reason4thehope

Thinking about life, faith and the world.

Archive for the category “What I’m About”

What I Learned From a Troll

A perverse man spreads strife, and a slanderer separates intimate friends. – Proverbs 16:28

As an evolving center-right kind of political creature, I respect my friends who sit a bit farther to the right than I do. They are, to some degree, my people. But I have this lament: Some of them wouldn’t recognize a troll if it clubbed them over the head and dragged them under the bridge.

I speak, of course, of the Internet troll, and some people badly need to be trained in troll-spotting. If you secretly wonder sometimes what this trolling thing even is, I’m talking to you. A fine recent example, though I can’t prove it, is a blog post purporting to be from a radical feminist who aborted her male child to avoid bringing another monster into the world.

If this is true, there are hardly words for how reprehensible it is. In a world that contains ISIS, such a person certainly could walk the Earth. But I doubt that this one does. Some things are so perfectly heinous that…well, there’s your first clue that you just might be getting trolled.

Trolling is not a new concept. Before the Internet, we would have called it yanking someone’s chain – saying something outrageous just to see the reaction. The anonymous online world has allowed this perverse craft to reach new heights of artistry and new depths of virulence. Sometimes it’s still just someone’s sophomoric fun, but much of it has taken on a sharp edge of agenda-driven deceit. It’s hard to even guess the motives anymore.

In the case of the allegedly aborted boy child, you may ask, “How could she?” A more interesting question might be, “Who is trolling us and why?” There are multiple possibilities. It could be an anti-feminist trying to make feminists look bad. It could be a feminist trying to provoke outrage from anti-feminists and make them look foolish for believing such a whopper. Or it could be the aforementioned juvenile someone with no particular agenda, stoking the fire just to soak up the heat.

The most interesting question, though, is why people fall for this kind of trolling. Never mind what it says about the troll. What does it say about us? Some people no doubt are just gullible. But in others I see an undercurrent of fear and/or hate, which are closely related. It’s the same kind of thing that I believe drives some conspiracy theorists. These people so despise those who are different from them, that they are willing to believe the “others” capable of just about any evil. Why so much hate? Behind hate there is almost always an element of feat.

As a Christian, I know better than to let fear control me, even if I don’t always practice what I know. We are taught to fear God, which means to hold Him in awestruck respect, but also to know that yes, He can deliver a righteous, loving smackdown if we have it coming. But fear of anything else in creation is not from God. If you find yourself a sucker for every scurrilous claim about someone you disagree with, maybe it’s time to ask God to root out the hate in your heart, and the fear that may be feeding it.

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Step Away From the Tree

English: Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil עב...

(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

“Did God really say, ‘You must not eat from any tree in the garden’?” – Genesis 3:1 NIV

Anyone who has followed this blog from the start knows that I think about my faith and ask hard questions. Especially over the past few years, my seeking has deepened and strengthened my faith. So why, in John 16:23, did Jesus say, “in that day you will no longer ask me anything”?

Note that He didn’t say, “Stop asking questions.” He knows that we don’t see Him now, face to glorified face. We’re walking by faith; questions and doubts are inevitable, and faith’s foundation gets firmer in seeking and finding answers.

So, are questions ever wrong? I think it depends on their motivation. What are you seeking? In the Garden of Eden, God forbade Adam and Eve to eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. And Satan tempted them to disobey by promising they could be like God. While the tree bestowed a particular kind of knowledge, Adam and Eve’s inability to resist could stand for all of humanity’s envious questing for equality with our Creator. In every age since, humans have come to the forbidden trees in their own gardens and coveted the fruit they think will make God superfluous.

If you’re not seeking to dethrone God, you may be asking questions as an expression of conditional belief. This misses the point of faith. An authentic believer should be past the point of saying, “God, if you want me to believe, answer this question.”

There is no sin in asking. But if we demand that God answer every question – in effect, demand that He make us like him in all knowledge, right now, or that He prove his existence beyond any need for faith – we lose sight of the goal. That is simply oneness with God. Just seek Him. And one day, we will know all the answers, not because He spoon fed them to our demanding mouths, but because we have become like Him in His timing.

I suspect that for many atheists, the barrier to belief is accepting that not everything is knowable in this life. Without a mathematical, peer-reviewed proof for God, they’re not going to accept His existence. But as I’ve suggested before, the atheist’s stand entails some decidedly counterintuitive ideas, whether the atheist realizes it or not.

Nonbelievers like to point out that as science advances, the realm of the unexplained shrinks, leaving less and less need to invoke God to solve the world’s mysteries. I am more willing than many believers are to accept the findings of mainstream science, and I cringe a little at some of the pseudoscience Christians try to substitute. But atheists fall into their own logical fallacy, which becomes its own kind of faith: Because science has continually pushed back the boundaries of the unknown, it will always do so. That could be true, but it’s not a repeatable experiment, like demonstrating gravity. At the margins of human understanding, the questions are always new.

I will keep asking questions until “that day” Jesus spoke about, and I’m happy to watch scientists discover ever more about the glory written across creation. But believers know the Author, and His story isn’t finished. We have “that day” and eternity beyond it to hear the rest.

One for the Team

Team Huddle

Photo credit: jeffk

“For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.” – Ephesians 6:12 (NIV)

The team huddles in the locker room, catching the captain’s fire. The coach piles on inspiration and last-minute instructions. The players join hands in the center of the circle, shout their rallying chant, break and head for the door. They turn left as one and make for the parking lot, scatter to their cars, and head out for a week of friendly, one-on-one pickup games.

Huh?

That may sound like a recipe for forfeiting a championship, but the life of the church should look something like this. There’s a tension in the functioning of the body of Christ. We as believers need one another for fellowship and encouragement, and we need to gather for worship, prayer, and the teaching and study of God’s Word. When one is hurting, we need to love like the Louisville Cardinals love Kevin Ware. Yes, we are a team, but like no other in the world. The challenge each of us faces is not to help our team defeat other earthly teams, but to struggle in God’s power “against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.”

That battle is fought on our knees. The contest we fight in the world is to add to our team’s roster, one name at a time. Most often, the work is done one recruiter at a time. It has to do with individual identity and group identity. When we relate one to one, each person’s uniqueness is in play, and the connections are personal. When we face the world as a group – and collectively confront another group – the overwhelming temptation is to pit the shared identity of “us” against the perceived, stereotyped and feared identity of “them.” It’s almost guaranteed to be adversarial on both sides.

There are healthy ways we as Christians can show a united face to the world: missions trips, food and clothing drives, events that embrace the community in a positive spirit. In these we can demonstrate our love toward one another – the way Jesus said we should be known (John 13:35) – and we can offer God’s love to the world. But even so, the real work is likely to be done as individuals connect in the context of believers extending friendship, help, healing and hospitality. In a personal setting marked by trust, the unavoidable questions of sin and the need for the Savior can come to the fore.

When we leave that locker room we call a sanctuary every Sunday, we should be primed for the one-one-one. We shouldn’t be heading for the arena as Team Jesus to take on Team Secular Humanist, or Team Gay Marriage, or whatever team stokes our fear and makes us want to close ranks.

Stealing it Back – An Addendum

Spy007au bungee jumping off the Zambezi Bridge...

“…for we walk by faith, not by sight…” – 2 Corinthians 5:7 (NASB)

Something felt incomplete about my last post. I left out the flip side. I wrote about stealing back reason from the unbelieving, but this blog is also about stealing back belief from the unreasoning. If the doubters have stolen the mantle of reason, part of the blame lies with believers who have been content, if not eager, to give it away.

This is the result of a fundamental misunderstanding of the nature of faith. In some minds, the words “blind” and “faith” have become inseparable. For the believer in Jesus Christ, those words should never go together. Our faith, our hope, is not an optimist’s wish. It’s a certainty, with a measure of trust in what we cannot see, but also a good deal of sight. Not that we walk by sight; to actually step out in our choice to believe takes faith, because we don’t have the full picture. But we come to that faith – or we should – on the basis of something more than a story we have heard.

I won’t go into the evidence here, but it’s plentiful, from the archaeological support for the Bible, to the miracles many have seen, to the cosmological questions that exhaust the capacity of science to answer. The evidence can’t bring you all the way to faith, but it can make the leap a bit more like rock-hopping than bungee jumping.

Photo credit: Wikipedia

Stealing It Back

English: Birthday candle, Downpatrick, County ...

“This song, Charles Manson stole from the Beatles. We’re stealing it back.” – Bono

With these words, U2 launched into a blistering, live rendition of “Helter Skelter,” preserved on the 1988 double album “Rattle and Hum.”

In the year I’ve been writing this blog, I have tried to do my small part in stealing the song of reason back from the playlist of the skeptics, the doubters and unbelievers in God. It’s one of their favorites. You may not know, for example, about the United Coalition of Reason, but you may have seen their hand in the atheist Christmas billboards of recent years. (“This season, celebrate REASON.”)

But that word is also at the heart of 1 Peter 3:15, from which I drew this blog’s name: “Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have.” I embrace reason in articulating not only the simple “because” of belief, but the place of logic and rational thinking in faith. I chose the name reverently, but it’s also a little inside joke, a gentle poke at those who follow reason to a godless conclusion.

With God’s help, I have tried here to state clearly the reason for my hope. I would like to continue.

To the little band of followers I have picked up: Thank you for your visits, your likes, your comments and your encouragement. I haven’t played the blogging game quite the way I should, paying too little attention to my fellow bloggers and their fine work. I hope but can’t promise to do better in the future. My glacial publishing pace – 21 posts in 12 months – attests that this is not my day job.

If you’re relatively new here, I encourage you to go through the archives to get a flavor of where this journey started and where it’s led so far. At the bottom are links to some key posts. However long you’ve been following, I welcome your comments and ideas; ultimately, they will help me to feed this hungry creature I’ve brought into the world.

If you think more people can benefit from anything you find here, please spread the word. As I’ve told a few of my friends, I’m lousy and uncomfortable at self-promotion. But if God is working through this, I don’t want to aw-shucks my way into permanent obscurity.

With that, I’ll wrap up reason4thehope‘s first birthday post. Here is a selection of oldies if you need help getting up to speed:

What’s in This Name?

Where There’s a Will

Premature Judgment – Part 1

When Heaven Folds Its Hands

Yielding the Floor

Should This Be a Thing?

(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Hypocrites Are People, Too

“You hypocrites! Isaiah was right when he prophesied about you: ‘These people honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me.'” – Matthew 15:7-8 (NIV)

"No drama" sign with the dramatic ma...

“Church is full of hypocrites.”

This refrain surely keeps thousands if not millions of seats empty in sanctuaries every Sunday. For some people, religious hypocrisy makes church truly distasteful. Others find it a convenient excuse when really, their weary bones want to stay planted on the sofa for the Sabbath. For still others, the real issue is indifference or hostility toward God, if not outright unbelief.

Whatever the truth behind the excuse, let’s be clear about a couple of things:

• Yes, there are hypocrites in church.

• All of them are human.

The “so-what” of hypocrisy in church depends on how you define it. If Jesus were talking today about hypocrites in the religious elite, I wonder if he might have used use the term “posers.” The word he used literally meant “actors.” He was speaking of a cynical, fraudulent religiosity adopted for personal gain – social status, power, influence, money, whatever motivated the Pharisees and teachers of the law in His day. So yes, if you see a church full of Christian posers, it’s probably best to stay away. Pray for them to one day find authentic faith. But unless God clearly calls you to be a light for Him in their midst, steer clear. If the poser is in the pulpit, steer doubly clear. Such a person has a long road to real redemption, as he’s apt to believe his own press clippings, even if he’s the one making them up.

If your definition of a hypocrite is someone who professes to be a Christian but still sins, still shows negative personality traits, still struggles with pride or prejudice – meet the human race. If you’re a believer, you’re still commanded to love those people, as they are commanded to love you with all of your foibles. That doesn’t mean you grit your teeth, shut your eyes and grunt until the feelings of love well up within your heart. It means you draw on the love the Father and the Son give through the Spirit, and you behave lovingly toward those people, personal feelings aside. You can only do that by being with those people, obeying the Bible’s teaching: “And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds, not giving up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging one another – and all the more as you see the Day approaching.” (Hebrews 10:24-25)

Also, ask yourself this: If you look around church, or any assembly of Christians, and all you see are hypocrites, what is the real problem? Maybe you’re holding your brothers and sisters in Christ to a standard that no one, including you, can meet. If we could achieve that standard in this life, we wouldn’t have needed Christ to go to the cross for us. Or as Paul succinctly put it: “You, then, why do you judge your brother or sister? Or why do you treat them with contempt? For we will all stand before God’s judgment seat.” (Romans 14:10 NIV)

If you’re outside the faith, and you say hypocrisy repels you and destroys the church’s credibility, then please understand the meaning of faith. The cross is not a magic wand that ends all sinning, nor is it a token earned through good behavior. It is, to use a well-worn metaphor, a bridge between us and God. Jesus’ death on the cross in your place makes you clean in God’s sight as soon as you receive the free gift – even though you’ll continue to struggle against sinful behavior until the day you die. Jesus’ resurrection ensures that your death will be merely a passage to eternity with Him, where all sin will be gone.

So if you see Christians still sinning, there’s a reason: they’re still human, still works in progress. Their bad behavior will give you no excuse when you stand before God. It will come down to one question: What did you do with Jesus?

(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Should This Be a Thing?

thing

Test all things; hold fast what is good. – 1 Thessalonians 5:21 (NKJV)

If you have an ear for changes in this thing called English, you may have caught a new thing. You may have heard someone ask, “Is that a thing?” Or declare, “That should not be a thing.” The thing may be any cultural trend, preference or practice. I read it as being self-contained, with some kind of parameters. After all, if you add to or change or subtract from the thing too much, it becomes another thing, doesn’t it? Hold that thought.

There’s one old thing called American Evangelicalism. Having attended its churches for 25 years, I see some very sound parameters in it:

• The lordship of Jesus Christ as the Son of God, fully God and fully man, who came to offer Himself as an atoning sacrifice for the sins of anyone who chooses to receive this gift.

• The authority of the Bible, written under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit to tell the story of God’s relationship with humanity, lay out His commandments and, most important, instruct us in receiving and working out our salvation.

• A zeal for missions that surely places America among history’s great exporters of the faith.

• The often breathtaking generosity of believers with their time and resources toward people in need.

But that all has another name. It’s called, simply, Christianity. So what distinguishes American Evangelicalism? I’ll suggest a few things that are not so flattering:

• A strictly literal reading of the Bible without regard for literary form, historical context or other knowledge that may shed light on the meaning of the text.

• Fear and hatred toward people who violate real or perceived principles of “right” living.

• Lockstep political conservatism, without regard to whether the ideology on a given issue matches up with the Bible, or is even addressed there.

Now, I’m already oversimplifying. Not every American Evangelical ticks all of those boxes. And you can subdivide this thing, depending on denomination, culture or local norms. There are rigidly held dogma on correct versions of the Bible, forms of church music, attitudes toward alcohol, acceptable entertainment or any number of other issues.

Since I started this blog, one of my main activities has been deconstructing the thing I had been buying into, piece by piece, since I received my salvation more than 30 years ago. As I’ve turned them over, some of the building blocks have proved to be sound; others have not. So what does this have to do with you, the reader?

I’m not going to tell you what to keep or discard, except to say that those first four bullet points above seem to be a firm foundation, encompassing the Gospel message, where we find it and what we do about it. Beyond that, I can personally endorse examining every brick you’ve laid on that foundation. Pray over it; test it against God’s Word. Is God telling you to hold to this thing like life itself? Or is it an unnecessary barrier between you and other believers – or perhaps worse, between you and unbelievers?

Wouldn’t it be nice to have no more “things” in Christianity, not American Evangelicalism or any other variant, just people united by the Holy Spirit in worshiping and proclaiming the one true God in and through His one and only Son? Of course you can’t unthink your thoughts. You can have beliefs about all those peripheral things and order your own life accordingly. The trouble comes when they drive wedges between you and those who disagree.

How do we go down these rabbit holes, anyway? Here’s a thought: When a group is safe from external threats, there’s fertile ground for internal squabbles to grow and spread. Christianity in America has been very safe since the first European settlers colonized the continent. I hope it won’t take persecution to cleanse us of pointless differences. That would be a bad thing.

Yielding the Floor

The parable of the talents, as depicted in a 1...

“And I was afraid, and went away and hid your talent in the ground.” – Matthew 25:25 NIV

When Jesus told His parable of the talents, it was literally about money, but it’s about much more than that. God wires each of us to do something well. When we understand our talents in this way, we put pride firmly in its place. But we can still bury our talents in the modern sense as surely as a shoe box full of cash, and sometimes the motivation is a counterfeit humility. I can speak from experience.

God wired me to write.  Early on, I dreamed of success and fame as a novelist or columnist. Teachers, classmates, editors and colleagues over the years have encouraged me to pursue writing and stay with it.

In college, I chose newspapers to launch me to writing stardom. My senior internship at a small daily turned into a job after graduation, and soon enough I moved on to a larger paper. But it was a zombie career for me, before I or anyone else knew it.

My writing was hiding traits that in time would have torpedoed my newspaper ambitions: I was too shy to cultivate the vital journalistic skill of schmoozing. My discomfort in bars was palpable. And intruding on people in their tragedies felt like a personal violation, not just a necessary stop on the way to a compelling story. (Trust me, most reporters would say the same on that last point.)

With all of this working against me, eventually I would have been tucked in a corner to write lovingly polished fluff, until I became an unaffordable luxury amid newspapers’ deepening death spiral. Mercifully, a layoff at the second paper put me out of the business before my vulnerabilities began to show, and long before the industry sank to its current, miserable state. Despite my best efforts after the layoff, I never was able to return. Instead I landed in a quieter corner of publishing, still writing and editing, but without the passion I might have brought to other work.

There I have been for 22 years, while outside the office, life happened – richer, poorer, sickness, health and all the rest. At times the nagging thought would surface that I ought to be serving God more directly with my talent.

Something was holding me back. As I looked at what already was written for and about God, I couldn’t get past a little volume called the Bible. With that in circulation, what could I possibly add to the literature of faith? It was a prideful question dressed up as humility. The part of me that still dreamed of renown wanted to write things for God that reflected glory back on me. As long as I was out to produce “literature,” I had writer’s block when it came to the spiritual realm.

A few years ago, life started to intensify, dragging me out of my cocoon to do things that didn’t come naturally, and to face challenges I hadn’t expected. In the midst of it all, God kept equipping me “for such a time as this.” And in between catching life’s knuckleballs, I found myself thinking more, and stretching that thinking.

Only recently have I really grasped what God did. I believe He worked me into a place where he could teach me things I never would have found through my own intelligence or on my own terms. Thoughts and ideas piled up, looking for a way out, and earlier this year, reason4thehope was born.

The funny thing is, only a handful of people can connect this blog with my real name. Exactly one is an official “follower.” God led me to a forum that allows me to write about what He’s taught me – but insulates me from the acclaim I once coveted. I now feel the paradoxical need to get my writing out of the way; I strip it down, lest anyone miss the point because they’ve stopped to admire a clever turn of phrase. It’s a good habit in writing anyway, but it’s also a humbling exercise in opening the channel so God can get through.

You may have a talent that you’ve confined to your workplace, or reserved for your own amusement or relaxation. You may dream of one day breaking out and dazzling the world with your ability. And maybe part of you knows you should be giving it to God. Your work for Him doesn’t have to mark you for the Hall of Fame in whatever it is you do. It just has to be what God chooses, equips and positions you to do, “for such a time as this.”

In Congress, when one member wants to speak out of turn in a debate, another has to yield the floor. That time comes out of the yielding member’s allotted minutes. In the deliberations of life, if you belong to God, you share your seat with Him. It’s always and never His turn. He deserves the first word, the last word and every word in between. But He doesn’t force His way into the discussion, and He can’t speak if you’re too busy being seen and heard. Before He can express Himself through the voice of your talents, you must yield the floor to Him.

What’s in This Name?

“But everyone must be quick to hear, slow to speak and slow to anger.” – James 1: 19

The apostle James penned those words around 50 A.D. – good advice for any generation, but perhaps none more than our own. Arguing today is for winning, not discovering truth. No slander or insult is off limits, and conciliation is treason.

As for me, I never made it my mission to live out James’ admonition, but I do seem to be wired that way – at least with respect to slowness. The speaking part drives some people crazy, especially my kids. At times they must feel like Charlie Babbitt, Tom Cruise’s character in “Rain Man,” bound to a relative who measures life by a different clock: “He is answering a question from a half hour ago!”

I make no apologies, but this can be a problem. My thoughts don’t always get out in a timely way, and once they do find daylight, I’m not always articulate off the cuff. But I like to write, and when I do, I can massage the words at my own pace and make myself clear. At going-on-49 years, I’ve got some things to say. God willing, I’ll share them with anyone who’s interested.

Some facts about me:

  • My wife and I have the full span of the teenage years covered with two daughters, a son and a nephew, 13 through 19 –  three of them living with us in northwest New Jersey, one away at college.
  • My career has consisted of about five years reporting for daily newspapers, followed by 21 years of reporting, writing, editing and traffic-copping in a business-to-business publishing house.
  • My politics are conservative, but not dogmatically so; my affiliation is independent.
  • My faith trumps my politics and everything else. For those who know the denominational landscape, our church is a member of the Christian & Missionary Alliance, although what a church teaches and how it treats people are more important to us than the logo outside.

I think a lot. I think about morality and faith and politics and current events. I think when I’m mowing the grass or folding laundry or on a long drive. It’s time to let some thoughts out.

In the spirit of James’ first-century plea, the name of this blog was supposed to be “slowtospeak.” But I’ve discovered that naming a blog is like naming a band (not that I’ve ever done that): most of the good names are taken. The best you can hope for is some alphanumeric variation on something that works. So I rummaged for a Biblical phrase that would capture another aspect of what I’m trying to do here. I found 1 Peter 3:15: “Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have.” I’ve been working on it, and that has been part of the journey that brought me here.

Sometimes this blog will be as current as…okay, last week’s headlines…slow to speak and all that. I hope to offer considered opinions, not impulsive rants. At other times the issues will have a more eternal perspective. I’ll spend a fair amount of time at the intersection of faith and reason, a place some would say doesn’t exist. I believe it does.

I’ll call things as I see them, but no warranty is made as to the accuracy or clarity of the blogger’s vision. Agree or disagree, but in case the message hasn’t come through, I’m interested in civil discourse. This medium lends itself to plenty of anonymous, uncivil discourse, which won’t shock me. I will never respond in kind, but I don’t have to respond at all, and I probably won’t. To those who come with a constructive attitude, please don’t feed the trolls.

I’ve got some posts teed up and ready to go. If anyone pays attention, I hope the feedback will keep the ideas coming. If you’ve read this far, thanks, and welcome to reason4thehope.

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