“There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under heaven . . . a time to tear and a time to mend, a time to be silent and a time to speak.” Ecclesiastes 3:1, 7
To put it mildly, Ecclesiastes is one of the less cheerful books of the Bible. Purportedly written by Solomon, this short book chronicles the author’s efforts to experience every good thing in life — wine, food, women, clothing, luxury accommodations — with the resulting conclusion that they are all meaningless.
Without God, that is — although this message is well padded beneath the sepulchral ambiance of the work. (Personally, I recoil from a person of privilege expressing boredom and despair over elements of life that most humans only dream about, but I get it: this is someone who got it all, plunged into it all, and recognized it wasn’t enough. Which is more than can be said for the attitude of today’s elite.)
But if you read nothing more in Ecclesiastes than 3:1-8, it’s worth the effort. For the auditory learner, The Byrds’ 1962 musical rendition of the work — Turn, Turn, Turn — captures the essence, since it’s pretty much a word for word adaptation, but ironically, leaves out half of verse seven, quoted above: “A time to be silent and a time to speak.”
A Cacophony of Voices
Because that’s what today’s essay is about, during a time when many, many people — from all sides of the rainbow — are speaking, most notably about the U.S. Supreme Court’s recent decision (seriously, was it a surprise to anybody?) to legalize homosexual and lesbian marriage. The end result is not communication, but chaos.
Quite predictably, emotions and words run hot on both sides, and the most woeful thing about it all, for people who want to live free, is that these emotions and words mean nothing when it comes to creating policy within a nation that is supposed to be run by the people, and for the people. Words, logic, debate, argument, even vociferous shouting: there’s nothing wrong with these — but there is everything wrong in a land where such debate is not necessary, because the decisions to be made are in the grasping hands of a few.
And those few — as they have in authoritarian regimes throughout history, like Rome, when Jesus lived — have made, and continue to make, those decisions.
Christians Do Things Differently
But back to being silent, or speaking: whether or not one, as a Christian, agrees with the Supreme Court’s decree, staying silent, for a moment, might not be a bad thing.
We all know the arguments, for both sides, and when we utter them, we join in a fray of shouting where logic, reason, perception, forgiveness, compassion, understanding, and true tolerance do not exist. Christianity, quite unfortunately by its overtly political nature of late, never comes out on top in these areas.
So perhaps we could take a break, not speaking or writing the obvious things weighted down by appropriately selected Scripture, and use this next week to simply be silent, asking God — not each other — how we should proceed, and live, in the times that we do.
Thank you for joining me at Commonsense Christianity.
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“Then Jesus said to them, ‘Give to Caesar what is Caesar’s and to God what is God’s.” (Mark 12:17)
On Facebook, which is as good a source of national news as any, I ran across a post lambasting our present president for doing what all presidents do, which is, in effect, not fulfilling the promises they made to secure election in the first place.
And while this is a bipartisan predilection not unique to the United States, the difference about living in a “free” country as opposed to one which more openly admits its control issues, is that we, as citizens, are theoretically able to critique our leaders — who, also theoretically, are supposed to be working “for” and “under” us.
Freedom of speech and all that.
But freedom — political, social, religious, financial — is such a truly powerful force, one capable of releasing people from servitude to evil, that it needs to be parsed, controlled, defined, and limited. And those who demand the most control are those who stand to benefit best by limiting the freedom of others; after all, the less money you and I have, the more someone else gets, and hoards.
(If God had allowed the Hebrews, when collecting manna in the desert, to hold some back, how long do you think it would have taken before there was a shortage of a resource that was sufficient to meet the needs of all?)
So, back to this Facebook post: despite this being a theoretically democratic country in which ordinary citizens are expected to get involved and hold leaders (both elected and self-imposed) accountable for their actions and promises, the Voice of Contemporary, Subservient-to-Authority Christianity was heard in the posted comment:
“Thou Shalt Not Think”
“This is a Christian forum. And as Christians, we are commanded to pray for our leaders, not criticize them.”
Submission, accountability, obedience, deference, and subjection — for all that these traits are preached as virtues to the Christian community, one would think that
1) We live, like the early Christians did, under a political and financial regime that looks like ancient Rome
2) The chain of man-made authority is so holy and sanctioned by God, that we are unable to reach Him without going through the potentate immediately above us, whether that be the husband who controls the wife, the manager who oversees the employee, the policeman who exerts dominion over the citizen, the master who owns the slave, or the church elder board, working under a commercially savvy mega-pastor, that crafts policy — parochial and personal — to shape the church goers’ spiritual lives.
Indeed, more than one self-imposed, national Christian “leader” and seminar speaker has made a comfortable living instructing other Christians to not argue with what they are told, and to hold Romans 13 (“Everyone must submit himself to the governing authorities . . . “) and Hebrews 13:17 (“Obey your leaders and submit to their authority“) as the principal passages of Scripture around which all of Jesus’s teaching, and ministry, revolve.
But the thing about Bible verses, and the Bible itself, actually, is that they’re not meant to be a means to control others, so much as they are to teach us about God. And since God is big, powerful, complex, and awesome, in addition to being merciful, loving, gracious, and forgiving, pulling a couple verses out of context and forcing people to bow under them, subservient and passive, is to basically rip out the four gospels and toss them in the wood stove.
In other words, when we read the Bible, if the unconditional love of God for His children is not always at the forefront of our mind, we are in real danger of extracting a verse here and a verse there, and using them to dictate people’s behavior.
Which is precisely what has happened within the contemporary, establishment, sitting-in-the-pews Christian community:
So accustomed is this group to being seen as sheep, that members do not ask who is their shepherd, and too readily follow human teaching in this area, accepting that, as Christians — even Christians who live in a “free” country — they are to obey, and obey, and obey, and that to question, or assert one’s rights, is wrong.
Wives must listen to husbands, and husbands bow to the males above them — the deacons to the elders, the elders to the pastor, the pastor to the regional director, the regional director to the national president, the national president to . . . whom? God, apparently. It’s a long, serpentine road to our Father.
Political, Military Christianity
Even more intriguing is that politics are so intertwined within spirituality: people in uniform are accorded more honor than those in t-shirts, magnates with money are accepted as blessed, Republicans and conservatives are synonymous to Christianity, Ronald Reagan is a patron saint.
But none of this has anything to do with Jesus, who interacted with the lowly more than he did the stately, interfacing with each as a human being who was born and would eventually die (isn’t that comforting? Death is one area where we are all equal, and even the rich and powerful must experience it). Jesus saw that the denarius — with its image of Caesar on the front — was a man-made product that wasn’t particularly impressive to God. Give it to the people who covet it, He effectively said, and don’t let it control you.
And when He talked about submission, true submission, it was in reference to His own, for He came down not to do His own will but that of His Father (John 6:38), and we, as God’s children, are to do the same. And despite false teachings that will never go away because they result in a passively obedient populace, Jesus did not set up a ladder of authority with the bulk of us on the bottom rung. He is our Eldest brother, and we are members of a family who are all loved by the same Father.
“I am in my Father, and you are in me, and I am in you.” (John 14:20)
Thank you for joining me at Commonsense Christianity, where I encourage people to stop allowing others — and frequently paying them to do so! — to do the thinking for them.
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“If only we had meat to eat! We remember the fish we ate in Egypt at no cost — also the cucumbers, melons, leeks, onions and garlic.” (Numbers 11:5)
The Kingdom of God and the Kingdom of Heaven are perplexing concepts, and depending upon with whom you speak, they are either two different things, or the same one. They also represent something that will happen in the future, after we die (think, conventional evangelical teaching), or exist here and now. Regarding the latter, how good it looks down here depends upon how hard we work to make it that way (which, frankly, is not particularly encouraging).
And of course, the logical course is usually in the middle:
“Yet a time is coming and has now come when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for they are the kind of worshipers the Father seeks,” Jesus told the Samaritan woman at the well in John 4:23. In other words, it’s happening now, but is not completely fulfilled: a little bit of both, left side/right side/meet in the middle.
“Some who are standing here will not taste death before they see the Son of Man coming in his kingdom,” Jesus says in Matthew 16:28, a verse that’s difficult, when we pay attention to the actual words, to ascribe wholly to the future.
And yet, within many conventional, evangelical, Republican circles, where my spiritual life spun aimlessly around for far too long, the Kingdom of God and the Kingdom of Heaven are primarily in the future, after we die. This being so, it would be logical to ask (that is, if one has not yet been trained out of asking questions): if it’s all in the future, and there’s nothing to experience now, why not just die and get it over with?
But of course we won’t do that, literally, since that would add yet another sin to the bag we sling across people’s backs, but the result is that too many Christians live as if there were nothing to do in this world but argue with people about the next one, and the entire Chapter 13 in Matthew is wasted because we don’t have to worry about understanding any of that stuff yet.
Nor do we have to obsess too much about the poor, meek, mourning, hungry or persecuted people in the Beatitudes of Matthew Chapter 5, because they’ll eventually die and make it to the Kingdom of Heaven, where everything will be perfect. As one person put it, many Christians live a watered down version of Gnosticism.
Citizens of the Kingdom of God
Whatever the Kingdom of God and Heaven is, it’s fairly clear that Jesus is a prominent citizen of the place, and as children in the household of His and our Father, we, too, belong to this kingdom: now, and through eternity. Also reasonable to infer is that the Kingdom of God does not operate on the same basis as the kingdom of man (Matthew 6:19-21), this latter encompassing all the nations and rulers of the world (whether or not they announce themselves, as some are prone to do in the United States, as a “Christian Nation).
Satan himself defined the opposite of the Kingdom of God when he led Christ “up to a high place and showed him in an instant all the kingdoms of the world. And he said to him, ‘I will give you all their authority and splendor, for it has been given to me, and I can give it to anyone I want to.’ “ (Luke 4:6)
Corporations, governments, universities, media, religious organizations, financial institutions: if it looks man made, it probably is. And while this is not to say that these places are run by Satanists, it is to say that, when man runs something — outside of God — he does it with a healthy dose of deceit, deception, duplicity, and a cunning approach to marketing in which the truth is not necessarily the most important piece of information we promote. As a culture, we in the United States are so accustomed to the acceptability of manipulating people into buying what they don’t want or need, that we can’t see any other way of doing things.
But there is another way — outside of the kingdoms of men — and it is in the Kingdom of God, where those of us who call God Father live, and we are called to the extremely difficult task of separating cultural norms (the kingdom of man) from spiritual truth (the Kingdom of God).
Corporate Christianity Has Nothing to Do with Jesus
In short: the Kingdom of God and Heaven looks diametrically different from the kingdom of man, and never the twain shall meet.
Living as a member of the Kingdom of God while straddling the kingdom of man is akin to the Hebrew people, brought out by God from slavery in Egypt, who longed to be back at the pyramids, because there were cucumbers there. (Numbers 11:5) It’s simply impossible to be in two separate geographical locations at the same time, and while to exchange freedom (with boring old manna) for slavery (and cucumbers) is foolish, this did not stop the Hebrews from discounting one as they hearkened after the illusions of the other.
So do we do, when we try to reconcile the path to “success” by using man made means — Attitude! Say the right words! A little lie won’t hurt ya — with Jesus’s frustrating message of seeking Him first. It is little wonder that too many Christian businesses and establishments, not to mention individuals who call themselves Christians, are visually indistinguishable from their secular counterparts. They all do the same thing, except one tosses the name “Jesus” around.
It’s not as simple as not swearing, or wearing skirts below the knees (for women), or listening to “Christian” “worship” music. If it were, then what the legalists propound would be the best hope we have.
It’s deep, complex, and difficult — because it means acting with compassion, grace, mercy and trust as opposed to following Dale Carnegie’s advice in How to Win Friends and Influence People. That book, along with all its modern copycats — both “Christian” and secular — functions as the Bible for many.
Thank you for joining me at Commonsense Christianity, where my eyes are increasingly open to the vast array of deception that makes up our everyday life. If it were a dust, we’d be covered in it.
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“As surely as I live, declares the Sovereign Lord, I take no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but rather that they turn from their ways and live.” Ezekiel 33:11
I intensely dislike my phone company.
Every month they send me an abstruse, intricately convoluted bill to charge me for two things — basic phone service and Internet — and the amount of the bill is never the same. Sometimes it differs from last month’s by pennies, other times it’s $30 or so. Trying to track why they charge what they do is beyond my intellectual capacity.
So I call them, and after waiting 20 minutes and being passed to an average of 3 people, I generally get the problem solved — never to my satisfaction, but at least to what I can bear. When there’s a mistake — whether on my part of theirs — the payment for it always falls to me, and while this never makes sense, what can I say? They’re the only provider of this “service” in my rural area.
When I think of the phone company — something I avoid since they’re irritating — I am profoundly grateful that God does not operate on this random, thoughtless, inefficient, disinterested system, although, if a person’s only exposure to Christianity is the fundamentalist, establishment sort that we encounter on Sunday morning and Wednesday night small groups, one can be forgiven for not seeing it this way.
Because forgiveness is what it’s all about, and forgiveness — in evangelical land — is remarkably difficult to get, that is, if you live in a society where there is no mention of the God of the Hebrews, and the cultural norm is something different. In other words, if you live outside the United States, Canada, or Western Europe. (Israel doesn’t count, since in the pro-Zionist belief system of many Christians who passively accept the words of too many mega-church preachers, Jews receive a special dispensation of forgiveness denied to the rest of us.)
For “those people,” the 9/10 of the world that is labeled lost, the only means to salvation is to “accept Jesus as savior” with a series of phrases that one is walked through at a football stadium with a noted speaker at the podium and volunteers in the aisles. But when a person doesn’t say the right words, he’s lost, for eternity. It all. comes down. to words.
This is such a prevalent belief in mainstream Christianity that to question it is to earn the dreaded appellation of universalist, as if there were something wrong in “taking no pleasure in the death of the wicked,” while the mindless acceptance of a disturbing contradiction is, somehow, doctrinally approved:
If a child’s mother dies before her, without saying the right words, and spends eternity in hell, how does the child, upon later saying the words, experience eternal bliss away from her mother, especially knowing the fate of that mother?
Jesus Didn’t Follow the Four Spiritual Laws
Jesus Himself seemed to have had difficulty in applying the Four Spiritual Laws when He outright and explicitly forgave the sin of a weeping woman who washed His feet with her tears (Luke 7:36-50) and the man who was lowered by his friends from the roof overhead (Luke 5:17-26/Mark 2:1-12/Matthew 9:1-7). In both cases, the response of the Pharisees and the teachers of the law was the same:
“Who is this fellow who speaks blasphemy? Who can forgive sins but God alone?” (Luke 5:21)
If you didn’t know better, you’d think that the leaders were actually irritated at Jesus for forgiving the sins of hurting, aching sinners, preferring, instead, that these wretched people not “turn from their ways and live.”
I get a similar feeling when I speak to many conventional Christians, who sigh with a shallow sadness upon an earthquake occurring in a distant land and killing thousands of human beings:
“How horrible that so many of them didn’t know Jesus!” the church-goers murmur. “But thank goodness, the Christian relief teams will be able to share the good news with the survivors!”
What’s the good news? “I’m so sorry. Your husband and son will burn in hell for eternity, but you yourself can live forever in Paradise, if you simply repeat these words after me.”
It makes about as much sense as my phone bill.
Mercy and Grace Trump Doctrine and Law
My brothers and sisters in Christ, I know the words — I attended years worth of conventional church services, and I have had recited to me, more than once, “Confess with your mouth, ‘Jesus is Lord,” and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.” (Romans 10:9) and “Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved — you and your household,” (Acts 16:31) although the last four words are generally dropped from the latter verse.
This same Bible, however, says something of possible interest to those highly militarized Christians who advocate invading sovereign (generally Islamic) nations and putting to death both military and civilians:
“But if you do not forgive men their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins,” (Matthew 6:15)
giving the strong idea that words alone are not what God wants of His people, but “He is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance.” (2 Peter 3:9)
Repentance is not a one-time thing, nor is it accomplished simply by saying words — rather, it is a mindset, a way of living, a distinct choice to live differently than those around us, including those who say they’re already in the club. With this in mind, it’s interesting to note that the verse above, from 2 Peter, is addressed to believers, who, those of us who are human know, do not always act in a Christ-like manner.
Dear friends, “Since everything will be destroyed in this way, what kind of people ought you to be? You ought to live holy and godly lives as you look forward to the day of God and speed its coming.” (2 Peter 3:11-12)
This means that, if you truly believe that the world is lost if it doesn’t say the words, then you need to get out there — out in that area where 9/10 of the people are living — and urge people to say the words.
But better yet, why not do what Jesus did: love people, accept them, listen to them in their pain, be merciful, and leave the judgment — and the judging — to God?
Thank you for joining me at Commonsense Christianity. We frequently say, “Jesus is love,” but what does that mean? Perhaps we spend too much time trying to fit into doctrinal molds, when we would be better off contemplating just who Jesus is, and why people were so attracted to Him.
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