Friends and family, lend me your ear!
The new year of 2019 is going to bring some changes, big changes, exciting changes, fun for all and all for fun! Since December of 2013 I have been using the Weebly, Shapkancoffee blogsite to post my writings. I started writing on a whim, wondering if anyone would ever want to read the ramblings of a madmen...and I found that some people actually do.
After much consultation and advice from experts, that means people much smarter than me of which there are quite a bit, I have decided to move from Weebly to a new location. But with this move I am not going far away, I am returning home to where I rightfully belong. I am going to use my very own name on my new site:
I know it is a dangerous move because it means the critic's bullseye will be aimed more precisely at me, but I am hoping with this move to provide for my reader a higher quality and easier to access product. On my new site I will continue to offer my weekly opinions from a Christian Honyak Worldview (CHW), but also included will be books, resources and other items I have been working on over the last 25 years in ministry. So please, if you like what I offered before, check me out at my new home base. And can you let people know that I am taking off the shapka and just being me?
Come and take a look. The official date of launch is January 1, 2019! I can hardly wait.
Thanks again for you continued support, and God Bless!
"There is no good trying to be more spiritual than God. God never meant man to be a purely spiritual creature...He likes matter. He invented it."
C. S. Lewis Mere Chrisitainity
My wife and I had one day and one day only to spend in Paris. We had a list of things we wanted to do. Get an espresso and a flakey, melt in your mouth, french croissant at an outdoor Paris bistro. We wanted to take some romantic pictures underneath the world famous Eiffel Tower. Walk underneath the towering Arch de Triomphe. And of course it was a must to see the Mona Lisa with our very own eyes.
So we woke up early, and immediately found a cute little coffee shop on the Champs-Elyses'. I drank a black double shot espresso with my pinky finger up - I looked like the Scarlet Pimpernell - feeling like a very refined nobleman. And my wife said the croissant was truly heavenly. We were close to the Arc, and made a quick jaunt to the Eiffel Tower, but our time was fading fast. So we bolted to the Louvre, the huge Art Museum located in the center of Paris. The Louvre is like no other museum on earth, it contains a vast network of floors and a labyrinth of hallways holding a treasure trove of world renown paintings and sculptures, all valued at well over $35 billion dollars, $35 billion!
It blew my mind.
My wife said, "Chris, quit gazing at every picture, we are here for one reason, to find that woman Mona." We asked an attendent where she was hanging and they directed us to follow the obvious signs on the wall. She definately was the star attraction. After running down two flights of stairs and weaving through dense crowds of people. we finally found her.
Can I be honest? I was expecting more.
There on the wall she hung. A measley 2' 6" x 1' 9" rather drab oil painting. Compared to all the other masterpieces, this painting was tiny and non-descrip. But there it stood, mounted firmly to the wall behind a sheet of protective glass. It seemed like everyone in the museum came to see her. All around the picture signs implored the visitors, "No Flash Photography", "Do Not Get Close", and "Be Respectful to All Guests." Looking around the room I noticed every wall and corner had a video camera and large armed guards were on alert keeping Mona safe. Why so much concern for such a relatively ugly little lady?
Well I opened up the museum guide and I found out the reason why: The Mona Lisa is worth over $700 million dollars!
She was only made of paint and canvas? Why so expensive? Because of who painted her, the collective opinion of the experts and that smile. That mysterious, wonderful smile. All of this put together far outwieghed the sum total of the paint and paper it was put on. But the way that paint and paper was put together made it priceless.
As I stood there gazing at the most famous painting known to man, I wondered what would happen if I just went up with a black magic marker and messed with Mona Lisa? What if I put a mustache on that famous smile? Or placed a Mike Tyson tatoo over her left eye? I would be summarilly arrested and I am sure my wife would never see me again. But wait, don't you think Mona needs to catch up with the times? And who cares what Leonardo Da Vinci thinks about his work of art? He is dead people!
Why can't I excercise my creative freedom with Mona?
I ask this for a very obvious and serious reason: Every human being is far more important and pricelss than a mere wall hanging made from oil. But we mess with our bodies everyday. We don't care what the creator says anymore, as Nietzsche argued, "Isn't God Dead?" And if he is dead, we can do whatever we want with these bodies because they are just made from dirt and ash, aren't they?
Who cares what God purposed for our bodies, we must be free to create as we wish. Pick any letter of the alphabet, it should be just fine. I know this to be true because over the weekend Anne Hathaway, the famous actress and famed Princess of Genovia, proclaimed at the human rights convention in Los Angeles,
“It is important to acknowledge with the exception of being a cisgender male, everything about how I was born has put me at the current center of a damaging and widely accepted myth...That myth is that gayness orbits around straightness, transgender orbits around cisgender....” And then she added, “Let’s tear this world apart and build a better one.”
Tear the world apart, or in other words, forget God's design for human beings and let's make it up as we go along. Let's mess with Mona Lisa! When you mess with Mona Lisa you can only ruin what is priceless. The painter of humanity is perfect, every work he creates is flawless. When you mess with it, you can not improve upon it, only bring to it ruin and decay.
In your newfound freedom you can try to repaint Mona Lisa, you may think it is better, but you will forever lose the magic of that smile. In our attempt at recreating humanity in our image, something will forever be lost, the magic of his image on humanity. The worth of each person will still be there, but it will be buried under the graffitti of our own ignorance.
(This is an excerpt from yesterday's sermon on the 150th Anniversary of Kent City Baptist Church. Some people requested that I post some of my thoughts concerning America's greatness, and our "provisional greatness')
There is a big debate in American politics that centers on the phrase, “American Exceptionalism.” Are we a great nation? Are we making it great again? Were we ever great? And what is greatness?
I like what the writer Ross Douthat says in his book Bad Religion about this topic and these questions: “America’s exceptionalism must be a provisional exceptionalism, in other words - we must be expectant but not presumptuous, perpetually tempered by humility and open to correction and surprise.” Provisional exceptionalism is as Abraham Lincoln describes it perfectly in his Second Inaugural Address when he says, “With malice toward none, with charity for all...The Almighty has his own purposes...as God gives us the right.”
In other words, exceptionalism does not come from us and our abilities and our past accomplishments, but from God and his present working. And as long as we follow his lead we will be under his excellent guidance and blessing.
But it is provisional excellence, that means it is something that must be handled with care - - and if we start taking it for granted it can be easily taken away.
It is the same with Kent City Baptist. Our past is a clear testimony to the work of God in this body, and the people who went before us are to be commended because they searched diligently for his will and stayed close to his lead. As a result we who are here today are the beneficiaries of their faithfulness. God’s blessing and care has been abundantly poured out because his Son has been closely followed. It is not because we as a church, and we as a people, are “great” in and of ourselves. It is not that Kent Citians are a breed apart, our bloodline is superior because we eat more apples that are grown on the ridge - - it is that our God is great, and his Son is superior.
ADDITIONAL THOUGHTS & COMMENTS:
Personally I believe America has been blessed with a foundational framework that allows for men and women to be great. And by great I simply mean you are given the opportunity to try. God has designed each person to be an image bearer, that means you have the capacity to dream, create, beautify and bless others. Potential and provisional greatness lies dormant in each one of us until we choose to exercise it.
If you have never tried to be a blessing, stop complaining. Nobody can live your life for you. Take a chance, reach out. love the unlovable. That is when greatness shines.
I have lived in Russia for a year, I visited Bulgaria, walked the streets of Warsaw and let me tell you, there is a difference living in our country. Is it greatness? Not in the sense of superiority, but I believe so in opportunity. Every country will have limitations, sometimes a certain group of people will seem to have a better opportunities than others (i.e.: white privildege), every country has their sin's that must be atoned for like slavery and oppression; but they are minimal in America as compared to the rest of the world.
Ladies, if you think you have it bad, go live in a Muslim country. If you are a black man, Russian's will stare at you as you walk down the street just to buy bread. If you think you have no voice, go live in China, or North Korea, or the Phillippines.
This world is not perfect, and there is no one great but God. But never forget, if you are breathing, God is affording you another day to appreciate his mercy. I think if you were to ask Jesus what greatness really is, he would refer to the conversation he had with his disciples in Luke 13, listen closely to it...
"Now there were some present at that time who told Jesus about the Galileans whose blood Pilate had mixed with their sacrifices. Jesus answered, “Do you think that these Galileans were worse sinners than all the other Galileans because they suffered this way? I tell you, no! But unless you repent, you too will all perish. Or those eighteen who died when the tower in Siloam fell on them—do you think they were more guilty than all the others living in Jerusalem? I tell you, no! But unless you repent, you too will all perish.”
Then he told this parable: “A man had a fig tree growing in his vineyard, and he went to look for fruit on it but did not find any. So he said to the man who took care of the vineyard, ‘For three years now I’ve been coming to look for fruit on this fig tree and haven’t found any. Cut it down! Why should it use up the soil?’
“‘Sir,’ the man replied, ‘leave it alone for one more year, and I’ll dig around it and fertilize it. If it bears fruit next year, fine! If not, then cut it down.’”
Jesus would argue that greatness is not what is up for question, it is guilt. And if guilt is not recognized and God's provisional mercy is not received, there is no hope for any of us, white, black, red, yellow, rich or poor. If you notice, the tree is given three years, and if it does not show signs of fruit (potential and provisional greatness) than it will be uprooted and thrown into the fire.
Bragging about greatness will get us nowhere. In truth, the moment you brag that is the moment your potential and provisional greatness slips right out of your fingers. So be careful, because you and I deserve nothing. But we have been extended this day and only this day to accept God's mercy.
I am not superstitious, but I am somewhat sentimental.
Today is my son's 18th birthday, Giovanni my second born son, is now a grown man. In other words, I can no longer take him down in a wrestling match on our living room carpet. This is also his Senior Year in High School; it is his last Kent City Eagle's football season....so sad. And for this year's season he asked for the number 44!
That made my sentimental day! It is a special number to me. Let me tell you why this number means so much:
(1) My dad wore number 44 as a running back at the University of Dayton. He was a beast! My son gets his talent from my dad, most of it skipped me.
(2) Luke 24:44 is one of my favorite verses of scripture: "He said to them, 'This is what I told you while I was still with you: Everything must be fulfilled that is written about me in the Law of Moses, the Prophets and the Psalms.'” Jesus is talking to two men right after he rose from the dead and he explains to them how his death and resurrection was predicted for thousands of years in the Old Testament. And not only that, the point of the whole Old Testament is Christ. Everything is about him! And it still is! I love that!
(3) It was on Highway 44 in Ohio where I came to know Jesus personally. I will never forget that day: I was a 23 year old salesman working for Honeywell Protection Services, and I just closed on a big sale. It was a tough earned sale because I was negotiating with the Mentor Library for a good four months and my bid was definately not the lowest. But I won the sale because I formed a great relationship with the building manager at the library. After the sale I came back to my office and my boss said, "Chris, that was a great sale. But now that you have his signature I want you to go back and tell him he needs to add an additional $10,000 dollar unit for future expansion in case they want to build." I was furious and said, "I can't do that because we worked every angle to bring the price to the absolute lowest." My boss smiled a wry smile and said, "I don't care, go back and tell him he needs to do it! Make us some more money!"
Well, I went back to talk to the building manager and told him what my boss said. He was visibly angry. He took the original contract he signed and threw it back into my face, saying, "Get out of my office! You lied to me! You are a liar."
I picked up the contract, headed to my car and started back home on the back roads of Highway 44 in Mentor, Ohio. On the way all I could think of was that man calling me a liar. I asked myself, "Chris, are you willing to make a sale while losing your integrity? What do you want in life, a good name or lots of money?" At the time this happened my life seemed to be stuck in a rut. I was at a job I hated and I couldn't wait for the weekend so I could go to the bars in the Flats in downtown Cleveland to drink my blues away. But the question wouldn't relent, "Chris, what do you want?"
I pulled my car over and started talking to myself. "I want real answers, that is what I want! I want to know if my life has any purpose? I want the truth." I was arguing with myself in the car while it was pulled over. People driving by must have though I was a lunatic. There I was hitting the steering wheel, shaking my fist, pounding the dashboard. "Chris, what do you want out of life???"
Somewhere in the middle of my personal debate, the real question came to the surface, "Chris, do you believe Jesus really lives?"
I would usually answer that question by saying, "Of course, everyone knows he does, that is what Grandma says." But this time it was different, the question was deeper, "Chris, is Jesus your God or just a religious name you give the sign of the cross to so you look religious? Do you really believe he is alive this moment, and he can see everything?" Oh, that question is dangerous. If I was to answer that question, I knew there were more that were to follow: "Is Jesus O.K. with your sin? Is Jesus going to approve of your lifestyle? Does Jesus have more for you than this?"
I took a deep breath, and I answered myself, "Yes, I believe Jesus lives."
"Ok, now what about your sin?"
Another breath, "I need to stop. I need forgiveness. I need his help to change."
"So tell him."
Here is what I said, "Dear Jesus, I know you exist. I know it. Maybe it is all I know. But I sin. I need to be forgiven but I am scared I will go back to my sin. Help me change, forgive me...." and then I said this, "take my life and do with it whatever you want."
I don't know how to explain it, but I felt like God washed me clean. In that car, on Highway 44, God forgave me and then gave me his Spirit. I know it! And I haven't been the same since. I love how Ephesians 1:13-14 describes what happened to me that day on that road, "You also were included in Christ when you heard the message of truth, the gospel of your salvation. When you believed, you were marked in him with a seal, the promised Holy Spirit, who is a deposit guaranteeing our inheritance until the redemption of those who are God’s possession—to the praise of his glory."
The number 44 is special to me and will always be, not because it is magic but because it helps me remember: A son I love, a dad I honor, and a Savior I cherish!
These are my sermon notes for Sunday's Sermon on the Nuclear Family, Parenting and how to Raise an Enjoyable Child.
There are amazing blessings of living in a home with a caring mom and dad. How specifically does it work? I call this the Discipline/Delight model of parenting. And guess where I get it from? You guessed it, the verse we discussed last week - - 22:6 “Train up a child in the way he should go; even when he is old he will not depart from it.” Remember, Proverbs are guidelines and tendencies, not promises. But they are meant to help us steer and make good decisions. And this steering includes discipline (train up) and delight (he will not depart). The implication is that if you discipline correctly your child will want what you are selling, his heart will be drawn to it. One commentator writes,
“The Hebrew word ‘hanak’ “to train” implies both dedicating a child to God and instructing him according to who your child is (knowing him, delighting in him) and the proper instruction to lead him in the right ways.”
So to show you how this is done, I will present four possible ways to use both discipline and delight - -
One more thing: Proverbs 20:7 & 23:26 says that children learn most from your example. That is why God put them in the same house with you. It is in the warmth of the greenhouse where they watch, learn and begin to imitate. That is why I look in the mirror and say, “Wow, I remind me of my dad.” The image of God is meant to be passed. What are they to learn from you by example:
If you are a parent with kids, I wish you Godspeed!!
Don’t blame Jesus for the horrific crimes in the Roman Catholic Church.
Since the movie Spotlight aired 3 years ago detailing the clerical abuse scandal in the Roman Catholic Church in Boston, it seems the journalistic floodgates across our country have been opened wide. Just this week, the Pennsylvania grand jury report on child sex abuse lists hundreds of accused priests. What is going on?
The case of the systemic crimes against children in the RCC goes deeper than the mere moral failings of weak people. The repulsive behavior of a large portion of the clergy have been hundreds and hundreds of years in the making. People want to know why? They need to know why! If only for stopping one more child in the church from being sexually exploited.
There are many opinions on why there was such widespread abuse that went unchecked: The Church’s penchant for protecting the Roman Catholic leadership so the institution would not be dragged through the mud. The embracing of the homosexual lifestyle by many of the priests. The RCC’s love of money and their desire to settle all the lawsuits out of court. Some say it is because the Catholic Church have perpetuated a culture of secrecy.
Whatever the reason, it has led to some of the most appalling crimes ever committed on such a wide scale this country has ever seen against children. Some people want to downplay it, and make it a comparison of moral equivalence, "All churches have their skeletons in the closet." Not quite like this.
I think at the core the problem is more fundamental than mere secrecy and homosexuality. It is the reason I left the church in the first place. The RCC has faulty and dangerous theology. When you leave the truth, all you have are lies that destroy. I will name three areas I believe have allowed for the such unchecked behavior. And I will try to keep is short and simple...
Authority of Scripture
Martin Luther put it clearly and bluntly, "A simple layman armed with Scripture is to be believed above a pope or a council without it." Scripture should dictate behavior and policy, not the Pope, Cardinals, Bishops or Priests. Authority comes from the mouth of God - - not some man in a white robe holding a golden crucifix. Scripture states in Psalm 119:99, "I have more insight than all my teachers, for I meditate on your statutes. I have more understanding than the elders, for I obey your precepts."
Sounds so simple, but it has been largely ignored in the Roman Catholic Church. In fact, most Roman Catholics don't even know the bible. Just a cursory reading of the New Testament should stop the veneration of priests dead in its tracks.
Matthew 23 is Jesus' scorching indictment about the Pharisees and Priests during his day and it has been largely ignored by most Roman Catholics. Just listen to some of his warnings, "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." "Do not call anyone on earth ‘father,’ for you have one Father, and he is in heaven." "Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You are like whitewashed tombs, which look beautiful on the outside but on the inside are full of the bones of the dead and everything unclean. In the same way, on the outside you appear to people as righteous but on the inside you are full of hypocrisy and wickedness."
Jesus is saying, "Priests are people too." Not some holy unblemished saint wearing a white robe, not a person you never question or fawn over because they can do the sign of the cross. The number one reason why clerical abuse happens is because no one in the Roman Catholic Church sees the priest simply as a fallen man. And the priests even buy into the lie about themselves. They have been playing a charade. Acting holy when in fact they are fallen like everyone else.
The worst play actor of all is the Pope. I would hate to be the Pope when he finally sees Jesus. He is a flawed man, and he acts like some statue carved by Michael Angelo. I would love to sit in a room with the Pope alone, I would like to punch him in the nose and say, "Get over yourself!" Even Peter refused to have people bow to him. (Acts 10:25-26 -- "As Peter was about to enter, Cornelius met him and fell at his feet to worship him. But Peter helped him up. “Stand up,” he said, “I am only a man myself.”)
There are so many other scriptures that people in the Roman Catholic church ignore. It is appalling how they allow such non-sense to go on. 1 Timothy 4:1-4 says this, "The Spirit clearly says that in later times some will abandon the faith and follow deceiving spirits and things taught by demons. Such teachings come through hypocritical liars, whose consciences have been seared as with a hot iron. They forbid people to marry and order them to abstain from certain foods, which God created to be received with thanksgiving by those who believe and who know the truth. For everything God created is good, and nothing is to be rejected if it is received with thanksgiving."
Demonic teaching forbids marriage. Just think if many of the horny priests got married how that would have stopped so many children from being exploited?
Priesthood of Believers
This leads naturally into one of the most important doctrines of all, The Priesthood of All Believers. If you are a Christian, you are a priest. You don't need a mediator to go between you and God, you can go directly to him. (1 Peter 2:5, Hebrews 4:16) You don't need some guy with a special title to address Jesus for you.
The Roman Church doesn't believe this. Once again they put faulty men on a pedestal. Think about it: If scripture says we are all priests, and yet the Roman Catholic priest thinks they are the only true priests, then they don't really know the bible. So you are allowing ignorant men to lead you.
Many pastors in the Protestant church fall prey to this as well. They love the title and special significance. This is one of my pet peeves as a pastor. Especially when someone is sick in the hospital. People in the church think only the pastor can go because he is the only one who can pray special prayers. And so people dont go see other members in the church who are suffering because people they think it is the pastor's job to do that. No, it is everyone's job, because everyone is a priest!
Justification by Faith
My biggest problem with the Roman Catholic Church is that most of the priests themselves are not born again believers. They are religious, not righteous. They believe faith + sacraments + tradition + the writings of the Magistrate all save. When scriptures says clearly, "Therefore, being justified by faith we have peace with God." (Romans 5:1) And so when you have a man who is a sexual being, trying to abstain from marriage and sex, thinking they are the arbiters of all truth concerning God, and they are just as lost as every other sinner because they are not connected to the life of God by faith, you have all kind of trouble on your hand. Listen to Paul in Colossians 2:16-23:
"Therefore do not let anyone judge you by what you eat or drink, or with regard to a religious festival, a New Moon celebration or a Sabbath day. These are a shadow of the things that were to come; the reality, however, is found in Christ. Do not let anyone who delights in false humility and the worship of angels disqualify you. Such a person also goes into great detail about what they have seen; they are puffed up with idle notions by their unspiritual mind. They have lost connection with the head, from whom the whole body, supported and held together by its ligaments and sinews, grows as God causes it to grow.
Since you died with Christ to the elemental spiritual forces of this world, why, as though you still belonged to the world, do you submit to its rules: “Do not handle! Do not taste! Do not touch!”?These rules, which have to do with things that are all destined to perish with use, are based on merely human commands and teachings. Such regulations indeed have an appearance of wisdom, with their self-imposed worship, their false humility and their harsh treatment of the body, but they lack any value in restraining sensual indulgence."
Lack any value in restraining sensual indulgence. See, clear as crystal. But remember, Roman Catholic's don't read their Bibles.
This is why I left the church, and why I hope more Roman Catholics leave because the destructive theology and fall-out from it will never change. Never.
“There is a way that seems right to a man, but its end is the way to death.”
I had a life-altering moment, a breakthrough, a flash of insight, a bolt of concentrated wisdom, and some would even call it an epiphany. I haven’t had one in quite some time, but this one I just had was the kind of experience that when it struck me all of reality fell in line. For a brief moment I understood all things. Sharp focus and clear thinking has been granted to me for a short time, so I must write it down before the cloud of brilliance leaves me. Let me describe the moment for you...
I was making myself a peanut butter and jelly sandwich for lunch yesterday in the kitchen while my daughter was in the living room eating a salad that I just made her. It was a hot summer afternoon. And when it is a Thursday and it is hot, not even my dog wants to go outside. My daughter had a busy morning, she finally could relax for awhile, stay cool inside, and so she sat on the couch getting ready to watch some mind numbing television. To my horror the show she chose to watch was one of those silly teeny bopper shows that have been made for kids to pass the time without thinking.
Normally I ignore it when she puts one of those shows on, but on this hot Thursday, I grabbed my sandwich and decided to join her to watch. The name of the show she was watching is called “Mr. Young.” The description of the show puts it like this, "Take Doogie Howser out of the O.R., put him in a classroom and you have the basic premise of 'Mr. Young.' The titular Adam Young is a whiz kid who entered college as a 9-year-old. At 14, now a college graduate, he begins his career teaching science to high schoolers -- including both his best friend and his crush, which presents a challenge for him in balancing his personal and professional lives. As if being a teen isn't hard enough!"
Sounds great, doesn't it?
To put it simply, "Mr. Young" is another one of those Disney kid's shows that are really, really, really, really bad. Think "Suite Life with Zac and Cody," "Hannah Montana," "Ant Farm", "Shake it Up", or get this name, "Dog With a Blog." When I say bad I mean cheesy, silly, ridiculous, mind killing shows that have terrible plots, horrid acting and children who are so over the top expressive that after five minutes of watching you are sure to develop the most intense migrane headache you have ever had.
So there I sat, watching, enduring, rolling my eyes, trying to put my fingers in my ears to stop the pain. And right before I got up to leave the room it hit me. The moment was like a man making a discovery on a Twilight Zone episode when a person realizes all of his friends and neighbors have been poisoned by the aliens who want to take over the world. Do you know when it comes to media many people believe violence is what is rotting our children’s minds? I can understand this. But I believe there is something that is far more dangerous and subtle that causes way more damage to our kids. And I mean this sincerely, but you will have to hear me out, because what I am about to say may at first sound preposterous, but if you consider my reasoning I will show you how it is akin to what is killing our souls on a larger scale.
The problem with the world is the “laugh track.” Yes, the laugh track. You think I am kidding, but I am not.
If you look deeper and try to notice, Disney utilizes the laugh track to make those really bad shows somewhat believable. They are used to convince your child that what they are watching is actually funny. Look into the eyes of the younger children when they watch, everytime the laugh track is played their eyes will glaze over and they then begin to buy into it. Crowd psychology is a powerful tool. The laugh track gets your kid believing everybody is laughing. But let me tell you, what the laugh track has them laughing at is not funny! Dont get me wrong, I love good humor, but what the laugh track has you laugh at is not humorous. It is bland insanity. The laugh track is a marketing gimmick used to get your kid to like a show that has zero substance.
Trust me on this!
I wanted to prove it for myself, so here is how I performed my own test: Everytime my daughter is watching one of those shows I will laugh along with the laugh track. I will try to have the same intensity of laughter to match the track and it is strange how she will begin to snap out of the trance the laugh track had her in previously. When I do it, boy does she ever get mad! But my response to her irritation is very pointed and intense, "Think about it, that was not funny. They are fooling you! What they just did there is bad writing, in fact it is mindless garbage. It is not funny! They want you to buy into their humor, which is not humor, or plot, or reasonable writing. It is trash and they sell it with the laugh track!” She is beginning to see, I am winning my daughter back to the world of the living . She is starting to think again. I can now teach her that a good story has to have a plot, not just a laugh track.
I still have alot of work cut out for her because that laugh track is so compelling. Mob rule rules!
I am convinced the whole world is operating on a laugh track. The majority of people I know are living lives that are not really wise, significant, or have any kind of plot behind their choices whatsoever because these days we are just expected to laugh, or cry, or go "ah" with the crowd and the hidden laugh track that is always playing behind the scenes of everyday life.
Do you know what the intention of the laugh track is? To take the bite out of life. Life has been neutered. We no longer believe we are living in a grand story, we no longer think the Gospel is wonderful, or dangerous, or important. We have been dumbed down by the laugh track that is always playing behind the scenes. Look at everyone staring at their hand held screens and mounted screens, they are buying into the constant drone of the laugh track. At least with a violent movie there is the potential for shock and horror. But the laugh track numbs us into stupidity, and it destroys urgency!
Proverbs 14:12 says that most mindless people are hurtling towards death without realizing it. That is because the laugh track is numbing them to the world around them. It is not funny! Recently ABC had a show on called "The Proposal" which is the perfect illustration of what I am trying to warn people about. It is a one hour show. Think about it, a one hour show with commercials - - so it is a 42 minute show. In that 42 minutes one person is choosing between 10 people to find the one person they are going to propose to at the end of the 42 minutes. 42 minutes! During this 42 minutes the crowd "Oohs and Ahs" over the banal non-sensical answers of the 10 people they don't even know. Tears of sentimental stupidity flow, and then under bright Hollywood stage lights the proposal for marriage occurs.
42 lowsy minutes!!!!
The cooing crowd makes mindlessness acceptable. We are now praising hollow idiocy. I blame the laugh track. At least with violence your child starts to see the world is dangerous, but with the laugh track nothing matters. There is no urgency, nothing is noble, nothing is dangerous, and everything must be tolerated with a forced laugh.
I HATE IT!
Is there really coming a day of recompense? Or did Jesus die so we could watch Mr. Young and Miley Cyrus? Yes, there is something far worse than violence. The laugh track! It may be the final sign of human degradation. We don't know how to think anymore. More's the pity!ency.
"The world of the fairy tale impinges on the ordinary world the way the dimension of depth impinges on the two-dimensional surface of a plane, so that there is no point on the plane-a Victorian sitting room or a Kansas farm-that can't become an entrance to it. You enter the EXTRAORDINARY by way of the ORDINARY. Something you have seen a thousand times you suddenly see as if for the first time...you do not have to go a great distance to enter it any more than you have to go a great distance to enter the world of dreams-you just have to go to sleep-or the world of memory..."
Frederick Buechner (Telling the Truth)
I was watching a rain drop.
Framed in a cloudy backdrop of gray, a single bead of lonely water fell silently out of the sky. It traveled a short journey from the bottom of the lacy dark canopy tumblng quickly down to die on a hard surface of dry concrete. It ended quietly. No cry or whimper, just the sound of a soft pat hitting the ground. Within seconds it was swallowed by the cracks and dimples of a thirsty sidewalk.
Is that what life is like for you? A sad straight line downward? Are you just existing to exist? Is there any magic or only dull tedium?
I am not by nature a depressed person, but there are days when I wonder is that all? Is my day only the same day, lived again and again, a drab existance covered in a cloud of emotional gray? Am I a rain drop?
Listen to this quote by Frederick Buechner, it is aimed at preachers like me who forget the real fairy tale we are daily living in:
"The truth, reality, is what it is. It is the TV news with the sound turned on and all the other sound turned on with it-the sounds of the house, of the street outside the house, the town, the countryside, the world...The truth is all the sounds that well up within the preacher as he sits down at his desk to put his sermon together-the sounds of the bills to be paid, the children to educate, the storm windows to put up, the sounds of his own blunders and triumphs, of his lusts and memories and dreams and doubts, and one of which when you come right down to it is apt to seem more real and immediate and clamorous to hm than the sound of truth as high and wild and holy.
So homiletics becomes apologetics. The preacher exchanges the fairy-tale truth that is too good to be true for a truth that...secularizes and makes rational. He adapts and makes relevant. He demythologizes and makes credible. And what remains of the fairy tale of the Gospel becomes in his hands a neutered narrative where there are few suprises." (Italized words are not the original authors ).
Is the Gospel a fairy tale? Not in the sense that it is a completely made-up, make-believe story; but it is in the sense that when understood rightly it is "high, wild and holy. It is magical!" Yes, the Gospel is meant to be wild, and magical. It is meant to awaken my soul to another world that exists just beyond my sight. But to the average preacher, like me, and the average Christian, like you, the Gospel is often seen merely as an insignificant add on to the monotony of my ho-hum daily routine. Like the rain drop, my life quietly, silently, unceremoniously descends.
That isn't much of a fairy tale. In fact, that isn't even magical. And that isn't the Gospel.
Frederick Buechner says there are three components to the fairy tale that are also true to the Gospel:
(1) The hidden world is full of darkness and danger. He says that in the fairy tale there are "fierce dragons that guard the treasure, wicked fairies who show up at royal christenings, wrong turns off the path, an awful price to be paid for choosing the wrong casket or wrong door. It is a world of dark and dangerous quest where the suitors compete for the hand of the king's daughter with death to the losers..." The Gospel has been sold differently than this. We have come to see it as something tame. A list of ideas, cold principles and irrelevant histoical facts that you learn on Sunday, but is not does really contain the warp and woof of real living. The Gospel doesn't pay the bills, it adds little to help troubled relationships, it offers relatively nothing in the immediate stressful schedule of the day. But I believe if you were to actually read the Bible rightly, the Gospel is first and foremost the entrance into a real world full of darkness and danger, of beasts and creatures fully fanged. In my Proverbs study I often forget I am dealing with more than meets the eye. Proverbs is not just wisdom for being good, it opens us up to a wider panarama of the "high, wild and holy." I came across a number of verses that will chill you to the bone. Let me offer just two:
- Proverbs 21:26 - "One who wanders from the path of understanding and good sense, will rest in the assembly of the dead." What path is this? I am not walking on any path right now, am I? Jesus says I am, in fact he clearly states that there are only two to choose from. A wide road and a narrow rocky path. (Matthew 7:13-14) He tells me the wide road, the easy road, the one most of us are traveling on, leads to destruction. The narrow path, the one rarely ever chosen, leads to a vibrant techni-color life; it leads the weary wide-eyed adventurer eventually to a land full of wonder that is just around the next corner. Is my daily wandering really that precarious? Will many of my friends and family end up walking with the assembly of the dead? Are they holding hands with hordes of demons and fanged monsters? Does aimlessness really involve that much danger? The Bible seems to think so.
- Proverbs 15:11 - "Sheol and Abaddon lie open before the Lord; how much more the hearts of the children of man!" Sheol, the place of the dead, and Abaddon, the great abyss that holds terrifying demons and dark angels, lie open, right this very moment, ready to swallow the unsuspecting average person like flies to flickering flame. Most of us see the world as nothing more than a mundane existence. a boring routine, going to work, watching Netflix and taking an Advil and a few vitamens to stop joint pain as I get ready slink into to bed on my $399 Serta matress. Is Sheol widening her mouth under hundreds if not thousands of unsuspecting simpletons as they sleep in total ignorance? Is there more in this moment than simply paying bills and attending mindless parties? Is life a dangerous world? Is the Gospel that magical?
(2) Both Evil and Good disguise themselves in the fairy tale world. Buechner queries, "Who could guess that the little gray man asking for bread is a great magician who holds in his hands the power of life and death...Beasts talk and flowers come to life, and nothing is apt to be what it seems." For Christians the man who was helplessly strung up on the cross, the despised one, the one whose name is daily used as a mere swear word of the cool and cunning, is getting ready this moment to return to the earth in his royal raiment. He will be beautiful to behold and mighty in word and deed. He is hidden, waiting, wanting people to want him. But when he bursts on the scene he will shake the world, and everything that is not built on a sure foundation will crumble. And the one who looks beautiful now, will be utterly shamed. The Devil will be defanged and humiliated, and those who follow the "god of this age" will be striken silent and dumb, no more mocking, no more sinning in abundance, the adversary will be eating crow...and his army of followers, the arrogant and proud, the beautiful people of this current world, will be forced to choke on their own pride.
(3) The fairy tale is a world where the battle goes ultimately to the good, who live happily ever after, and where in the long run everybody, good and evil alike, becomes known by his true name. I like how Frederick puts it here, "So great is the power of magic that even the less-than-good live happily ever after. It is the beast who becomes beautiful, the cowardly lion who becomes brave, the wicked sisters with their big feet and fancy ways who repent in the end and are forgiven. Happiness is not only inevitable, it is also endless." Christianily promises happily ever after as well. Revelation 22 says, "Let the evil doer still do evil, and the filthy still be filthy, and the righteous still do right, and the holy still be holy, Behold, I am coming soon, bringing my recompense with me, to repay each one for what he has done...Blessed are those who wash their robes so that they may have the right to the tree of life and they may enter the city by the gates."
We are walking among giants, people who have washed their robes in blood. Mighty men and women. And yet most of us yawn when we see them, or we cringed when we look into the bathroom mirror not seeing ourselves as we really are. The world to us is only gray, we feel like drops of water falling.
But this is not so!
Soon may seem like a relative word, something that seems far away, but I am not so sure. Soon I will close my eyes. Soon I will wake up in a bed that is mine, a soft bed, warm. Soon I will open my eyes and a familiar face will be looking at me, a face I will intimately know but have never seen before. I will know the voice. Soon I will also see my dad, alive, smiling, standing behind the face that is more beautiful than a sunrise, more alive than a summer day. I will feell like I did when as I boy I was standing with my dad by the edge of the shimmering water that was lapping up on Lake Erie beach. But it will be better. It will be soon.
Soon means I am near the edge of a world that is as close to me as a dream when one awakes. I am not a rain drop. I am an hier to the throne. Royalty hidden underneath the clothes of a commener. There is more than meets the eye. My job is to live like magic is real.
I need to stop being bored.
So do you. Wake up the fairy tale is real. Jesus rose. Jesus is "I am." Wake up!
What's it all about, Alfie?
Is it just for the moment we live?
What's it all about when you sort it out, Alfie?
Are we meant to take more than we give
Or are we meant to be kind?
And if only fools are kind, Alfie
Then I guess it is wise to be cruel
And if life belongs only to the strong, Alfie
What will you lend on an old golden rule?
As sure as I believe there's a heaven above, Alfie
I know there's something much more,
Something even non-believers can believe in...
"But we urge you brothers, to love one another more and more, and to aspire to live quietly, and to mind your own affairs, and to work with your hands, as we instructed you, so that you may walk properly before outsiders and be dependent on no one."
1 Thessalonians 4:10-12
1966 was a crazy year, it had it all, and then some: It was the height of the Viet Nam protests, mini-skirts became popular, The Rolling Stones and Beatles were a rockin', Simon and Garfunkle were sitting on a Bridge Over Troubled Waters, Miranda finally got his rights, Star Trek began exploring outer space, the Black Panthers organized as the race riots ramped up in high gear, and I, the writer of this post, was born on a hot August morn.
There also was a lot of social experimentation going on and huge philosophical questions were being asked in 1966 as well.
One of the biggest questions was found in the title of a rather obscure 1966 movie titled, "What's It All About Alfie?" which inspired the popular song by Dionne Warwick (a cousin to Whitney Houston) of the same name. I can remember as a young kid hearing Dionne's velvety tones singing the main line of the movie "What's It All About?" asking myself, "What's what all about?" It took me a while to realize that Alfie's name is the answer to the puzzle. Just rearrange the letters and you get the phrase "A Life."
So what is "A Life" about? The lyrics even ask it, "Is it just for the moment we live? What is it all about?" Do you know what it's all about?
This question is important on every level, because the answer gives direction to everything a person does. If life has no purpose than nothing really matters. Even if you want it to, you will soon die and be accountable to nothing but dirt. So if the answer is nothing and nada, why even ask the question?
But what if the answer has something to do with God and eternity? What if your life does matter? What if God has answered this question in his word? Are we responsible for it? Is our life going to be measured by it? Is Jesus serious when he says in John 12:48, "the word that I have spoken will judge everyone on the last day"?
Yes, I believe he is, and I believe his word is very clear if you care to listen. There are three things he wants out of a life:
(1) To Love him through his Son. (Mk. 12:30)
(2) To Love your Neighbor as Yourself. (Mk. 12:31)
And I think the last one is the trickiest...
(3) Work at Your personal Calling hard by minding your own business. (John 21:21-22, 1 Thessalonians 4:10-12, 2 Thessalonians 3:11-13)
The Reformers summed up these three points like this:
Q: What is the chief end of man?
A: Man's chief end is to glorify God, and to enjoy him forever.
Now these answer are very simple, but how you flesh them out is where the difficulty occurs. Sometimes it seems like number 2 and 3 can come into conflict. "How do I love my neighbor while minding my own business?" This is a tough question especially when we live in a world that wants to always tell you what to do. Did you know there are alot of people who think they can live your life better than you are currently living it? I have never known a period of time when people felt so free to always criticize and tell you where you are falling short in how you live. Often just because you have been born with a specific skin color, or gender, or if you have had two parents those who haven't feel they have the right to tell you how it really is.
No one minds their own business anymore.
One of the biggest issues where number 2 and 3 seem to come into conflict the most is with the idea of "White Priviledge." Yesterday I read a very interesting blog post on Cornerstone University's "Talking Points" blog that is titled, "I am learning what it means to be white." The article is very good, written by a kind and compassionate white female student who is full of self-evaltuation for the purpose of gaining understanding with the black culture. She truly wants to help mend fences and bridge the gap with our culture's racial hostility. This is a very commendable aim. Her conclusion is that "Christians should embrace guilt rather than shame (on how they treat the black culture), as it moves us from thinking 'I am bad' to 'I have seen something that is bad.' The appropriate response when we see something bad is to honestly lament with those who have suffered by listening to them and mourning with them. As Christians, it may seem odd to embrace guilt."
What is it we need to feel guilty for? And here is her answer...
"Race has affected each of us since our birth, but for many whites in the United States, an understanding of personal cultural identity is lacking because of the normalization of whiteness." And then she writes, 'When white culture comes in contact with other cultures, it almost always wins'."
This got me thinking and evaluating. My first question is this, "What does it mean that white culture wins? And secondarily, what are we trying to win at?" This can only be answered by our purpose: "What's it all about. Alfie?"
I think if the non-Christian answers it, life is about the accumulation of limited resources. "He who has the most toys wins." It is about the gaining of power, of things, of being able to consume what you want. This is where the word 'priviledge' comes into play. If the goal is to be on top, maybe she has a point. Personally I think that is what politics is all about these days, winning. And that goes for both sides. The Progressive Left is trying to win too, and the way they win is by getting the other side to admit they have been playing unfairly. Shame and gult works, and they wield this tool well.
I think this is where the statement, "white culture wins" comes from. I think the church has bought into this purpose as the unspoken end game for mankind. Health and Weath preachers promote this goal, prosperity theology pushes consumption as the sign of blessing. And both capitalism and socialism argues their validity based on winning as the end goal.
But if we were to go back to God's purpose, winning is not the goal. If I can be honest, the goal should be dying. True Christians should be willing to help those in need, but they also need to stop being jealous of those who are winning. The moment you want what someone has you have forgotten why you are here. We have been arguing from a secular end game.
Do I feel guilty for my "white priviledge"? Well, I am white. I guess I have an easier go at getting things that I want than many others do, even though I still feel broke. But honestly, I have tried to work hard and keep to myself and then help those who ask with the extra I have. Should I feel guilty for that? If the social justice warrior wants me to admit that I am winning I am not going to take their bait. I am not playing to win. If the person on the margins feels like they have a harder time getting a job, or they are pulled over by the cops more often than me, I must listen and try to help them the best I can. I must love my brother. I must care.
But am I allowed to tell my brother that the end goal is not to win?
I believe James 2:1-3 to be right, "My brothers, show no partiality as you hold the faith in our Lord Jesus Christ, the Lord of glory...have you not then made distinctions among yourselves and become judges with evil thoughts?" And then he says something crazy in 2:5-6 "Listen my brothers, has not God chosen those who are poor in the world to be rich in faith and heirs of the kingdom, which he has promised to those who love him? Don't dishonor the poor man!"
Do you see, the game isn't about winning; the game is about loving God. Both sides need to understand this. If you are rich, the world thinks you are winning, God says you actually may be losing in love (see 1 Timothy 6:10). But if you are poor, don't sell your love for the desire to win. The more you desire to win, the more envy and jealousy take over your soul, and you are becoming what you hate.
So Alfie, "What's it all about?" We haven't progressed much from 1966, have we? Maybe nothing is new under the sun?
"You were anointed as a guardian cherub,
for so I ordained you.
You were on the holy mount of God;
you walked among the fiery stones.
You were blameless in your ways
from the day you were created
till wickedness was found in you."
The snarl, slanted eyes, and dripping sneer of hate. You can't miss it. That is the face of the Soul Eater.
You have seen him but you don't really notice him. He is everywhere, a common monster living free in broad daylight. We have grown use to his ways and even applaud his work of subversion. He is a destroyer, homewrecker, a lurking evil, the first villian. But he is gladly invited into our homes, welcomed in the company of friends, and sadly, tolerated in the church. Even your dear old mom allows him to linger.
He is the Soul Eater.
The Soul Eater is loved on a personal level, but despised in the lives of others. So when we are alone with him we embrace his ways, making daily deals with him, asking him to work on our behalf. And when he does we forget just how deadly the deal we made with him is. He lies as he kills, and we believe him. He knows how to get things done, but it is always at the expense of others. Bones break, teeth gnash when he is at work.
He is the Soul Eater.
Look how he divides. Watch him denegrate and despise. HIs laugh has no pity. And we laugh with him.
Oh you think he hasn't made any deals with you? That is because he has already lied to you. The moment you shake his clammy palm, you forget. You forget the love and admiration you had for those you claim to adore. You forget value. You forget that the blood of Calvary is worth more than all the diamonds buried at the bottom of the sea. You forget how he hurts.
The Soul Eater plots, plans, and schemes against you. He wants you to join him in "The Black Parade."
So who is he?
He goes by many names, "Amour-propre", "Gall", "Swag", "Hubris", "Stolz", "Gordost", but you know him as "Pride."
Even his name is tricky. We want him around but we know we really shouldn't. There is a pride that is good, but if we are not careful when we strive for the good side of pride it quickly spoils and turns bad. The deal looks good until you realize the pride you bought has already bit you. The English writer Charles Bridges says this about it:
"It is hard to persuade a man that he is proud. Every one protests against this sin. Yet who does not cherish the viper in his own bosom? Man so little understands that dependence on his God constitutes the creature's happiness, and that the principle of independence is madness, and its end - destruction. The haughty walk on the brink of a fearful precipice; only a miracle preserves them from instant ruin."
The origins of the monster's arrival is repeated daily in our lives. Ezekiel the prophet describes it clearly in chapter 28:17: "Your heart became proud on account on of your beauty, and you corrupted your wisdom because of your splendor." This quote is about Lucifer's fall, the making of Satan. The root is pride, or self-love. Pride takes root when I exalt myself above everyone and everything else.
The psychologist even buys the lie, "In order to love others you must first love yourself." Who doesn't love themselves? We all do. Even the person who gets depressed about himself is depressed because he thinks he deserves better than he is getting because he loves himself so much. Pride has entered our soul since birth. It joins hands with Satan as he declares his independence in Isaiah 14:13-14, "I will ascend to the heavens; I will raise my throne above the stars of God; I will sit enthroned on the mount of the assembly, on the utmost heights of Mount Olympus, I will ascend above the tops of the clouds; I WILL MAKE MYSELF LIKE THE MOST HIGH."
Did you hear that? Pride wants to win. Be on top. Equal with God. Pride loves thyself so much all other loves pale in comparison.
It is this self-love that gives birth to the monster. This seed has been planted in you. You don't believe me? That is because you are being lied to by the monster.
Let's talk more about this later because he is hard to kill. And once dead he springs quickly back to life. But just know this:
"Haughty eyes and a proud heart, the lamp of the wicked are sin." (Prov. 21:4)