Saturday, October 25, 2008

Shifting Sands, Solid Rock

It was sometime in the mid-80s.

A Los Angeles TV news station ran a story about an up-and-coming heavy metal band called Poison, that was beginning to emerge as a popular act in town, and seemed to be on the brink of making it big.

The reporter questioned the band members about the name of their group, wondering why they would choose a name as seemingly unappealing as "Poison". One of the members answered, describing the band's struggles against parents who accused them of "poisoning our youth" with their music. Fed up with all the negative vibes, the band chose its name in defiance of these very parents and their concerns.

The quote given in the interview was: "Cut the crap, we're Poison!"

Nothing noteworthy in the quote itself, but there was something interesting that occurred in the broadcast of this interview:

The word "crap" was bleeped.

Let that sink in for a second...

Sounds quaint, doesn't it?

Times change.

Any adult could tell stories just like this one, stories of a more innocent time. A time when people cared about what was good and decent. A time when people took greater care to preserve the innocence of children. A time when right was right and wrong was wrong.

And, who could argue with these observations?

Yet, those same "good old days" included many plagues better left in the history books. Really, is anyone up for a return to segregation? Pre-suffrage politics? Primitive medicine? The chamber pot?

Perhaps that's some of the wisdom behind King Solomon's words:

"Do not say, 'Why were the old days better than these?' For it is not wise to ask such questions." (Ecclesiastes 7:10)

Solomon doesn't elaborate on this thought. He doesn't say exactly why it's so unwise to dwell on the good old days and look with scorn upon the present. He just says it's unwise.

Perhaps he knew people's tendency to exaggerate, making the good better and the bad worse than either really was.

Or, maybe people in his day were just as prone as we are to airbrushing the problems out of our fondest memories, creating in our minds a past so perfect, the present can't measure up to it.

Then again, it could just be that people in Solomon's time were just as troubled by shifting sands as we are today.

As long as people walk the earth, times will continue to change. The world's concerns will evolve and shift. Words will go unbleeped that were bleeped a generation before, while at the very same time, other matters will be treated with greater sensitivity than they had been previously, leaving us wondering how we ever overlooked them before.

In the end, will one generation's landscape prove to be categorically better than another?

Or, is every disciple called to be salt and light, right there in the very present time, regardless of when that happens to be?

Could it be that you live today, because God wants you here?

Times change, but Christ doesn't. (Hebrews 13:8)

Stand on the Rock and let the sand shift around you.

Don't love the sand, or hate the sand, or wish it would stand still. Or that it would go back to the way it used to be.

Certainly don't blow away with it.

Just stand on the Rock, and let not your heart be troubled.

Sunday, October 12, 2008

"Oh, no, you didn't!"

Are you familiar with this phrase?

It's an expression of shock or anger at something provocative that another person has just done; something, in fact, that is about to meet an equally forceful response from the person saying, "Oh, no, you didn't!"

This TV commercial for a new video game is a great example of how this expression is used today:

The main character in this video game is a mercenary who was denied the money he was owed by whoever hired him, and so now, it's on.

(Well, there's another one. If you're not familiar with "on", it's pronounced somewhere between "own" and "awn", and it basically means the fight has started.)

I seriously doubt I'll never play Mercenaries 2, because in the world of video games, I never graduated beyond the Atari 2600. I couldn't even tell you what machine you have to have to play this game. But, regardless of your video game skill, the sentiment involved in this TV commercial is something that is all too familiar in human experience, and completely at odds with the will of God for His people.

"Payback is a comin', you will be runnin' forevahhh!"

"Beloved, do not avenge yourselves, but rather give place to wrath; for it is written, 'Vengeance is Mine, I will repay,' says the Lord." -- Romans 12:19

"Until I get my vengeance, I will never end this mayhem."

"For we know Him who said, 'Vengeance is Mine, I will repay,' says the Lord. And again, 'The Lord will judge His people.'" -- Hebrews 10:30

It's doubtful anyone would seriously dispute God's command against taking personal vengeance on another person, although it can't be assumed every believer is aware of it. On the other hand, human emotions can wreak havoc on a person's commitment to remain true to God's commands. John Grisham's novel A Time to Kill is a fictitious example of a person convincing himself that personal vengeance is justified, even to the point of committing murder in retaliation for an unpunished crime.

Does God really prohibit us from taking vengeance in every case?


Doesn't He allow for any exceptions?


Not even if your pre-teen daughter is raped by two men and left unable to conceive, and you fear her unrepentant attackers will be acquitted by a racist jury. (This is the main plot of A Time to Kill.)

Not even then. Not even when every emotion in your mind tells you the wrong has to be made right. In fact, especially then.

God reserves the business of vengeance for Himself alone. Funny how most of us wouldn't be bold enough to walk into our boss's office and sit down at the desk, out of respect for that person's territory. Yet, vengeance, as clearly as God has marked it as His own, is a place where many people are willing to tread without fear.

Vengeance is God's place. Don't go there. Make this commitment now, while all is well. Get this anchor in the water before waves begin to swell. If not, if you wait until you've been wronged, you can't trust what your mind will work out on its own.

But, even if we manage to resist the temptation to take vengeance when we've been wronged, is this really all God is looking for?

What was the standard Jesus taught during His ministry?

When Jesus spoke on the subjects of adultery and murder (Matthew 5:21-30), He took the discussion to a higher level than the people were accustomed to. No longer could righteousness be found in the mere avoidance of the full-blown, completed, physical act. Jesus challenged the people to consider the state of their hearts and minds, and made it clear to them that the fantasies of their minds had just the same spiritual consequence as the actual deed would have had.

Should we not apply the same principle to the discussion of vengeance?

Can we consider ourselves Christ-like for turning the other cheek, if all the while we're imagining carrying out our full vengeance against the offender?

"Create in me a clean heart, O God, And renew a steadfast spirit within me." -- Psalm 51:10

Ordinary Heroes

Foo Fighters' 1997 hit "My Hero" has long been a favorite of mine.

In the artists' own words, the song is "a celebration of the common man and his extraordinary potential". The lyrics certainly back up this message: "There goes my hero; watch him as he goes! There goes my hero; he's ordinary!"

In my own experience, this song has evolved from a great tune to play loud in the car, to a thought-provoking 4 minutes.

Check out the video:

If that's a little too hard for your taste, try this live acoustic version:

So, what's the difference now? Why does this song mean so much more to me now than it did when it was brand new?

The answer: The eyes of my two sons when they look at me.

Whether I deserve it or not, whether I live up to it or not, in the eyes of these two innocent children, I am a hero. Along with my wife, I define normal for them. I demonstrate habits they will either pick up without thinking, or make a point of avoiding; either way, specifically because those habits are mine. Decades from now, these boys will remember moments, words, and deeds that I will have long since forgotten. They will be impacted by all I do, and all I don't do.

They will see how a Christian husband treats his wife. How he treats his children. How he acts in the privacy of his home. His real attitude toward everything he shows the world in public.

They will see, in living color, whether the Christian life is really a daily lifestyle, or whether it's a weekly time card.

Ultimately, they will learn whether a Christian man means it when he says he is a slave to Christ.

They will learn all this from me, because to them, I am a hero. Yet, in my own eyes, I am quite ordinary. Any honest parent feels the same way. And, not just parents. Every Christian is an example to someone in this world who notices and remembers. Any Christian can be a hero to someone out there who is trying to find the way.

Why would God actually entrust something this powerful to us, when we are clearly so ordinary?

Simply put, because it's not about us. It's not about how ordinary we are. It's not up to our own strength. It's all a matter of who lives within us, and who directs the ones looked upon as heroes by others.

A life lived in submission to Christ does indeed have "extraordinary potential". And, a soul in submission to Christ will be a worthy example for anyone to follow.

Most children will, at some point, admire a super-hero, a professional athlete, or an entertainer of some kind. However, these heroes are not likely to stand the test of time or truly influence a soul's eternal destiny.

That privilege is reserved for ordinary heroes, just like you.

Friday, October 3, 2008

A Good Day

Stayed a little late at work today.

On my way out, the building was pretty much silent, but for the sound of custodians running vacuums off in the distance.

The door to the custodians' empty office was standing open as I passed by, and from inside I heard the sound of a radio, and vaguely recognized the song playing. It was a rap song from the early 90s, entitled, "It Was a Good Day".

In a way it was fitting, but it also provided food for thought.

This song's lyrics do not convey godliness in any sense.

The "good day" described in this song involves getting up around 10 am, eating breakfast cooked by "mama", packing a gun but not having to use it, driving around town on hydraulic shocks without being pulled over, winning money at dice and dominoes, committing fornication, celebrating a Lakers' victory, not losing any friends to murder, and enjoying a Fat Burger at 2 am on the drunk drive home.

What a day.

Besides the poignant note about the commonness of murder in a gang-infested area, this song describes a day in the life of a person living only for himself, thinking he is independent, but not realizing he is owned; he is under the sway of Satan.

Reflecting on this song prompted me to think back on my own activities of the day, and what I thought made today a good day.

Last night, the Dodgers beat the Cubs to take a 2-0 lead in the National League Division Series. This morning, I beat the traffic under the overpass and had a quiet morning drive. At work, I was able to finish the tasks I hoped to get done today, along with the unpredictable stuff that always happens. I helped a teacher, a student, and a parent patch things up after trust between them had been ruined. I found out we have a brand-new nephew in New Mexico. (Congratulations, Dan & Syndi!) No major problems among the student body today. And, tonight, Taco Bueno!

I gotta say, it was a good day.

But, I'm left unsatisfied with my thinking on what a good day really is.

Did I, today, at any moment, with any deliberate attention, give glory to God?

Did I remember the sacrifice of Jesus Christ for me?

Did I humble myself before God and acknowledge my dependence upon Him?

Did I give my wife a moment of my best attention, a moment she might remember someday after I'm gone?

Did I give my sons a piece of me today, something to mold their understanding of what a Christian man is? Did I do or say anything to turn their eyes to the Lord?

Did my colleagues see Christ at work today, or did they see me?

What is it we hope to accomplish when we get up in the morning? What are we satisfied with when we go to sleep at night?

What is our standard for our use of the time we have? Are we happy as long as our goals and desires are met, we manage to avoid disaster, and we pick up some fast food on the way home?

Or, are we mindful of eternity as our days pass us by?