Phil Robertson of Duck Dynasty

Phil Robertson of Duck Dynasty

Until the other day, I had only heard about the uproar over Duck Dynasty’s Phil Robertson and A&E’s decision to suspend him from the reality show he stars in. I hadn’t read the actual article in GQ magazine that started it all.

The uproar is over Phil’s apparently raunchy, gay-bashing remarks. Having watched the show several times this year, I knew that he can be a colorful character, so I braced myself for a real doozie.

Well, first of all, and to my surprise, it was the author who struck me as raunchy. From the opening paragraph, I thought, wow, this guy’s like a kid trying to impress people with big-boy words (F-bombs and other language)—long before Phil made a peep.

When I read what Phil actually said, my second thought was, that’s what everyone’s freaking out over? That Phil finds it illogical for some men to prefer men over women? He specified that it was just his opinion, and I detected no ill will, bashing, or ridicule. And his raunchiest words were “vagina” and “anus.” For Phil, I think clinical terms were his best attempt at maximum sensitivity.

Shrug.

Now A&E certainly has the right to react and run their business as they see fit. If they didn’t like what Phil said, or more likely, feared advertiser repercussions and grief, that’s their choice. Personally, I think it’s a bit cowardly, but I’m not running their business.

Phil Robertson also has the right to express his opinion, although there may have been something in his contract stating that his on- and off-camera remarks were subject to approval. Who knows? But he strikes me as having more courage than A&E execs do, and whatever happens from here, I think Phil and his dynasty might even be better off while A&E may have shot themselves in the foot.

As for the gay community, they have as much right to God’s love as anyone else. They certainly have some legitimate challenges here, what with crazy, hateful people running loose who call themselves “real” Christians yet haven’t a whiff of God’s spirit in them. Like the Pharisees, they’re the same sort of self-proclaimed, but clueless “experts” for whom Jesus had more than a few sobering words. But Phil doesn’t strike me as one of that breed and I think people are, honestly, overreacting.

Here’s my bigger point: In America’s culture war and identity crisis, both sides fear they’re being mowed down by a relentless machine that will stop at nothing to wipe the other out. And both sides have a point. So people love drama and are perpetually poised, like cobras, to turn anything into a fight—the nastier, the better.

Contemporary rendering of a poster from the Un...Perpetual alarm, anger, and mistrust are hallmarks of a deeply unhealthy society of unhealthy individuals, and ours is definitely sick no matter how Christian or non-Christian it claims to be. By contrast, authentic Christian faith is marked by, among other things, a pervasive sense of unrattled-ness. Jesus was never rattled. Neither are his strongest followers.

But human beings are funny. We keep stabbing ourselves in the eye with a sharp fork. We ask the doctor why there’s such terrible pain in the eye, and when we’re told to simply stop stabbing ourselves with the fork, we grab it even tighter and look for a different answer.

So the way I see it, everyone is given the opportunity to contribute to Jesus’ vision of self- and neighbor love. If more people on both sides learned to stop feeding the drama, it would stop feeding on us and making chumps of us all. Seriously, who wants to be a chump? 

Blessings, peace, and a happy drama-free New Year to all! 

 

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The best revenge is to live well. Remember, yo...Let’s recap the divine strategy behind the first 3 steps: People who overcome willful anger and contempt (Step 1) are less focused on the wrong-being of neighbors. It’s therefore easier to stop lusting after them as objects, make them targets, or wish them ill will (Step 2).

This in turn makes it easier—almost natural—to stop swearing this or that to manipulate neighbors’ opinions and judgments. Yes can be yes, and No can be no without insisting that they see things your way (Step 3).

If you follow the Sermon on the Mount’s sequence, Jesus’ path to love and good will gets easier, not harder, because he builds success right into it. Would he promote something designed to make you to fail? I think if people knew this, they’d be greatly relieved and abandon the false notion that Christ-like love is super-difficult or not very smart. It just takes practice and planning.

You don’t tackle everything all at once. Work on each step until you’re prepared for the next, like learning ABCs before writing words, then sentences, then paragraphs. The new you isn’t conjured out of nowhere, either by you or by God. The power comes from building up to a spirit capable of love. You get that by de-constructing 6 habits universal to all people.

These habits always seem right, so we embrace them like a “harlot.” However, once you divorce this divorce from God, and the Spirit’s strengthening action is added to the mix, you become a person substantially like Christ, mended and whole yet still uniquely you. In his preface to the Sermon, Jesus calls it getting beyond the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees (Mat. 5:20).

“Death to self” is really nothing more than that. You kill off what’s killing you so that you gain self-control, and your soul flourishes. It’s unfortunate that “self” is a dirty word in today’s Christian culture, yet it’s where the focus must be in a relationship with God that empowers you to move in His direction. Otherwise, you can’t obey Jesus’ command to love your neighbors as yourself, and you remain lost, pulled in a hundred different directions. (more…)

English: A metaphorical visualization of the w...

English: A metaphorical visualization of the word Anger. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Few people realize that the secret to a more loving spirit and wellness in the soul is to get free of 6 universal habits that sabotage it. Jesus exposes them in his Sermon on the Mount.

You’ve probably heard parts of the Sermon many times, but never realized that it’s one continuous dissertation, not a random collection of disconnected sayings. (Three full chapters, Mat. 5 – Mat. 7.)

Also, Jesus presents it in a specific order, step by step. This is the secret to putting off the old self and putting on the new, as Paul phrased it (Eph. 4:22; Col. 3:10).

The Savior has first-hand, divine expertise on the workings of the human soul, and died to ensure that we can put his words into practice without paying a Death penalty for mistakes while we learn. You can overcome sin and evil with good if you simply “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.” (Mat. 11:29)  

Therefore, I thought I’d re-post my series on the sneaky habits that Jesus addresses in his talk from the hillside. Because they usually come disguised as “right,” it often feels wrong to give them up. Evil always masquerades as right, exactly why these universal habits remain deeply entrenched in all cultures.

Step One

You have heard it said to the people long ago, ‘Do not murder, and anyone who murders will be subject to judgment.’ But I’m telling you that anyone who is angry with his brother will be subject to judgment also. Again, anyone who says to his brother, ‘Raca,’ is answerable to the Sanhedrin [Jewish equivalent to the Supreme Court]. But anyone who says, ‘You fool!’ will be in danger of the fire of hell.” (Mat. 5:21-22)

Step 1 is to eliminate retained, habitual, willful anger and scorn. (Raca and fool are terms of contempt.) Unless you start here, your spiritual walk might as well be on greased marbles. If you’ve ever wondered why Christ-like love seems impossibly unrealistic, this is why. But Jesus is laying out an intelligent course that leads to a loving spirit quite capable and willing to pray for enemies, bless those who curse you, etc., assuming you want to go there with him.

“Angry with” includes everything from pet peeves to irate rants to raging violence. “Brother” is synonymous with “neighbor.” “Subject to judgment” refers to human judgment as well as God’s.

Contempt covers a lot of ground, too. “You fool!” is evil because it includes all forms of ridicule, shame, malice, indignation, and superiority—which most people consider good and proper as long as the “right” people are shamed and ridiculed. In fact, you’re quite the “fool” yourself if you give this habit up and refuse to indulge it.

Obviously, if you’re full of scorn, you can’t genuinely love (wish goodness for) the objects of your scorn. You’re too preoccupied with making sure they know your disdain. So a soul in this condition is petty and pinched, easily offended, and at the mercy of every situation they encounter. They don’t overcome; they’re owned. Powerless.

The Mechanics of Anger

To merely feel anger is no more sin than to feel a toothache. Anger is a reflexive emotion like pain and fear, and has a legitimate function. By God’s design, we have no control over its arrival, so there’s no need for guilt. But willful anger or nursing a grudge is the sin that Jesus is addressing. Just as we’re not designed to live in constant pain or fear, neither are we designed to function well in constant irritation.

Anger’s only purpose is to alert us to an offended sense of internal “justice.” That can be anything from being cut off in traffic, to a rude remark, to an actual crime. The point of the alert isn’t to put “that jerk” in his place, but rather, to let you know there’s something that needs your immediate attention. Whatever can be accomplished with anger can be better accomplished without it.

Anger’s antidote is mercy—that is, to temporarily suspend the sense of offense for a moment, a day, a month, whatever. This does not mean to deny that a wrong was committed or pretend it’s okay. Jesus never did that. You fully acknowledge the fact, but choose to not take action until the anger alert subsides. You’ll find a new, almost giddy sense of power and control.

This takes planning ahead of time, i.e., intention, will. If you genuinely want to get free of anger’s grip, don’t wait until your blood is boiling to try it out. That moment is too late. So make a plan well in advance and start with small aggravations. As you practice the new habit of mercy over a month or so, you’ll get stronger and better at it until one day, you’ll catch yourself in the act of being gracious.

When it happened to me, Jesus’ words never rang more true: “My yoke is easy and my burden is light.” While everyone else touts random acts of kindness as a big deal, yours will be routine.

Not What We’ve Heard

Getting rid of anger is the first step to good will and a healthy soul. Indulged anger and contempt always seek to do harm to one degree or another. And that always returns harm: judgment—first from neighbors, then from God. Also, there’s always an element of self-righteous ego in it, however mild it may be. Whenever I get mad, it sure isn’t because I humbly believe I’m wrong.

So the benefits of Jesus’ strategy are first to the self, then to neighbors. This step alone brings greater strength, patience, joy, a sense of direction, life to the full. It isn’t selfish; it’s why Jesus says to love your neighbor as yourself. Thus, if I let go of my “right” to be mad, not only do I un-sabotage my own spirit, I also un-sabotage my neighbors.

FrankensteinTransformation of a collective body happens just the way it does in an individual body: from the inside out.

It begins in the mind, in a unified vision, thought processes, and feelings. Then it settles into the will and heart where it dwells as belief and intent. Finally, it inhabits the whole body as loving behavior in all neighbor relations.

The result is the mending of an entire social structure, sense of place, and community with God. Jesus likened it to yeast working its way through a batch of dough (Mat. 13:33).

The opposite is also true. Evil inhabits a collective body just the way it does an individual: first in a mind-set, then the heart, and finally, in behavior and relationships. The result is a fractured society of individuals incapable of neighbor love. Good will seems strange, out of place, and possibly not too bright.

This is a dead body going through external motions to appear alive, but not embracing the inner character that is life. Many of its parts attack or reject one another, and few are securely attached to the head. As Paul said it, “without love…having a form of godliness, but denying its power.” (2Tim. 3:5)

How the Love of Most Grows Cold

Attack comes in many forms—willful anger, bullying, lying, stealing, murder, and more. Rejection is another form. Damage comes by withholding goodness, mercy, encouragement, or honesty. Rejection inflicts cold indifference and withdrawal intended to harm.

Verbal assault is a misuse of power that’s often elevated to an art form, especially in political circles, but in all parts of society. The readiness to publically cut people down is considered a skill and earns respect and applause. Even Christians get into the act.

I’ve been a life-long Christian, but not so long ago, I honestly thought that the best way to handle people who treated me badly was with an all-out verbal assault. I hurled word-grenades designed to inflict damage and put people “in their place.” Sometimes, it got me what I wanted, with the added bonus of smug satisfaction. Other times, it completely backfired.

Love is cold even in the body of “believers” because we make it conditional. For example, we say that respect must be earned. You respect me, I’ll respect you. One good turn deserves another. But hurt me, and I’ll hurt you. Alternatively, I may try to get God to hurt you. At the very least, I won’t ask Him to bless you, but will hope instead that He withholds it.

When our sense of well-being depends entirely on people treating us well, we’re left in the position of figuring out how to control them. The result is conditional love and a readiness to attack if conditions aren’t met—pronto.

A Heads-Up

It’s interesting that Satan is characterized as a single serpent, and Jesus characterized the Pharisees, who embodied the devil, as a brood of vipers (Mat. 3:7; 12:34; 23:33; Luk. 3:7). He warns that their yeast is in the dough, too.

The typical Christian today isn’t a disciple, but merely a convert to rules and doctrines (like the old me). It gives the appearance of life, but doesn’t impart life. This was the woeful situation among the Pharisees, whom Jesus said traveled far and wide to win converts, but made them twice as evil as they were (Mat. 23:15). It explains why love is lukewarm at best even for life-long Christians.

So, whether it’s a family, congregation, institution, city, or nation, any social body poised to strike is in a habitual posture of ill will. Collectively, with no intent or means of loving neighbor as self, it’s unprepared, “unfit,” and simply in no position to treat all human beings with unconditional love and good will. It just implodes in self-destructive chaos.

Mankind’s hope, then, is in new life from above, readily available through knowing God and His Son. This is God’s eternal plan now underway to get the head reattached to humanity’s body. Disciples learn to stop cooperating with various forms of attack in the misguided need to control others. In the gracious use of power, we cooperate with God, control ourselves, and get fit.

Then we can be trusted with more, and the larger body of man is transformed and redeemed, one individual at a time, from the inside out.

Practice

Obviously, the best model for Christ-likeness is Jesus himself. So it’s eye-opening to watch how he used his power. How did he react when people attacked him?

First, note that he wasn’t easily offended. His strength and well-being didn’t depend on people treating him right, especially not those who thought they held all the power and control. Even when driving the money-changers from the temple, Jesus was never manipulated into an out-of-control fit. Decide whether or not you’d like a similar freedom, and what you’d need to change to get it.

Then, try this. Picture Jesus belittling the woman caught in adultery. See him hold his nose when interacting with sinners. Hear him hiss, telling his disciples to lord it over people as most leaders do. Watch him refuse to heal a woman on the Sabbath, reminding the congregation that a sheep is more valuable and worth rescue than a person is.

Watch as he calls down curses and legions of angels from the cross. After his resurrection, look how he rakes Peter over the coals for denying him.

Silly, right? Even in a vulnerable human body, Jesus knew how to handle who he is and the power he has. We can become the same, classy kind of people. If you think not, ask him what the purpose of Christ-like love is. On the other hand, if you believe that Christ-likeness just gets infused into you like electricity, how long must you wait for it, and are you to live like a monster in the meantime?

It’s worth asking because you’re a treasure that Jesus considered worth laying down his life for. If he can rise from the crucifixion, surely, a few honest questions won’t kill him. So you’re safe with him, and he’s safe with you.

Sunset Silouette

Neighbors (Photo credit: davepatten)

God invites us into His epic saga where a collective body of mankind passes from spiritual death to life one life at a time. In this adventure, He gives us relationships.

Everyone has neighbors, and everyone is a neighbor to everyone else. Neighbors include spouses and family, friends and acquaintances, co-workers and classmates, and even strangers we’ve never met. Some are kind, some are hostile, and some are indifferent.

Because this body of neighbors is lost and broken, we’ve all been hurt and we all hurt others to one degree or another. Collectively, we’re the walking wounded because we’re like children with live grenades. We don’t understand how to lovingly exercise the power of free thought, will, and behavior.

Without joining God’s adventure, perhaps the best we can manage of life is to get whatever we can without too much damage to self and neighbors. The worst we can do is to inflict as much harm on as many people as possible, including ourselves. Either way, it’s no way to live.

The Healing Connection

Multitudes of the walking wounded have experienced nothing but rejection or abuse at the hands of others. They’ve never experienced any sense of belonging, of love, or so much as a whiff of community in any body of neighbors. People thus deprived simply shrivel and die inside.

As neighbors, you and I are designed to be connected, not detached from one other. Yet it isn’t good to depend primarily on one another. This might surprise some readers.

Using a body analogy, many Christians teach that God designed us specifically to be dependent on one another. They’ll explain that the kidneys, for example, depend on the lungs, and the lungs depend on the stomach, and so on. In conclusion, they’ll say, “Imagine if kidneys and lungs didn’t do their jobs. In the same way, God wants us to depend on each other.”

It sounds good until you realize that a thriving body depends primarily on each part’s connection to the brain, not between its parts. So, the kidneys don’t do their job because of the lungs, but because of the brain.

Likewise, thriving neighbor relationships rely on connection to Christ. Even when it’s established for only one of the persons, it’s no longer vital to be “treated right” by the other. For example, if you insult, judge, or reject me, I’m not devastated and therefore feel no need to retaliate. I can wish you good will because my well-being doesn’t depend on you.

If I’m extremely well-practiced in this, (which I’m not yet) as the original Christians were, nothing you can do to me will harm me, including murder. My well-being simply doesn’t depend on you, and doesn’t even depend on me remaining in my physical body. This independence is Jesus’ “secret” behind turning the other cheek, praying for enemies, and blessing those who curse you. In other words, neighbor love.

But it’s rarely taught to today’s Christians. Instead, we attempt turning-the-other-cheek behavior simply because “the Bible says so,” neither understanding the sequence behind it nor building up the independent, Christ-like strength to do it. The blind lead the blind right into a minefield.

As strange as it sounds, you can’t love your neighbors until you get free of them. This doesn’t mean to reject neighbors or be indifferent to their needs. It simply means that in surrendering to God, we rely less and less on people nurturing us. Although He may bring nurturing people into our lives (and some who make life difficult), dependence on God puts us in a better position to foster and serve relationships without abusing people or falling victim to them.

Practice: Re-establish Connection to the Head

Study the two instructive commands that Jesus gave, which, according to him, summarize God’s primary message of eternal life. (1.) Love God with all your heart, mind, strength, and soul. (2.) Love your neighbor as yourself.

Then ask God to help you understand it. First, ponder whether the message of love might still be primary, or whether Jesus put it on the back burner or abolished it altogether. Consider what love might have to do with abundant life and well-being with God, now and always.

Second, note that these two commands address the relationship between mankind and God, and that mankind can be understood as “yourself” and everyone else—“neighbor.” Command #1 covers God and self; command #2 covers self and everyone else.

Third, note the sequence of building love as Jesus presented it. To love your neighbor as yourself assumes that one already loves one’s self—not in a prideful, human way, but in a healthy, Godly way. Self-love is a pre-requisite for neighbor love. To use a house analogy, Christ is the foundation, self is the walls, and neighbors are the roof.

Now, compare this sequence to the popular JOY acronym that you may have been taught: Jesus, Others, You, in that order. Which would seem to put you in a position of strength, good will, staying power, and joy? Which might likely build exhaustion or resentment over time?

To me, Jesus’  order is much wiser because it motivates human nature to work with God, as opposed to keeping human nature always at odds with His ways.

 

Surrender Dorothy written in the sky by a witch.For several weeks, we’ve been looking at the movements of transformation, the process of re-integrating mind/thoughts/feelings with heart/will/spirit to create a new inner person who surrenders to good will and abundant well-being. The result is love for God and self that overflows to even the most obnoxious neighbors.

Normally, I’m not a fan of the word surrender because, for me, it conjures an image of raised hands in a do-nothing stance. You surrender your wallet when you’re being mugged. It carries a negative vibe: “powerless,” “defeated,” or even “violated,” and implies being stripped of your will. It’s hard to embrace because it just doesn’t feel right. Maybe that’s because this is the usual human experience when people surrender to other people.

Then again, handing your wallet over at gun-point isn’t true surrender.

A Life of Its Own

By contrast, surrender to God is a positive thing because, unlike a mugging, it conveys genuine consent and cooperation. No one surrenders to God against their will. In the Christian context, true surrender brings participation and increased activity instead of waiting on the sidelines for things to just happen. And life takes on a whole new texture and energy.

Now and throughout human history, the ongoing movements and grace of God are active rather than passive. He invites participation and involvement in an adventure bigger than difficult neighbors. A surrendered heart is actively and willingly engaged with God, intent on passage from inner death to life here and now. (more…)

Toxic

Toxic (Photo credit: Aalay)

Moving on from retained anger and contempt as the #1 way to poison your spirit, according to the Sermon on the Mount, today we look at poison #2: adultery and divorce.

Because the subject is vastly complex, entire books are written on it. So I can highlight here only a few widely ignored points. As it is, this ended up longer than usual, but I hope there’s enough food for thought to make it worth your time. It won’t be what we usually “hear it said,” however.

First, when Jesus addresses this subject, he refers primarily to the spirit of idolatry and dis-union from God, secondarily to physical acts. It’s a broad mind-set, condition of heart, and life-style that cheats on Him, sometimes knowingly, but usually unknowingly.

Connected to this is lust. Many will argue that it’s strictly sexual in nature, but that’s exactly the sneaky mistake Jesus points out. It has more to do with a grabby, hungry desire to treat people as throw-aways.

This unloving spirit is second only to anger and contempt, and, in fact, feeds on them. Thus, Jesus explains that adultery has already occurred in the heart with just a willfully devouring leer. It may or may not be sexual in nature, though it often is; and rape is the ultimate expression of it. (more…)