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Wednesday, June 03, 2015

Bruce Jenner…and How Far for the Pursuit of Happiness?

There are times when a person tries to stay away from an issue but just can't simply because it's so pervasive. The Bruce Jenner thing is one such issue. There's no way to escape it, not really. And…now, I'm becoming more and more convinced that it's not something for Christians to try to escape. But before going into any more detail, here are the ground rules:

If you read on...

1) Understand that I am a Christian. I'm not God (duh), but I believe in Him. I trust Jesus as my Savior and TRY to live as the Scriptures and my Holy-Spirit-driven conscience leads me.

2) I do not speak for God. What I mean is, I dig deep in the Scriptures and pray for wisdom. I'm an educated person, and I try to discern rightly. But I'm not perfect. I may not get all these thoughts out there quite right. So don't take my word on it. If you don't like what I have to say,  go check out God's word for yourselves.

3) Do not pull the "What about NOT JUDGING, Mr. Christian? How 'bout that?" thing. Look, if you don't understand what the Bible says about judgment, discernment, right, and wrong…you probably shouldn't be talking about it. God never tells Christians not to judge right from wrong, never tells us to openly praise evil, and never tells us that loving someone is patting him on the back while he tries to drive off a cliff.

4) There is objective truth. If you say there is no objective truth, you've left the path of reason because the argument defeats itself. The statement "there is no objective truth" is in itself an attempt to state an objective truth. Is it true, except for this one time?

5) Disagreement is not hate. Disagree? Does that mean you "hate" me? Come on now, if we're mature, we can discuss a difference of opinions with support and evidence…not name-calling.

Agree to these terms? Then, read on. If not, escape is just a click away.

The "Bruce Jenner Thing" bothers the heck out of me. It troubles me at a foundational level because it is symptomatic of an America I now no longer know. And it bothers me because there are children watching.

Former star Olympic Decathlete Bruce Jenner has gone on TV to announce that he is becoming a woman, or rather that he believes he is a woman and is taking strides to make his physical self match his identity concept. Then, dressed as a woman and photoshopped (as so many female models on magazines are), Bruce appears on the cover of Vanity Fair and we're told to call him Caitlyn.

Having seen Mr. Jenner as he was, a-once-in-a-generation MALE athlete, a man who reveled in masculinity, married, and fathered children, I'm disturbed to see him now. He was born male. He is male. No amount of self-persuasion, no amount of plastic surgery, no amount of make up, and no amount of image manipulation can "rebirth" him as a true female.

In the beginning, God made people male and female and intended for them to be joined together. That the Bible makes these clear points, is indisputable. It was God's idea, and I trust He knew (and knows) what He's doing. But mankind sinned, pouring eternal poison into the ecosystem. Human beings and all of creation suffered for it. And we still suffer for it. Bruce Jenner may be completely sincere about his thoughts and feelings. He may sincerely believe he is a woman trapped in a man's body. But feelings and sincerity are not the basis upon which truth is founded.

I want to say this again: Feelings and sincerity are NOT the basis upon which truth is founded.

You can be sincere and be sincerely wrong. And feelings are flighty things. Such little catalysts can cause wild fluctuations in feelings. The time of day/night, the weather, nutrition, sleep, exercise, etc. etc. ad infinitum. Mr. Jenner may feel passionately that he really is a woman, but that doesn't make it true any more than if I sincerely believed I am 16 years old again would make me a day less than 46. I suspect that Mr. Jenner is suffering from a form mental illness compounded by the reduction in testosterone that is typical in males after 40 years of age. I cannot imagine how difficult it must be to live with the issues he has identified. I'm certain his feelings are very real to him and powerful but, strong as they are, these feelings and convictions do not create truth.

Celebrating Mr. Jenner's actions as brave and heroic is a horrifying precedent. It shows that much of America has forgotten what real heroism is. Should the man who sincerely believes and feels that he is worthless be deemed worthless? Should we applaud his suicide as a heroic act? Should the addict simply accept that he is an addict and keep using? Should the young woman who believes she is fat be allowed to starve herself near to death and we do nothing but applaud?

And what if Mr. Jenner or, for that matter, someone else -was- "born that way," ie: with a genetic abnormality or a predisposition or an excess of one hormone, a lack of the other—what does that change? It should amp our compassion for the person's experience—no doubt. But it does not mean that we throw our brains out the window and declare anything we're born with as wonderful.

This is especially true for the Christian. We KNOW we have sinful urges, and maybe we were born with them. I might be born with a predisposition to a rotten temper. I might be genetically more likely to eat too much and get fat than someone else. I might suffer from depression or feel inescapable paranoia that everyone is out to get me. But that doesn't excuse our poor reasoning or decisions; it doesn't excuse our sin. And it doesn't make us the least bit heroic.

The Declaration of Independence grants Americans the inalienable rights to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. But…in that pursuit of happiness, there must be a modicum of objectivity and more than a little common sense. Or it all falls apart. What if it makes me happy to pee in your front yard? And what if it then makes you happy to hit me in the jaw? Is that still covered under the pursuit of happiness right? May it never be so. And yet, that is precisely the kool-aid that so many Americans are drinking right now. If it feels "right" to you, then it IS right. Whatever makes you happy…must be a good thing. And who dares to disagree?

We are clucking with glee that a man is doing what we would otherwise call self-mutilation to perpetuate a belief! The same dynamic applies to other issues as well. Look, look! Look at how sincere those three women love each other...we should call that normal marriage now. And worse still, we are applauding for all to see. And believe me…people are watching. Children are watching.

This is the most gut-wrenching aspect of the whole issue: impressionable children are watching. They are being taught explicit and implicit messages. They are being sold to the lie that feelings = truth. If you don't understand how dangerous a message that is, you must not remember what it's like to be an adolescent. Hormones and social pressures are already amping the confusion and turmoil in kids' lives. They don't need these kinds of ideas to further complicate their volatile identity issues. It breaks my heart to see kids wrestle with even more than they ought to due to their physiology.

So what do we do about it? For the Christian, the answer is manifold: 1) Know God's word so that you can accurately discern right from wrong.  2) Do not mistake popularity or sincerity for truth.  3) Love the way Jesus loved. That last one alone is heavy enough for a thousand books, much less a single blog post.

When Jesus was in town, He hung out with sinners. He touched sinners. He had compassion for sinners…but NOWHERE did Jesus ever tell sinners that they should continue in their sin. He didn't dine with the tax collector and say, "Y'know, Zacchaeus, it's fine that you're cheating all those people out of their money." He didn't sit beside the adulterous woman and say, "Yes, I know you've had five men…no problem. Continue on in this way." When the rich young ruler asked Jesus what to do to be saved, Jesus never answered, "Keep all your riches for yourself and make sure you value that money above God."

Jesus loved them and pointed them to truth. May we all do the same.

Sunday, May 31, 2015

Inferior Rewards.

Should Christians be motivated to act, do, and serve…by rewards?

Before you answer, disclaimer time! 1) Non Christians do not earn salvation as a reward for good works…ever. 2) Christians do not earn God’s love through good works…ever. If you believe otherwise, that’s your right, but don’t try to read that into this article. 

So should Christians be motivated to act, do, and serve based on the promise of rewards?

In a word: yes. In fact, as I’ll address later, most of us are already doing tons and tons of stuff to get rewarded. The problem is, we can find ourselves going way above the call of duty to earn INFERIOR rewards.

First to establish the point that it’s not just okay for Christians to be motivated by reward, but that reward is actually integral to faith. What does the Bible say about rewards? A ton. Consider:

Hebrews 11:6 “And without faith it is impossible to please God, because anyone who comes to him must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who earnestly seek him.”

Matthew 6:6 “But when you pray, go into your room, close the door and pray to your Father, who is unseen. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you.”

Matthew 6:2 “So when you give to the needy, do not announce it with trumpets, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and on the streets, to be honored by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward in full.”

Galatians 6:9 “Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up.”

Colossians 3:23-24 “Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for human masters, since you know that you will receive an inheritance from the Lord as a reward. It is the Lord Christ you are serving.”

Psalm 37:4 (the verse that provoked this post): "Take delight in the Lord, and He will give you the desires of your heart.”

This is just a sampling of the great many verses in the Bible that discuss reward openly or infer reward quite clearly. Hebrews 11 is especially revealing because here we see that reward is a key tenet of faith. Anyone who comes to him (God) must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who earnestly seek him. Hebrews is also the book that contains the “hall of faith” verses…showing example after example after example of saints who ventured forward, set out, worked hard, fought hard, traveled far—because God told them to, but also because God promised a reward. We learn from these pillars of faith that most of them didn’t receive their reward right away. Many didn’t receive the reward in their lifetime.

And so it is with our rewards today. We receive some rewards right away. Other rewards, we won’t see for years. Some we won’t notice until we look back and realize: wow, did God bless me silly right there! And some rewards well, we won’t see them this side of Heaven.

Keep in mind that a reward is often very different than an earned wage. There’s no quid-pro-quo. We don’t play games with God. We don’t coyly say to God, “I did all these things, now where’s my reward?” God is sovereign and, among other things, that means that He knows more than we do. He knows what reward we can handle and when we can handle it. He knows when rewards will bless us most. He also knows when His children are too busy with worldly rewards to have even the slightest wish for a reward from our Heavenly Father.

And that brings us to a stark and convicting reality: many of us (especially American Christians) are absolutely addicted to worldly rewards. C.S. Lewis puts it this way:

“If there lurks in most modern minds the notion that to desire our own good and earnestly to hope for the enjoyment of it is a bad thing, I submit that this notion has crept in from Kant and the Stoics and is no part of the Christian faith.

“Indeed, if we consider the unblushing promises of reward and the staggering nature of the rewards promised to us in the Gospels, it would seem that our Lord finds our desires not too strong, but too weak.

“We are half-hearted creatures, fooling about with drink and sex and ambition when infinite joy is offered us, like an ignorant child who wants to go on making mud pies in the slum because he cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of a holiday at the sea.

“We are far too easily pleased.”

Does that sound familiar? It’s American marketing 101. The world sells us 10,000 flavors of mud pies, and we gobble them and beg for more. Look at the Matthew 6 passage above. The Pharisees fell for the mud pies, didn’t they? We’re told that their motivation was to receive praise from men…and they got that reward. But that reward was inferior. Far better would it be to head for the prayer closet and pray alone where only God can hear you and reward you. God’s reward is ALWAYS better.

Let me say that again: GOD’S REWARD IS ALWAYS BETTER.

Learn this early in life and just watch how often certain “troubles” just fly right over your head. So much of what we worry about are “worldly rewards.” We’re like spoiled little kids crying “gimmie, gimmie,” and then whining when it’s a little less than we thought it would be.

How do we distinguish God’s superior rewards from the world’s inferior rewards? Well, I haven’t got it all figured out. But it seems to me that there are some pretty logical measures.

First, we need to remember that God created human beings with certain needs: we need food and water, shelter, companionship, love, meaning, hope, freedom, rest, and (apologies to C.S. Lewis) sex. These are all God-given GOOD things. When God throws these things at us, they are MARVELOUS rewards.

God has already told us in His word how we should look toward each and every one of these rewards. When we go God’s way, we are reaping God’s rewards for us. Take meaning for example. God tells us that we have meaning because we are made in His image, we are His saints, His chosen people, His beloved, and even His friends. When we realize this, it is a priceless reward. But when we go determining our identity by the feedback of our peers, we’re on dangerous and dubious ground. .

Whenever we seek after a legitimate need but pursue it in an illegitimate way, we have gone off the reservation. If we try to find meaning or peace in food or drink, we fail. It just won’t fulfill. When we try sex outside of marriage or any other sexual gratification outside of marriage, we fail. We will get, at best, a temporary, hollow copy of what God intended.

God has an infinite supply of rewards for His kids. This should motivate us to do things God’s way.