone who loves the work of the Lord more than he loves the person of the Lord. How many of us today fall into this trap? We enjoy the work of the Lord so much we begin to add, remove, and tolerate things the Lord never asked us to add, remove, or tolerate.
Here’s the point: Despite his enthusiasm for following God’s instructions to accomplish a specific task, Jehu was also a hypocrite who broke God’s rules. We are not much different than Jehu. We can be so enthusiastic about an assignment from the Lord that we lose sight of other areas where we may have run off the rails or where God wants to accomplish something in a way that’s different from our own. Jehu’s unbridled spirit got the best of him.
Over the years, I have read numerous reports about high-profile pastors who had to resign their positions because they had an affair. When these stories break, the church often issues a statement describing how, among other things, the church will support the defrocked pastor and his family through the aftermath of the affair. Church support can take the form of professional counseling services and a restoration process designed to get the fallen pastor back to a closer life with God. Here is where the disparity comes in: I have NEVER read a church statement about a pastor’s affair that included any reference to support, counseling, and restoration made available to the other-woman in the adulterous relationship. Perhaps these churches were attempting to respect the privacy of the other-woman, but I think it more likely these women were ignored or even shunned.
There is already fallout from Lewinsky’s upcoming story in Vanity Fair. I read one shocking comment where a reader placed the entire blame on Lewinsky because “she had an affair with a married man. She made her bed and needs to sleep in it.” The ignorance and gall of such a statement is beyond my comprehension. Such an attitude is similar to that found in backwater cultures where they still stone adulterous women to death but allow adulterous men to go relatively unpunished. I suppose we have not advanced as far as we think in the West where a woman who commits adultery is sentenced to metaphorical stoning by hurtful words and shaming while her male companion (and I’m being generous) gets a wink and a nod of near tolerance. Christ encountered this type disparity in John 8 when the religious leaders brought him a women caught in adultery to see if he would support the law’s requirement of stoning her. This is where Jesus uttered the famous words “let the one who has never sinned throw the first stone.” You know the rest of the story: her accusers walked away in shame. The outcome of this story makes me wonder how many of those men in the crowd had committed adultery themselves. Perhaps some had even committed adultery with the woman they were willing to stone. It goes to show how perverse and self-righteous people can be. Fortunately Jesus sees through our schemes, self-deception, and misogyny.
Why do I bring all this up? So we will raise hell the next time we see gender-based injustice occurring in our spheres of influence, especially if it happens in the church. I’m just saying!
Those on the political right viewed Bundy as a folk hero who stood bravely against the heavy hand of an overreaching federal government. Those on the political left viewed Bundy as a moocher (oh the irony) refusing to pay for grazing fees like all other ranchers using federal land. But just as things were beginning to settle down in the Nevada desert, Bundy, while answering questions at a news conference, launched into his personal views on the plight of African Americans on government assistance, likening their plight to idleness, government subsidy (ironic), jail, abortion, picking cotton, and slavery. I don’t know if there was a legitimate moral message somewhere in the midst of Bundy’s observations on race and government assistance, but the word’s chosen and his delivery were not politically correct or helpful. In other words, he indeed sounded like a racist. This left those on the political right scrambling to distance themselves from Bundy the person without distancing themselves from the issue of an overreaching federal government. Those on the left used the opportunity of Bundy’s words to discredit Bundy, his cause, and all who supported his cause.
Skip ahead a couple weeks to April 29, 2014, and the saga of Donald Sterling, owner (or possibly a soon to be former owner) of the LA Clippers. The NBA banned Sterling from all NBA activities for life because of news that he had expressed his desire to a lady friend that she not bring black friends to Clippers games. His comments, if accurately portrayed, reflected a racist mentality. Swift public outrage led some advertisers to drop the LA Clippers. Talk of a player’s strike was bandied about. Many players, former players, team owners, representatives, sports media personalities, and fans praised the NBA commissioner’s swift and stern decision to ban Sterling from basketball. Now Sterling can only watch basketball on television. Yet this writer (always the skeptic) wonders if NBA leadership acted for purely moral reasons or because this incident stood to cost the league substantial revenue. If you have the ability to take away a significant chunk of an organization’s money, that organization’s leadership will find a way to take action to staunch the financial bleeding. This is an example of market forces (and politics) at work on a moral issue. Of course the opposite can also happen: if you promise to infuse a lot of money (with strings attached) into an organization, the leadership of the organization might be enticed to take no action or take an immoral action.
As an aside, the response of the NBA in the Sterling case is the proverbial slippery slope. In the future, what is to stop an organization from firing someone or canceling their contract because they hold unpopular views on gay marriage, global warming, suffrage (just kidding) or whatever the moral issue du jour? In such an environment it becomes easy to slip across the line from opposing a legitimate immorality to persecution of people with legitimate beliefs of conscience. Go back and re-read 1984. I guess we all need to make sure our thinking is right.
The morally superior attitude of many who responded to the words of Bundy and Sterling made me uncomfortable. Why? Because they view those who engage in this loathsome sin as irredeemable, people who should be completely discarded. But the Bible tells us it is possible to renew our minds. People can change. With God’s help, a racist can eliminate racism from his heart. And yet many who decry Bundy and Sterling come off like these two men have no hope of mercy and forgiveness.
As for Bundy and Sterling, they have encountered a hard reality about modern society: “When you play the game of thrones you win or you die.”
Jack Gleeson, the actor who portrays King Joffrey, does an excellent job inspiring viewers of the series to despise him. His character is the opposite of what humanity hopes for in a leader. I admit it was with smug satisfaction when I saw the clip of King Joffrey’s death at his own wedding (oh the irony). Youtube has videos of peoples’ reaction to the end of King Joffrey’s reign. Suffice it to say, viewers cheered. I find it encouraging that many people, even today, can still recognize an obviously nefarious despot. Of course in real life not all leaders are so obvious in their wickedness. Modern players of the Game of Thrones have learned to be shrewd. How can we tell if a leader is good?
In Proverbs 31, King Lemuel’s mother taught him three pearls of wisdom for a king: (1) Don’t waste your strength on promiscuous women. (2) Kings should not crave beer and wine which clouds judgment. (3) Kings are supposed to speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves, and defend the rights of the poor. Proverbs 31 confirms that humanity has always had leaders who struggle with personal vices and misguided focus. When was the last time we saw a king or political leader who reflected all three of these pearls of wisdom? Power remains to this day a very addicting and toxic thing. Few have the wisdom and morality to wield it properly. Fortunately God has a hand in who rises to power, and who falls from power.
Game of Thrones is clearly not a representation of the positive and lighthearted side of monarchies and oligarchies (with the possible exception of Tyrion’s wit). The often abysmal real-life history of monarchies and oligarchies testifies to the exceptionalism of the rare unsullied leader who wields power solely to help the people. This is why Christ is so appealing to millions around the world. He is the ultimate king with unlimited power, and yet he only has our best interest at heart. Even democracies and republics can’t boast of producing many leaders who ALWAYS place the people first. Yes, human systems of government will always be subject to the schemes of corrupt individuals. This reality makes Christ and his Kingdom very precious, at least to those who choose to be part of his Kingdom.
On a side note, do I recommend Game of Thrones to new viewers? Nope. Why? Well, the acting is very good and the storyline draws you in like a good book, but the gore, coarse language, and explicit sexuality are necessary elements to the story. Such elements are not exactly conducive to Christianity’s imperative that we renew our minds. On the other hand, the show reminds us that some people remain honorable and good in the midst of darkness. Game of Thrones is not for the squeamish or those with delicate sensibilities. The ladies book club at church should probably pass on this one. I’m just saying.