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! 

 

English: Hypocrite "Love" message. A...We’ve been reviewing Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount. There, he addresses 6 sinful habits, common to all people, which make love inconsistent, if not impossible.

He also offers 6 alternative habits which, when practiced intentionally and in the order he presents them, build love into a routine way of life instead of sporadic acts of kindness.

This gradual shift from the old self to the new is known by several biblical terms: repentance, redemption, salvation, completion, and perfection, to name a few.

Step 1 eliminates willful anger/contempt by practicing willful mercy until that feels more natural. Step 2 keeps your eyes on you and God, not everyone else. You add this new habit to the previous one. Then, Step 3 is to stop swearing/insisting on having your way, the “right” way. Instead of demanding or manipulating, you can let Yes be yes or No be no and leave it at that.

Step 4 gouges out indebtedness/score-keeping by adding debt-free thinking. When you don’t feel obligated to the whole world, and they don’t “owe” you respect, apologies, or whatever, you’re well on the way to gracious, unconditional love. Your will/spirit is keeping step with God’s (Gal. 5:25).

Step 5 reduces worry over image and appearance by practicing privacy with God. Instead of sharing every opinion or deed with the world, or jumping through hoops to get noticed, you keep some things “secret,” just between you and God. You’re less prone to spout off and trigger retaliatory anger from neighbors, which degenerates into animosity and all out war.

Like building a house, each new habit is added to the previous ones once they’re well established. Love is cultivated and grown, not conjured out of nowhere.

Step 6 is the culmination, or perfection, of a Christ-like spirit that doesn’t struggle with love as if it’s a two-ton set of weights. This kind of person is complete and whole. He/she wishes God’s good on obnoxious or even dangerous neighbors. They live with a rich sense of relief from sin’s control, abundant in power and blessed delight. (more…)

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.

 

House I - Roy Lichtenstein

House I – Roy Lichtenstein (Photo credit: Ukenaut)

We continue this week to explore the body’s part in renewal of the whole person. Unlike novels, facial expressions aren’t specified in Scripture. But they’re implied in dialog passages. For example, I picture the Lord grinning, as if up to something, in this scene:

“Early in the morning, Jesus stood on the shore, but the disciples didn’t realize it was Jesus. He called out to them, ‘Friends, haven’t you any fish?’ ‘No,’ they answered. He said, ‘Throw your net on the right side of the boat and you will find some.’ When they did, they were unable to haul the net in because of the large number of fish.” (Jhn. 21:4-6)

I see raised eyebrows when Jesus explained new birth to Nicodemus. “‘You are Israel’s teacher,’ said Jesus, ‘and you don’t understand these things?’” (Jhn. 30:10)

Of course, his entire body is central in crucifixion and resurrection passages. Even his ascension occurred in a body. My point is that spiritual concerns alone aren’t the whole story.

Treasure Houses

“Don’t you realize that you’re a temple and that God’s Spirit lives within you?” (1Cor. 3:16) As the outer man, your body houses and expresses your inner essence. Paul uses several body analogies to illustrate spiritual realities. Other passages about houses, temples, or tents are often about people. In the field of dream study, houses represent the self.

Then there are collective bodies/houses. Passages about cities are about groups of individuals and their way of living. Of course, the Body of Christ is the collective body of Christian disciples throughout the ages.

Scripture describes New Jerusalem, the Bride, as a “great city” of people united in Christ who rule and serve in love. The Harlot, Babylon, is also a “great city,” but her people aren’t governed by love. Both are characterized in terms of a female body; both are beautifully and lavishly adorned; and both are about a collective mind-set and resulting life-style.

Just as your mind, emotions, and will are valuable and worth taking care of, so is your body. That doesn’t mean we worship the body, as hedonistic societies do. This god causes relentless obsession over how it looks to others, or dictates behavior aimed solely at satisfying some physical sensation like lust or gluttony. This is “fleshly” living.

But don’t trivialize your body, either, as others do. Because you have a physical form made of flesh doesn’t meant it should be mistreated. To regard it as worthless is a blatant disregard for all that God created and continues to create. Your flesh is fearfully and wonderfully made, something to be treasured. If God thought otherwise, would Jesus have manifested as human flesh?

Powerhouses

In filling up and learning to obey, rightness must move into the body as action for transformation to become complete (perfect). Without love and goodness inhabiting your thoughts and will, your body becomes a means to carry out ill will, manipulation, force, and abuse against self and neighbor.

“The good man brings good things out of the good stored up in his heart, and the evil man brings evil things out of the evil stored up in his heart. For out of the overflow of his heart his mouth speaks.” (Luk. 6:45)

Treating your own body well affects how well you treat others. Our bodies, like emotions, should serve us, not master us, in the safe, trustworthy use of power. So we’re to offer our bodies as living sacrifices (Rom. 12:1), which doesn’t mean they’re forfeited, but simply devoted to and organized around God and good will.

Practice

1. Students of Jesus are with him in all dimensions of personhood—mentally, emotionally, in choices, and in action. Immanuel is God with man, God’s Word in the flesh. The Spirit dwells increasingly in your household if you’re learning from Jesus how to do everything he says to do.

So, watch how he used his body in daily behavior with neighbors. What did he do with his hands? What was his tone of voice? Where did he position himself when walking with people? Did he avert his eyes or gaze directly at people? In every way, and especially on the cross, his body spoke the character of his whole being.

2. That said, be careful of “lifting up the Lord” so far that it puts distance between you. Obviously, it’s meant well, but it’s hard to get a sense of walking and interacting with the Lord if he isn’t close at hand, or only watches from afar.

There are enough forces working to separate you from God, so don’t inadvertently contribute by widening the gap! Pre-condition and position yourself for intimacy by regularly practicing the presence of God. “And lo, I am with you always, to the very end of the age.” (Mat. 28:20)

3. Contrary to common belief, consider the biblical notion that your body isn’t temporary. Yes, your spirit will one day shed its current form, but people who are prepared (“worthy”) get the same body back in glorified, fully restored form just as Jesus did. (Exactly how that happens, no one can be sure. We don’t have enough detail.)

But even before any resurrection, Scripture seems to imply some sort of body after physical death. Paul hints that if there is a natural body, there is also a spiritual body (1Cor. 15:44). In The Revelation, when John sees the souls of people who were beheaded for holding to the Word (Rev. 6:9, 20:4), I believe he sees actual people complete with arms, legs, heads, and torsos.

At any rate, Jesus is the first-fruit. Human bodies are an eternal part of our essential being—the soul—in both heaven and hell. If you understand “soul” as “person,” and as something of substance rather than a disembodied, nebulous thing, life as God defines it—whole and integrated—makes more sense. Even in everyday earthly activity, the body is much more than something to hang clothes on.

'Mind and Heart', bronze sculpture by Frank Sh...The point of all this mental exercise I’ve been writing about is to feed the mind with good images, thoughts, and information to develop a mind like Christ. Genuine and consistent Christ-like behavior comes from the mind of the Spirit—God’s thoughts in you.

By that I don’t mean a spiritual lobotomy where your thinking is no longer your own, but where your own thinking is the same as His. From there, you can form intentions that match His will. Destructive images and false information will gradually be replaced with good thoughts, words, and deeds.

A Powerful Link Between Ideas and Feelings

Thoughts create and shape feelings that we subsequently act on. Take the revived uproar in this country over gun control as one example. (For an interesting look at theological implications, you might like this article, Deliver Us from Evil (in a Hail of Bullets).)  The issue has degenerated beyond respectful conversation because people on both sides are ruled by their feelings on the matter.

What they’re acting on is fear. One side holds a deep, abiding fear of losing rights and would gladly give up life to save those rights. The other holds a deep, abiding fear of losing life and would gladly give up rights to save it. Concepts like freedom, safety, and life evoke powerful images and emotions.

Mentally unstable shooters on a killing spree are acting on their own images and information, however warped it all may be. When they can no longer resist the ensuing feelings, they “snap.” (The same goes for “normal” people who suddenly have an affair or embezzle from their bosses.)

So both sides of the debate are deadlocked in contemptuous rants and name-calling spewed at opponents—morons and dumbasses—which is its own kind of murder rather than love or respect for enemies. Normally sane people become verbal hit-men with high-capacity magazines loaded with words, firing indiscriminately at any threat to their respective ideals.

This is what it looks like when people, individually and collectively, are owned by feelings rather than mastering and owning them. Emotions become gods that must be satisfied and served. And the ruined human being that blindly follows feelings is, effectively, a spiritual chump pulled around by the nose. (more…)

Crown clip artMaybe we should start with what God doesn’t require from you: flawlessness. The biblical word “perfect” (Greek, teleios) means complete, whole, mature, brought to a finished end or goal.

When Jesus said to “be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect” (Mat. 5:48), he didn’t mean flawless, absolutely sinless, and error-free. The sooner you divorce this mind-set and all that goes with it, the sooner you escape Babylon’s cup of toxic, spiritual adulteries.

God simply wants you to be like Him. Or, more accurately, more like Him than you already are. Even as a sinner, you’re created in His image, having more in common with Him than anything else in creation. The goal is to restore that to full completion.

So the first step to becoming more like God is to love, admire, and want His qualities. You can’t pursue what you don’t want, or what you don’t see as possible and worth pursuing. Therefore, “Love God with all your heart, mind, strength, and soul” isn’t God’s demand to satisfy His ego or meet a divine need. It’s His visionary spark to jump-start meeting your needs.

God wants you mentally, emotionally, and spiritually sound, whole, complete, and mature. What does that mean? It means you can love yourself and others. Love your neighbors, including enemies, as yourself. That’s what a clean spirit, “cured” and healthy, looks like. (more…)

The Ten Commandments

The Ten Commandments (Photo credit: bamalibrarylady)

Yesterday, Part 1 brought up the debate over how the Law, grace, atonement, character, and faith relate, and the confusion over Paul’s apparent conflict with Jesus’ teaching.

Many people believe that Paul sort of trumps Jesus because Paul’s preaching is more “updated” after Jesus’ death and resurrection.

But this has a sneaky way of making Paul the reigning expert and Lord instead of Jesus. It’s unintentional, of course, but nevertheless dominant in church thinking today.

If you want a good example, just ask any pastor, layperson, or yourself what the Gospel is. Ninety-nine percent will quote a dozen verses from Paul, but not a single quote from Jesus. (More info here: A Badly Needed Clearer Gospel.)

I myself did this for decades. But it’s just one of many inadvertent forms of “harlotry” that I now call The Great Substitution.

Lover or Hater?

At any rate, with the preliminaries from Part 1 in mind, let’s look at what Paul says in the book of Romans about the relationship between life, death, spirit, and Law. We’ll see he isn’t the Law-hater he’s been assumed to be, both in his day and ours. It’s the letter (or “works”) of the law and Death he opposes, while he loves the true Law and working of grace. In fact, all his epistles repeat this theme. And, to my great relief and amazement, he’s right in sync with Jesus.

Romans 7:6

“But now, by dying to what once bound us, we have been released from the law so that we serve in the new way of the Spirit and not in the old way of the written code.” Followers of Christ are “dead” to rule-following and alive to God because Jesus abolished Death, not love.

Romans 8:2

“…because through Christ Jesus the law of the Spirit of life set me free from the law of sin and death.”

Romans 8:4

“…in order that the righteous requirements of the law might be fully met in us, who do not live according to the sinful nature but according to the Spirit.”

Thankfully, because God changed His tactics by sending Jesus to abolish Death, He doesn’t require flawless obedience. He simply wants honest practice and growth—fruit. Thus, the fruit of the Spirit that Paul teaches in Gal. 5:22 (love, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, and faithfulness) is precisely the righteous requirements of the Law he teaches here.

Anyone who says you cannot change your sinful nature underestimates the transformative power of human spirit working in conjunction with divine Spirit. Sure, by yourself you can’t do it. But that’s different from doing it with help from Jesus, the now-living, fully competent Expert on life.

Romans 2:13

“For it is not those who hear the law who are righteous in God’s sight, but it is those who obey the law who will be declared righteous.” This agrees with James, who says we shouldn’t be hearers of the Word only, but doers of the Word (Jas. 1:22-23).

Romans 3:31

“Do we, then, nullify the law by [our] faith? Not at all! Rather, we uphold the law.” Jesus won’t obey for us, but he will show us how to keep God’s commands. Grace and substitutionary atonement mean that his atonement substitutes for our atonement, not our obedience.

That’s why we no longer need repeated animal sacrifice but are still accountable to the Law’s intent. In his Sermon on the Mount, Jesus shows the way in great detail; faith means we follow his instruction because we trust that he, more than anyone else, knows what he’s talking about.

Romans 13:9

“The commandments, ‘Do not commit adultery,’ ‘Do not murder,’ ‘Do not steal,’ ‘Do not covet,’ and whatever other commandment there may be, are summed up in this one rule: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’”

Old Yet New Again

In Jhn. 13:34, Jesus gave a “new” command to love one another as he loved us, but it wasn’t new because God had just recently thought it up. It was new because people hadn’t heard it from their leaders. This mind of the Spirit was almost a foreign concept that had to be reintroduced. “The people were amazed at his teaching, because he taught them as one who had authority, not as their teachers of the law.” (Mrk. 1:22)

In the Pharisees’ day, God had already proven His point through Israel’s long history that human virtue isn’t a matter of following divine rules. That doesn’t mean God wasted His time or that the Law was no good and should be thrown out. It means that mankind had reached a pre-determined point, ready for the game-changer: Jesus, the Messiah and Savior.

He teaches and demonstrates what kind of person lets the Law of love flow from the inside, thereby becoming well enough (“fit”) to live with God in His great kingdom of love. Regardless what tactics God uses over time to teach the world, His prime message is consistent throughout the Old and New Testaments.

“Blessed are they whose ways are blameless, who walk according to the law of the LORD.” (Psa. 119:1) Not because they have to, but because it’s who they are in spirit.