Thursday, April 27, 2017

The ‘Biblical’ Art of Buck Passing

Have you ever noticed the ways people respond when accused – with ample evidence – of wrongdoing? Actually, there are a variety of options, but here I’ll focus on just two:

Some deny it outright, as we so often see in the political realm, as well as the business world, and other influential segments of our society. “I (we) did nothing wrong. Wrongfully accused! No way, Jose!” Of course, you don’t have to be a high-ranking politicians or corporate executive. Even toddlers, as soon as they can distinguish wrong from right, discover the art of denying wrong, even with crumb-covered hands caught in the proverbial cookie jar.

"Who, me?!" Why did God give us 
fingers, if not to be able 
to point them and blame others?
Another approach is the ever-popular “passing of the buck.” Again, we see elected government officials employing this strategy with great skill, casting blame on someone down the line of authority, insisting they had no personal knowledge of wrongs committed. Business leaders can be equally adept, assigning fault to lower-level execs and managers, all the while pleading, “I had no idea!”

If you think this is a relatively new development, however, think again. It first appeared in the pristine Garden of Eden, where Eve and then Adam defied God – heeding the strong suggestion of Satan instead – and sampled fruit from the one tree in the entire garden the Lord had said was off limits.

When God asked what they had done, first Adam and then Eve deftly passed the buck long before currency had been invented. When asked, “Have you eaten from the tree that I commanded you not to eat from?” (Genesis 3:11), Adam boldly answered, “The woman You put here with me – she gave me some fruit from the tree, and I ate it” (verse 12).

Isn’t it amazing? Never in the short history of mankind had such a bald-faced lie been uttered, and yet Adam succeeded in such a doozey that no one has topped it in the thousands of years since. First, by implication, he blamed God for his wrongdoing. “You know that woman You put here with me? She told me to do it.” He might just as well have said, “God, it’s Your fault. If you hadn’t given Eve to me, I never would have thought of doing such a thing!”

Eve was hardly innocent in this first deception. When God asked what she had done, the first woman replied, “The serpent deceived me, and I ate” (Genesis 3:13). She didn’t redirect blame toward God, but did the next worst thing: She blamed Satan. Long before comedian Flip Wilson’s “Geraldine” character uttered the words, Eve was telling her Creator, “The devil made me do it!”

The Bible offers many other examples; Moses’ brother Aaron and Israel’s King Saul were world-class perpetrators.

When Moses was long overdue in descending from Mount Sinai where he was meeting with God, Aaron yielded to the demands of the Israelites and fashioned an idol, a golden calf, for them to worship. After Moses had come down from the mountain and confronted his brother, Aaron replied, “You know how prone these people are to evil…they gave me the gold, and I threw it into the fire, and out came this calf” (Exodus 32:19-24). In other words, Aaron said, “Hey, don’t blame it. It’s all their fault!” (Note: He also lied about how the calf came to be. Why stop with one untruth when you can commit two, right?)

Saul did much the same when the prophet Samuel’s arrival was later than expected and the fierce Philistines were approaching. The Scriptures say, “all the troops with him were quaking with fear.” Bowing to the grumbling of the Israelites, Saul performed sacrifices to God, a responsibility reserved exclusively for the Levitical priests.

When Samuel finally showed up, he asked a simple question, “What have you done?” Saul exhibited his buck-passing skills when he replied, “When I saw that the men were scattering, and that you did not come at the set time…I felt compelled to offer the burnt offering” (1 Samuel 12:7-14). With one ill-considered decision, one he would sadly replicate not long after, the king whose reign had started so well wrote his own a termination notice.

There are more examples, but it’s clear the Bible doesn’t sugarcoat the characters it presents, flawed, sinful individuals that for whatever reason decided denial was a better option than admission of guilt.

As I suggested early on, there are other ways we respond when our own wrongdoing is uncovered. But those will have to wait until next time, along with some thoughts about the pros and cons of “fessin’ up.”

Monday, April 24, 2017

Who Do You Think You Are?

Have you seen TV’s “Who Do You Think You Are?” Unlike most reality shows, it’s not contrived, and it addresses a common curiosity. It’s a genealogy documentary series in which celebrities trace their family roots. Lisa Kudrow, best-known as Phoebe on the “Friends” sitcom, serves as executive producer.

Visiting Ellis Island, where my
grandparents entered the USA,
got me asking myself,
"Who do you think you are?"
I’ve enjoyed watching stars such as Gwyneth Paltrow, Emmitt Smith, Reba McEntire, Smokey Robinson, Valerie Bertinelli and Josh Groban consult with genealogy experts to inquire about their ancestral lineage, uncovering backgrounds and histories that go back multiple generations. Along the way, they invariably find surprises, even discovering that some of their in-laws were in fact “outlaws.”  

They learn of ancestors who exhibited skills and interests similar to their own, whether it be artistic abilities, political activism, or personal grit and determination. Hence the “Who Do You Think You Are?” title, suggesting that perhaps human genes pass along more than skin tones, hair and eye colors, and other physical traits.

I experienced a bit of this when my wife and I visited Ellis Island in New York City, through which more than 12 million immigrants entered the United States from 1892 to 1954. Both sets of my grandparents came to the USA from Hungary, and through the Ellis Island archives, I could trace my grandfathers’ arrivals in the early 1900s. I can hardly imagine how they felt.

Following one’s ancestral line can be fascinating, trying to envision who Aunt Beatrice and great-great grandfather Herschel were and what their life experiences were like. How – if at all – did their lives help to shape who we’ve become?

This question, “Who do you think you are?” has spiritual application as well. For those of us who follow Jesus Christ, the answer we provide greatly affects how we approach every new day.

For instance, how many times have you heard a professing Christian humbly declare, “Well, I’m just a sinner saved by grace.” This is true in one respect, of course. But if this is the way we continually view ourselves each morning, embarking on another day solely as a sinner forgiven by the grace of God, we’re setting ourselves up for failure: “Guess I’ll go sin some more.”

Look at it this way: If you grew up and your parents constantly told you, “You’re a loser!” eventually you might have started perceiving yourself that way, resigning yourself to failing at whatever you tried to do. However, if they told you, “Honey, sure, you’re not going to succeed every time, but you’re a winner!” and you acted accordingly, wouldn’t you expect the outcomes of your endeavors to align with that thinking?

Consider this: Nowhere in the Bible do we find the specific phrase, “sinner saved by grace.” However, we do read, To the church of God which is at Corinth, to those who have been sanctified in Christ Jesus, saints by calling, with all who in every place call on the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, their Lord and ours(1 Corinthians 1:2). Then in Philippians 4:21, the apostle Paul writes, Greet every saint in Christ Jesus. The brethren who are with me greet you.”

If we study the Scriptures to determine what they really say about us, it becomes clear God views us as “saints who sin” rather than merely “sinners saved by grace.”

Years ago, I spent a couple of days with a friend, Loren, who had developed a Bible study called “The Real You from God’s Perspective.” This weekend revolutionized my spiritual life. It helped me realize my answer to “who do you think you are (as a follower of Jesus)” was woefully wrong.

I could write a book about what I learned – and continue to learn – but the bottom line is that I was trying to live the Christian life in my own strength, hoping for occasional “help” from God, when I already had the life and power of Jesus Christ working in me. But I had to realize it – and appropriate it.

Loren was not presenting some radical biblical interpretation, but an understanding that has been embraced by notable Christian teachers and writers such as A. W. Tozer, Andrew Murray, Oswald Chambers, Major Ian Thomas, Hudson Taylor, Fanny Crosby, and many others.

Many contemporary speakers and authors have emphasized this as well, including Dr. Neil T. Anderson, whose books include Who I Am in Christ. He has compiled a lengthy list of declarations from the Bible that inform of us who we are in Christ, instead of who we feel or think we are. Here’s just a sampling of scriptural truths Anderson presents that contrast who we typically think we are. According to God’s Word, we are:
  • God’s children (John 1:12).
  • Justified before God (Romans 5:1).
  • Belonging to God; we have been bought with a price (1 Corinthians 6:19-20).
  • Adopted as God’s children (Ephesians 1:5).
  • Free forever from condemnation (Romans 8:1-2).
  • Inseparable from the love of God (Romans 8:35-39).
  • Citizens of heaven (Philippians 3:20).
  • The salt and light of the earth (Matthew 5:13-14).
  • Chosen and appointed by Him to bear fruit (John 15:16).
  • God’s temple (1 Corinthians 3:16).
  • Seated with Christ in the heavenly realms (Ephesians 2:6).
  • God’s workmanship (Ephesians 2:10).
  • New creations in Christ (2 Corinthians 5:17, Galatians 2:20).

So, should anyone ask, “Who do you think you are?” or if you find yourself asking that question, don’t dare reply, “I’m just a sinner, saved by grace.” Because as you can see above – and we could cite many other passages – that’s not at all what the Bible says about us. And it’s God’s Word that counts!

Thursday, April 20, 2017

Retiring – or Re-firing?

Three months ago, I “retired.” After 15 years with Leaders Legacy, and 30 years before that with community newspapers and two marketplace ministries – CBMC and CBMC International, it made sense to launch a new season for my life and career.

Retirement and a hammock. To borrow from
an old Peggy Lee song, "is that all there is?"
Interestingly, my “life manual” – the Bible – says very little about retirement, at least in the way many of us think of it. From Genesis to Revelation, there’s absolutely nothing about quitting work to spend the rest of one’s life playing golf (or shuffleboard), traveling the countryside in the ole Winnebago, or simply rocking time away until someone decides we’re off our rocker.

The only direct reference to retirement in the Scriptures is found in Numbers 8:24-26, which speaks exclusively of the Levites who served as priests in the tabernacle: Men twenty-five years old or more shall come to take part in the work at the tent of meeting, but at the age of fifty, they must retire from their regular service and work no longer. They may assist their brothers in performing their duties at the tent of meeting, but they themselves must not do the work….”

There you have it, everything the Bible teaches about retirement. The term “retire” appears elsewhere, referring to sleep, or withdrawing from an area, but it seems God doesn’t think working for a long time and getting older justifies “retiring” as we typically consider it.

Does that mean it’s wrong to step away from the daily grind and start collecting Social Security, a pension, or an annuity – reaping the fruits of one’s labors? No, but as the old TV commercial used to say, “A mind is a terrible thing to waste.”

We hear a lot about conserving our natural resources. And I wholeheartedly concur. But what greater resource do we have than the accumulated wisdom and experience of older individuals who have learned much through their careers, as well as the process of everyday life? To withdraw from daily living to focus solely on oneself, failing to be good stewards in sharing with others the great lessons life’s journey has taught us – that doesn’t seem right.

As 2 Timothy 2:2 declares, “And the things you have heard me say in the presence of many witnesses entrust to reliable men who will also be qualified to teach others.” This biblical admonition urges us to “pay it forward” – and what better time for doing that than when we can take a break from the rat race of the workplace, or at least slow down the treadmill?

And just because someone qualifies for retirement benefits and can stop fretting over punching a timeclock – at least as often – that doesn’t mean they should cease making positive contributions to the world surrounding us. It might be an ideal time to “reinvent” ourselves and do some things we’ve always wanted to do, but couldn’t because of job obligations.

When I talked to a friend about my thoughts on retiring, explaining I planned to continue doing what I feel I do best – writing and editing – but in a different context, he wisely observed, “Well, it sounds like you’re not retiring. You’re simply re-firing.” I liked that. That’s basically what I had in mind.

Over a long career as a journalist I’ve figured out what I do best and enjoy the most. I’m also aware of a few things – dreams or aspirations – I’ve yet to fulfill. So rather than resting on my laurels (or anything else), I’ve launched a little business enterprise for the first time, ReadyWriter Ink.

I’ve always worked for a business or an organization, so this is my first time on my own. At the same time, I’m still not working just for myself. Because, as Colossians 3:23-24 tells us, “Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for men, since you know that you will receive an inheritance from the Lord as a reward. It is the Lord Christ you are serving.”

In fact, the name ReadyWriter Ink was inspired by Psalm 45:1, which says in part, “…I recite my composition concerning the King. My tongue is the pen of a ready writer.”

So, I don’t envision “retirement,” in the conventional sense, in my future – as long as my mind continues to work (which some already debate) and God keeps giving me ideas to write about. I’m not planning to buy one of those rocking chairs that decorate the porch at Cracker Barrel. I have no intention of taking up golf lessons, going fishing, or staring at the TV watching a baseball game ooze along at its snail’s pace.

I’m eager to see how my “re-firement” unfolds. I have some plans in mind, but as I’ve learned over the years, God’s plans are often different – and always better. There’s a season for everything, Ecclesiastes 3 tells us, and it will be fun seeing what this new one ultimately looks like.

How about you? Have you been giving any thought to retiring – I mean, re-firing?