“For the time is coming when people will not put up with sound doctrine . . . and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander away to myths.” 2 Timothy 4:3-4
This week’s assault on Facebook is 2 Timothy 4:3-4, with assorted memes and photos (one is a shot of the verse, in situ, on a well-marked Bible page) proclaiming — as if it were breaking news today– a warning the apostle Paul issued 2,000 years ago.
The comments are more interesting than the verse, not so much the innocuous “Trues,” and “Amens,” but the, “Yes, it’s going on NOW. Just watch the news!”
Well, excrement happens, and horrible things have been reported in the news (and more frequently, not reported in the news) throughout history, but the general import seems to be that today’s horrible happenings are, finally, a fulfillment of this verse.
But the issue is, Paul isn’t talking about false teaching and doctrine in the world of men — he’s talking about it smack in the middle of the church.
As far as that goes, we in the Christian community have turned away from truth and wandered into myths for years. Here are three popular myths that many Christians, who anxiously re-post the Timothy verse, readily accept:
“Flex and Obey”
1) “The Bible teaches us to obey authority.” Who wouldn’t believe this one, given that major evangelists, with political and corporate ties, keep repeating it? Romans 13:1-7, Titus 3:1, Hebrews 13:17, and 1 Peter 2:13-14 are the favorite birch whips, although some people manage to twist Ephesians 6:2 (“Honor your father and mother”) into a New Testament command to honor, follow, submit to, and pay obeisance to all authority.
Before genuflecting with our foreheads to the ground, it’s worth exploring the meaning of the word “authority.” Secondly, commonsense renders the interpretation that we avoid problems by not agitating the rulers that be. We submit, not because it is a joy to do so, but because we’re less likely to incur the attention and wrath of a system designed to subdue and subjugate the masses so that a few can prosper.
Thirdly — the central message of the Bible is not that we obey the authority of man. The central message of mankind, however, is that we obey the authority of (well-placed, dominating, powerful) men.
Claim It, Baby
2) If you pray it, then God’s gotta do it. Well-known prosperity preachers are not the only ones who latch onto this concept — finding, speaking, declaring, announcing, and claiming promises lifted from Scripture as if no one prior to this, including God, realized that they were there.
And because it’s a promise, we tell God, “You promised. You’ve got to come through.” God, who didn’t foresee this loophole, is thereby forced to comply. We treat God and His kingdom as if it were the human-controlled legal system, in which rulings are made not because of ethics, honor, rightness, or justice, but because of a clever twisting of terms.
Those who find and use that clever twisting of terms — this is referred to as “faith” — get what they want. Those who don’t, well, their lives look like yours, or mine.
But commonsense again tells us that if it were truly possible for anyone to speak a promise into existence, then this world would be chaos. And if the caveat is placed, “Well, the person speaking the promise needs to be holy, virtuous, and right with God,” then one asks, “Does this describe the average prosperity or celebrity preacher?”
You Sin, You Hurt
3) If anything goes wrong in your life, it’s because you have sinned. The concept of suffering is too great and complex to be addressed in point 3 of a short blog post, but suffice it to say that bad things happening in our lives are not an automatic sign that God is mad at us and is punishing us into submission.
Applying yet again commonsense, is this how we effectively raise children? (Sadly, thanks to assorted evangelical “child psychology experts” who have inserted their voices into a church community eager to eat up anything they dish out, this is how many Christians parent: they punish. And because they are inflexible, shortsighted, and harsh, they figure that God is, too.)
The rain falls on the just and the unjust (Matthew 5:45), and indeed, much of what we suffer is not because God slapped our face, but because men, in the quest for unlimited power and money, hurt other men. Once we get done asking why this is happening to us (generally we stop asking because we can’t get a satisfactory answer), we turn to God, rely upon Him to walk us through it, and emerge a deeper, better, more compassionate person.
But we won’t do this if we’re constantly assuming that God is out to get us.
That’s just three myths. There are many, many more, and the place to look for them is not in politics, education, the entertainment world, mass media, corporate funded science, advertising, or modern business, because it’s a given that in these arenas, myths are created, fostered, fomented, and promulgated.
The place to seek them, identify them, call them out, and remove them is in the “community” where Paul said we would find them: those establishments that purport to teach Christianity.
Thank you for joining me at Commonsense Christianity where I encourage individual Christians to realize that they are not part of “the masses,” to be manipulated and controlled into mindless submission, but members of the body of Christ — and our head, ruler, leader and king is the Son of God.
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“Then the voice said to him, ‘What are you doing here, Elijah?'” 1 Kings 19:13
I’m sure many of you have had the experience of someone accosting you and announcing,
“The Lord told me to tell you that you’re WRONG in this area, and you need to change your life in the following ways . . .”
And then they proceed to instruct you on how to raise your children, or what Bible study you’re supposed to be attending, or the command (from God, who for some reason couldn’t get through directly to you) that you take over a particular ministry that has been languishing for lack of just the right leader (You! Didn’t know that, did you?).
When you make the mild observation that, if this issue is so important, God would surely impress it upon you in a less invasive manner, the response looks like,
“It’s because you don’t listen! And I do — I am a prayer warrior, and God speaks to me directly.”
Is this true?
Does God speak, directly and with an audible voice, to other people, and not to you or me?
Pop Culture Christianity
In reading assorted pop culture Christian books, or listening to the multiplicity of TV evangelists, prophets, apostles, and seers, one could easily get this impression, as conversations with God and the celebrity or writer in question are bandied about as if they were normal:
“God told me the other day — with a little chuckle, you understand, because He was amused — that . . .”
It would be so easy, we sigh, if God would speak to us that way, or at least leave little Post-It notes around with specific instructions, and because He doesn’t — but He appears to do so with others — we walk our path with heads hanging, convinced that we are a lesser child of the Kingdom, unable to be trusted with the simplest tasks.
But the operating phrase in this concept is “appears to do so with others,” with rudimentary commonsense telling us that, just because someone says God talks directly to them, does not mean that this is so. And considering that there is a 2,000-page book with assorted writings inspired and directed by God, a bit more commonsense tells us to get familiar with what’s in there, first, before we go chasing after the words of someone who purports to speak new words from God, fresh for the issues of today.
“But God spoke to the prophets directly! Look at Elijah!”
The Prophets of Old
Okay, let’s look at Elijah — 1 Kings 19 finds us at Mount Horeb, where the prophet fled after a pretty impressive showdown between the priests of Baal and the God that the Israelites were supposed to be following (Chapter 18). Discouraged by the disbelief, lack of belief, and weakness of belief of his countrymen, Elijah cries out to God,
“The Israelites have rejected your covenant, broken down your altars, and put your prophets to death with the sword. I am the only one left, and now they are trying to kill me too.” (Please note that Elijah, whom history and tradition acknowledge as a true prophet of God, did not enjoy the fruits of the prosperity gospel. Nor did he preach it.)
We are then told that a great and powerful wind tore through — but the Lord was not in that wind. Neither was He in the earthquake, or the subsequent fire. His voice was in a gentle whisper —
But was this whisper audible?
It doesn’t specify.
Read the Book
The Bible is filled with accounts of prophets — from Moses to Isaiah, from Elisha to John the Baptist — who said and did miraculous things, and sometimes we are told that they encountered God in a dream, or a vision. Other times, we are told that angels approached them (the most notable of these are the Gospel accounts after Christ’s resurrection).
But often, the most information we are given is that, “God spoke to . . .” with no specific details on just how God spoke. It is easy to insist that all of these encounters were audible, and if it happened to them, it can happen to us (or those limited elite — not you or me, obviously — who are truly “enlightened”) also.
And therein we are easily fooled by smooth, confident voices whose central message is that they hear God’s words and we do not, and it is their ministry to pass on those words to us. But it is our job, as did the Bereans in Acts 17, to review everything we are taught by anyone who proclaims to be a teacher, determining whether it is in line with the information we are given in Scripture.
This resource, incidentally, is readily available to many of us — and in reading it, and reflecting upon it, and analyzing it, and chewing upon it, and praying for wisdom — we do hear God’s voice, deep inside our soul.
Thank you for joining me at Commonsense Christianity, where my constant encouragement to believers is to seek out God directly, as opposed to going through the never-ending supply of middlemen who are willing to do this for us — for a price, that is.
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“Cast all your anxiety on him, because he cares for you.” 1 Peter 5:7
Some of the most insensitive sayings, passed on via social media memes, are posted by people who call themselves Christians. There is a lamentable desire to encapsulate and solve problems in one-sentence increments, and rather than post Scripture — which generally needs elucidation to be properly misinterpreted — good people who should be thinking pass on pithy sayings from seminar gurus, Christian celebrities, and the never-ending supply of Pro Positive Pop Christian “ministers.”
A recent banality scolds people for complaining about their boss.
“Be grateful you’ve got a job,” is its advice. Well, that really helps to get through another stomach churning, gut wrenching day under the thumb of an insecure, incompetent overseer who threatens the very existence of our employment in order to maintain the security, and advancement, of his or hers.
In effect, when we speak up about the wrongs in life, we are shushed by the accusation that we are complaining little whiners who don’t focus on being grateful for what we have.
Admittedly, there is a tiny nugget of truth in this — a pessimistic outlook in which we’re constantly picking life apart and finding it faulty, isn’t the best path to peace, contentment, humility and wisdom.
In Our Happy Place
However — and this is a big however — denying that problems exist, and settling into a mentally narcotized Happy State in which we forego thinking, and most importantly expressing, anything negative because being negative is so very, very naughty, isn’t the path to wisdom either — although it does lead one to an attitude of self-righteousness and judgment upon others:
“People shouldn’t complain about the price of food — they should just be grateful that they’ve got food on the table! (and perhaps if they worked a little harder, and smarter, like I do, and trusted God more — like I do — they WOULD have all their needs met!”
Despite the plethora of smooth, cultured voices who purport to speak for Him, God does not post social media memes, and His message — it’s a deep one — focuses on His love for us, His desire that we be more like Him, and His willingness to patiently and compassionately work with us in this process. Nowhere do we find Jesus saying,
“Suck up and shut up, guys! Quit your whining and bellyaching and give thanks to Dad, for His sake! We need to see an Attitude of Gratitude here!”
It’s Always Our Fault
And yet, this is a popular message that people eat up, swallow, and regurgitate onto social media memes. If things are going wrong, we’re told, it’s because
- We don’t work hard enough,
- We don’t have enough faith,
- We speak negatively,
- We haven’t sufficiently thanked God.
Always, always, the onus is upon us to perform — to “get things right with God” first before He will bother listening to us, and the end result of this in our prayer life logically looks like this:
“Dear God: Thank you for everything, and for all the problems in my life. I am grateful for them because they all work together for good.
“As I am unable to admit that things worry me or bother me or make me angry without coming across as negative, I will not talk to You about what hurts me, and I will work very hard this week to get past my emotions.
“I’ll get back to you when I’ve got everything solved.”
Truth: It’s Worth Seeking
So much better is the message of truth, in which we are urged to cast — hurl, throw, pitch, chuck, and dump — our very real concerns, fears, doubts, pain, anger, exasperation, and frustration upon the only Person in the Universe who can actually do something about them. It doesn’t matter whether we’re justified or not — God is perfectly able to sort through the detritus and get to the literal heart of the matter.
He already knows the deep, hidden resources of our hearts and soul — it is we who frequently do not realize what is burbling about in there. And as long as we insistently deny that there are issues, we remain blind, and deaf,
Thank you for joining me at Commonsense Christianity, where I am constantly amazed at the number of self-help speakers out there — and even more amazing are the number of people who listen to everything they say.
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“If any of you is lacking in wisdom, ask God, who gives to all generously and ungrudgingly, and it will be given you.” James 1:5
For many years, my literary junk food was celebrity people magazines. Once every two weeks I headed to the library, grabbed a stack, and caught up on all the latest news of the British Royal Family, heart throbs of my adolescence, and (my favorite) shots of female stars make-up free and sloppily attired.
Even after I awoke from the delusional trance of the American Dream and Christian Utopia on Earth (promised from the pulpit, if only we “have enough faith” and “work together as a community”), I still snuck the magazines in, like guilty spoonfuls of ice-cream snatched over the kitchen sink. But eventually, like the bad eating, I realized that I never felt happy, content, hopeful, encouraged, or confident after I read these things.
(By the way, Baptist sorts, I wasn’t laboring under the guilt of sin, condemning myself for worldly, evil thoughts; I was just putting commonsense into place.)
Aging Movie Stars
And one day, it snapped — and I lost all interest. Perhaps it was the sight of my adolescent heart throb, who at 37 was so sexy to my 17-year-old eyes, but now looked (and talked!) disturbingly like my late, elderly father-in-law. I no longer cared about these people, none of whom I knew personally, and all of whom inhabit a world that is so far out of my sphere that we have remarkably little in common. If I and one of their domestic staff met in the aisles of a grocery store, well, the staff member and I would probably have something in common — but I and the celebrity are poles — and neighborhoods — apart.
So it is within the industrial Christian complex, which really should publish a celebrity magazine of its own, focusing on the prophets and teachers and evangelists and names and holy faces that millions of Christians come to follow, and worship, as being wiser, more righteous, and blessed than the rest of us: they’re rich and well-known, after all — surely that must be a sign of God’s favor?
(If only Jesus had grasped the secret of their success. He could have really made something of Himself, you know?)
Aging Christian Celebrities
Like the Sexiest Men of the Year of the 70s and 80s, many of these celebrities are entering into their 70s, 80s, and 90s themselves, and sadly for them, are no longer on the lips of the saints. But a new crop — in its sexy 30s, 40s, and 50s — is there to take their place, writing the books, shaking their mighty fists at the camera, and granting interviews to Fox News and Oprah. Their wives are coiffed and slender, beautifully dressed and appropriately submissive in First Lady style.
When the Great Christians give their opinion on gay marriage, people listen, nod their heads, and say, “Yes, yes, that’s it. Prophet Pulpit Pummeler says so.” When they tell acolytes to boycott a store, the believers do. When they meet with ecumenical leaders to discuss a global religion, some followers wring their hands, wondering, “Why does Pastor Protector do this? Doesn’t he know that Catholics and Evangelical Protestants differ on fundamental issues? and that Jewish people and Christians differ on a REALLY major issue? How can all people believe one thing, and what will that one thing be?”
Good questions, but unfortunately, the followers of celebrity Christians do not have enough confidence to seek wisdom, considering themselves spiritually unqualified to process through the tough, tough issues facing people who live in the globalized, mass-media dictated, corporately controlled world of the 21st century. The best they can do is listen to the voices of the Voices, and adjust their belief system accordingly.
(It’s not so strange, really, given that millions of Christians are trained, multiple times a week, to sit in a chair and passively listen to the person pacing the dais in front and above them.)
But this is not what we are called to do, or be, anymore than our diet consists of snatching spoonfuls of ice-cream over the kitchen sink. The world is filled, and has always been filled, with complex issues — complex because they involve people — and no pithy saying, Tweet, or meme from any Big Name is going to solve the problems, or do the thinking, for us.
We need wisdom, and wisdom — unlike money, power, celebrity status, and fame — is not held out of reach from ordinary people. It is there for the asking.
If we will only ask.
Thank you for joining me at Commonsense Christianity, where, despite not being interested in the voices of self-imposed chieftains, I find myself being assaulted by their pronouncements. I can’t imagine what the white noise is like in the heads of those who actually seek out, follow, and learn from these people.
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