Forget Fault

 Once upon a time, a family bought a wonderfully clean car for a steal-of-a-deal and considered themselves fortunate to have gotten so lucky… until the car had a catastrophic coolant failure at a traffic light resulting in a repair bill that cost more than the car’s Blue Book value.

These Christian folk had a choice to make: to accept the situation with grace as a “Life Happens” moment while trusting God for the next step or to do what most of us do when something goes wrong: find someone to blame.

The reasoning goes something like this: If something is wrong, it has to be someone’s fault. What we actually mean is,  someone else’s fault.

This family had several blame options. They could have blamed the guy who sold them the car, the driver for failing to check the hood, the mechanic for not pointing out a potential defect, themselves for being gullible consumers or God for not preventing the whole thing.

Needing to assign blame before we can move on is a failure to grapple with an uncomfortable truth. Sometimes things really do “just happen,” at least from a human perspective. There is no “fault.”

In the case of that family car, the cause of the problem appeared to be metal fatigue. A metal part suddenly failed.

It’s the rare person who can simply accept something like that and move toward a solution without bitterness, ranker and causing a helluva stink. In corporate-speak, such stinks are known as “venting,” translated as having a fit just to make yourself feel as though you’ve done something. Nothing good ever comes of it, of course, which brings me to the next point.

From a Christian viewpoint even when we can find the smoking gun, what does it really matter? Being able to point to someone and say “whodunit” may make a nice wrap for an Agatha Christie Poirot mystery,” but it doesn’t fix problems, heal relationships or promote spiritual growth.

Maybe the question isn’t  who is to blame but “What can I learn from this?” God always wants us to “grow in grace and in the knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.”  (2 Peter 3:18)  And He uses all of life to accomplish this end.

Our persistence in placing blame is really pointless. (It hasn’t done anything constructive for me.) We’re all guilty of being human. We are faulty creatures who make mistakes, despite our best intentions. When things go wrong, as they sometimes do, my challenge is to take it personally, to see it as opportunity to press into God a little closer, to listen more intently for His voice, to become more God-focused and less self-reliant.

Ultimately, we Christians are called to put our trust in God, not in our circumstances whether they be good or bad. Life really does happen in unpredictable ways, and we can make ourselves crazy by demanding to know the why.

As time goes by, I am learning to leave the mysteries of life in the hands of a faithful, all-wise God, believing that through life’s struggles He is “working in me both to will and to do of His good pleasure.” (Phil 2:13)

Advertisements

Got Commitment?

I’m a fan of the old Journey song “Faithfully” with front-man Steve Perry and with good reason. I’ve been married for a generation and appreciate what it means to stay in a relationship and work through the kinks. 

Even so, being married doesn’t exempt anyone from being tempted to take a second, romantic look at someone other than the spouse. In that fleeting moment of temporary insanity that other person may seem more this, that or something than what’s waiting at home.

If it ends with a look, no harm done. “Yield not to temptation, for yielding is sin,” goes the hymn. Marriage, after all, is commitment, not blindness. But how committed to marriage are we 21st century dwellers, really?

I recently stumbled upon a NY Times “Modern Love” column headlined: “You May Call It Cheating, but We Don’t” in which the married columnist recounts kissing a family friend over drinks in her husband’s absence. 

The friend broke off the kiss, anxious that he’d be unable to look the husband in the eye later, and chided himself for going around kissing women who are “unavailable.” The columnist, on the other hand, considered herself available, insisting her husband of 12 years wouldn’t have objected. Their marriage is monogamous, she wrote, but with “a small asterisk on [her] part.”

The asterisk is modern marriage as a convenience that begins with a few hastily spoken words (the vows), moves to a big party (the wedding reception) and climaxes – no pun intended – with conjugal rights that too often were enjoyed long before anyone said “I do.”

When marriage* becomes inconvenient, annoying or just plain boring, the aggrieved party is open to other options.

Contrast this with biblical marriage as the once-for-all,  “one-flesh” experience God described to Adam and his bride Eve. It’s a relationship that depicts Christ’s faithfulness and unbroken union with His bride, the church, for whom He will return one day and “so shall we ever be with the Lord.” 

Do we really believe in this kind of marriage anymore?

About six years ago George Barna reported on the waning conventional morality, a consensus about right and wrong, good and evil. People in their 20s and 30s eschew such moral absolutes, living instead by a personal situational ethic: “what’s right for you.”

No surprise then that the Times column went on to praise the modern indulgence in cuckoldry. Historically, to be a cuckold was to be the disgraced husband of an adulteress, which sometimes led to deadly duels demanded by husbands who considered the marriage bed inviolate and an intruder worthy of death.

Sadly, what once was scorned, according to the Times article, is now celebrated as a sporting way to keep marriage interesting. The 1970s-era practice of couples “swinging” is making a comeback. 

Christians are called to break ranks with the culture and to affirm marriage as exclusive. God calls us to faithfulness even if we’re bored in bed, repulsed by what used to attract or longing for affection the other party is physically incapable of giving. Christian marriage, real marriage, is finding a way to make the sex in that relationship work.

Finding a way may mean:

  • Getting wise counsel
  • Getting a physical exam
  • Getting in the Bible and on our knees
  • Getting over ourselves and embracing self-denial

Nobody can keep that kind of commitment to another human being — and not be filled with bitterness, anger and resentment — without first committing themselves to God. The author of marriage is the only One who can help us keep our commitment to it. 

Instinctively, we know that marriage isn’t to be violated on a whim no matter what the culture or our own libido tells us. We also know that commitment comes down to a decision.

After that kiss, the columnist’s male friend responded: “We shouldn’t do this. I should leave.”

And he left.

The Fundamental Things Apply

Most of us know how to turn it on when the stakes are high and the bigwigs are watching. It may come as a shock, but Christians ought to be just as concerned about “routine faithfulness” in small tasks before an Audience of One, to borrow a phrase from today’s installment of the “Our Daily Bread” devotional guide.

Life’s routine matters, “the little foxes,” are usually what cause us to stumble. We all come off as spiritual at prayer and small group meetings. The trouble comes when we have to keep the laundry under control, the dishes washed and toilets scrubbed at home. If we hold it  together there, maybe we struggle with staying on task at work when the boss isn’t looking.

It’s understandable. Who hasn’t checked their email only to lose half an hour of prime work time?

If we aren’t intentional in this distractible culture, however, our Christian character can lose its luster under harsh scrutiny. Consider the cautionary tale of an employee whom I “met” after inheriting their company-issue computer. We never had a face-to-face encounter; it was more of a virtual introduction through the uncleared hard drive.

Through that computer, sometimes quite by accident, I learned more about the former employee than any stranger ought to know. Mostly, I learned that they spent much of their work day doing things completely unrelated to work while many detailed aspects of their paying job were neglected for years.

Musical downloads revealed their tastes in music. Their preferred Internet websites were logged in the bookmarks cache. Their spouse evidently was often job hunting judging from the number of completed employment applications left behind. (The Social Security numbers alone would have been a boon for an identity thief.)

This employee was big on “giving back” if the multiple emails and files of their charitable work can be trusted. They prized family, too, producing various party invitations in Microsoft Publisher and scanning family photos. Did I mention that this person had a reputation as a dedicated Christian who had done a “good job” in the visible aspects of the position?

I’m not sure God would agree.

Christians should be an employer’s most productive, trustworthy and dependable workers. As followers of Christ, we are called to work hard whether we are being supervised or not. We are to “work with enthusiasm, as though [we] were working for the Lord rather than for people.”(Ephesians 6) Sadly, I’ve actually heard people say that they hesitate to hire Christian people because they tend to be lazy on the job.

I’m fond of the North Carolina state motto, and I think it applies here. It’s the Latin phrase, Esse quam videri meaning “To be, rather than to seem.”

I’m committed to being a Christian rather than simply seeming to be one. If that’s your goal, and you are blessed to still be employed in this economy, don’t bother posting Scripture verses in your cubicle or inviting people to Bible study over lunch. Go to work on time. Do the very best job you can while you’re there; and be mindful to treat people well no matter how they may treat you.

That’s all the Christian witness you’ll ever need.

P.S. If you leave your job, it wouldn’t be a bad idea to clear your hard drive!

Mercy On Empty: Fill’er Up!

I’m at the gas station three days before Christmas and some imbecile almost backs into my car trying to leave the pump without consulting the rear-view mirror.  I lean on my horn, and a self-appointed good Samaritan tries to tell me the person just wants to back up.

“And she should back into my car?!” I yell. The other driver finally drives forward, where there always was a clear exit.

She pulls away effortlessly. I have to admit, I almost wished she’d hit something as a permanent reminder of her recklessness!  Truth be told, most of us like to see people punished when they do wrong even if we aren’t personally injured.  We want God to condemn the same people we do.

It was the same in Jesus’ day. One day at the Temple, the scribes and Pharisees brought to Jesus a woman they’d found in the act of committing adultery. (There’s no mention of the man involved, though we know there had to be one!)

The penalty for her sin, they reminded Jesus, was death by stoning according to the law of Moses. A holy man, like Himself, would have to agree. If not, they could accuse Him of opposing the law.

To their dismay, Jesus didn’t immediately react.  When He did, His reply was withering: Let him among you who is without sin cast the first stone.

One by one, the men walked away, the oldest ones first. Having lived longer, presumably the elders were conscious of having more sin for which to account.

The woman was left with only One who could rightly condemn her. He did not.  He simply told her to go and sin no more. If it sounds like a free pass, it’s because it is. Jesus didn’t ask her to shed any blood. He didn’t even ask her to apologize.  He told her to change her behavior.

For those of us who prefer to see people suffer for doing wrong, this is hard to take. But here at Christmas,  it’s a great illustration of the real gift God offers each of us: a merciful Savior who didn’t come into the world to condemn it, but to save it.

I embrace this mercy for myself, but I often find it hard to give it away in the everyday world of gas stations, grocery store parking lots and home. Maybe mercy is THE gift to share this Christmas. No one deserves it. But it’s what everyone needs — even when it’s the last thing we may want to give!

Change you can believe in

We Christians spend a lot of wasted time pointing fingers at the world over its sin.

The bigger problem is Christians who continue to dabble in sin and who don’t want anyone to call them on it. Christ said His disciples would “be witnesses” of Him. It’s time believers be the change we want to see in the world. There is no better witness than a changed life.

John Newton, the former slaveship captain turned pastor and hymn writer, wrote:

Amazing grace, how sweet the sound

That saved a wretch like me.

I once was lost, but now am found,

Was blind, but now I see.

Was blind, was lost. But now… Profound change.

The Bible says, if a man is in Christ, he’s a new creation. The old has gone. The new has come.

I’m puzzled by people who claim to be Christan but who exhibit no “newness.” We ought to be different after we encounter Christ. Thieves should stop stealing. Liers should stop lying and tell the truth.

Trouble is, when push comes to shove, a lot of us revert to our former selves. Rubbed the wrong way, we become petty, insecure, vindictive.

Think not? Question some pastoral action or openly disagree with a Christian brother. It may surprise you how quickly the spiritual gloves come off. Supposedly mature Christians may respond with the kind of venom you’d expect from unbelievers.

Let’s examine ourselves and see if we really are in the faith. Then maybe we can change the world.

Good Health isn’t Pro-Life?

Pardon me for saying so, but I know why unbelievers think a lot of Christians are kooky.  Some of us are.

Earlier this week I was sitting on the couch sipping a cup of English Breakfast and preparing to watch the evening news when the phone rang. The guy on the other end said he was calling from the D. James Kennedy Center for Christian Statesmanship.

He wanted me to listen to a recorded message on how health care reform would have a “negative impact” on pro-life issues.

I hung up.

There’s a lot of disagreement about the details of health care reform. But on principle, how can improving public health be a bad thing? Helping people get and stay healthy is anti-life? Kooky.

I often appreciated the preaching of Dr. Kennedy, who died in 2007 at age 76.  He was the founder of Evangelism Explosion, a nearly 50-year-old ministry that helps people learn to share their Christian faith in a conversational way. It remains popular and very effective throughout the world.

Kennedy’s dynamic Gospel-preaching at Coral Ridge Presbyterian Church in Ft. Lauderdale,  once the fastest growing congregation in its denomination, earned him a spot in the National Religious Broadcasters association Hall of Fame.

When he waded into the deep waters of political activism, forming the Center for Reclaiming America, he left behind those with less theocratic leanings. The fruit of this is telling. Two years after his death, Coral Ridge continues to struggle with what’s more important in the pulpit — the Gospel or politics?

To me, it’s a life lesson in the folly of mixing politics and religion. The two are like fear and faith – polar opposites. Trying to mix them always leads to division in the Body of Christ. But let’s get back to the phone call, and why I hung up.

The Bible repeatedly tells us to “fear not” and warns that whatever is not from faith is sin.  So when someone urges me to act based on fear of what might happen if I don’t, I think hanging up is the Christian thing to do.

Life Support

Sometime ago,  over lunch with a respected medical writer on then-Fayetteville Street Mall, the conversation turned to abortion.  My position was then what it is now:  abortion ends a life. To my surprise, this pro-choice writer agreed.

While she too believed abortion kills, she said she was prepared to accept that as a choice the mother had a right to make. And she was willing to support that belief with time, talent, resources.

That was a refreshing conversation. I can respect intellectual honesty even when I don’t agree with the conclusion.

I got thinking about this when I received an invitation to attend an Oct. 29  fund-raising dinner in support of The Christian Life Home of Raleigh, a housing ministry to women in unplanned pregnancies. It’s been around since 1988, founded by people who decided to do something about what they believed. I’ve been in the home, met some of its staff, been a supporter.

It puzzles me that there aren’t more supporters and more places like it. Christians across America claim to be staunchly pro-life. Each election season churches are awash in voter guides outlining candidates’ stands on the litmus issue of abortion. Radio hosts gravely remind us of the judgment to come for failing to elect those who support life.

Abortion has been legal in this country since the 1973 Supreme Court decision in Roe v Wade . It may never be outlawed.  Meanwhile, what’s to stop us from providing a temporary home for a pregnant woman who needs it?  There’s no law against supplying her with nutritious meals or medical care or giving her the time and space to choose to parent or to give her child an adoptive family.

Simply believing abortion kills without giving people reasonable alternatives is like telling a  hungry, naked man to be “well fed and warm” while sending him away empty-handed. Sounds good, but it’s useless.

Pro-life?  Good. Now put your faith to work.