Wednesday, October 20, 2021

Warnings for Unclean Meteors

Suggested Reading: Leviticus 15:13-21

Smallville changed the Superman mythology from the very first episode by sending the Kryptonian infant to Earth in the middle of a meteor shower, an element which (as far as I know) had been missing from Superman's story until then. The reason for this change was partly dramatic, but partly to give a reasonable explanation for why his craft wasn't detected by radar and satellites as he descended toward Earth. After all, picking out one particular falling object among hundreds is much more difficult than if that same object fell by itself. One episode, however, revolved around a man who was in a plane, crop dusting, when the meteors fell. He saw one object fall from the sky like all the others and then swerve at the last minute and land rather than simply strike the ground. This one object was different than the others.This one object was not normal and required a closer look.

When God gave Moses the Law, God included a number of laws which revolved around being ceremonially clean and unclean. In most of those laws, once a person's time of uncleanness has come to an end, the formerly unclean person was required to sacrifice a sin offering to purify them spiritually as well. But there were some unclean conditions which did not require a sacrifice. One of those reads, If a man lies with a woman and has an emission of semen, both of them shall bathe themselves in water and be unclean until the evening (Leviticus 15:18, ESV) but there is no sacrifice required. Another example immediately follows this exemption and it is the uncleanness that occurs during a woman's menstrual cycle. All of the exceptions to the sin offering requirement were instances of natural bodily functions and normal human conditions. Sex, menstruation, death of family members, even eating unclean animals (the ones that wouldn't get you exiled) were all exempt from the sin offering requirement.  But for uncleanness brought on by "abnormal" circumstances, things that meant something was wrong, sacrifices were required, whether the uncleanness resulted from a disease like leprosy or because a house had been infected by mildew. Anything that required intervention because something needed to be fixed or healed required a sacrifice but normal life occurrences, without sin or disease, just required washing.

Even in the Old Testament Law, God distinguished between things that were normal parts of life and things which required intervention because something was wrong, and God built in requirements to the law to remind people of these differences. Not only do these requirements remind us that sin creates unnatural circumstances in our lives but they remind us that we need to watch for the warning signs, which tell us that we are facing something abnormal, something wrong, something which requires intervention.  They remind us that God wants us to watch for red flags because some things simply aren't normal.

What warning signs have you been seeing, telling you that something is wrong in your life? Do you find yourself suddenly losing sleep and you don't know why? Have you been getting sick or facing difficulties at home that go beyond the normal, everyday occurrences of life? God wants us to remember that sometimes we need to seek out some intervention, that something outside of the norm requires a solution outside the norm and there is no shame in seeking help. Some difficulties and inconveniences are a normal part of life while others are indications that something is wrong. Don't be afraid to admit the difference.

Tuesday, October 19, 2021

There's Nothing Wrong With a Little Hero Worship

Suggested Reading: Psalm 135:13-21

There is an episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation where the Enterprise stumbles upon a ship whose passengers are all dead except for a small boy. The Enterprise's android officer, Lieutenant Commander Data, discovers the boy and soon becomes the object of hero worship. The boy is so impressed with Data and so grateful that the android saved him that he begins to imitate Data. He begins to dress like him and comb his hair like him. When people ask the boy how he is doing, he responds by saying, "All systems are functioning within normal parameters." The boy's fascination with Data would almost be cute if it weren't a response to the boy's tragic loss of his family and friends aboard the doomed ship.

The idea of hero-worship has been around for a long time. Children, have always tried to imitate those people that they think are the bravest and smartest and "coolest." I remember when I was a kid dressing up like Batman and getting on a little banana seat bicycle and "patrolling" the neighborhood because that is what heroes were supposed to do. As we grow up, hero-worship takes on a little more serious dimension. We want to be like a particular leader or businessman and so we read their books and try to develop some of the habits that they have developed. We want to be as good at parenting as our parents (or some other worthy parental role-model) and so we try to do things the way they would have done them. One of the most natural things in the world is emulating someone we admire.

Psalm 135:15-18 reads, "The idols of the nations are silver and gold, made by the hands of men. They have mouths, but cannot speak, eyes, but they cannot see; they have ears, but cannot hear, nor is there breath in their mouths. Those who make them will be like them, and so will all who trust in them" (HCSB). These verses describe the very phenomenon we have already discussed, but from an angle we don't often consider: we become more and more like whatever we worship. The phenomenon is very similar to the idea that we become like the people that we hang out with, except it is amplified and often much more difficult to notice because the things we worship (the focus our primary attention and strength) are often not even living things.

Sometimes, we focus all of our time and attention on money and we soon become cold and hard, caring only about the bottom line and whether or not we can obtain something. Sometimes, we focus on leisure time and relaxation, and we soon become laid back, lazy and unmotivated by anything but enjoying ourselves. Sometimes, we focus on work and then nothing matters to us except being productive and avoiding distractions that could lower productivity, like family or spending time serving and loving people. Sometimes, we focus all of our attention on a particular person and we begin picking up that person's habits and we hear people who care about us worried that we are "losing ourselves."

Whatever we worship, whatever is the focus of our attention and devotion, will shape the people that we become. When God is the focus of our worship, we develop more and more the character of Christ. If our character is developing in other ways, chances are pretty good that we have set something else up as a god in our lives, possibly without even realizing it.

What habits have you seen develop in your life? How has your character evolved recently? Answering those questions will give you a good indication of where your heart is focused. If you don't like what you see, change your focus. Intentionally place your attention and devotion on the God who gave his Son to save you. Keep your mind focused on who God is and what God is doing in the world. The more hero-worship of God that we engage in, the more we become like Christ.

Monday, October 18, 2021

Finding Motivation for Family Competitions

Suggested Reading: Ecclesiastes 4:4-6, Matthew 6:25-33

In Cheaper by the Dozen 2, Steve Martin plays a father who takes his wife and 10 children on vacation, only to discover that an old rival is also vacationing at the lake with his own family. This other father is rich with a supermodel for a wife and children who all excel in both schooling and sports. Martin's character, driven by jealousy and a competitive desire to prove he is just as good a father, enters his family into a competition against his rival's family. His desire to prove his own worth pushes him to succeed but it also pushes his family away.

Solomon, the likely author of Ecclesiastes, knew something about this dynamic. He records, Then I observed that most people are motivated to success because they envy their neighbors. But this, too, is meaningless—like chasing the wind (Ecclesiastes 4:4, NLT). Most of us tend to think we are above "jealousy" but we practice variations called insecurity and self-importance, using what we have accomplished and what we own as our measures. We believe are just as good, just as important, just as worthy as that person over there who has all of the things we think we deserve. We're not "jealous", it's just not fair that that person has what we deserve, especially when they themselves don't deserve it. And so we work to prove what we deserve - the recognition, the higher salary, the leisure time, the perfect family - never realizing that we are working so hard because we are jealous.

But we cannot allow ourselves to be motivated by the things we think we deserve or the desire to prove that we are just as good or worthy as someone else. As believers, our focus is to be building the kingdom of God and our motivation is to be gratitude toward a God who loved us enough to send His Son to save us. Jesus advised us, Seek the Kingdom of God above all else, and live righteously, and he will give you everything you need (Matthew 6:33, NLT) because whenever our thoughts are focused on what we don't have or on what we think we deserve our focus is away from seeking the lost and making disciples. 

What things have you been focused on because you believe you deserve more? A better job? More time off? That new electronic gadget? A spouse who appreciates you more? Don't work so hard to get what you don't have or what you think you deserve. Focus on the Kingdom of God and you will get everything you need.

Friday, October 15, 2021

Finding God at the Center of the Galaxy

Suggested Reading: Job 33:1-12

Star Trek V: The Final Frontier was almost universally panned by critics and fans alike because the movie told the story of Captain Kirk and crew following Sybok, a Vulcan mad man, to search for God. As the movie progressed, Sybok convinced more and more people that God was waiting for them at the center of the galaxy. Sybok and his followers sincerely believed that they would find God. They believed it with all of their hearts. They were willing to risk death crossing the Great Barrier into the center of the Milky Way because they believed so deeply. But when they finally arrived, "God" turned out to be nothing more than a convicted prisoner, sending out powerful telepathic messages to lure people in and then use their ship to escape. Sybok and his followers were sincere and devoted in their belief, but they were wrong.

In the story of Job, after God allowed Satan to destroy everything that Job possessed, three of Job's friends tried to help Job own up to the sin in his life, so that God would remove what they saw as a punishment from Job's life. One of Job's friends, Elihu, assured Job, "My words come from my upright heart, and my lips speak with sincerity what they know. The Spirit of God has made me, and the breath of the Almighty gives me life" (Job 33:3-4, HCSB). Job's friends were sincere in their belief that Job must have sinned to bring such a terrible disaster on himself. But Job's friends were wrong. God, ironically, had allowed these disasters in Job's life because of his righteousness, not because of his sin.

At times, we can become convinced of the rightness of our beliefs simply because of the sincerity with which we or someone else believes them. Sometimes we believe something so much, we just know it must be true. But being sincere doesn't mean we are right. Very often we are sincerely wrong. Many people sincerely  believe that "God hates fags," but they are wrong. Many people sincerely believe there are ways to reach God aside from Jesus, but according to scripture, they are wrong. Many people sincerely believe that the Bible teaches that money is the root of all evil or that confronting people about their sin is "judging" them and therefore prohibited. But all of these people would be wrong.

No matter how sincere we are in our beliefs, we must be willing to reevaluate them when we discover evidence to the contrary. When we find something in scripture that commands us to warn people about their sin or we discover things in Genesis that don't read the way we thought they did, we must be willing to alter our sincere beliefs.

We can all be wrong, no matter how sincere we are. Our goal should be discovering the truth, not proving we are right.

Thursday, October 14, 2021

Gold Rings and Hogs

Suggested Reading: Proverbs 11:16-23

Back when I was single, long before the only female capable of registering in my brain was my wife (cough, cough), I had a rule about how I described women. Well,  really, it was more my own set of definitions. Any girl I happened to see could be pretty, even beautiful, or unattractive. But I refused to use stronger words to define a girl until I actually knew them. For instance, for a girl to be "gorgeous," she needed not only to be physically attractive but have an attractive spirit as well. One the flip-side a girl who was physically very attractive could be "downgraded" if she was petty, stuck-up, or mean-spirited. In fact, there was a girl in high school who was extremely attractive physically that I refused to think of as "beautiful" because she was snobby and conceited (in my ill-practiced high-school opinion). I have never heard whether girls have a similar system for rating guys (my wife tells me that I am the only attractive male on the planet besides that one superhero on TV....), but I would suspect they do.

The author of Proverbs seemed to have a similar system as well. Proverbs 11:22 reads, "A beautiful woman who rejects good sense is like a gold ring in a pig's snout" (HCSB). Apparently, the author of the proverb, like many of us, drew the distinction between a woman who was physically attractive and a woman whose only positive quality was her physical appearance. 

Now, while it might be a good idea for me to bring this up in order to warn single people, "Make sure you are looking for someone whose attractiveness goes beyond the physical," and while that would be a good warning, I think most of us eventually arrive at those conclusions on our own. Rather, I am more concerned with how we make ourselves attractive. And, yes, if you are married, you still need to be concerned about being attractive, both to your spouse and to a world that is watching you to see whether or not coming to Christ is worth their time.

Sometimes, we get so worried about our physical appearance, that we forget to work just as much on our attitude and behavior.  We often fall into the trap of making sure that we are dressed well (say, for church) but don't stop to think about how we greet people we have never met or whether we are hospitable to strangers. We fuss over our hair but we never fuss over how we respond to other people's ideas and desires. Sometimes, we don't spend any time at all worrying about any appearances other than the physical. But we all know that our physical looks will only get us so far, and they probably wont get us anywhere if we're trying to lead people to Jesus.

How attractive are you right now? Would the way you behave or treat people cause others to "upgrade" your appearance or "downgrade" it? Don't be a gold ring in a pig's snout.

Wednesday, October 13, 2021

Lindsey Lohan's Biblical Movie

Suggested Reading: Proverbs 13:14-20

I'm not a big fan of Lindsey Lohan movies (except for the Parent Trap remakes when she was young). Even though most of them are Disney "family friendly" movies, they tend to get on my nerves and my daughter tends to have an attitude after watching them. One movie, in particular, is Mean Girls. If you've seen the movie, Lohan plays a new girl in a new school who only seems to fit in with the unpopular crowd. However, when she gets a chance to hang out with the popular girls, her unpopular friends tell her to take it so that she can sabotage them. But their plan backfires because Lohan's character ends up acting just like one of the popular, mean girls. Lohan's friends end up not liking her, the mean girls end up not liking her, and she ends up having to figure out how she became what she hated.

The movie, as annoying as it is, does demonstrate a powerful lesson from scripture. Proverbs 13:20 reads, "The one who walks with the wise will become wise, but a companion of fools will suffer harm" (HCSB). Even though Lohan's character only hung out with the popular mean girls in order to sabotage them, by intentionally hanging out with them, and by "pretending" to be like them, she really did become one of them. We are all familiar with this lesson and we all have stories about how a particular friend fell in with the "wrong crowd" and ended up doing very dumb things and getting into trouble because of it. But how often do we take advantage of this lesson in a positive way like this verse suggests: "The one who walks with the wise will become wise."

John Maxwell, an influential writer on the issue of leadership, repeatedly writes that people who want to be good leaders should surround themselves with good leaders. He reminds his readers that hanging out with leaders allows them to not only learn how to be good leaders but to begin picking up the habits that good leaders have developed. He takes the lesson of Proverbs 13:20 and applies it in a positive way; if you want to be a good leader, hang out with good leaders; if you want to be a good pastor, hang out with good pastors; if you want to be a godly person, hang out with godly people. Whatever kind of person you want to be, hang out with those kinds of people. Be intentional not only about who influences you but about who influences you subconsciously.

Now, this is not to say that we cannot be around sinners. If we were to only ever be around godly people who are good leaders and no one else, we would have a hard time making much of a difference in the world. Jesus gave us an example to follow of making sure that we spend time with sinners and "rejects." But Jesus also surrounded himself with a group of men who wanted to see God's kingdom come on earth and were passionate enough about it to leave behind their daily lives in order to see it happen. We can and must come into regular contact with people that we hope to influence and lead into God's kingdom, but we can also be intentional about spending more time with the kinds of people that we want to emulate. We can choose to allow those people a greater influence than they already have.

If you know what kind of person you want to be, then find those kind of people and hang out with them. Let them rub off on you. After all, The one who walks with the wise will become wise, but a companion of fools will suffer harm.

Tuesday, October 12, 2021

If You're Going To Sin, At Least Don't Be Stupid

Suggested Reading: Proverbs 6:20-35

The other day I was reading my daily dose of Proverbs when I stumbled across this verse: "For a prostitute's fee is only a loaf of bread but an adulteress goes after a precious life" (Proverbs 6:26, HCSB). And I thought, Wait, is scripture seriously telling us that it is better to go to a prostitute than to have an affair? Thinking that was odd, I kept reading. A few versus later, another sin was compared to having an affair. "People don't despise a thief if he steals to satisfy himself when he is hungry. Still, if caught, he must pay seven times as much; he must give up all the wealth in his house. The one who commits adultery lacks sense; whoever does so destroys himself" (Proverbs 6:30-32, HCSB).

For a minute, I wrestled with, But aren't all sins the same in the eyes of God? Doesn't God hold us just as accountable for any one sin as for any other sin? Even though that is what I've been taught most of my life, I'm not entirely convinced that is the case but that concept doesn’t even enter into the picture with these verses. These verses aren't about which sins God counts as worse than others. These verses are about which sins are going to get us into the most trouble here on earth.

The author of these proverbs is trying to tell us in rather pithy terms, that going to a prostitute only costs you money but having an affair can cost you your life; stealing, if you have a legitimate need, will be punished but understood while having an affair is just stupid. Talking about having an affair, the proverbist (I may have just made up that word) asks, "Can a man embrace fire and his clothes not be burned? Can a man walk on burning coals without scorching his feet?" (Proverbs 6:27-28, HCSB). Now, aside from the obvious masters of mystical arts, the answers to both of these questions is "NO!" If I were to write a summary of this passage, I would probably write, "If you're going to sin, at least don't be stupid!"

We live in a society where people almost expect to see affairs take place. One movie I saw recently tried to convince the audience that having an affair could actually strengthen a marriage by giving one's spouse a boost of confidence that would improve the relationship between husband and wife. Media is constantly produced that manipulates audiences into rooting for an affair to take place because "they really love each other" or because "they deserve to be happy" or because "their spouse is an insensitive jerk." We have websites designed to help people have affairs behind their spouse's back. Everywhere we look, people are telling us that affairs are natural, that they are expected, that they really don't do that much harm, that they may lead to a purer love than the marriage itself. To all of these ideas, the author of Proverbs calls "BS."

Why is it that ancient societies often extended the death penalty to adultery? Why is it that the only excuse Jesus gave for divorce was infidelity? Why does the author of Proverbs even suggest that going to a prostitute is better than having an affair? Why is it that country songs about affairs always end in a semi-truck plowing through the local hotel? Secularists and some academics today will tell you that affairs were not tolerated as a symptom of a male-dominated society trying to imprison its woman to a set of rules that held them down. The real reason? Extra-marital affairs destroy lives.

Even more sobering is Jesus' assertion that if a man looks at a woman in order to lust after her, he "has already committed adultery with her in his heart" (Matthew 5:28, NIV). This one statement of Jesus should cause us to see pornography in any form in a new light and to lump it in with these warnings that the author of Proverbs is giving us.

All sin is wrong but some sins are understandable. Committing adultery, however, shows a lack of sense, whether it involves an actual physical act or only occurs in our hearts. We all fall into sin but we don't have to be stupid about it.

Warnings for Unclean Meteors

Suggested Reading: Leviticus 15:13-21 Smallville changed the Superman mythology from the very first episode by sending the Kryptonian in...