Archive for » June, 2015 «

Critical Mass

Click here to read Isaiah 51 on BibleGateway.com

Listen to me, you who know right from wrong,
you who cherish my law in your hearts.
Do not be afraid of people’s scorn,
nor fear their insults – Isaiah 51:7

Why do successful people do what they do?  Yes, NFL quarterbacks make a helmet-full of cashola, but do you think they do what they do for the money?  Why do the world’s top actors keep acting?  If it was just for money, why not stop after you make that first 20 million?

In a word – approval .  Successful people do what they do because they want to be the best at what they do, be that athletics, art, politics, or whatever.  And why do we want to be the best?  So that everyone else will know that we are the best (and hopefully tell us from time to time how awesometacular we are).  We want to win more championships, own more real estate, or set that record.

Unfortunately, as many successful people have stated, no matter how high you climb, there will always be someone telling you how you should have climbed faster, or that you don’t really belong on the mountain at all. Margaret Thatcher, the Iron Lady of British politics, said “If my critics saw me walking over the Thames they would say it was because I couldn’t swim.” And no matter who you are or how successful you become, the criticism always stings a little. The author Isaac Aimov once stated that “from my close observation of writers… they fall into two groups: 1) those who bleed copiously and visibly at any bad review, and 2) those who bleed copiously and secretly at any bad review.” We try to ignore what the naysayers say nayingly, but it seems those little barbs drop straight down into the gut and setup shop for the next decade.

WHY BE YE SURPRISED?

We live in an world that loves to criticize.  We love to criticize more than we love to produce; a recent study found that more people would like to be a film critic than a director.  Think about that.  More people want to sit and criticize other people’s work than actually do any work themselves.  It’s almost mind-boggling.  You may be shocked to find out that some people even criticize these devotionals.  Unbelievable, isn’t it.

Of course, living for people’s approval is very difficult for the Christian. Jesus flatly told us “in this world you will have trouble” and “people will hate you because of me.” The closer we get to Christ, the less approval from the world we can expect.  So why are we surprised when people call us idiots, challenge our beliefs, and mock our morals?  After all, if people were loving us, maybe we should take a hard look at our walk with Christ.

APPROVAL RATING

So how do we avoid taking criticism so seriously? Or, to put it another way, how do we change our attitudes so that acceptance is not our goal? Simply speaking, by knowing God’s word. Isaiah tells us that if we know right from wrong, if we pursue God’s truth, then we won’t fear people’s insults and criticisms.  Jesus wryly commented once that critics called  John the Baptist demon-possessed because he didn’t drink wine, and then called Jesus a drunkard when he did.  People will criticize you no matter what you do – so don’t work for their approval.  Strive to know Christ and please the Father: what other opinion matters?

“If you don’t live by the praise of men you won’t die by their criticism.” Bill Johnson

The Last unBattle

Click here to read Revelation 20 on BibleGateway.com

Satan will be released from his prison and will go out to deceive the nations in the four corners of the earth… to gather them for battle. – Revelation 20: 7-8

fight_cartoonWe all love stories.  And what’s the one thing all good stories have (besides superheroes that dress in black)?  Drama. We all love a good dramatic scene; if Lex Luthor has to lose, he should at least go out with a bang.  If the hero is gonna win, he at least needs to be bloodied a bit and break a sweat.  And hopefully rip a shirt or two on the way.  We like it when the hero barely makes it, the girl almost leaves on the plane, the battle is seemingly lost, the doughnut is nearly eaten.  It’s the snatching victory from the jaws of defeat that makes us spill our popcorn all over our new shirt in excitement.

And of course, we bring this into our reading of the Bible as well.  Often times, filmakers/authors like to depict the battle at the end of time, with Satan and his evil horde on one side, and with God’s army on the other.  The armies line up and face each across a wide valley, and with a mighty shout (and typically a cavalry charge, since apparently the angels aren’t aware of firearms) the two armies smash into each other and voila, epic battle scene.

ANTI-CLIMATIC

Reality, alas, is sometimes not as accommodating.  We get the idea that God and Satan have this big rumble at the end of time, and though we know Michael (he’s the Han Solo of the whole shebang) is going to win in the end – he has a 2-1 advantage after all – we anticipate it’s going to be a monumental fight.  But the Bible doesn’t really say it that way: here’s the blow by blow of the last battle:

–  In number they (Satan’s army) are like the sand on the seashore.
– They marched across the breadth of the earth and surround God’s people.
– Fire came down from heaven  and devoured them.
– The End.

Oh, and also, Satan gets thrown into a burning lake.

HERE AT THE END OF ALL THINGS

That’s it.  There’s no battle; there’s no struggle; there’s no one-on-one sword fight between God and Satan with the fate of the cosmos hanging in the balance.  Let’s be clear – God. Doesn’t. Fight. Satan.

Ever.

Satan (and all his evil hench-demons) are nothing but kindling for God.  There is no struggle between good and evil, no yin and yang that must be balanced in the Universe, no fight that Satan “almost” wins.  He never even gets close.  Never even leaves the starting blocks.

God does not struggle against anything.  He Is. It’s only because of Him that anything that exists can exist.  It only takes an act of His will to accomplish his purposes.  Do you really think that a God that brings everything that ever was and ever could be into existence with a simple spoken Word is going to strain to defeat a chump like Satan?  In the end, in His time, He just finishes it.  And then we get to spend eternity in the presence of a God with power like that.

That’s the best story of them all.

Caution: Fire May Be Hot

Click here to read Deuteronomy 22 on BibleGateway.com

Deuteronomy 22:2: If you see your fellow Israelite’s ox or sheep straying, do not ignore it but be sure to take it back to its owner. If they do not live near you or if you do not know who owns it, take it home with you and keep it until they come looking for it. Then give it back.

signAnd now, my children, hearken unto my words, and we shall delve into that most classic of all stand-up comedian routines – the warning label. It may be cliché, but irresistible nonetheless. So, for your perusal:

– A hairdryer states “do not use while sleeping.”
– Many irons come with a warning “do not iron clothes while wearing them.”
– Synthetic logs carry a warning that they are flammable.
– Chainsaws are required to carry a warning to “not hold the wrong end of a chain saw.”

Now, the usual rationalization given for these warning labels is twofold: one, we live in such a litigious society that if a product does not clearly label all its potential dangers, someone is going to sue them the first time they try to iron the pants they’re wearing; and two, people are idiots.

HEY, FREE GOAT!

Lest you think idiocy started with the modern era, the Bible gives some indications that people have been either unbelievably dumb or somewhat more believably sneaky for a few thousand years. In ancient Israel, along with all the fun dietary laws, there were laws regarding found property. If you found something lying on the road that belonged to a neighbor, you were required to give it back to them (note: you couldn’t even just ignore it; you were required to get involved). Moreover, if the item belonged to someone who lived far away (or if you didn’t know who owned it), you were required to keep it safe at your house until they came looking for it.

Then the Bible throws in the little extra: “then give it back.” So, try to keep this straight: if you take something that belongs to someone else, and they come to get it, you have to give it back. Wondering why the Bible has to be so specific? Option one: people are idiots and need to be told every step of the process. Or, option two: people know that God says “do not steal,” however, what if you just “find” something that belongs to someone else? Surely you can keep that, right? Generally speaking, if there is a loophole to be found in the rules, somehow we will find it.

UNBLISS

The truth is that willful ignorance never has been and never will be an excuse to do the wrong thing. You can’t close your eyes as you go past the speed limit sign and then tell the kindly police officer you didn’t know what the limit was. The law is the law, even if you try to avoid knowing it. The Bible tells us that God’s laws are written on our hearts.  In other words, deep down, we know we shouldn’t murder, even if we never read a word of scripture.   Sometimes people get the idea that if they just don’t read all of the Bible, that somehow God will give them a pass into heaven, since “we didn’t know.”  Unfortunately, the Bible itself seems to rule that out.  Sorry.

Perhaps we’re asking the wrong question.  Instead of trying to avoid knowing the Law as much as we can, perhaps we should be pursing the Lawgiver as closely as we can, then following the Law might just follow naturally.  If we are trying to Love God and Neighbor, then we wouldn’t need a rule on giving back someone’s wallet – we would already be doing that, driven by love rather than law.

Which is the whole point of the law after all.