Combover Religion

A young fellow with whom I once worked teased me about my combover hair style. I should place “hair style” in quotes, which I just did, because I haven’t bothered with such vanities since my early ’40s. It’s not that I didn’t care about my appearance, it simply wouldn’t have done do any good. To make appreciable inroads on my graying hair and growing paunch, I would have been forced to pursue unthinkable means, such as dying my hair, and (shudder) exercising. I still have hair more or less covering my pate, but now it’s practically all white. And my paunch? Well, let’s not go there.

In titling this piece, “Combover Religion,” I’m not commenting on the brothers’ hair styles. Rather, my statement involves covering up the “bald spots” in our faith, experience, and behavior. Unlike my head of hair, we, the church, aren’t especially transparent about our shortcomings. This isn’t about our hidden sins, if there were such things; I’m talking about our faith-challenges. You know, our little disappointments with God and the brethren, our battles with excesses, and our inflated testimony.

Do you feel as though your brethren wouldn’t esteem you as highly if you revealed your personal glitches? If we were to go by that concern’s frequency, not a one of your faith-family could take exception to your crooked halo. (I could replace that twenty-three word sentence with, “nobody’s perfect,” but it wouldn’t be as colorful.) One foundational problem with most of our churches is, we fail to practice what Jesus preached.

Don’t get me wrong; not all churches are ruled by pretenders. In fact, the body with whom I fellowship consistently supports and helps those who aren’t the picture of personified sainthood. We aren’t perfect, and don’t expect perfection in anyone else. If the folks at your church come across as perfect, you need to find another place to fellowship, where the folks accept one another without “combovers.” To view all the “one another” passages in the church’s Instruction Book, click here.

An Offer I Can’t Refuse?

I needed a Bible verse, so I hopped on my mouse and traveled over to BibleGateway.com, found my sought-after Bible verse, and was satisfied. But I found something else as well: Mounce’s Complete Expository Dictionary of Old and New Testament Words.

I want it! But they want $25.99 (that’s a penny less than $26 if you hadn’t noticed) for the privilege of using it on BibleGateway.

“But it’s really sick,” I explain to Inner Mother, “It works right alongside BibleGateway’s Bible text.”

“You already have Vine’s Complete Expository Dictionary to play with,” answers Inner Mother, “Why do you need another one, when you rarely use the one you have?”

“But Moooommm,” I whine, “I already use BibleGateway a lot, and it’d be so convenient …”

Inner Mom just gives me That Look (I don’t envy her view.).

To buy, or not to buy. That is the question (sorry, Shakespeare). Buying stuff is not a noble pursuit, if said stuff only meets the need to possess stuff. I can’t imagine how many times I’ve bought cool stuff, simply because a couple of unassigned bucks happened to reside in my pocket. Where is that cool stuff now? Why, I can’t even remember what it was, let alone where it might be hiding.

God reminds me, “Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal; but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” (Matthew 6:19-21)

Nuff said?

How Thaughty

The first one hundred people who “Like” this post have the original, round Tuit. (Of course, anyone else can also cut it out.)

My mother had a sarcastic way of encouraging us to show deference to one another. When one of us acted thoughtlessly she would say, “How thaughty of you.” I think the word’s similarity to “naughty,” plus her voice, expression and body-language, communicated her disappointment without further comment.

Did you catch the word “deference” above? As it has passed out of vogue and most of us, even if we have some idea of its meaning, consider it a non-issue, I’ll try to define it for you in the context of Christ-followers. But first …

The Negative Sense

Codependency is a familiar subject to all the trendy, amateur psychologists out there. It just means getting off to being needed. A codependent relationship is where both parties try to fulfill destructive needs, usually without even realizing it. Deference can be just that, and discerning which kind of deference you’re practicing isn’t all that hard; if you purposefully prefer others’ needs over your own, godly character is most likely your motivation. But be sure you aren’t simply a people-pleaser—you know, one who just can’t say “NO.”

The Positive Sense

For a Christ-follower, “deference” means obeying the Law of Christ by considering others’ needs, desires, or opinions before your own. It means risking inconvenience for someone else’s sake.

In my own life, the idea of deference takes me to Bible studies I attend, where I’ve learned to keep my mouth shut when others, who typically aren’t as vocal as I, try to contribute their insights. Figuratively biting my tongue doesn’t come naturally for me, but the rewards of actually listening to them are bountiful.

More active examples of deference might be volunteering to help someone who needs an extra hand, when your own lawn needs mowing, or helping to clean the church when your favorite TV program (even, The Game) is on the air.

Those examples involve the more peripheral people in your life, but how about showing deference to family members whose continual demands for attention annoy you? This calls for another hard thought:

Godly Priorities

You’ve got places to go, people to see, and things to do, so you can hand “Round Tuits” to the kids and wife, or hubby, while you do what you want. Question is, how would Jesus respond if he were in your shoes … or easy chair?

And what about that promise that is now sooo inconvenient to keep? You might want to add another box of Round Tuits to your shopping list.

Does a neighbor need a lift uptown? Just how important is that blog entry you’re working on? (Ouch)

Oh, I see. You’re afraid others might take advantage of you, so you keep a respectful distance, and maybe screen your calls before picking up. (bigger Ouch!)

Is all this priorities stuff too big a chunk to bite off? Baby steps, but keep on pursuing godly character, or virtue, if you want the reward God’s Word promises.

Conservative Actors and Other Oddities

Wonder of wonders, a Cool Guy Conservative

The Hollywood in-crowd might be called the Liberal Club. It’s like a high school social clique where the movers and shakers hold so much sway that the little people try to be popular by association. The litmus for acceptance to the clique is how well you can humorously slander President Reagan without being brought up on sedition charges. Only the Charlton Hestons of Hollywood dare spurn the liberals, knowing they will become the butt of endless jokes, yet without responding in kind. Can you imagine Heston getting all bitchy about the ridicule? That’s the Liberal Way, not the way of real people.

Speaking of ridicule, have you ever noticed how social liberals react to valid criticism? Name-calling and personal slurs are their specialty, rather like junior high school girls.

I was surprised at how many conservative—that’s a euphemism for Republican—actors there are: Jimmy Stewart. Gene Autry. Cary Grant. Ronald Reagan. Gary Cooper. But wait, I used the present tense in my introduction for conservative actors. I’m afraid the list gets much shorter with that qualification. Let’s see, there’s Adam Sandler, Chuck Norris, Kelsey Grammer, James Caan, Drew Carey … the list goes on to 143, most of whom are new to me, but I’m far from being an authority on celebrities.

And what is a celebrity, anyway? Celebrity comes from celebrate, and I’ve scarcely seen any reason to celebrate most celebrities, unless their stupid choices deserve accolades. Yes, many of them are competent performers, but by that standard shouldn’t a talented physician, machinist, or policeman be celebrated as well?

Of course, you’ve found this tirade on a Christian blog, so maybe I’d better include some Christianistic commentary. One of my pet peeves is the inextricable link between Evangelical Christians and political conservatism. Dubbed the Christian Right, I find myself asking, “What are they right about?” Yes, there are the watershed issues like government supported abortion and school prayer (a non-issue since the early ’60s), on which virtually all Evangelical Christians align themselves to the conservative side, but what about the Second Amendment controversy? True Christ-followers are personal pacifists (as opposed to those who refuse to take arms for any reason) because the New Testament doesn’t command, or even condone, violence for personal reasons. Many will argue that the “turn-the-other-cheek” command applied only to Bible-times, when the Roman occupiers persecuted those who refused to worship the Caesar, and perhaps they’re right. But the line I hear from Christian, Second Amendment supporters smacks strongly of a militant attitude, illustrated by the, “… cold, dead fingers” bumper stickers. Nowhere in the New Testament are we told to defend our rights, but rather to die to self, which includes the rights we hold so dearly.

My friend Steve submitted a valuable qualifier to the issue of Christ-followers taking up arms. He pointed out that we must prepare to defend others’ rights. This is an issue where we must be in touch with our inner motives. Where anger or pride motivate our taking up arms, it is sin. And where our pure motives require armed resistance, we must maintain vigilance over our motives lest the sin of self corrupt our witness and dim our light.

No doubt I’ll catch some flack about that position, but I believe it’s Biblical. And everyone has a right to his opinion. Right?

“Da Law is Da Law”

"Da law, son, is da law."
“Da law, son, is da law.”

That title seems quite obvious, if a bit folksie. I mean, what would the law be if not the law? What messes people up is the existence of two sets of laws: Physical law, and spiritual law. God created both, and both are quite real and binding.

Folks tend to get a little testy when we right-wing fundamentalist, evangelical Christians quote spiritual law to them. For instance, the one that says Jesus is the only way to Father God. I’m no mind-reader, but I suspect a stubborn refusal to change their lifestyle motivates their pique. Or maybe they’re thoughtful objectors, refusing the idea because demanding conformity to one religion, i.e., Christianity, seems too narrow a requirement for a loving God to make.

Jesus was good at spinning parables to illustrate a point, so I’ll try my hand: A man aboard a skydiver drop-plane gazed through the open door at the landscape far below. With the powerful engine droning in his ears, and no anxiety to cloud his thinking, he mentally calculated  his precise drop position for a perfect, on-target touchdown.

He knew he still had time to don his sport parachute rig, with all its instrumentation and emergency ‘chute, but he wasn’t quite sure he wanted to go to that much trouble. “After all,” he told himself, “the physical laws aren’t all that binding. Besides, that stupid ‘chute messes up my targeting.”

His pilot tried to tell him there was only one way he could jump out of that airplane and survive the fall, and that was to use his parachute.

“That’s a narrow-minded position to take,” said the expert skydiver, “I’m an expert skydiver, and I can shape my body into a lifting-body to land spot on without a scratch.”

The pilot tried to argue with him, but the man would have none of that nonsense. Just as the pilot thought to bank the plane steeply to the left and prevent the expert skydiver from exiting, the man dove right out of the open door, without his parachute. Turned out he was right; he hit the target spot on.

His funeral will be held …

The Bible’s New Testament is God’s spiritual law, also called the law of Christ and the Royal Law, because the King of kings died, was burried, and resurrected to establish it. It’s also called The Perfect Law of Liberty because through Christ we have freedom from sin’s compulsion. Whatever you call it, it’s all love; God’s love brought it about, and our response is to love our neighbor as ourselves (Mark 12:30-31; Romans 13:8-10; James 2:8). It’s as simple as that. All the do’s and don’ts that religion throws at us are just attempts at codifying what should come naturally to believers, as, “we love because he first loved us.”

The southern sheriff was right, “Da law is da law,” and for those of us whom Christ bought with his his very life, that is the law of love.

Screwtape on Confusing The Churchgoer

I have been writing hitherto on the assumption that the people in the next pew afford no rational ground for disappointment. Of course if they do—if the patient knows that the woman with the absurd hat is a fanatical bridge-player or the man with squeaky boots a miser and an extortioner—then your task is so much the easier. All you then have to do is to keep out of his mind the question ‘If I, being what I am, can consider that I am in some sense a Christian, why should the different vices of those people in the next pew prove that their religion is mere hypocrisy and convention?’ You may ask whether it is possible to keep such an obvious thought from occurring even to a human mind. It is, Wormwood, it is! Handle him properly and it simply won’t come into his head. He has not been anything like long enough with the Enemy to have any real humility yet. What he says, even on his knees, about his own sinfulness is all parrot talk. At bottom, he still believes he has run up a very favourable credit-balance in the Enemy’s ledger by allowing himself to be converted, and thinks that he is showing great humility and condescension in going to church with these ‘smug’, commonplace neighbours at all. Keep him in that state of mind as long as you can.

From The Screwtape Letters

 What more can I say? Perhaps this: Complacency is conceit’s first cousin. If I’m satisfied with my present spiritual condition, it follows that I think myself good enough to satisfy God. But perhaps I haven’t been taught the gospel properly. If that is true, my teachers will be judged more harshly than I. Nevertheless, with such an attitude as mine, God will judge me for my vain pride, and that judgment will not be enviable.

I can’t thank my Savior enough for allowing me to begin that scenario with an “If.” I have countless areas in my life where I need to grow more like Jesus, but at least I have a handle on that—at the moment, anyway.

Faded Glory

Trident Stowaway Trike

As I began my day this morning, the rejoicing I experienced upon waking slowly began to subside. I felt like Moses returning to camp after experiencing God’s presence. Hurriedly, I jotted off my basic early thoughts for this blog, euthanized my computer, threw on my Sunday-go-to-meetin’ togs (You likely wouldn’t recognize them as such.), dashed out the door to my garage (my affectionate name for the mini-van) dragged my recumbent trike (photo above) out of the back, and hit the road for church.

Even after all that dashing and pedaling, including the infamous, Meridian Hill, I arrived at church still rejoicing. Though I forgot to check a mirror to see of the glory had yet faded, no one complained about sudden blindness from looking at me.

Brother Sam, an old-time preacher, preached a rousing Bible lesson that helped stoke my fire, and then we got down to the business of singing God’s praises. What a glorious time in the Lord, worshiping with my beloved brethren! I liked-to wore out my arms, holding them up through some of the songs. But then came the real preaching, with Brother Mark delivering the message. And yes, that too blessed me.

What can I say? When God blesses, which is more than I even realize, he doesn’t hold back. My loving Savior indeed keeps me in the palms of his ginormous hands, and I can hardly wait til I can praise him continuously, without my arms and voice tiring.

What a day that will be,
When my Jesus I shall see,
And I look upon His face,
The One who saved me by His grace;
When He takes me by the hand,
And leads me through the Promised Land,
What a day, glorious day that will be

Hand Puppets

Before we accept Jesus’ sacrifice for our sins, we’re all puppets of sin. When we’re sanctified by Jesus’ blood, he removes that demonic hand, replacing it with his Holy Spirit, but he doesn’t control us in the same way that sin did. God’s Spirit gives us the choice of following his plan for our lives, or not. Refusing his plan and asserting our own will is like grabbing that old, rotting, demonic hand and shoving it up our bum once again.

Sci-Fi buffs well know the scenario of the unwary astronaut or scientist who gets attacked by some alien bug—usually by stupidly letting his or her guard down while playing with the infernal thing—who grows in the human’s gut until it’s big enough to bloodily pop out and terrorize everyone else. That’s a fair illustration of sin in our lives, with the exception that we’re born with it inside us, and it’s uglier than the worst movie alien bug. Only Jesus can eradicate it, and we have to ask him to do it.

So, Kermit, do you want that infernal thing to stay inside you? Or do you want Jesus to take care of it? Your choice.

Which Came First?

C. S. Lewis wrote of Jesus’ command in Matthew 5:48: “When He said, ‘Be perfect,’ He meant it. He meant that we must go in for the full treatment. It is hard; but the sort of compromise we are all hankering after is harder—in fact, it is impossible. It may be hard for an egg to turn into a bird: it would be a jolly sight harder for it to learn to fly while remaining an egg. We are like eggs at present. And you cannot go on indefinitely being just an ordinary, decent egg. We must be hatched or go bad.”

Some new believers, though they are still spiritually embryonic, try to fly with the eagles. But, isn’t spiritual aspiration a good thing?

Picture that egg for a moment, with little, pin-feathered wings sticking out, flapping for all they’re worth. If it does succeed in working its way out of the nest, it will hit the ground, hard, probably injuring itself so it’ll never be able to fly. That is a “fowl” portrait of new believers whose initial enthusiasm pushes them into ministry before they even begin to mature spiritually. Their crash to the ground won’t be gravity’s work, but that of their own uncrucified carnality, powered by pride.

Trouble is, pastors and other leaders are gleefully complicit with those “flapping eggs'” jumping from the nest. They succumb to the temptation of tying new believers into the church ministry, partly in hopes of cementing them into the fellowship, and partly from wanting to exploit their natural abilities. While those innate abilities are a handy resource, they are no substitute for true spiritual gifts, which are only discovered through the process of maturing in the Lord.

But Lewis was also right in the opposite respect: “We must be hatched or go bad.” The opposite of the “flapping eggs” issue is the “comfortable embryo,” that doesn’t want to hatch. After all, why break out of that snug, secure egg shell when others are willing to do the hard work of ministry? But little does that (eternally?) secure embryo realize that it will soon die for lack of nourishment. Oh, it’ll still look sound on the outside, while inside it’s all moldering flesh.

Those are the “ditches” that straddle Christ’s straight and narrow Way, the only way to the Father. Walk in it, and be truly secure.

Ode To Tiny Toyota

Our Tiny Toyota

We love our tiny Toyota,
Call it our Ota-Toy.
At Christmas we’ll get one each
For our good little girl and boy.

On the highway, but not in traffic,
We get forty MPG.
With fuel smilage like that,
Oh heck, why not get three?

You really aughta buy one,
They’re so much fun to drive,
But always remember one thing:
Never get hit by a semi-truck,
If you want to get out alive.