A sad and revealing laugh

I recently saw an unusual news story that made me laugh.

There is a video on YouTube that shows a “Pastor” in Zimbabwe kissing one of the female members of his congregation.  On.the.lips.

Why, you ask? 

Apparently his kiss is able to remove a “demon from her body”.   The concept is so absurd I laughed.   This sarcastic thought ran through my mind,

“Nice logic there, Pastor.  You discover a demon in the attractive woman’s body that only your kiss can remove?  Very creative.”

In the video, the “Pastor” places his hands firmly on the woman’s face and gives her a prolonged kiss – directly on the lips.  After a few seconds, he suddenly pulls away – makes an exaggerated motion and spits on the ground, as if he still had some of the demonic residue in his mouth.  In his native tongue, he says a few words to the woman (with the rest of the congregation standing nearby) and once again, grabs her face and plants another long, intimate kiss on her lips.  The 50-second long video is weird, awkward and hard to watch.

Given the disparity of power (between Pastor and congregant), it’s hard to know if the woman is a willing participant or simply being an obedient churchgoer.  We do not know if she also thought she had a demon or if that was simply the Pastor’s “professional” opinion.  I’m pretty sure he alone came up with the unusual solution as his demon-removing remedy is found nowhere in Scripture.  Interestingly, no one in the congregation tries to stop this behavior even as many seem uncomfortable with the exercise – except of course, the Pastor.

Finding the whole story bizarre and amusing, I copied the link and posted it on my personal Facebook page with this commentary:

“I’m pretty sure this ‘Pastor’ is taking the

“greet one another with a holy kiss” verse

completely out of context.”

It was meant to be a joke.  For those who are unfamiliar with this Bible verse, I was referencing one of several passages in the New Testament (1 Corinthians 16:20, 2 Corinthians 13:12, Romans 16:16, etc) where the Apostle Paul instructs the members of the Church to “greet each other with a holy kiss”.  (For the record, scholars debate as to what Paul meant by that phrase or what makes a kiss holy.  No reasonable biblical scholar believes, however, that it has anything to do with the exorcism of demons.)

Within minutes of posting, several male friends also found it entertaining as evidenced by their feedback.  It wasn’t until several comments later, accompanied by an anger emoji, that got my attention.  The writer, a female friend, was clearly not finding any piece of this story humorous.  To be honest, I wasn’t expecting that reaction and it made me suddenly aware that perhaps my perspective on this event was “off”.   

As the post sat there on my wall for all my friends to see… I had a growing, gnawing “check” in my spirit.  Something suddenly didn’t feel right about it.  It was meant to be funny… but was it?  I mean, the guys laughed but the other gender of my audience clearly felt an emotion other than laughter.  

I sent the link and my comment to an advocate for abused women, someone who has experienced abuse as a woman and now counsels dozens in the thick of it.  I was curious to see how she would interpret this story.  As I expected, she sized up the scenario with alarming precision and speed.  She wrote back,

“It’s literally a video of real sexual and spiritual abuse.”

It is?, I thought.   

Her words were jarring.  Did I really just post a video showing abuse?  I actually found THAT funny??  I started to wonder, is this an issue of an overly sensitive woman or completely desensitized men?

Then she asked me,

“Why do you want to post that?”

Good question.  Why did I want to post that?

Over the last few weeks, I’ve been thinking about this video and my initial response to it.

As a man who has never experienced sexual assault or abuse, I only saw  the ridiculous claim that a kiss can exorcise a demon.  Somehow, I missed the part where another human being was being placed in an objectified position by someone who is supposed to pastor/protect her.   A woman was being abused in the name of God or church or faith or healing and my knee-jerk reaction was laughter.  

I started to realize that it’s possible (if not easy) for some of us to stare sexual or spiritual abuse in the face and not even recognize it for what it is.

We shrug it off.

We laugh it off. 

We excuse it off.

We dismiss it away. 

We deny it exists. 

We call it by a different name. 

We view it under the guise of being silly or cute or playful or harmless.

But it isn’t.

Pornography is another great example of this type of verbal gymnastics.  We call it “porn” but when you think about it – it is really the abuse of vulnerable women (or children), caught on tape, for the pleasure of men. 

What would happen if we started calling it by it’s evil, ugly, detailed description instead of by it’s less damning, abbreviated four letter word? 

As a full-fledged sinner with some major league sins under my belt, I understand the temptation to name the wrong we do in more palatable ways.   It’s easier to think we “borrowed” that which we actually stole.

It is not uncommon for me to receive a phone call from several male friends who ask for prayer or accountability because of their “struggle” or “thorn” or “lack of purity”. 

What if these prayer requests and admissions of guilt were more specific in their vernacular?

What if the phone call went something like this,

“Rod,

  • “I’m tempted to watch videos of really vulnerable women get abused sexually.”   OR
  • “I get turned on by watching naked men treat naked women with disdain and cruelty.”  OR
  • “I secretly enjoy watching videos of prostitution.”  OR
  • “I like to go into a dark room, pull my pants down and watch other men hurt and degrade women.  This experience brings me pleasure.”

It’s not easy to read those sentences (or write them!), let alone admit this vice might tempt you.  And yet, until we see abuse for what it is, we’ll never really address it.  And we can’t address anything unless we recognize it for what it is.  I mean, this is 12 step process 101.

Step 1: Admit you have a problem.

 

I have to do better in this area.  

We, as men, have to do better in this area.  

We have to see what’s going on, under our noses, in broad daylight.  We have to be willing to call out our friends, neighbors, co-workers, parents, relatives, Pastors or any other person perpetuating abusive situations, even those perpetuated by ignorance.  Our ladies need this from us.  The gospel requires this of us.  Our Christian witness is begging this from us.

Somehow I stared sexual and spiritual abuse in the face and laughed at it. 

If I missed this, what else am I not seeing?

May God open our eyes and allow us to see people (especially those on a video we will never meet) through His lens and grant us the courage to stand up and defend those who are vulnerable or defenseless.

“Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things.” Philippians 4:8

 

For the record, I took down the post from my Facebook page.

What’s her face?

A few years ago I was in a Lowes Hardware store with a friend, picking up some home improvement items. After 15 minutes in the store, we headed to the checkout lane and had a brief but fun conversation with the woman at the checkout counter. She was professional, efficient and clearly enjoying her job. If there was an evaluation form to fill out – she’d definitely receive high marks.

As I was leaving the store, I turned to my friend and made an impromptu bet with him. I told him I would give him every dollar I had in my pocket (over $20) if he could tell me the name of the woman who just spent the last 10 minutes with us.

“You mean the lady at the counter?”, he asked.

“Yep. Her. What was her name?”

“She didn’t tell us that”, he tried to explain away.

“It was on her name tag, in plain sight”, I quipped back.

He studied my face to see if I was serious about this bet.

I was.

Then, as expected, I realized my bet paid off. In spite of the time we just spent with another human being – he had no idea what her name was – even though it was clearly and prominently displayed on her shirt for all to see.

Determined to take my money, over the next few minutes on the ride back to my place, my friend racked his brain to remember her name – to see if his subconscious mind somehow picked it up. In desperation, he began throwing out every female name he could think of:

  • “Jenny?” Nope.
  • “Susan?” Nope.
  • “Jill? Erica? Emily? Rachel? Samantha? Gertrude?” Nope, nope, nope.

His countenance changed when he realized he was not going to be $20 richer that night.

How often do we do this? How often do we overlook the people closest to us who make it their career to serve us? Flight attendants? Hotel lobby employees? Custodians at work? Restaurant waiters? Uber drivers? Postal workers? Cashiers? If we pay attention, there is a world of people all around us – some of whom have names on a sign for us to see…. and somehow…

we

still

don’t

see

them.

Names are important to people.  Don’t believe me?  Call someone by the wrong name and watch their reaction.

 

Names are also important to God.

In Genesis 1, we are told that “God made two great lights: the greater light to rule the day and the lesser light to rule the night.” 

Obviously, we know them as the Sun and Moon.  Immediately after this verse, almost as an afterthought, the writer of the book of Genesis throws out this side comment, “He made the stars as well.”  (verse 16)

By the way, He made the stars as well.

By the way, I discovered the cure for cancer.

By the way, I saved 15% on my car insurance last night.  I mean, verse 16 makes the creating of stars seem as trivial as a Geico commercial.

Our brightest scientists (conservatively) estimate there are over 100 million stars in our galaxy alone.  In the mid-90’s, the Hubble Deep Field estimated that there are over 2 trillion galaxies in the observable universe.

That’s trillion with a T.

Galaxies with a G.

If all of those galaxies had the same number of stars as ours, that number comes to….

A LOT.

Like 1,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000 (24 zeroes)

Apparently new research shows that this estimate is at least 10 times too low.  And according to Christopher Conselice of the University of Nottingham, U.K., over 90 percent of the galaxies in the universe have yet to be studied.

Why do I take the time to point out the insane number of stars?

Because of Psalm 147:4.  If the sheer magnitude of the number of stars doesn’t blow you away, then Psalm 147:4 will:

“He (God) determines the number of the stars and calls them each by name.”

God doesn’t identify them with a number (which actually makes more sense)… He has a personal name for each one of them.

Every.single.one.

With this as a backdrop, you can appreciate a bit of divine sarcasm when God takes Abraham outside (Genesis 15) in a subtle, double-dog-dare-you tone and says, “Look up at the sky and count the stars — if indeed you can count them.” 

While Abraham can’t even count them, God, the ultimate Show-Off, names them.

How?  Why?  Why bother?  I mean, why name something that will never be visited or inhabited, discovered, counted or known?

Because names are important to God.

In fact, God’s first assignment to the earth’s first man was to name the animals. (Genesis 2:19)

Throughout the course of human history, God has called His people by name:

“Moses, Moses” (Exodus 3:4)

“Samuel, Samuel” (I Samuel 3:4)

“Martha, Martha” (Luke 10:41)

“Saul, Saul” (Acts 9:4)

Names are important to God.  And no name is more important to Him than His Son’s which is why explicit instructions were given to Joseph about what that name would be:

“…an angel of the Lord appeared to (Joseph) in a dream and said, “Joseph son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary home as your wife, because what is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit.  She will give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins.” (Matthew 1:21)

Jesus.  The name literally means “God is salvation”.

When the prophet Isaiah predicted the birth of Christ (700 years beforehand) he wrote, “Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a Son, and shall call His name Immanuel.”  (Isaiah 7:14)

Immanuel literally translated means “God with us”.

Is the Bible contradicting itself? Did Isaiah get the prophecy wrong?  He predicted a virgin birth but messed up the name? Or did the angel not get the 700 year old memo?  Is His name Jesus or Immanuel?

It’s both.

In both names, God is communicating more than a name, but His heart’s mission:

“My Son is coming on a rescue mission to be with you.” 

As the Apostle John later penned, The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us.” (John 1:14)

In order to save us, He had to be with us.  No wonder His name is above all names.

The next time you see a name tag, remember the name on it.

Because names are important to God, they need to be important to us.

 

 

 

Gently. Did we forget that part?

Almost monthly, I receive an email, text message or phone call from someone, somewhere dealing with the fallout of being “caught” in a sin. Sometimes it’s the guilty party reaching out to me personally. Other times it’s the ones who have done the catching. In all cases, trust is broken, lives are damaged, hearts are hurting and the person on the other end of the phone needs help or a healthy dose of hope, stat.

I used to be surprised by the caller’s admission or heartbreaking tale. Given my personal understanding of the human heart, our propensity for trouble, and the staggering number of poor choices in our current culture – nothing really shocks me anymore. What actually surprises me more than anything is how others treat those who have fallen, especially in the church.

Not the actual car, but that’s what it looked like.

Years ago, driving home late one night, I glanced at my rear view mirror and saw a plume of white smoke off the side of the road I had just passed.  I realized quickly that something must have happened in the 30 seconds since I drove by.  Curiosity got the best of me and I turned around to find myself as the first person on the scene of a really bad accident.  The car, driven by bikini-wearing college female, had gone off the side of the road and into a formidable tree. When I got to her, she was slumped over the steering wheel, moaning, badly injured.  Windshield glass was all over the front seat.  Music from her car radio was blaring.  Smoke was pouring out from under her crumpled hood.  It reminded me of a movie scene where you had mere seconds to get the person out of the vehicle before the car blew up.  The whole moment was surreal and moving in slow motion.  As I was trying to figure out what happened and how to help her, one smell was undeniable:

Alcohol.

She was driving drunk!  How dare she!

I stopped helping her and instinctively began to interrogate her:

“Were you drinking?”, I asked.

“How could you drink and drive!?  Don’t you know how dangerous this is?!  Or that it’s illegal??”

She said nothing, just moaned.

I continued, “I hope you are happy with yourself. You could have killed someone! Or yourself!  Or me!”

She ignored my litany of anger.

“You do realize you are going to jail, right?”

No response.   Just more silence.

I would tell you the rest of our conversation except I can’t.  It never happened.

Don’t get me wrong, the crash was real.

So was the girl, her bikini, the smoking car and her injuries.

But the conversation never happened.

How could it?  She wasn’t in any condition to talk and I wasn’t sure if she had suffered life threatening injuries.  My primary concern was to get her safely out of the car in case it blew up.  (It didn’t)

I have thought about that crash and that girl several times over the last 30 years and wondered what happened to her.  I trust she recovered and learned whatever lessons she needed to from that experience.

But her crash reminded me of another crash I heard about last week, when another reckless driver drove his life off the side of the road.  He wasn’t in a physical car, just a metaphorical one. Instead of hitting a tree, he hit the reality of losing his marriage. Alcohol wasn’t his downfall, an affair was. The injuries he sustained were not physical – just emotional and mental and spiritual and social and financial and…threatening life as he knew it.  His marital car is about to blow.

Two car wrecks.  Two wrecked lives.  Two different causes of their consequences.

If you were to ask the girl if she received help or support immediately following her wreck, she would tell you yes.  Lots of it.  After I arrived, three more cars stopped to help me.  Followed by a couple of police officers, a firetruck and one ambulance.  By the time I left the scene, after 1:00 am, she was in good hands and stable.

I asked the man how his church has responded to his wrecked life. His answer, though disappointing, was not surprising.  Very few have reached out to him.  His wife was triaged and has received a ton of support (as she should!)… but as for him, he’s been largely left to help himself out of the mangled mess.

There seems to be a big difference in how we treat those with physical injuries versus those who suffer from moral ones.  When someone is physically injured, we run to their aid instantly, even if they were drunk driving. We don’t hold back assistance or support, even if their injuries were self-inflicted.  Why?

If you’ve ever committed major league sins around minor league sinners, you know what I’m talking about.  The following seems to get hurled your direction, post-haste:

  • Judgment.
  • Condemnation.
  • Shame.
  • Guilt.
  • Ostracizing.
  • Excommunication.
  • Shunning.
  • Gossip.
  • Silence.

Why?  Why do we run to help someone who falls physically but seemingly walk (or crawl) to help the one who fell morally?  Do we value our skin over our soul?  Our physical well-being over our emotional one?

 

The Apostle Paul addressed this very issue when writing to the church in Galatia.  He addresses his letter to fellow believers and gives them explicit instructions on how to deal with someone who has driven their moral chariot off the road:

“Brothers and sisters, if someone is caught in a sin, you who live by the Spirit should restore that person gently. But watch yourselves, or you also may be tempted. Carry each other’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ.” (Galatians 6:2-3)

What is your response when you see a stranger suffer a physical injury?

What is your response when you see a friend suffer a moral one?

Listen, the truth is – sometimes we drive our perfectly good vehicles off the road and into trees? Why?

Because we are “caught” in a sin.

That night, the girl drank too much beer.  Another man might look at too much porn.  The homeless Vet abuses too much heroin.  The embezzler takes too much money.  The glutton eats too much food.  I’m not justifying their behavior or condoning their choices as much as I’m saying – these people need our help and support, just as much as those who have sustained a physical injury.

If we are willing to rush towards a physically injured stranger and offer assistance without judgment, why can’t we do the same for someone injured morally in our church?

 

Paul is reminding his church, those who live by the Spirit… that they need to do four things:

  1. Restore that person.
  2. Restore them gently.
  3. Watch themselves in the process.
  4. Carry each other’s burdens.

Did you see his reason why?  Because doing THOSE four things “fulfills the law of Christ”.

The next time you hear of someone who has driven their moral car into a tree,

Call them.

Visit them.

Hug them.

Restore them.

 

And do it gently…..

 

And watch yourself in the process because your car could crash there too.

My Salvage Title

I’ve been helping a friend find a new car and the exercise has been mildly frustrating.  After narrowing the search to a particular make and model, we’ve been on a mission to find something under budget.   It seems that just when we find a car under budget, we discover it comes with really high mileage.  When we find a vehicle well under the desired mileage it seems to inevitably lack certain “essential” features she really wanted – luxuries like wheels, doors, etc.   We’ve been searching online for weeks and the perfect car continues to elude us.

Until today.

On the outside, it looked showroom worthy.  On the inside, the pictures looked immaculate.   Not only did it come under both budget and mileage (with wheels and doors!) but it also included a lot of extras she really desired; sunroof, leather seats, backup camera, power everything and even seat warmers.   I called the dealership to find out more details about this gem and why it seemed too good to be true.

Alex (the salesman) is very positive about this car.   Even though it’s been on his lot for months, he assures me it’s a very good deal and car.   It is not lost on me that I’m speaking with a salesman.   Though I’m certainly impressed with the pictures and overall stats, I want to learn more.   I ask a few more probing questions and receive all the answers I want to hear.   Seldom is heard a discouraging word when speaking with a used car salesman.   I thanked him for his time and hung up.

I’ll admit, it does sound good. It’s under budget.  It’s under the mileage limit she was comfortable purchasing.   It certainly has all the bells and whistles that she wants.   She’s been without a decent car for so long that I know she’d be thrilled to finally have something newer and more reliable.   I mean, it even has seat warmers.   It must be God’s will.

But something seems off.    It feels too good to be true.   I don’t know this specific car or its previous owners and I certainly don’t know Alex or anything about his business or level of integrity.   Though he admitted going to church, I have come to realize that doesn’t always mean that will ensure a trust-worthy transaction.  Sadly, not all “Christians” are as honest as their Christ, especially when they have a “shekel” to gain in the process.

I decided to get on the phone and contact a good friend who is in the automotive industry, at the service department of a large dealership.   If anyone knows cars, it’s Tim.  I run the specs by him and he asks for the VIN # of the car we are looking at.   With this number, Tim is able to instantly look up the history of the vehicle and find out exactly what’s been reported on it over the last few years.  After a few minutes, Tim revealed why the car was priced so cheaply;

It has a salvage title.

A salvage title is given when that vehicle has been significantly damaged and/or deemed a total loss by an insurance company that paid a claim on it.  In other words, it is declared “salvage” when the insurer determines that the repair or replacement cost is in excess of approximately 70% of its market value at the time of the accident.

Though we were disappointed to learn this information, we were grateful we took the time to ask someone in-the-know about the car’s invisibly sordid past. Somehow Alex failed to mention the car’s accident history.   Shocking.

I’ve been pondering this revelation all day today.   I’ve come to realize that in some ways, we are very much like the cars I’ve been looking at.  We come in all shapes and sizes and varying makes and models.   Some look more appealing on the outside.   Others have an amazing interior.   Some even have both.   However, all of us – regardless of our age – have a history.   All of us, in some way, have some mileage in our past.

The truth is if you have parents, have been through middle school or college, have been married, divorced or have children – you come with some extra mileage that is hard to hide or ignore.   You might still look good on the outside, but your accident report has some pages in it.  Many of my readers have been in “accidents” where their vehicles have been severely damaged.   Speaking personally, I’ve experienced too many “wrecks” to count.  On top of the normal “fender benders,” I’ve received a plethora of moral dents from reckless driving, have been totaled in a divorce and show a lot of “wear and tear” that comes with high mileage on rough terrain.   Simply put, if I was a car – I would have a salvage title too.  Regrettably, I have caused significant damage and have been deemed (by some) a total loss.

I’ve thought about the car a lot today and how I relate to its depressing predicament.   I know what it’s like to experience a life-changing crash and the time and cost it takes to rebuild and look towards a future use.   A new hood, a new engine, a new paint job are all part of the fix, but in the end – I still have a salvage title, a pointer to a past I just can’t change or ignore.

Here’s the painful reality for those who relate to my position.  There are some “car buyers” that won’t look our direction.  There are “insurance carriers” who will deem us a total loss, in spite of our improved changes.   There are “drivers” who would not feel safe taking a ride in our car.   There will always be a tire-kicker who will point to our salvage title and use that as an excuse to keep us on the lot.  And like it or not, they have the freedom to make that choice.

If anyone knew what it was like to be a demolished car in the queue for the trash compactor, it was the thief on the cross.  To say he had destroyed his car was an understatement.  If anyone had a salvage title, it was him.   His rap sheet had more dents than a demolition derby car.   Not only had he traveled too many miles, he was simply out of gas.  A human court deemed his life a total loss.  His wrecked life was about to be traded in at the Dealership and within a few hours, life as he knew it was over.  I could drag on the illustration further, but you get the point.  If you know the story (Luke 23), you know his salvage title was replaced with a clean one.  The Dealer graciously took his broken Prius and offered him Paradise instead.   The jalopy got Jesus.  (Ok, I’ll stop)

And likewise, our moral salvage title has been replaced with a clean one, in Christ.

As hard as that is to accept some days, I take refuge in the fact that my God loves restoring old vehicles.  He’s a God who delights in the redemption process and sees value in the cars that others consider too damaged or with too many miles.

If you find yourself struggling with the condition of your vehicle or title status, be encouraged.  There is a Master Mechanic who can not only fix the pieces that have been wrecked but can replace your current title with His and allow you to still travel to places of grace.

“If anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation.  The old has gone.  The new has come.” (I Corinthians 5:17)

I. remain. available.

You have to live under a rock or be completely off the grid to not hear the news of the latest sexual scandal that is rocking the core of Hollywood’s elite.  One of Hollywood’s biggest names is having to answer for multiple skeletons coming out of his closet at an alarming rate, from rape to unwanted sexual advances and every accusation in-between.  This story is dominating the headlines and overshadowing international news – no small feat with the current circus-like administration.  Given the man’s high profile nature, we should expect to find more and more women who will finally come forward and tell their tale.

Sexual misconduct and scandal are not uncommon news stories among the celebrity culture we live in.  Every few months we learn of a politician, athlete, musician or actor who finds themselves at the epicenter of immoral controversy.  Sadly, the sinful details don’t surprise me anymore.  Every human heart is capable of every evil deed.   I know (first-hand) what it’s like to live a double life and shock your inner circle.

While Harvey’s sins have been described as “egregious” and “disgusting” what struck me today was not the depravity of the deeds but the response of his friend.

Another Hollywood mogul and long-time friend (Jeffrey Katzenberg) wrote the following in an email to his friend, now made public:

“You have done terrible things to a number of women over a period of years.

I cannot in any way say this is OK with me…It’s not at all, and I am sickened by it, angry with you and incredibly disappointed in you.

There appear to be two Harvey Weinsteins…one that I have known well, appreciated and admired and another that I have not known at all.

As someone who has been a friend of yours for 30 years, I’m available to give you advice on how to at least try to make amends, if possible address those that you’ve wronged, and just possibly find a path to heal and redeem yourself. Having watched your reactions, seen the actions you have taken and read your statement, I will tell you, in my opinion, you have gone about this all wrong and you are continuing to make a horrible set of circumstances even worse.

I doubt this is what you want to hear from me and most likely you aren’t interested in my advice but this is the way I see it.  I remain available.”   – JK

****************************

I can sympathize with the accused.  As a man who once held a high profile position of sorts, I have had to come to terms with the countless demons from my past while in the fishbowl of public scrutiny.  Though our sins are quite different, the ash-heap he currently sits in is the same.  More and more people are distancing themselves from Harvey as they don’t want their name (or brand) associated with Hollywood’s latest leper.  I remember all too well the mass exodus of relationships that I experienced when my sins were made public many years ago.  It’s a special type of rejection.   It’s an acute emotional pain – even if we “deserve it.”

I understand Mr. Katzenberg’s reaction.  He’s naturally “sickened,” “angry” and “disappointed.”  He’s coming to grips with the reality that there was a Harvey he never knew, a shocking revelation from someone he spent 30 years “knowing.”

It’s easy to be disgusted by someone’s behavior, especially if those behaviors are truly foreign to your own temptations.  It’s easy to pick up a stone of judgment and throw it at the accused, especially when everyone would agree he deserves the social pummeling.   It’s easy to “write off” a relationship – especially when that relationship was – at its core – deceptive.  In fact, it’d be easier to just quietly walk away justifying that he’s a “lost cause.”  Why write an email or spend more time in this fallen friendship when Mr. Katzenberg undoubtedly has hundreds of other friends who are more palatable to love?

I think that is what struck me about Mr. Katzenberg’s email.  He chose not to do any of the easy choices before him.  While he rightfully condemns Harvey’s actions, he doesn’t change his phone number.  He hates Harvey’s sin but does not hate Harvey the sinner.  He doesn’t distance himself from leprosy.  He doesn’t try to protect his brand.  Going against the powerful public flow, he drops the rock of judgment, offers to sit down in the ash-heap and communicates the 3 most important words that every Harvey longs to hear:

I. remain. available.

 

Even now.

Prior to these painful revelations, the world was available to Harvey.

  • He had a good reputation.
  • He had respect.
  • He had power.
  • He had prestige.
  • He had money.
  • He had connections.
  • He had clout.

He had everything that everyone (Hollywood or not) wanted to have.  Weeks later, he’s virtually lost it all.  There is simply no room for such luxuries on an ash-heap.  Celebrities cannot distance themselves fast enough. Politicians who gladly accepted his enormous campaign donations suddenly find themselves unwilling to lend him a moral penny in his greatest hour of need.  History has shown humans to be fickle like that.  One week we can shout “Hosanna in the highest” and the next week, “Crucify Him.”  Without a doubt, Harvey can count on one hand the number of friends who “remain available,” especially publicly.

Contrast this news story with the other dominating news story this week; the raging fires in California.   The devastation is surreal and hard to watch.   Dozens are dead, hundreds have lost homes and thousands are now displaced with little idea of what to do next.   As I watch the fires burn, I hear the emerging stories of the first responders, the brave souls who are going in when others are going out.  While the masses are running from, these heroes are running to.   Why?   Why would someone risk so much to save a total stranger?   Money?  Fame?  Prestige?  What motivates a first responder to commit such acts of bravery – especially with nothing to personally gain?   I think there is only one answer:

Because the ones in danger are worth saving.

At this point, few probably think that Harvey is worth saving.  Like the fire, his deeds have caused enormous damage and have left a trail of destruction for those he burned.  Harvey himself may wonder if the “path to healing and redemption” are possible, let alone worth it.

This is why Katzenberg’s email is not only remarkable but necessary to highlight.   He’s running to his friend while everyone else is running from.  It doesn’t minimize the victim’s plight or the weight of Harvey’s actions.  It doesn’t ignore the fact that there are very real consequences (professionally, socially and legally) that may need to be faced.  But it shows us something that few understand the importance of – especially in the midst of public failure; healing and redemption are necessary pursuits.

Because Harvey has money?   No.  Because he makes good films?   No.

Simply because Harvey has value even when his actions are worthless.

The ignorant tend to put people into two categories; good and bad.   If someone does an action I like, they are good.  If someone does an action that hurts me, they are bad.  We are much too complicated to be labeled like that.  The problem is that all of us, according to the Bible, have done bad and fallen short of the Heavenly standard (Romans 3).  While some sins cause greater damage and deliver greater consequences – all sins place us on common ground – in the soiled ash-heap.  G.K. Chesterton summarizes the human condition best, “There is but an inch of difference between a cushioned chamber and a padded cell.”

The truth is, wounded people wound people and we are all wounded.  We tend to hurt others in the areas where we lack healing and no amount of money, fame or accomplishment changes that.  I’m not justifying Harvey’s actions, merely explaining them.  Unless we find healing, we will continue to hurt others.  And sometimes we need help finding healing.

While the masses are distancing themselves from Harvey, Katzenberg offers proximity, healing, help, and hope.

His three-word response should challenge all of us the next time we discover the moral leper in our midst:

I remain available.

Do you?

 

  • “If anyone is caught in a sin, who you are spiritual, should restore him gently.” (Galatians 6:2)
  • “While we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.” (Romans 5:8)

 

 

Lessons from a suicidal cat

Earlier this week, I saw a kitten dart onto a very busy, heavily trafficked street.  I knew immediately that this was not going to end well.  (You have been warned.)

It’s commonly held that cats have nine lives.  I was convinced I was going to see one of hers vanish right before my eyes.  In fact, I was shocked the cat did not meet an instant, painful death.  Somehow, it barely avoided being struck by a truck and found its way underneath – momentarily safe.

The wind of the moving truck must have knocked it off balance and she began rolling end over end.   With the truck driving on and other traffic fast approaching, the feline was clearly off-balance and disoriented. As she got back on all fours – she darted one direction and then suddenly the other.   She moved with the erratic grace of a schizophrenic squirrel.  Clearly recognizing her life-threatening environment, she sprinted to the curb narrowly missing other vehicles and instinctively leaped over the nearby guard rail – presumably for safety.

lessons from a suicidal catAfter watching a heart wrenching eight seconds of Frogger, I was excited to see the little gal make it to safety.  Then, my heart dropped.   I realized the guard rail she leaped over was…

…on a bridge that led to a busy highway some fifty feet below.  #thiscatonlyhadonelife

I’ve had a few days to process this disturbing scene and came away with some thoughts that apply to our human experience:

Sometimes we make really poor decisions because we are lost, scared and unaware of their consequences.

As I look back at my life at some of the poor decisions I have made, the worst moments were often made when I was emotionally or spiritually scrambling.  Like the kitten, I was standing in the middle of oncoming relational traffic and simply trying to survive.   I moved right or left – not because they were the best places to go but simply because it avoided me getting run over from the particular truck I was facing at the moment.  In such a chaotic state, ones thinking is clouded and it’s almost impossible to know the impact of your decisions – especially on those who love and depend on you.  This cat was stuck in a physically lethal rut.  Many times, we find ourselves in emotional ones.

I’m not sure what enticed the cat to run into oncoming traffic.  Maybe it was a blind mouse?  Perhaps it was spooked by something else and that seemed like the best decision in the moment?   Sometimes it takes situations like these for clarity to kick in.  From that point on, this kitten found herself in over her head and doing her best to survive.  She wanted help but had no idea where to get it.   Can you relate?

You’ve seen this scenario before, maybe not with cats but people;

  • The homeless man begging for food.
  • The divorced Mom looking for love in all the wrong places.
  • The young professional who escapes to porn.
  • The alcoholic step-Dad with an anger issue.
  • The teenage girl who cuts herself.
  • The church leader who drinks more than he prays.

Regardless of age or gender, we see hurting people all the time just trying to survive their particular pain and their choice of survival seems counter-productive, if not self-destructive. Relationships and trust are damaged in these dangerous environments.

As I have surveyed the landscape of hurting people, I have noticed two things to be true.

One, we tend to judge those who sin differently than us.   It’s easy to condemn pornography when you struggle with gluttony.   It’s effortless to throw a moral stone at an adulterer when your darling sin is cursing.   As long as you find a vice in another that makes your vice look less menacing, you perpetuate a wrong attitude toward those who are just as sinful as you, just struggling with a different sin.

Last week, I was sitting in my buddy’s truck at a red light.  A few seconds later we heard a horrible crash outside my passenger window and saw three cars next to ours involved in a pile up at the light.  Instantly, I jumped out of his vehicle and ran over to the cars involved, two of which had their airbags deployed and clearly had drivers in need of medical attention. As I attended the scene as the first person on site, I didn’t ask who was responsible.  I didn’t try to figure out fault. That needed to come later from someone more qualified than myself.  My job was simply to help the hurting.

This brings me to my second point:

We seem to have more compassion for those in a physical mess and less sympathy for those in a moral one.  We naturally want to help a cute kitten in traffic.  They deserve to be rescued.  As for the home wreckers, they simply need to be hung.   When someone is in a car accident, we suspend judgment and rush to offer sympathies and aid.   We don’t find out who was responsible for the wreck and determine their treatment based on that.  But when the “wreck” is entirely moral or relational in nature, we will often let the instigator rot in their emotional collision.  Why is that?  Why are we quick to help those in physical pain but gossip, slander and withhold our assistance from those writhing in moral pain?

To be clear, I’m not trying to defend the decisions of those who make poor moral choices.  I’m merely suggesting that those of us who have fallen morally have done so because we were lost, scared, and in our own pain and unaware of the inevitable consequences – as obvious as they may be.  Perhaps it is because we cannot understand their sin therefore it’s easier to judge it?

And this leads me to the second lesson of the fallen cat:

Oftentimes, all we need is someone (on the outside) willing to help us find our way home.

The cat, almost immediately, needed help.   She knew she was in trouble.  She knew she needed assistance.  If only she had someone on the outside in a position to help her, she would still be with us today.   Most anyone would “jump in” to help a struggling kitten but we are less likely to offer the same enthusiasm to help a stranger in need, especially if their need is self-inflicted.  We are even more reluctant to help someone who sins egregiously because they “deserve whatever comes to them.”   Instead of realizing “there but by the grace of God go I” – we quickly climb our shaky moral ladder to the ivory tower of pride and throw as many stones as we can at those who desperately need support.

How does a homeless man get a second chance?  How do people recover from an addiction?  How does a divorced person rebound from a broken family?   How does someone who’s been evicted find housing again?   Usually only with help.   Like the cat on the street, they aren’t going to make it without some assistance.

You know what I didn’t see that day?   A bunch of other cats on the curb condemning their feline counterpart.   The kitten’s parents weren’t there meowing their disapproval at the cat’s poor decision.  The cat’s neighbors, siblings or “friends” were not there hissing at the cat’s predicament.  Apparently only we do that.   Had the cat family been there to witness it, they would have done anything they could to save the life of their feline.   And once she was safe, on the curb, they would have licked her wounds and nurtured her back to health.

Sadly, we rarely do that.   We like to give lectures.  We like to point out the mistakes.  We enjoy making others feel bad for the wrong decisions they make.   We revel in the “I told you so” moments – especially when our advice is revealed as wise.   But is that what is really needed?   Can a lecture bring healing like a hug can?   Does pointing out the mistakes create the “aha” moment, or do “aha” moments more frequently come with grace?

Years ago, I had a close friend who confessed to me, in a moment of transparency – a moral failure he had experienced with his (at the time) girlfriend.   As a fellow Christian and youth worker, I was shocked that he had fallen into such sin.  I couldn’t believe he didn’t keep a higher sexual standard.  I was disappointed in his lack of self control and repeated nature of the offense and let him know so.  I tried to be compassionate but truthfully, it felt manufactured.  In case he didn’t feel bad enough for his mistake, I felt the moral obligation to let him know my disappointment.  Looking back, I felt it was my duty to express moral outrage and God’s displeasure.  I handled it all wrong.

Fast forward 20 years.   I was now the one in the position to confess.  I needed to come clean about the double life I had been living, while in the ministry, and share my sins with this dear brother in the faith.  I fully deserved a verbal lashing.  I was completely expecting him to throw the first stone at me.  In fact, to save time – he could have just used the one I hit him with some two decades earlier.  I braced myself for judgment, however, it never came.  Instead, of feeling the guilitine, I felt grace.  Instead of condemnation, he offered compassion.  I can’t even begin to tell you how healing that was for me.  It didn’t excuse my behavior.  He didn’t condone my actions.  It didn’t remove any consequences.  But he did something that day that lectures and sermons and ostracization just can’t do:

Bring healing.

He rolled up his sleeves and tried to help, as someone who truly understood the temptation and struggle. In doing so, he helped me come home.

Is there anything better than that?   The prodigal son didn’t think so (Luke 15).   After years of poor decisions and reckless choices, he came back to the only place that ever truly loved him:

Home.

And what was waiting for him?

  • A lecture?    Nope.
  • A cold shoulder?   Nope.
  • Harsh treatment?   Nope.
  • A long list of things he had to do to get back in good standing?   Nope.

He was greeted with a hug.  And given clean clothes and a huge party and a second chance.

Who does that?

Someone who understands what it’s like to be in the middle of rush hour traffic without a prayer.

For those of you out there who relate to the cat, this message is for you:

Come home.

 

It’s time.

 

I lift up my eyes to the mountains—where does my help come from?
My help comes from the Lordthe Maker of heaven and earth.  He will not let your foot slip – he who watches over you will not slumber; indeed, he who watches over Israel will neither slumber nor sleep.  The Lord watches over you—the Lord is your shade at your right hand; the sun will not harm you by day, nor the moon by night.  The Lord will keep you from all harm—he will watch over your life;  the Lord will watch over your coming and going both now and forevermore.” – Psalm 121

 

A father’s warning against adultery

For thousands of years, parents have been giving their children advice at all different times for all different reasons and on all different topics:andrew and me walking

  • “Eat your vegetables”
  • “Sit still”
  • “Take a bath”
  • “Go to sleep”
  • “Say thank you”
  • “Clean your room”
  • “Be kind”

If we are honest, most of the time that advice is unwanted and unsolicited – which is why we so desperately need it.  No kid ever runs with scissors thinking, “I wish I had a ‘grownup’ to tell me if this is a good idea.”   No child ponders the many benefits of bathing.

Instead, as the Scriptures teach, “foolishness is bound up within the heart of a child.” (Proverbs 22:15)  This makes sense.  Since a small child has never touched a hot stove before, how can they possibly know the pain that is about to scream in their small fingers?   Children don’t know what they don’t know.  This is one of the primary reasons why we need parents in our lives to help guide us along the way.  Parents have often been where children are heading.  Our scars come from a painful past.  Even if we haven’t touched the proverbial stove ourselves, we’ve been tempted and our ancient perspective allows us the ability to forsee the pitfalls a child simply cannot see.  As parents, we KNOW what happens when you don’t “eat your vegetables” or “go to sleep.”   Though there are other authorities in our life that can certainly help guide us (relatives, pastors, teachers, police, etc), none are quite as motivated like that of a parent.

A casual reader of my blog can see that I have a sordid past.   I have tripped and fallen while running with moral scissors.  I have not always colored within the lines.  I have touched more stoves than I can count.  Some discredit me because of it and deem me a poor teacher.  From my perspective, my sins were the tuition to the most expensive school in the land, EU – Experience University.   To be honest, I hold honorary degrees I wish I never earned.  But as a highly educated fool, I have a responsibility to share what I know with others, especially my own children.

If you have been paying attention to the news lately, adultery is once again front page material.  With the recent hack of the Ashley Madison website and the continued exposure of the names of those who were members, infidelity is wreaking havoc on the lives of millions of families.

Given the sad state of relational affairs (pun intended), I thought it was time to post a heartfelt letter about the topic – from a father’s perspective to his son.   All parental advice should be listened to simply because of that unique relationship.  But some parental advice is so packed with street cred that only a foolish child would choose to ignore it.   This letter, penned to a beloved son, is that such letter.

It is no secret that this particular father had numerous illicit relationships.  Because of this, he can offer an extremely unique perspective.  More than most, he understands the temptation and deception of the human heart and more than anything – wants his children to avoid his path.  If you don’t have a father who shared such wisdom with you, consider this wisdom as coming directly from him. (Though this letter is written from a father to his son, it obviously applies to daughters as well.)

And to my two boys, if you read this one day, please listen.  It is truth purchased at an incredibly painful price.

“Dear son,

(1-2) Please listen to what I’m about to share with you.   I beg that you stop what you are doing and really hear me.   These next few minutes can keep you from a world of hurt.

(3-6) In time, you will encounter an adulterous woman and her lying lips will seem like a sweet candy to your ears.  Her candy will give you a lifetime of cavities.  Her speech, though flattering, is deceptive.  Her words will cut you like a knife.  She walks down a street of destruction and following her will lead you straight to the grave.   She is lost and she will lead you into the land of the lost.

(7) Please listen to me and do not ignore this letter. Keep it somewhere safe and refer to it often, especially when you’re married.

(8-14) Do not go near this woman.  Stay as far away from her and her house as you can.  Don’t even drive by her neighborhood, lest you fall prey to the deceiving thoughts of your strength.   Taking her hand will bring a mere moment of pleasure and a lifetime of irreversible regret.  You will lose everything you have worked hard for. 

Every.Thing. 

Trust me on this.  I don’t want you living with regrets that you can never change.  I don’t want you haunted with the voices that will scream, “Why did I not listen to my Dad’s words?  Why did I ignore his instruction?  How did I get in this position – even as a Christian?” 

(15-20) Son, would you eat food found in the dumpster?  Would you quench your thirst with water from a street puddle?  Of course not!  Eat food from your own plate and drink water from your own trusted bottle.  Don’t open your heart and body to a total stranger.  Blessing is found in the context of marriage.  Concentrate all your energies on your wife.  Discover the treasure of that relationship. May her body alone satisfy you always.  Get drunk with her love.  Why get intoxicated with another man’ wife?  Why get entangled with a woman of poor character?

(21) Don’t be deceived, you will get caught.  And even if you escape the notice of men, everything you do is in plain view of God’s sight.  Every night He is keenly aware of the bed you lie in.

(22) Being with an adulterous woman is like willingly walking into jail.  You will lose precious freedoms. 

(23) This decision can cost you your marriage, family, career, reputation, friendships and income and if you choose this, you will be led astray by complete and utter foolishness.

Love,

Dad

(This above letter was originally written by King Solomon to his son as recorded in Proverbs 5.  Obviously, the passage above was paraphrased and placed in modern context – particularly for my boys.)

The insecurity of security

The story is told of former World Champion Boxer, Muhammad Ali, seated on a commercial airliner when the flight attendant noticed his seat belt was unfastened.  He was given the gentle reminder like every other passenger:

“Mr. Ali, you need to put on your seat belt since we are about to take off.”

His response, filled with hubris, was immediate and abrasive:

“Superman don’t need no seat belt.”

Without missing a beat, the flight attendant snapped back,

“Superman don’t need no plane.”

By all accounts Muhammad Ali was one of the greatest boxers of all time. Not surprisingly, he was also one of the most prideful.  Greatness and pride tend to go hand in hand.  In front of his challengers, fans and the media he would repeatedly brag about his own accomplishments and abilities and use his bravado to intimidate his opponents.  In his prime, Ali is recorded as saying the following:

  • “I’m the greatest.  I said that even before I knew I was.”
  • ” Not only do I knock ’em out.  I pick the round.”
  • “It’s hard to be humble when you are as great as I am.”
  • “If you even dream of beating me, you’d better wake up and apologize.”

Clearly, Ali felt secure in his abilities to win in the ring.  No one, he believed, could beat him.  After a solid decade of fighting, no one could.   From New York to Los Angeles, Canada to Germany – he was truly unstoppable.  So invincible was he, even wearing a seat belt on a plane was apparently unnecessary.

*************************************

In 1996, at the age 20, James Altucher left his I.T. position at HBO to open his own company, Reset, Inc., a website design firm.  By the end of his first year in business, he had secured contracts with massive companies like American Express, Con Edison and Time Warner.   While most companies take at least three years to merely break even and five to become profitable, Altucher led Reset to outstanding growth almost immediately.  In fact, his company grew so fast that by the end of its second year in existence, he was able to sell it for a cool $10 million dollars.  This sale brought his total net worth to over $15 million dollars.  Not bad for a 22 year old.   Not bad for a startup company.

*************************************

Both stories highlight an underlying belief system most of us share about security.

Conventional wisdom states that you are safer in a moving vehicle while wearing a seat belt.  Considering the number of car accidents in a given year and the rate of speed that we travel on our highways (or airways) – wearing a seat belt definitely makes sense.  But seat belts, as effective as they are – do not save every life.   Sometimes that layer of security isn’t secure enough.

We are all convinced that $15 million dollars should last through multiple generations.  There isn’t a person who hasn’t daydreamed what it would be like to win the lottery or be in possession of THAT kind of money.   “If I had that amount of money,” we speculate, “I would….”   The list of “woulds” is endless.  Not on that list, however, is the scenario that the money would ever run out and you would be back to your previous standard of living.

Interestingly, we all begin our human journey in the same place – the security of a womb.  A dark place, relatively quiet, snuggled tight, secure.  For the first nine months of our existence, security is all we know.  Every need is taken care of and we float – carefree – in a loving, safe environment.  By contrast, on the day of our birth, we are ejected out of this peaceful bubble and exposed in every way possible.   Bright lights.  Loud noises.  Butt naked.  Compared to our previous environment, we enter a freezing world.   Our first contact with another human being is usually a slap from the most educated person in the room.  No wonder we come out screaming.   WHAT THE HECK IS THIS PLACE?   We spend every day for the rest of our lives trying to find security again.

We are a people who, deep down, crave and clamor for security.  We wear seat belts, eat healthy and exercise because we want to be physically secure.  We work hard, invest & save our money because we want to be financially secure.  We get married, have kids & grow friendships because we want to be relationally secure.   We believe in God, go to church & help others because we want to be spiritually secure.   There is nothing wrong with our desire to feel safer.  But, are our tactics truly working?  Are we indeed safer because we wear seat belts, save our money or go to church?  Do our feelings of safety translate into actual security?

As I write this, a friend’s mother lay on a hospital bed dying from a burst aneurism in her stomach.   Two days ago, she was cooking dinner in her kitchen.   In a mere few hours, she will no longer be with us.   Such is the unpredictable and fragile nature of life.   Just because you make a lot of money, doesn’t mean you get to keep it.  Just because you feel healthy one week does not mean you will maintain your health the next. Just this afternoon, with a full bladder and too much on my mind, I walked into the public restroom at Panera Bread.  How shocked I was to see a woman coming out of one of the stalls.   The look on her face said it all…

It was not her geographical error but… (ahem) rather mine.   #blush

Apparently my mind was as full as my bladder and I startled an unsuspecting woman “taking care of business.”   Ugh.  The point is we are all one mere accident, diagnosis or restroom door away from frightening insecurity.   Sorry ma’am.

Over the course of my life, I have learned a few things about security – mainly, how fleeting it is.  My friend Harry never smoked a day in his life and yet somehow got diagnosed with stage 4 throat cancer.  Mentally astute college professors can eventually develop Alzheimer’s.   Athletes in top physical condition can suffer heart attacks.   Armored trucks can get robbed.   Famous pastors can have affairs.  Even beloved actors who play wholesome father figures on TV can be accused of heinous crimes like rape.  And if there is one place on earth where we should feel the most secure, it is church – that is, until last week’s massacre in Charleston, SC.

Security is not always secure.  Relationships that I thought were permanent turned out to be temporary.   Jobs that I thought I could not lose were gone before I knew it.   Investments that were “sure things” turned into “no-thing” in no time.   People who I thought would out-live me were gone long before their time.  Money, relationships, health, jobs, possessions, life –  all rather fragile when you come to think of it.

The Biblical character, Job, certainly learned a thing or two about security.  Referred by God Himself as the “greatest man in the east,” Job had everything you could want:

  • status with God,
  • wealth beyond measure,
  • a spouse,
  • a large family and
  • a booming business.

If anyone had security, it was Job.   That is, until God decided to make sure Job understood where his security really came from.   In an unbelievably short period of time (minutes, not days), Job lost it all.  In fact, before chapter 3 of the book that bears his name, Job was reduced to an unrecognizable stature.  Having lost his money, business, children, home and good health – Job sat alone – in agony – with a handful of friends contemplating his unfortunate turn of events.   Bad things, we think, should not happen to good people.   Job was not just good people.  By God’s own definition, he was truly the greatest.   And sometimes the greatest among us need to be reminded Who is truly keeping things secure.   How did Job handle his most insecure moment?   Our ancestor of the faith teaches us a proper response:

“At this, Job got up and tore his robe and shaved his head. Then he fell to the ground in worship and said: ‘Naked I came from my mother’s womb, and naked I will depart.  The Lord gave and the Lord has taken away; may the name of the Lord be praised.’”

If there is one thing that tends to accompany a trial or tragedy, it’s perspective.   Sadly, we often have to lose a loved one for us to truly appreciate what they meant to us.   It’s not until we are in a hospital room or wheelchair that we realize just how precious our health really was.  It often takes turbulence in our lives to remind us that we are simply wingless creatures, sitting in a metal tube, traveling 600 miles per hour some 35,000 feet above the ground.   In those scary moments we recognize it’s not just a human pilot who determines our ultimate destination.

In the ashes, Job had received the gift of perspective.   He realized that he came into this world with nothing and he will one day leave this world with nothing.  His losses, with that perspective, helped him realize his place, however painful that place was in the moment.  His greatness was not a result of his accomplishments but his divine Accomplice.

It’s easy for us, in the midst of our loss, to let the loss taint our current perspective.  When someone loses a job, loved one, health, status, peace, home – it’s easy to let that loss consume our thoughts and life.  Many times, it’s the only thing we can see.  And sometimes, focusing on the loss can blind us from not only seeing the possibilities on the other side of the fence, but who our ultimate Neighbor is.

*************************************

By the end of 1998, Altucher had sold his hugely successful website design firm (Reset, Inc) and had (according to his estimation) about $15 million dollars in the bank.   $15 million dollars, in any economy, should last several lifetimes.  That amount of income would easily put Altucher in the category of “financially secure.”   For Altucher, however, that security was short-lived.  Financial mismanagement, overspending and poor investments created a trifecta of loss.   What should have lasted forever was gone – all of it – in less than 24 months.   From $15 million to bankruptcy in under two years.   For Altucher, it was his Job moment.

Muhammad Ali enjoyed over a decade of untouchable wins and unstoppable victories.  It was widely believed (especially by Ali) that he was unbeatable.   Then, on March 8, 1971 the security of that belief was rocked when an opponent by the name of Joe Frazier put the “greatest” in his place.  It was the first loss that Muhammad Ali experienced in 32 professional bouts.  The greatest was no longer the greatest.  Two years later, Ali would hit the canvass again, this time suffering a broken jaw and devastating loss to boxing champion, Ken Norton.   The “greatest” boxer was never the greatest again.

And that’s the point.  Security, this side of eternity, is fleeting.  I understand that feeling, all too well.  As a small child, I watched my Dad die in front of me.   I have been stranded on the side of the road (on more than one occasion) because of a flat tire or dead battery.  I have stood in court and heard my marriage officially declared over.  I have scoured the classifieds during my extended periods of unemployment.  I have experienced the loss of freedom.  I have been “un-friended” numerous times over the years.  Daily I deal with the pain of being separated from my own children.  My life has been a constant, painful reminder that my security is not found in people, places or things.

Where is your security today?  Is it in your net worth?  Is it in your strongest relationship?  Is it in your body image, intellect, bank account or current employment?   The truth is, while all those things are certainly acceptable to enjoy, there will come a day when you will be rocked to the core and left with little to no security.  In that moment, where will you turn?

May you turn to the only One who can provide true security, in this life and in the one to come.

“Some trust in chariots and some in horses, but we trust in the name of the Lord our God.” (Psalm 20:7)

“So do not fear, for I am with you; do not be dismayed, for I am your God.  I will strengthen you and help you; I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.” (Isaiah 41:10)

“Keep your lives free from the love of money and be content with what you have, because God has said, ‘Never will I leave you; never will I forsake you.” (Hebrews 13:5)

The Quiet Divorce

rod artersI recently read a story about Joe, a young man born and raised in a small 3rd world village. He comes from a large, blue-collar family and he enjoys being a part of a very close-knit community. In fact, in his area, Joe can’t go anywhere without being greeted by family or running into a friend.

Joe recently fell in love and got engaged to a wonderful young lady, another local with a sweet disposition. Excitement fills the air whenever two love birds engage. Ask anyone in his circle and they would tell you that Joe’s future is bright and full of hope.

Well, it was bright, that is, until the dark cloud appeared.

Joe was recently informed that his beloved fiancée had been unfaithful during their engagement. To make matters worse, the “infidelity” led to an unplanned pregnancy. No one, especially Joe, saw this coming. And if all of that isn’t hard enough for him to handle, Joe lives in a small-town “fishbowl.” This news cannot be contained. Knowledge of this “affair” will quickly spread in this small community. I mean, how do you hide a pregnant belly in a town like his, especially before the wedding day?

To say Joe feels wronged, is putting it lightly. To say that he experienced the sting of betrayal is an understatement. There isn’t a person out there who can’t sympathize with his situation. Joe is a great guy who certainly doesn’t deserve this treatment. This news is especially crushing given the conservative climate that Joe lives in. Infidelity and divorce are nearly unheard of in his part of the world.

Sadly, Joe’s predicament is hardly news for us in today’s current Western culture. We seem to hear story after story of great men and women being cheated on by their self-centered spouses. So common is this in our day and age that it hardly raises an eyebrow any more. If we don’t learn of our friends or family behaving badly, we certainly get our fair share of “juice” from tabloid television. There was a time when news of infidelity would shock those who learned of it. We are well beyond that reaction. Take a brief stroll down the Facebook news feed and it is not uncommon to watch ex-husband’s spewing the latest gossip about their philandering ex-wives. Follow along the twitter road for just a few minutes and you will, no doubt, see the angry tweets from scorned women. I can’t tell you how many derogatory memes I see, on a daily basis, calling out the liars, cheaters and scoundrel behavior that exists in today’s moral climate. Social media has not only made it easier to broadcast the sins of the sinner, but it has made it instantly viral. There is not a one of us who cannot, with great detail, repeat the injustices of our friends who have swam in the same murky waters as Joe. In fact, perhaps you have shared the salacious details of your injustices with others. With so many willing and supportive ears to hear, it’s hard not to.

And therein lies the reason Joe’s story is so powerful. The primary thing that separates Joe’s heartbreaking situation from our own is not the situation itself but how he handled it.

Though he could have publicly “outed” his wife-to-be, he didn’t. Though he held the hard-to-ignore “victim” card, he chose not to play it. He didn’t gather family or friends and “vent” or even attempt to create a verbal lynch mob. He didn’t slander his fiancée or give in to the common excuse for gossip, otherwise known as a “prayer request.” In fact, unless you were really paying attention, you may not have even noticed his response or recognized its significance.

We live in a “no-fault divorce” country. Joe does not. We live in a “she-did-me-wrong-she-should-pay” cul de sac. Joe does not. In fact, in Joe’s tiny village, his fiancée’s actions could be punishable by death in a court of law. And Joe knew it. One word from Joe and her life could be over. Justified capital punishment.

Fortunately for her, Joe is not your typical man. Before I tell you how Joe handled this complete injustice, let me ask you this….

How have you handled the injustices aimed your direction?
What has your response been when someone has done you wrong?

Even if our situation is different than Joe’s, haven’t we all experienced some sort of injustice at some point in our life by someone close to us?

  • A cheating husband?
  • A lying girlfriend?
  • An abusive ex-spouse?
  • An absent parent?
  • A disobedient child?
  • A difficult neighbor?

We don’t have to go too far in our past to realize that someone somewhere has done us wrong. And sadly, our human nature tempts us to make sure everyone we know – knows it.

Joe’s story is so familiar to you that had I not masked Joe’s true identity, you may have missed the impact of his actions.   You know Joe as Joseph who was engaged to Mary, the future mother of Christ. You know how the story ended – he did indeed marry Mary and become the earthly father of God. But before he was convinced by an angel that this union was of God (Matthew 1), Joseph fully believed that Mary had been unfaithful and that a divorce was required. But it’s not the impending divorce that is significant but the manner in which Joseph desired to handle it:

Quietly.

Did you catch that?    Without.fanfare.

Matthew shares the details in chapter one of the book bearing his name,  “Now the birth of Jesus Christ was as follows: when His mother Mary had been betrothed to Joseph, before they came together she was found to be with child by the Holy Spirit. And Joseph her husband, being a righteous man and not wanting to disgrace her, planned to send her away secretly.” (Matthew 1:18-19)

Who responds like that?? Instead of seeking revenge, he chose to protect. Instead of broadcasting her “sin,” he chose to keep it secret. She was on the verge of being DISgraced and Joseph simply removed the DIS.  From a human vantage point, she deserved the judge’s gavel, instead he gave her heavenly grace.  And he chose to handle it privately – even in the midst of a tight-knit community.

Does that describe your heart?  Not wanting to disgrace the one who disgraced you?
Would you send those who wronged you… away… secretly?    Do you?

As people, we tend to keep the things WE have done wrong under lock and key.  If it’s OUR dirty little secret, we are Fort Knox in how it’s protected. By contrast, if it’s someone else’s failure, we become the New York Times. We tend do whatever we can to bring our sins to the grave while broadcasting the sins of others on Satellite radio.

Joseph is different. He chooses to keep secret what Mary had (in his mind) done wrong. This response would not only be unusual in Joseph’s day – it’s just as unusual in ours. How many scorned wives are quick to share the stories about their husband’s failures to anyone who will listen?  How many betrayed ex-husbands search for ways to speak ill about the sins of the ex-wife? And yet, somehow, Joseph doesn’t take the bait. It’s not like he didn’t have motivation. It’s not like he lacked ammunition. It’s not like he wouldn’t have the full support of the entire community on his side. And yet, his response is so counter to what most of us would do or (ahem) have done.

How is he able to respond in such a gracious way?  What kind of man can react like this to such betrayal?  Who possesses such self-control?   Again, the text reveals who:

“A righteous man.”   (Matthew 1:19)

Gulp.

In this brief description, we find the true hypocrisy lodged deep within our own hearts. We are quick to crucify the ones who disgrace us and yet justify our attempts to disgrace them in return.  When we trash someone’s reputation for past sins against us, are we really any better simply because they sinned differently?   Joseph was wronged (in his mind) and yet chose to do right in spite of it. Being wronged did not give him the freedom, as a man of character, to justify the loose lips that gossip ultimately encourages, even if the gossip was true.

As I think about our current culture of divorce and revenge, Joseph’s example provides at least 3 reasons why a quiet divorce is a better divorce:

1) It is the most honoring way to treat the other party. Long before Jesus shared the “Golden Rule” with his disciples in the famous Sermon on the Mount, his father had lived out this principle with His mother, “Treat others the way you want to be treated.”  There is not a one of us who wouldn’t love to be in the position to receive quiet grace after we have broken a loud law. Joseph extended this grace to Mary and allowed her an opportunity to experience as much anonymity as he could give in an environment of inevitable exposure.

2) It creates the possibility for a comeback. Imagine that Joseph told the entire village what had happened. Imagine that the entire community knew of Mary’s apparent infidelity and already judged her in the court of public opinion. How hard would it be for Mary to come back with dignity? How hard would it be for Joseph to have a change of mind and reconsider making the relationship work? More importantly in this situation, how hard would it be for those same people to ultimately believe in the coming Messiah, if they were first led to believe Christ’s existence was merely the consequence of an adulterous affair?

3) It reveals a different spirit & inner strength that lives within you. Anyone can cry foul. Anyone can gossip, slander and bring public humiliation to a public sin. Anyone can get the masses to support you in how you have been wronged. But it takes a true person of character to remain silent in the midst of injustice. It shows an amazing depth of integrity to try to protect the one who wronged you.   Yes, they may deserve a public thrashing but does that mean we have to provide one?

Joseph aimed to protect Mary and deflect her shame not because she deserved it but because he was righteous.   In other words, his reaction was based on his character, not hers.

I’m not suggesting that you need to suffer in silence just to protect the perpetrator of your pain. I’m not saying you can’t share your story with a counselor, friend or family member. But I would say the people you choose to share with should be a trusted few and in a position to help you carry the emotional load. Many times sharing your pain with the masses (or children – NO!) creates more damage than the initial wrong done to you.  Sharing with one close friend is one thing.  Sharing it on your public social media wall is another.

As you process the wrong done to you, be careful not to do wrong in retaliation.  It’s easy to verbally hang someone in the public square.   What’s easy and right are often too different things.   Treat people the way you want to be treated.

“Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse…Never pay back evil for evil to anyone. Respect what is right in the sight of all men. If possible, as far as it depends on you, be at peace with all men. Never take your own revenge, but leave room for the wrath of God, for it is written, “Vengeance is Mine, I will repay,” says the Lord. “But if your enemy is hungry, feed hi, and if he is thirsty, give him a drink; for in so doing you will heap burning coals on his head.  Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.”  (Romans 12:14, 17-21)  

 

#imykd

God in our playpen

rod artersIf you grew up in America, you have probably heard someone say at some point… “Jesus loves you.”

If you have watched any significant sporting event in this country, you have probably seen some Christian fanatic holding up a sign that reads “John 3:16” – the verse that proclaims, “God so loved the world…”

If you have watched the Oscars or Grammys or any television award show, you have heard our American idols thanking the Almighty for their gifts and successes.

If you have driven on nearly any road anywhere in our country (particularly the South) you have no doubt passed a Church with a sign that reads some sort of creative Christian message.

And if somehow you were insulated from such Christian landscape, you would certainly see a posting on some social media site thanking God, asking for prayer or sharing a meaningful Bible verse.  Such is the blessing of living in a country with so much “Light.”

In spite of all of this, however, it is still possible for someone to grow up in “Christian” America and not hear or understand certain biblical truths often taken for granted by those of us who grew up in Christian homes or attending Christian churches.

Our lack of Biblical literacy is stunning.  Though our country has been deeply influenced by Biblical language and references, many today are unaware when they are mentioned.

In Jay Leno’s popular segment “Jay-walking”, Leno asks average people on the street a variety of seemingly easy questions.  Their answers reveal their biblical ignorance.

  • Leno: “Can you name one of the 10 commandments?”
  • Girl: “Freedom of Speech?”
  • Leno: “What is the opening line of the Bible?”
  • Guy: “A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away.”

Leonard Cohen’s 1984 song “Hallelujah” (recently re-done by Rufus Wainwright) is another example.  The lyrics contain clear biblical references to both King David and Samson, though those without a biblical knowledge would miss it.

Movie directors will occasionally highlight a biblical event (like the Flood in Genesis 6) but unfortunately those who see Hollywood’s recent version of Noah may not realize the gross inaccuracies unless they are familiar with the biblical account.   Click here for a trusted review.

Many cultural phrases find their root in the Bible.  Many have heard the phrase even as they are unaware of its biblical reference.

  • “My brother’s keeper” – Genesis 4:9
  • “Handwriting on the wall” – Daniel 5:5
  • “Eat, drink and be merry” – Ecclesiastes 8:15
  • “Go the extra mile” – Matthew 5:41
  • “Blind leading the blind” – Matthew 15:14
  •  “Good Samaritan” – Luke 10:25-37
  • “Thorn in the flesh” – II Corinthians 12:7
  • “Walk on water” – Mark 6:45-52

To our grandparents, “King James” would have been a reference to the Bible.  Today, it’s a clear reference to a professional basketball player.

The irony is that the Bible continues to be the greatest selling book of all time.  A Gallup study claims that 93% of Americans have at least one copy in their home.  YouVersion’s Bible App has well over 100 million downloads.  The implication is that over 100 million people are walking around with a Bible in their pocket.  We may possess a Bible but unfortunately, it clearly does not possess us.

I was reminded of this recently when I received a phone call from a man named “Sam” who I had met from my time in jail.   Sam was an interesting character.  Numerous times, he seemed on the verge of “snapping.”  Jail is a place where that is not entirely uncommon.  Sam spent a lot of time alone, walking “the yard” in endless circles.  One particular day, he seemed extremely unglued.   Realizing that he was hurting and spiraling out of control, I approached him and began a conversation.   That conversation led to a friendship and that friendship has, over the ensuing months, led to several conversations.  In our last one, he asked me an interesting question.

“Rod, I get that God loves me.  At least that’s I hear.  What I don’t get is why He had to die.   And how does His death have anything to do with me?”

On one hand, I was stunned.   Here is a man, in his early 50’s who grew up (of all places) in the South.  In fact, he was raised not only in the “Bible Belt” but pretty much on the buckle!   And he had no idea why Jesus died and what it had to do with him.  In my conversation I reviewed both the good and bad news about our spiritual situation and why Jesus’ death has profound significance on every human life; past, present and future.  It wasn’t until I shared the following illustration that the lights seemed to go on in his head.

IFSuppose a young child is wearing nothing but a diaper as he sits unsupervised in his playpen.  After awhile the child discovers how to remove his diaper and does so with great satisfaction.  Enjoying his newfound freedom, the child explores the boundaries of his playpen when he eventually discovers an interesting brown object on the playpen floor.  Unaware that the brown object is his most recent bowel movement, he picks it up.  By the time he realizes that this is not a toy or something he really wants to touch, it’s too late.  It is now on his hands and consequently everything else he touches is soon tainted with the disgusting substance.  If that wasn’t bad enough, the smell that accompanies his decision is a constant reminder of his situation.  In fact, the more the child tries to rid himself of the stinky substance, the worse his situation becomes.  Even if the child could ignore his plight, cover himself with perfume or perform a number of good works to make himself feel better, the reality remains – he is still hopelessly covered in a mess of his doing.  In a very little time, the child and his environment are completely covered in “sin” with no ability to clean himself or his world.   The longer he remains in it the worse it becomes.  The child is in need of a savior, someone outside his world who is pure, clean and able to save him.   Eventually, driven by his great need, the child does what anyone in his situation would do – cry for help.  The more frustrated he is with his predicament, the louder and longer he cries.  Fortunately, the child’s Father is nearby – just one prayer away – and not only willing but able to save His child from himself and his sinful mess.

And what is the Father’s motivation?  Duty?  Obligation?  Exhaustion from hearing him cry?   Money?  Future promises of change?   Praise?   Nah, this Father is not enticed by anything like that.

His motivation is much simpler.  In a word:

LOVE.

The truth is, we all live in the playpen. We all have taken off the diaper and have touched things we shouldn’t have.  We all are hopelessly trying to deal with a mess we are incapable of fixing on our own.  As the Bible states, “we all like sheep have gone astray.”

Some have only strayed down the street.  Others of us have left the country for years.  Regardless, every one of us is spiritually homeless, morally bankrupt and longing to find our way home.  We are all in need of a Savior.  We desperately need someone to climb into our playpen and clean up our messy situation.

That’s what today, Good Friday, is about.

It’s about a God-Man who couldn’t stand to see His children sitting in the playpen alone.   It crushed His heart to see the crown of His creation hurting and helpless.  As a Heavenly Parent, He came to Earth, entered the playpen and took on our spiritual crap.

And what did He find in the playpen?   You, me and everyone else we know.   He found absolute physical, moral, spiritual, and relational filth – in every corner.   Murderers, rapists, disease, adulterers, blindness, tax cheats, prostitutes, corrupted priests, atheists, pornographers, deafness, child molesters, thieves, leprosy, pimps, death, human traffickers, liars, demon possessed, Pharisees, etc.  The list is as long as it is ugly.

And here is the best part.

He didn’t enter the playpen because of our cuteness.  He didn’t enter because of our promises or good works or religious track record.  (Titus 3:1-7)  He didn’t enter because our parents gave money or our Grandmother prays to dead saints.  Nope, He didn’t enter because of the relationship we had with Him.   Instead, He entered our playpen because of the relationship He wanted.

He so loved that miserable, wretched, messy, sinful child while I was still in that miserable, wretched, messy, sinful condition and loved me out of it in spite of myself.

That is what Good Friday is about.   A God who climbs in our disgusting playpen, cleans us up and gives us the ability to have not only a new life (II Corinthians 5:17) – but an abundant one as well. (John 10:10)

It IS a Good Friday indeed.