Patriotism Is Not Even Close To Being The Highest Virtue

Soon after I became a Christian I had a conversation with a youth pastor. July Fourth was coming up and he said that he thought patriotism was very Godly. I asked, “What about citizens in Nazi Germany?”

“Ummm … so maybe not always,” he said.

I said, “Maybe not always even here in the United States.”

Dual Citizenship

Don’t get me wrong. I know I am so blessed to live here, and that there are a lot of worse places to live in this world. I’m glad to be here. On top of that, it’s biblical to be under the authority of earthly rulers and act accordingly. (See, for example, Mark 12:13-17, Romans 13:1-7 and Titus 3:1.)

But we should not think that this is the ultimate good. As Jesus told Pilate when facing earthly judgment:

My kingdom is not of this world. If it were, my servants would fight to prevent my arrest by the Jewish leaders. But now my kingdom is from another place. (John 18:36.)

Paul explained that for those who belong to Jesus, our citizenship too is in heaven with our Savior Jesus. (Philippians 3:20.) That is good news for us all, and it gets even better – if that is possible.

Because did you notice that word “now” in Jesus’ statement to Pilate? “But now,” he said, “my kingdom is from another place.” Jesus qualified his statement because in the future he’s going to bring heaven and earth together into a single kingdom:

The kingdom of the world has become the kingdom of our Lord and of his Messiah, and he will reign for ever and ever. (Revelation 11:15.)

So it turns out we can love our earthly home eternally and above all others. And it’s all because of Jesus.

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The Garbage We Say to Survivors

[Today’s guest post on abuse and surviving is from Cyndie Randall.]

Think of a man you know and trust.
A person you love or admire.
A person with whom you feel comfortable.
Comfortable enough to hug, even.
Maybe you look up to him for spiritual or emotional guidance.
Turn to him for advice and connection.
Maybe he’s been kind and tender, giving you attention your heart has needed and deserved.
Is he your pastor?
Maybe he’s a boss or mentor or group leader.
Your father, grandfather, uncle, teacher, coach.
This guy is somebody you should be able to trust simply because of who he is in relation to you.
Other people are drawn to him, too!
He is so lovable, charming, helpful, talented – he’s been respect-worthy in so many ways.
It feels so good to be accepted by this important man. So good to be in his orbit.

Picture him in your mind, would you?
Do you have him?
Good.
Imagine him coming near to you to embrace you.
You open your arms because … well, because it’s him!

–––––––––––––––––––––––––

But instead of embracing you, he stabs you.
Literally. With a knife.
Right through your gut.
He was able to get close to you with a knife because you trusted him.
Because you thought you should be able to trust him.
He made sure of it.
He’s been so … good to you.
You didn’t even see the knife.
You didn’t even think to look for one.
But now you’re on your knees and gushing blood.
Paralyzed by what is happening.
He seems fine with it, though.
Said he loved you while the knife was going in.
Said you were special.
Are you supposed to be fine with it, too?
The confusion is paralyzing.
What is real?
The words coming out of his mouth are kind, but your gut is on fire.
You can’t run.
You can’t scream.
Your body won’t work.
You feel like you’re dying, so you give in to death.
You don’t see an alternative.
You close your eyes.

–––––––––––––––––––––––––

Miraculously, you survive.
How you survived is a bit blurry.
You can’t remember the details.
You know you got to a hospital.
You didn’t tell them what happened.
You were too afraid.
And overwhelmed – a torrent of overwhelm.
Many people had questions, but you didn’t know how to talk about it.
But slowly, your body began to heal.
Your heart, not so much.
You aren’t sure what to do next.
The confusion keeps getting worse.
You keep seeing this man.
He seems “normal,” so you try to act “normal.”
Nothing makes sense.

–––––––––––––––––––––––––

But your family and friends know something happened.
His family and friends know something happened.
Mutual friends know something happened, but nobody says anything.
Better to keep the status quo, they figure.
Some have heard about the bandages, others have seen them.
You are sure they’ll be horrified if you tell them what actually did happen.
You are hoping they’ll believe you. Help you. Stand with you.
Why wouldn’t they?
Obviously you were harmed – there are surgeries and scars to prove it.
Everything has changed, right?
So everything will change.
You begin to tell the story of the day you were stabbed by this man you once trusted.
Your email inbox fills up with words. With replies.
Your phone begins to ding with text messages and voicemails.

You open them all, and this is what you read and hear:

He is innocent until proven guilty.

It’s in the past. Move on.

You’re hurting his family.

Is that really how it went? You probably tripped and fell on the knife.

That was before he was living for the Lord.

Everything happens for a reason.

He’s a changed man.

I’m not interested in what’s true and what’s not true.

Did you fight back?

Women who get stabbed are being too sensitive.

You are gossiping.

What did you do to make him so angry?

Other women who’ve been stabbed are probably lying about it.

You should have _______.

He was a knife addict, so he couldn’t help it.

You’re just saying this for attention.

You shouldn’t “slander” him.

I’m sure he’s sorry.

Why were you alone with him?

I know him, and he would never do something like that.

We have to offer grace.

Please don’t talk about that here. We’ve worked hard to build our church’s reputation.

You need to forgive him. I have.

He wants to join our ministry team. Is that ok?

Did you say “no?”

Why didn’t you go to the police?

Is that even considered a stabbing?

You should have told us right away and warned us about him. What if he had stabbed us?

He probably stabbed other people because you didn’t tell soon enough.

How much had you been drinking?

The details are too hard to hear. Can you stop talking about it?

It might be healthier if we all forget him and try to heal.

I was stabbed too, but I don’t go around talking about it.

What were you wearing that made him want to stab you?

––––––––––––––––––––––––––

If we wouldn’t dare say these things to a stabbing victim, why in the world are we saying them to victims of sexual abuse and assault, to victims of sexually violent crimes? God, forgive us for our garbage words.

TO THE SURVIVORS:

I believe you.

I believe you.

I believe you.

You did not deserve what was done to you, or the worthless words about it.

It’s not your fault.

We’re so sorry that happened.

Some of us are here to listen.

What would you like to do next?

How can we best love you right now?

You are not alone.

You are not alone.

You are not alone.

***

Cyndie Randall is a writer, therapist, and song-maker living in Michigan on land that once belonged to the Potawatomi people. Find her on Twitter, Facebook, or on her blog to follow her published or forthcoming work or just to say hello. If you’ve been sexually abused or assaulted, there is help and hope. Contact RAINN for more information, next steps, and resources.

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Getting Schooled by My Wife on Teacher Appreciation Day

Today is Teacher Appreciation Day, and since my wife’s a teacher I figured I’d tell you how she’s schooled me over the years. Here’s what I know about teachers:

Teacher Appreciation Day

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Rachel Held Evans, Biblical Womanhood, and Diligent Interpretation of Scripture

Rachel Held Evans passed away May 4, 2019. This is my favorite photo from her blog, and the quote I pulled from that blog post to add to the photo reflects one of my favorite things about her: she challenged people to read the Bible and read it well in order to understand who God is and what it means to have faith in God and live in that faith.

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Taking My Dad to Concerts and the ER

Back in the 70s when I was still a teen, my Dad would take me to concerts. These weren’t concerts I wanted to go to and he’d drive. These were concerts he wanted to go to and – after I got my license – I’d drive.

Usually these were singers he’d heard on the radio. We saw Freddie Fender, Mel Tillis, Anne Murray, people like that. Then there was the time he bought tickets for someone he’d never heard sing. I had, though, and loved her songs. Finally, a concert I wanted to go to. Still, I wondered why he wanted to go. I found out when we got there.

High Energy Concert

We sat down a few minutes before the show and Dad started a conversation, as he often does, with the people in front of us. They were all dressed up and excited to be there, and asked Dad if he was a fan.

“I don’t know much about her, but I really enjoyed listening to her father so I thought I’d come.”

“You’re going to love her,” the young couple told him.

“The style is different,” I added, “but she’s great.”

“And she puts on a great show,” they said.

So we sat back and watched Natalie Cole positively kill it on stage at the Circle Star Theater. They were right. Great show.

That night came to mind when “This Will Be” came on the radio on the drive to work this morning.

Low-key Emergency Room

The phone rang a few minutes before 8:00 the other night. It was a police officer asking me to review a request for an emergency protective order. While listening to the brief statement of facts, the phone beeped to tell me another call was coming in. The display said it was Dad. He rarely calls that late. He usually always calls me at 5:15 to catch me on my drive home from work and to catch up on how things are going.

I called him back at his assisted living apartment and he sounded like he was speaking through a nose full of tissues. It turns out he was.

“The person here is working on my nose. It won’t stop bleeding.”

“Did you give them your nose clamp?” That’s the little plastic spring clamp the emergency room triage nurse gave Dad when he had a nose bleed that wouldn’t stop a couple months ago.

“No. I don’t know where it is. Do you want to talk to her?”

I talked to her and she said they were calling for an ambulance to come by to check him out. I told her I was on my way. By the time I got there ten minutes later the ambulance driver had already checked out Dad. The bleeding was stopped by then, but she recommended Dad be seen at the ER.

We drove across town to the hospital and signed in. The place was crowded. It took about a half hour to be seen by the intake nurse, another 90 minutes to be taken to a tiny curtained off portion of the emergency room, and another half hour for the doctor to come by.

I’d heard him helping other patients, each time introducing himself and then apologizing for the long wait. Dad kept saying he hoped it would only be a matter of being looked at and then they’d tell us to go home.

That’s how it turned out. The doctor came by, apologized for the long wait, checked Dad out, and said that once the bleeding had stopped there was really no reason to be seen at all. I mentioned the concern of the ambulance driver and the doctor said, “Yeah, well, you know …” or something like that. He also gave some insights on cause, so I said I’d follow up with Dad’s primary care doctor the next day.

We got out of there after 12:30, drove back across town where I walked Dad up to his apartment and then dropped off his discharge paperwork with the medical staff, and finally made it back home to shower (I always feel like I have to shower after trips to the ER) and go to sleep a little after 1:00. Getting up for work later that morning was an interesting endeavor.

Dad’s doctor and I spoke the next day, she made a change in his meds, and the hope is this will take care of the nose bleed issues.

Living Somewhere Between Pop Concerts and Emergency Rooms

Dad and I in a photo booth during a barbecue festival at his place in 2017.

Dad and I haven’t gone to a concert together in decades. Nowadays our trips out are either for medical appointments or sitting in a coffee shop and just visiting. In fact, most Saturday mornings you’ll find us at one of the small coffee shops that fill our college town. Dad always insists on paying for the drinks – hot chocolate or iced tea for him, coffee or chai for me – just like he paid for the concert tickets when I was a teen.

I’m at an age when I’d rather sit together over coffee than go to a concert, and driving to scheduled medical appointments is certainly much better than getting a nighttime call for a trip to the ER. Dad is at an age where most people would be happy simply to still be around, yet he’s able to live in his own apartment and enjoy trips, good food, and days filled with activities from exercise classes to movies in the theater room to musicians and singers coming in a couple afternoons a week.

So I guess Dad still gets to go to concerts.

***

Stand up in the presence of the aged, show respect for the elderly and revere your God. I am the LORD. (Leviticus 19:32.)

Listen to your father, who gave you life, and do not despise your mother when she is old. (Proverbs 23:22.)

I hope I show respect to Dad not only in my actions and words, but in my thoughts as well. I don’t have the opportunity to do the same for Mom. She died when I was 14. What life might have been like if she had been with us for these past four and a half decades is a recurring thought for me.

***

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A Trial Court Judge Talks of Faith and Grace

What’s it like to be a trial court judge, exercise faith, and live in grace? Lauren Larkin and I talk about this and more on her podcast Sancta Colloquia today. Here’s an excerpt from her introduction. You can click through to listen in on our conversation. Lauren’s a good interviewer who got me to say more than I even knew I had to say about all this.

“What I found out from my conversation with Tim is that it is important to maintain the distinction between the Law and the Gospel. One needs to let the law of the court and of society operate as the law and being detached here is key. Tim told me, wisely, that a judge is not in the role to be judging the personhood of the person, and it’s this that Tim carries with him to the bench. A good judge keeps control and remains open …” [click here for the podcast]

 

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The Blessed Irony of Good Friday

A gruesome irony: God became a carpenter who worked with wood and nails, and was then nailed to two pieces of wood. Yet he knew this gruesome irony before time began and submitted to it just the same.

And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to death — even death on a cross! (Philippians 2:8.)

and,

For the joy set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. (Hebrews 12:2.)

for you,

For God was pleased to have all his fullness dwell in him, and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether things on earth or things in heaven, by making peace through his blood, shed on the cross. (Colossians 1:19-20.)

meaning,

Since we have now been justified by his blood, how much more shall we be saved from God’s wrath through him! For if, while we were God’s enemies, we were reconciled to him through the death of his Son, how much more, having been reconciled, shall we be saved through his life! (Romans 5:9-10.)

God became human so you could be reconciled to him. He loves you that much.

***

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Hospice, Worry, and Faith: a Brief Look at Anxiety and Prayer

There’s a toll to feeling on edge every moment of every day. From first waking in the pre-dawn hours to that final moment before falling back to sleep in the evening darkness, every single moment feels like it is lived on that edge.

This is life with a parent on hospice.

Dad has good days and bad days, or perhaps I should say good hours in the day and some that are not good. He still enjoys participating in the activities in his assisted living apartment house (a place I have often characterized as a cruise ship on land). He also sleeps much of each day. I spend a lot of time thinking about how he is doing when I’m not there visiting.

Phone calls come in from the staff. Every time I see that number on caller id I am gripped with apprehension. Most of the staff has learned to start routine calls with “This is not an emergency call. I just wanted to let you know … .” If it is an emergency, they say that too.

More often than not the calls are still not an emergency. But there are a lot of calls regarding Dad’s care. Calls from the staff and management of his facility, and calls from the hospice nurse or chaplain or social worker. Dad’s been on hospice for a week now, and he could be on it for months. Or more. Or a lot less.

Signing Dad up for hospice took over two hours of talking with the intake nurse and social worker. We sat in a small well-appointed conference room just off the assisted living facility’s main lobby. They took me and Liz, my wife, through all the details, lots of paperwork to review and sign, and answered the questions we’d brought. Actually these were the questions Liz and I had discussed but she’d written down to bring up. She is much better than I am at thinking through these types of things and then following up with questions, getting answers, and clarifying expectations. I thank God for her presence in my life to come alongside me and hold me up when I am faltering.

It takes a toll on her as well. As she said the other day when we were talking about the burden we are both carrying:

“We’re constantly waiting for the next phone call, not knowing what we’ll be needing to handle this time.”

That constant waiting has me on edge every single moment of every day.

Getting a Grip

Handle the things you can, I tell myself. Don’t worry about the things you can’t.

Sometimes that works. A lot of times it doesn’t. And then I read this on Twitter:

There isn’t enough room in your mind for both worry and faith. You must decide which one will live there.

So the times when my little self talk doesn’t work are times I’m not exercising faith? Not true. The times when I worry are the times I am driven to God in prayer.

They aren’t long thought-out prayers. They’re short and desperate prayers. They’re prayers born of worry and distraction that can easily lead to rising anxiety. They’re prayers that seek God’s help – any type of help – when I feel helpless and start drifting into hopelessness as well.

Sometimes the Holy Spirit calms my heart. Sometimes God brings a person alongside me in that moment. Sometimes I remember how much Jesus loves me and desires for me to be resting in him. Sometimes I recall scripture such as these passages:

“Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.(Matthew 11:28.)

Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you. (1 Peter 5:7.)

And sometimes I still worry.

Handle the things you can. Don’t worry about the things you can’t. This reminder works occasionally. When it doesn’t, I haven’t failed to make room in my mind for faith. I am driven to exercise my faith through prayer because one thing I know is that even when I am on edge every moment, even when I feel anxiety rising within me and I am ready to crawl out of my skin, even when I am overcome with worry, Jesus is with me always.

That’s one less thing to worry about. But I still spend most of my waking hours feeling like I’m right on the edge and worrying.

***

For more on worry and faith, see Casting My Cares on Jesus? Why Worry Still Overtakes Me.

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Bible Memes You Never See

I’m thinking of publishing a new Scripture translation. I’m going to call it The Meme Bible.

Meme – a humorous image, video, piece of text, etc. that is copied (often with slight variations) and spread rapidly by Internet users.

Bible – a collection of texts sacred in Judaism and Christianity.

Spend any time on social media and you’ll see memes. Spend time on social media where Christians post their thoughts and you’ll see Bible memes, complete with chapter and verse, offered to inspire and encourage people through the word of God.

Yet I’ve never seen a meme for Job 2:9b. Instead, I see memes on the blessing of abiding in Christ, and on the love of God and loving one another. They always feature pleasant typeface and compelling imagery  such as rainbows, running horses, storm-tossed seas, and more images that draw the eye to the text.

Meming Responsibly

I have to admit that there are days when I run across a Bible meme and it encourages me greatly. God’s word will do that. After all:

[God’s] word is a lamp for my feet,
    a light on my path. (Psalm 119:105.)

and,

All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the servant of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work. (2 Timothy 3:16-17.)

Which brings me back to my original observation. If all Scripture is God-breathed, why are some verses overlooked? Perhaps if they were coupled with compelling images – rainbows and landscapes, perhaps – like this one about an Apostle from the first chapter of Acts:

Acts 1_18Hm, not as encouraging as I’d hoped.

Or here’s a verse from Genesis regarding Abraham’s descendants:

Gen 23_13-15Well, that didn’t illuminate my understanding of God as much as I’d hoped either.

How about that verse I mentioned in the beginning of this post? We never see a meme quoting Job’s wife:

Job 2_9That one just didn’t bring me any hope at all.

These are all taken straight from God’s word – they even have those compelling images to go with the words – so why aren’t they popular meme verses? It’s because while all Scripture is useful, it’s not all useful in the same way. God’s word doesn’t work that simplistically. Or as Nick Quient said:

“It’s the Bible. We don’t have the luxury of simple.”

Description versus Prescription

The Bible both describes and prescribes. Consider those three memes I proposed:

  • When we’re told how Judas died, it’s not an invitation for us to strive for the same kind of death. It’s merely an explanation to help us understand why the rest of the Apostles chose someone to take his place in Acts 2.
  • To understand the importance of Abraham’s line of descendants through Ishmael, the passage needs to be read in light of all of Israel’s subsequent history. Context always counts.
  • And the quote from Job’s wife is a product of her grief at losing her children in a horrible accident, one she recognized rightly as being allowed by God. Yet we are not encouraged to emulate her but are given her words to understand the revelation of God’s true character in the final chapters of the book of Job.

The need for context doesn’t come up only with verses like those I choose from Genesis, Job and Acts, but when understanding the other verses more common to Scripture memes. For the abiding and love memes you might run across as mentioned above, they are both descriptive and prescriptive: they describe a truth about God and prescribe action on our part. But even memes like these are incomplete.

  • Jesus is the vine and we are the branches. That is true. But to understand a meme referencing what these branches (God’s people) are doing abiding in the vine (which is Christ) you need to read the rest of that passage in John 15 about branches bearing the vine’s fruit, and you should also read Galatians 5 concerning the fruit of the Holy Spirit produced in God’s people. A knowledge of Old Testament passages describing Israel as the vineyard of God would help too.
  • Also, surely the Bible says love is from God and we are to love others as he has loved us. But how great is this love of God? To understand the love of God you need to study Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross and the patient ministry of the Holy Spirit in everyone who belongs to God, as well as read of the relationship God has had with his people from Genesis chapter one to Revelation chapter 22. Memes can’t cover all that.

I’m not down on memes. though. They get people thinking and can encourage you to turn to God with your cares and thanks and struggles and triumphs and questions. God’s word, even verses in isolation, can achieve much.

For the word of God is alive and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart. (Hebrews 4:12.)

This doesn’t mean you can take God’s word out of context and spout it off willy-nilly. That would be irresponsible (like the three memes I created from Genesis, Job and Acts). God entrusts his word to you to use wisely, through the power of the Spirit of Christ within you. (John 16:13, Ephesians 1:13-14.)

A Meme Bible isn’t the most complete way to learn the word of God, but Bible memes can be a good way to get people thinking about God and his word.

***

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Listening To The Wrong God’s Voice

I thought I heard the voice of God. It wasn’t. No matter how much I wanted it to be, it wasn’t.

It’s not that I didn’t ask. I did. It was in my prayers daily.

“God, if this isn’t your will please let me know.”

But I already knew. I knew what I was doing was not God-approved. I’d read the Bible. I knew what it said. The words of the Bible couldn’t be any plainer.

I already knew.

God's VoiceI kept asking, though, trying to convince myself that God didn’t mind, that he was perfectly fine with my choices. I tried to convince myself not only that my choices were not contrary to God’s will but that they were well within his desire for my life.

They weren’t. As Jim Croce said:

I only wish my words could just convince myself
That it just wasn’t real, but that’s not the way it feels
(Jim Croce, Operator, 1972.)

I knew what was real, but I didn’t want to deal with reality. I was like one of the people God spoke of in Isaiah 29:13.

The Lord says: “These people come near to me with their mouth and honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me.”

My heart was on my desire, not on my Savior. No matter how much I tried to convince myself that God must approve – else why would I have such strong desires – I couldn’t get around the fact that the Bible clearly prohibited what I wanted, and what I did to get what I wanted.

A Change Came Along

What changed? Not my understanding. That had already been set. I understood that what I was doing was wrong, but I wanted it so badly I did it anyway. No amount of convincing was going to keep me from pursuing that desire.

So what changed? The desire itself.

Almost overnight.

One day I desired the sin. The next day I didn’t.

God took the desire from me. That was the answer to my prayer: “God, if this isn’t your will please let me know.” It turns out I didn’t understand the prayer, but the Spirit did. The answer to the prayer was to change the desire within me.

In the same way, the Spirit helps us in our weakness. We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us through wordless groans. And he who searches our hearts knows the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for God’s people in accordance with the will of God. (Romans 8:26-27.)

I’m glad God answers prayer, even when it’s not the prayer I thought I was praying.

***

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