Wednesday, October 25, 2006

Voting as a Christian

Now is that time of year where we get all those ads on T.V., radio, and in the mail telling us who to vote for (and what to vote for). Even on talk shows and the news, someone is telling us who to vote for. Although these decisions are serious, they are really funny too. Let me explain.

My wife and I get a lot of advertising in the mail from different candidates in our area. We find a lot of the advertising to be amusing. They all fall in one of three categories.

  • Vote for me, because my opponent is an idiot/evil.
  • Vote for me, because I will make life better for you (or I will meet all your needs).
  • Vote for me, because I will make life better for you, and I am not my opponent.

In the marketing realm this is called "differentiation." It is the process of using meta-messages to convey that this or that candidate is unique, and that it is beneficial to those who would vote for them. (Sorry, I see everything through a marketing lens sometimes.)

Okay, what does this have to do with me as a Christian?

We are bombarded with meta-messages everyday in our culture. Meta-messages are small bits of communication designed to share a broad and complicated thought in shorthand for a culture used to sound-bites and pseudo-information. We are taught to even think in meta-messages. In fact, many Christians talk in meta-messages, not even realizing where these messages originated. And these meta-messages influence the way we think, and ultimately how we view reality.

For instance, we all know that we should not believe in evolution. Right? Well, why? Is it because it goes against the idea of a Creator God, or because it isn't true? Do Christians hold a particular view because it was communicated (marketed) within their sphere of influences, or because they examined the evidence for and against the assertion? Do we believe something is true because we know it is true, or because we were taught it?

Now, these questions are tricky, because they don't have an easy good or bad approach to it. But they can help us understand how we form opinions on different subjects. And why the Bible can sometimes not be the main influencing factor in our lives.

What can we do to minimize the effects of meta-messages?

For me, I need to first recognize the meta-messages and parse them. When someone says they hate the war in Iraq, or that Bush is evil, I don't stop with listening to the message, but I ask if it is a message designed to shut down all thought processes, so I would interpret the world in a certain way.

Second, I want to do my own homework. I try to reserve judgement until further notice. Yes, it annoys some people when I don't agree with them right away. But why spread slander and gossip if I can avoid it. I will hold my tongue and seek understanding first.

Third, after coming to my own conclusions about matters, I am not quick to share it. Instead, I listen to people's perspectives, test their statements against what I've discovered, and even test my own conclusions. If I must share (because I recognize an underlining violation of reality or direction the person is taking that is away from God) I would try to gently instruct based on what I know — not what I don't know. (I sometimes fail at this.) Ultimately, I want to allow them to come to their own conclusions on the matter.

Last, considering all things the best I can, I must act. This action can be voting, but it is hardly reduced to this. Action involves helping another person come to a deeper understanding too, testing my understanding, worshiping God, prayer, humble acceptance, learning to love those who differ in opinions, and living honestly.

We must mature from reeds moved about by the wind and the waves, into a stable oak tree.

Friday, October 20, 2006

New Site Design

For those of you who have been reading my blog, my site has a new design. I am experimenting with this new Google Blogger Beta. So far I really like it. It is far superior, even in beta, than the last version. I plan to blog more frequently.

Friday, October 13, 2006

Why Our Ideas of Humbleness May Be Wrong

What does it mean to be humble? I believe most people would agree that being humble is the opposite of being boastful or proud. Many would even agree that a humble person is one who would never acknowledge that they are humble. Their view of a humble person is one who rejects bringing attention to themselves, is nice to everyone, tends to be self-deprecating, never claims to be better than someone else, and never seeks praise from others. Some people believe that humble people even shun other people's praise.

But are these popular notions justified? I think in some circumstances they are. But they may not be the rule. Here's why: look at Jesus, the most humble among men.

On the issue of humble people never claiming to be humble:
" 'All things have been committed to me by my Father. No one knows the Son except the Father, and no one knows the Father except the Son and those to whom the Son chooses to reveal him.

" 'Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.' (Matthew 11:27-30)"

On the issue of humble people never bringing attention to themselves:
"When Jesus spoke again to the people, he said, 'I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.' (John 8:12)"
On the issue of humble people being nice to everyone:
"When it was almost time for the Jewish Passover, Jesus went up to Jerusalem. In the temple courts he found men selling cattle, sheep and doves, and others sitting at tables exchanging money. So he made a whip out of cords, and drove all from the temple area, both sheep and cattle; he scattered the coins of the money changers and overturned their tables. To those who sold doves he said, 'Get these out of here! How dare you turn my Father's house into a market!' (John 2:13-16)"

" 'Woe to you, blind guides! You say, "If anyone swears by the temple, it means nothing; but if anyone swears by the gold of the temple, he is bound by his oath." You blind fools! Which is greater: the gold, or the temple that makes the gold sacred? You also say, "If anyone swears by the altar, it means nothing; but if anyone swears by the gift on it, he is bound by his oath." You blind men! Which is greater: the gift, or the altar that makes the gift sacred? Therefore, he who swears by the altar swears by it and by everything on it. And he who swears by the temple swears by it and by the one who dwells in it. And he who swears by heaven swears by God's throne and by the one who sits on it.' (Matthew 23)"
On the issue of humble people being self-deprecating or never claiming to be better than someone else (emphasis mine):
"Jesus said, 'When you have lifted up the Son of Man, then you will know that I am the one I claim to be and that I do nothing on my own but speak just what the Father has taught me. The one who sent me is with me; he has not left me alone, for I always do what pleases him.' Even as he spoke, many put their faith in him. (John 8:28-30)"

"Jesus replied, 'If I glorify myself, my glory means nothing. My Father, whom you claim as your God, is the one who glorifies me. Though you do not know him, I know him. If I said I did not, I would be a liar like you, but I do know him and keep his word.' (John 8:54-55)"
These examples should give us pause for two reasons. It should temper what we think we know about the Bible and Jesus, and they should cause us to think more deeply about how we read the Bible. If you read the Bible as a book of rules and laws, we may miss the point. Even if we read the Bible for general principles, we can be fooled in believing that the key to following the Bible's teachings is to break the principles down into easy-to-follow steps (or rules). "Jesus helped people, so our life's work is helping people by giving them a middle-class lifestyle, an American value system, good grooming habits, and responsible treatment of the environment."

First of all, the Bible is not a single book, but rather a library of testimony from various sources, from various perspectives and genres. Although it is a collection of different writings from different authors, it contains a single theme and testimony about an invisible God. It testifies that this God created everything we understand as physical. This God allowed us to exist with wills of our own, like He has. And though mankind rebelled against Him, He worked throughout history to bring about what He intended all along: to reveal Himself in physical form within our physical understanding, and create a path for mankind to return to Him for all eternity in unbroken relationship.

There's more to it than that, because the Bible is obviously very thick! But the idea that we can read the Bible for general principles and learn ways of conducting ourselves is seriously falling far short of its goals. Like Jesus said to the religious of his day, "
the Father who sent me has himself testified concerning me. You have never heard his voice nor seen his form, nor does his word dwell in you, for you do not believe the one he sent. You diligently study the Scriptures because you think that by them you possess eternal life. These are the Scriptures that testify about me, yet you refuse to come to me to have life." (John 5:37-40)

Let's humble ourselves and seek truth, grace, and honesty in our relationships with God, with ourselves, and with other people, for that is the goal of this life and for eternity.

Monday, October 09, 2006

Bad Questions

The worst types of questions to ask are the one's that are designed to not be answerable. I don't mean questions that have perplexed mankind for centuries, or sincere questions of faith and experience. I mean those that are designed to conceal hidden motives and unbelief.

Here are some types of questions that are designed to conceal:

  • If God is good, why is there evil in the world. What makes this question bad is not the question itself. Some people have asked this in their greatest moments of pain and feelings of abandonment. However, for the person who has decided to evade the reality of God, this question is a mechanism to hide their desire to remain ignorant so that they can appear sincere and pious while holding to the foolish notion that there is no God.
  • If God only saves those who trust in Jesus, what happens to those who've never heard of him? Again, this question is not a bad question for the person honestly struggling with the issue. What makes this bad is that the person who wants to appear that they care, but secretly has no such concern, will use this question to challenge Jesus' identity rather than come to grips with him for themselves. The sad thing is that the question doesn't matter to this person, because they don't believe, and they will have no excuse when they see him physically.
  • If God is all-powerful, why did he allow...? From the creation story and the history of the world to our individual lives, we can sometimes wonder why things happened the way that they did. We even wonder why God would allow this, and not allow that. Sometimes this is a legitimate question, because we don't know everything like we think we do. But sometimes asking that question is futile. If a child spills some milk, no matter how much we agonize, it still happened and we still must clean it up. If God chose to do something a certain way, he has a reason. But a choice was made. If God had chosen a different course in history, we wouldn't be able to perceive it, and would probably complain why didn't he do it another way. What makes this question bad is that it conceals our spirit of complaining and arguing. We don't like something, or we don't get what we want, so in unbelief, we complain.
  • I am a Christian, and the church is not a place or a building. Why do I have to go to church, when I can commune and worship God at home? This question makes some true assumptions about the nature of the church. It also is true that God desires a sincere devotion to Him that can not be manufactured by church-going. But the question ignores (on purpose) the true reasons for meeting together as a body of believers. This question often is asked to avoid the messy process of personal growth and community building. The Bible assumes that growth cannot happen apart from people. For instance, it is easy to be a loving individual if there is no one around to test you. We would rather avoid situations that test our assumptions about ourselves, and other people.
  • I don't like church. Isn't it full of hypocrites? This question is really masking a statement of hubris. The person who asks this is just looking for an excuse not to participate in meeting with God's people. They do this by being judgmental — and yet they don't want to appear judgmental. They are saying underneath the mask that they are better than that. They are not hypocrites, nor do they even eat with hypocrites. But to get behind the question, one need only ask them if they go to work, drive a car, or go to the store. Then ask them if there are any hypocrites in those situations. Of course there are. But they've never thought about it that way.
  • Why are so many Christians nothing like Jesus? In order to ask this question, the person must have an intimate knowledge of what Jesus was really like. Some people feel that they do, while some people have a fairly good idea but have been exposed to a lot of bad examples. (In the case of the latter, they may be asking the question out of the pain of being in a fallen world, and desire something better.) The real issue is not those who profess to be followers of Jesus, because we know that Jesus did not come to save the righteous, but sinners. The real issue, that most people avoid, is about ourselves. Why are we nothing like Jesus? Perhaps we can begin to understand the Gospel message, if we ponder this instead.
  • How can Jesus be the only way to God, when there are so many other religions? This question is similar to the "What about those who've never heard of Jesus?" question. The difference is that it is more accusatory, while this one can be sincere. But what can make this question bad, is that many people don't spend much time understanding what different religions teach. They assume that there are some core essentials that they all share, that give us a sense of who God is. This question can be smug in the sense that those who ask it figure they are coming from a more enlightened viewpoint — looking down from on-high at all the little people trying to figure out God, while they have a better vantage point. It is pretty obvious they don't believe anyone can have a superior vantage point (except themselves). Behind the veneer they are asking this question because they believe Christian's are smug in saying they are right and everyone else is wrong. But the very idea of holding something as true, automatically eliminates something else that claims to be true, even for the person that doesn't believe that Jesus is the only way to God. Life is a gamble. We are betting on something to be true for eternity. The important issue is whether or not it is a good gamble, not on what someone else says.
What is the central problem? What makes a question bad? In order to turn amoral questions into immoral ones, the essential element of intent must be considered. The intent of the heart is often to do evil, not to seek the good. (Jeremiah 17:9; Romans 3:10-18) We have desires that war for our soul, and questions are sometimes the ideal way of avoiding the truth in our hearts.

Pain is usually the vehicle that turns our hearts. When we are at the end of our rope, the questions become different. We will begin seeking answers, instead of just making statements. We will be made ready to receive, because we will have nothing to hide. Then we will be prepared to not only ask better questions, we will stop asking the wrong people and ask the Answer.