Is Change Really Possible

photo credit: Nanagyei via photopin cc
photo credit: Nanagyei via photopin cc

Change, my friends is inevitable. Nothing is static in this transient world. Nothing! This is especially true in a world of rapidly evolving technology. Today’s new thing will probably be obsolete by the end of the week!

But when we ask if change is possible, we aren’t referring to change in the general sense—our real emphasis is on positive change. Faced with a steady barrage of negative news, sometimes we can’t help but wonder if things will ever turn in a healthy direction. Violence is prevalent. The economy sits on shaky ground. Our government finds itself immersed in gridlock. The church takes only faltering steps, most of which are in the wrong direction.

There is, however, an underlying question that seems to plague the common person. “Is change really possible in my life?” is the question that most of us ask. Sure, there are the narcissists who stand convinced that they have no need to change. In addition, we find the confident few who believe that, with a bit of hard work, they can become whatever they want. Still, I suspect that most of us have run up against powerful roadblocks in our efforts to become better people. We’ve tried moving forward, but always find ourselves being drawn back into our fears, our compulsions, and our dark thoughts. As a result, deeply-rooted doubts cloud any sense of hope that we once had for a better tomorrow.

photo credit: jessgrrrr via photopin cc
photo credit: jessgrrrr via photopin cc

The essence of the Christian gospel is about change. God was not content with the status quo of sin and death so He sent His much-loved Son to do something about the problem. And do something He did! Forgiveness of sin and guilt is a change we can’t live without.

Still, much more remains. God provided His Word as a roadmap to change and sent His Holy Spirit into our hearts as an agent of change. I’m not saying that transformation is easy by any means, but it certainly is possible—for every one of us.

photo credit: Matt Gruber via CreationSwap
photo credit: Matt Gruber via CreationSwap

Through my thirty-plus years as a Christian, I’ve researched, studied, and watched. My desire has been to find a Christianity that really works—not simply another humanistic or ineffective twist to an old religion. In that time, I’ve come to understand that the power of human sin runs deeper than any of us realize. But I’ve also come to grasp that the power of God’s grace is far greater than even the bonds of sin. The key, more than any other thing, is learning to continually draw upon the fullness of that life-changing grace.

Yes, change is possible for any of us as individuals. And if change is possible for the individual, societal change is certainly within our reach.  This confidence in God’s grace as realized through the gospel of Jesus Christ motivates me to press on in my Christian service, knowing full well that ours is a future founded upon real hope.

Speaking of change, we are still in the process of transitioning over to our new website which will continue to feature my blog. If you would like to remain subscribed to my “blogotional”, you can do so by entering your email in the subscribe panel on the right-hand side of the new website.

The Times They Are a-Changin’

photo credit: ky_olsen via photopin cc
photo credit: ky_olsen via photopin cc

I’m not sure why, but I’ve always like Bob Dylan’s singing voice. Although I was born a little late to join the protests of the sixties, I must have somehow absorbed the feel of the era. Dillon’s title track from his third album, The Times They Are a-Changin’, became an anthem of sorts for those wearied of the uncaring, repressive ways of the old order.

I don’t know if Bob Dylan ever truly gave his life to Christ, but there is no question that he was drawn toward Biblical themes. I suspect he inherently understood that humankind can never provide the answers for all that it needs.

Almost forty years later, a similar sense of weariness has settled into our bones. We live in an era of global upheaval—there’s no question about that. Old methods, old mindsets, old structures, and old technologies are just that—old. The “new”, however, continues to lack the moral substance missing through much of the turmoil of the ’60s.

The Western church saw a powerful move of God in the 1970s, filling faithful believers with a sense of confidence that she (the church) would fix the ills of society in a way that hippie protests never could. Today, it seems, we don’t see the expected fruit from either movement.

photo credit: zappowbang via photopin cc
photo credit: zappowbang via photopin cc

Born during the upheaval of the ’60s and born again at the tail end of the ’70s’ renewal, I have spent much of my life looking for answers. I’ve never been satisfied with the status quo—especially the institutional ineffectiveness of the Western church. But now, in an era when we seem to have fewer answers for the pain of the human condition, I finally feel as though I am beginning to see and understand the transformational power that the gospel professes to possess.

In spite of the onslaught of criticism that’s been directed toward the church in recent years, I don’t think that we have it all wrong—a large number of devoted and sincere followers of Christ continue to make a significant impact on broken lives. At the same time, I believe that our version of Christianity is lacking in several key areas. We emphasize repeating the sinner’s prayer over counting the cost to become disciples of Christ. We preach and teach a form of grace that breeds passivity. We fail to grasp the importance of identity in the battle we wage against sin.

photo credit: Sean McGaughran
photo credit: Sean McGaughran

I could elaborate further, but time and space do not permit. My point is that we have much right, but that significant adjustments still need to be made if we are to see the church become the fullness of Christ she was meant to be. The upheaval of our times serves as a mysterious blessing in that it simply will not allow us to be content with the status quo.

Personally, I have been changing as I’ve sought to become more usable for God’s purposes. As a ministry, we are changing to prepare ourselves for a greater measure of influence in the coming days. A major part of that change will involve our web presence. Our new SfMe Ministries web/blog site (searchforme.info) is now live. Our new SfMe Media website (sfme.org) will be unveiled in the coming weeks. As a result, we will soon begin phasing out the use of https://searchforme.wordpress.com/.

Rather than automatically switch all of our subscribers to the new site, we’d prefer to give you the option of continuing to follow my weekly posts. Please take some time to familiarize yourself with the great new website that Sean, our faithful employee, has put together. It’s easy to subscribe to my weekly “blogotional” by providing your email in the top right section of the home page. (You may also want to unsubscribe from my Hidden Trails blog.)

I think that you will find my weekly posts to be both insightful and beneficial. The Times They Are a-Changin’. Let’s collectively seek to position ourselves for the further advance of God’s awesome kingdom!

The Art of Stereotyping

original photo credit: Symic via photopin cc
original photo credit: Symic via photopin cc

Have you ever felt overwhelmed by all of the information that you must process on a daily basis? Of course you have. The rapid rate of technological breakthrough results in the need to learn more just to stay current. And speaking of staying current, so much is taking place on the local, state, national, and international levels—keeping up with all of the happenings is a full-time job within itself!

What about dealing with money? The financial world is so complex! There’s also the question of how we involve ourselves. With every blink of the eye, our government seems to be passing a new (and unfavorable) law. Most of us would like to the poor, the down-trodden, and the powerless. But whom do we give to? And how do we give to ensure the money is being used wisely? Of course, the environment can always use our help. Do we save the whales? The bears? The trees? The air? The water? So many questions to be answered!

Almost by default, we are compelled to limit the amount of information we absorb. This is especially true in dealing with people. According to wikianswers.com, as of June 2013 there are an estimated 7,090,372,979 people alive on earth. How many do you know? Some experts expect a daily population increase of about 212,035 people—far more than the number of friends most of us have on social media!

photo credit: DonkeyHotey via photopin cc
photo credit: DonkeyHotey via photopin cc

We can’t personally know every living human, let alone everyone in our community. Thus, it becomes easier to lump people into groups with well-defined boundaries. Male, female. Young, old. Caucasian, African American, Hispanic, Asian. French, Italian, Chinese, Mexican. Conservative, liberal. I think you get the picture.

Certain personality traits are indeed common to stereotypical groups. Most of the Chinese people I have met, for example, are extremely gracious. Thus, I am tempted to assume that every Chinese person is gracious. The same is true of negative stereotypes. To a white, middle-aged conservative, a young black male wearing a hoodie has got to be trouble!

A certain amount of stereotyping is necessary for our sanity—there is simply no way that we can process it all. At the same time, we would do well to consciously recognize the limitations of our stereotypes. People are individuals. It is entirely feasible for a young black male to wear a hoodie simply to be fashionable.

All of this brings us to my primary point: I find it reprehensible that leaders from various camps would intentionally (and skillfully) paint negative stereotypes in an effort to manipulate well-intentioned people toward various actions. And, yet, this is the world in which we live. The universal prevalence of media in our culture hasn’t corrected the problem. Instead, it is now worse. Why? Media can easily be manipulated to present predetermined images. New pictures of reality are thereby created.

photo credit: jatmoos via photopin cc
photo credit: jatmoos via photopin cc

Joseph Goebbels, Adolf Hitler’s minister of propaganda, played a huge role in creating the stereotypical Jew as an enemy to be feared and, thus, destroyed. Goebbels’ well-designed techniques stirred the hearts of the German people into frenzies that fed the fuel of World War II. Goebbels once wrote, “That propaganda is good which leads to success, and that is bad which fails to achieve the desired result. It is not propaganda’s task to be intelligent, its task is to lead to success.”[1] To Goebbels, “good” and “bad” were not defined by moral guidelines but by success or failure in pursuing a particular task.

We would do well to distinguish between information and truth. Information, which abounds in our world, may or may not be beneficial. Truth, however, is more elusive –and more necessary. When truth is obscured by vague words, doctored images, and nasty stereotypes, we are ripe for manipulation by skilled propagandists who care little about morals and much about results.

There is a tendency for those on the right and the left to blame the opposing camp for irresponsibly employing the art of stereotyping to promote their causes. Personally, I think that both carry a lot of blame. In the short-term, such methods may achieve their desired definitions of success, but in the end we all lose. Real change–change that brings healthy long-term change–can be found only through the pursuit of truth. As Christians, we dare not accept anything less!


[1] Joachim Fest, The Face of the Third Reich, p 90

Why Justice Is Elusive

photo credit: jerekeys via photopin cc
original photo credit: jerekeys via photopin cc

George Zimmerman: found by a jury to be not guilty of murdering Trayvon Martin. Was justice served? Personally, I don’t see how the jury could have convicted Zimmerman of murder; there simply wasn’t enough hard evidence. That’s probably why the authorities seemed to be so reluctant to file charges. At the same time, I think that Zimmerman should have been guilty of something. His reckless actions started the chain of events that led to Martin’s death.

Zimmerman’s guilt or innocence, however, is not the primary point of this post. Nor is Martin’s tragic death—as important as that should be. What I find especially troubling about this case is that opinions on Zimmerman’s culpability appear to fall along fairly well defined lines. According to what I’ve seen, most African Americans and political liberals were outraged by the verdict. The majority of white conservatives seem to feel that justice has been served. Why is that?

photo credit: Dan4th via photopin cc
photo credit: Dan4th via photopin cc

As a society, we have allowed race and political leanings to taint our perspectives of reality. This isn’t the first time we’ve done this, and it certainly won’t be the last, but it is a bad sign for our nation. Any culture that allows emotion, rather than truth, to color its sense of justice will be ripe with division. I understand that it is entirely natural that we would want to side with those who share our perspectives, ethnicity, or skin color, but we create a recipe for injustice when we allow these things to form our view of reality.

The real problem isn’t race or political ideology; we are plagued by a culture full of people pursuing their own personal and corporate agendas. Personal bias is the archenemy of justice. Those who use their personal desires in an attempt to create their own reality will always bear some sort of bias as they navigate the sticky issues of life on earth.

Jesus Christ stands as the supreme champion of justice in the annals of human history. Why? He never allowed His personal desires or affinities to influence His perspective of reality.

“I can do nothing on My own initiative. As I hear, I judge; and My judgment is just, because I do not seek My own will, but the will of Him who sent Me.” John 5:30 (NASB)

This passage both encourages and challenges me! I am encouraged by the fact that, regardless of what happens in the courts of human affairs, impartial justice will be served sometime in eternity. All who have been mistreated, abused, or unjustly accused will one day see the perpetrators of such acts called into account. This doesn’t mean that we should passively accept injustice in our world, but that our hearts can be free of hatred and bitterness as we strive for what is right.

As always, I am challenged by the example of Christ. I want to see as He sees and have the courage to speak truth. It’s counter cultural, I know. Not many among us appreciate truth—even those who claim to value and seek an accurate perspective of reality. Still, a passionate love for truth, regardless of the cost, lays the foundation for genuine hope, not to mention a good night’s sleep.

What Is Truth?

photo credit: Joe Shlabotnik via Flickr cc
photo credit: Joe Shlabotnik via Flickr cc

The conversation saddened me. I was speaking with a middle-aged acquaintance (I’ll call him “Bill”) and the conversation momentarily drifted toward the things of God. Bill, however, quickly steered our discussion toward the topic of sports as he emotionally recounted the opportunity that he had to introduce his young son to a couple of the Pittsburgh Pirates all stars. In Bill’s world, God meant very little and the stardom of professional athletics meant everything. Like so many others who dwell on this earth, Bill’s reality is limited to what he can see, hear, and touch.

photo credit: Waiting For The Word via Flickr cc
photo credit: Waiting For The Word via Flickr cc

Truth, in a sense, amounts to an accurate description of reality. That which is deemed to be true is that which agrees with what is real. The problem is that there are many different “realities” in our world, and, thus, many different versions of “truth” that clamor for our attention. These “realities” are actually only of human perception and so we must ask ourselves if our “realities” and “truths” correspond with the ultimate reality of God.

Two thousand years ago, the Roman prefect over Judea, Pontius Pilate, nervously conversed with Jesus just prior to sentencing the Son of God to death by crucifixion. It was during that interaction that the notoriously cruel Pilate uttered the infamous words, “What is truth?” (John 18:28-40) To Pontius Pilate, objective truth was sacrificed for the “reality” that corresponded with his own personal agenda. Similar to Bill, the Roman ruler was at a total loss when it came to dealing with the reality of Christ and His Lordship.

In the pluralistic culture of our day, it sounds noble-minded to say something like, “It doesn’t really matter what you believe, as long as you are sincere in your beliefs.” Such statements always make me chuckle because they send a clear message that the unseen spiritual world is nothing more than human fabrication—something akin to the Greek mythology I enjoyed studying in my younger years.

A strong case can be made that because the spiritual world around us is eternal, it amounts to a greater reality than the temporal material world in which we live. Bill’s two baseball heroes may be able to play for another ten years or so, but their careers will end and their bodies will eventually go to the grave. In contrast, the Creator of the Universe exists eternally.

photo credit: Pierre-Olivier via Flickr cc
photo credit: Pierre-Olivier via Flickr cc

Why does any of this matter? Pontius Pilate ordered that the innocent Christ be unjustly tortured and killed.History tells us that Pilate’s life took a downward turn a few years after the crucifixion, and that he eventually committed suicide. The day will arrive when not only Pilate, but all of us will be judged by God’s eternal truth. No high political ruler or MVP from any sport from any age in history will stand guard at those pearly gates. What will matter for each of us—and it will matter a great deal—is the degree to which we discovered the reality of God’s eternal truth and aligned our lives accordingly.

People pay a lot of money to attend fundraisers with political dignitaries. They also shell out a lot of cash in an attempt to buy into the glory of collegiate and professional athletics. But in the end, only one reality will matter. When it comes to gaining access to the eternal truth of God, well, that is a “ticket” worthy of a steep price!

Are You Being Played?

photo credit: Sarah_Ackerman via photopin cc
photo credit: Sarah_Ackerman via photopin cc

Once again, summer had come to an end and the next school year was upon us—as signified by our annual county fair. The array of flashing lights, the mixed aromas of the food booths, and the bold sounds of the high school band competition all contributed to the fair experience. After sampling a few items that probably shouldn’t be classified as “food” due to their lack of nutritional value, we decided to take a walk around the midway.

I’m usually very careful about the types of carnival games I play; I won’t spend the money if I don’t think I have a really good chance of winning. There was one game, however, that looked very doable so my buddy, Jerry, and I plopped down a couple of bucks for the opportunity to throw a softball into a basket. The guy manning the booth made it look easy as could be, so I figured that I too could make it happen and emerge a hero for my wife by winning a stuffed animal. Only a short time later, I was a goat with no prize and a wallet that was ten dollars lighter. I never found out exactly how the carny vendor did it, but I knew I had been played.

Several months ago, while reading through the book of Acts, I noticed a trend. When opponents of the gospel attempted to hinder its spread, they often did so by stirring up the emotions of the masses. One or two lone individuals would incite an entire crowd to drive the Apostle Paul and his ministry team out of town. A lot has changed in the 2000 years since, but the basic technique remains the same. If anything, the strategies involved with manipulating people have improved dramatically.

photo credit: brian glanz via photopin cc
photo credit: brian glanz via photopin cc

We all know that due to our modern technological capabilities, “truckloads” of data are being minded from our daily actions. Businesses, and unfortunately our government, know where we go, where we shop, what we buy, and even what we like, to a large degree. And how is all of this data used? To move us toward particular actions—usually ones that involve us buying a product or placing a vote.

The same general techniques are used with media. Each movie takes the viewer through an intended range of emotions to establish a desired sense of connection. Each political ad is a carefully scripted effort to move public opinion in one direction or another. Each news broadcast carries a similar agenda, only the messages are generally more subtle.

photo credit: Michael Fleshman via photopin cc
photo credit: bMethe via Flickr cc

I have not closely followed the trial of George Zimmerman in the shooting death of Trayvon Martin. I don’t know what really happened and so I hope and pray that the jury gets it right, and that justice is truly served.However, one thing has really frustrated me about the situation: to a large degree, some media outlets are manipulating human emotions in an effort to drive public opinion.

Why do many news broadcasts continue to show photos of a younger, more innocent looking Trayvon Martin? Why incite a race war by unnecessarily inflaming emotions? This case isn’t about a Hispanic killing an African American—it’s about whether a man recklessly crossed an essential line in his efforts to protect his neighborhood.

photo credit: Michael Fleshman via photopin cc
photo by Orange County Jail, Florida–Public Domain

The George Zimmerman/Trayvon Martin case provides us with a significant example of how public opinion is manipulated, but it is only the very small tip of a very large iceberg. The questions I am compelled to ask are the following: “What moves you?” “Are your emotions the primary driving force in your decision making processes?” “To what extent are you being played?” Emotions play an important and meaningful role in our lives but they if they serve as trusted guides, our general public will continue to be easily manipulated by the agendas of a very few.

Hey, Good Buddy, Ya Got Your Ears On?

original photo credit: Travis Isaacs via photopin cc
photo credit: Travis Isaacs via photopin cc

There was a season during my teenage years when CB radios were all the rage. People installed them in their cars and sometimes even their houses. My buddy’s dad had his own little CB station set up in the corner of his living room to keep him entertained through the long winter evenings.

“CB Lingo”—once only the language of truckers and rednecks—became common jargon for all of American society. Whether by radio or by phone, it was common to greet a friend with, “Hey, Good Buddy, Ya Got Your Ears On?” Little did I realize then that it was Jesus who coined that phrase—only His was a slightly different version.

Talking on CB Radio
photo credit: Andrew 鐘 via photopin cc

Matthew 13:3-9 records what is often called “the parable of the sower.”

And He spoke many things to them in parables, saying, “Behold, the sower went out to sow; and as he sowed, some seeds fell beside the road, and the birds came and ate them up. Others fell on the rocky places, where they did not have much soil; and immediately they sprang up, because they had no depth of soil. But when the sun had risen, they were scorched; and because they had no root, they withered away. Others fell among the thorns, and the thorns came up and choked them out. And others fell on the good soil and yielded a crop, some a hundredfold, some sixty, and some thirty. He who has ears, let him hear.” (NASB)

Did you notice how Jesus ended His little story? “He who has ears, let him hear.” It’s similar to, “Hey, Ya Got Your Ears On?” but with a slightly different twist. Jesus commonly used this phrase when in the process of making a difficult statement. In a sense, the Son of God was saying, “Listen up folks, you may not like what I’m saying, but you really need to hear this.”

photo credit: Natanis Davidsen via CreationSwap
photo credit: Natanis Davidsen via CreationSwap

After Jesus presented the parable of the sower, the crowds went on their way marveling about the eloquent stories that He told. Christ’s disciples, however, pulled Him aside and began to ask questions in an effort to get to the heart of the matter. The Messiah’s followers didn’t just hear what Jesus said; they actually listened.

You know, one thing about Jesus is that He is just so darn easy to ignore—at least in the short-term. A few people in Western culture totally reject what Jesus had to say, and I’ll say that, at the very least, I applaud them for their honesty. Most of us simply pick and choose, approaching the teachings of Christ like we would a restaurant buffet. We keep what tastes pleasant to the palate, while conveniently ignoring anything we deem to be distasteful.

Buffet
photo credit: Andrew Michaels via photopin cc

The problem with this approach is that the words of Jesus Christ can never be simply a matter of preference—they are the very words of life. Whether we choose to reject His teachings, or simply ignore them, I can guarantee that we will find ourselves paying a steep price in the end. The Creator of the Universe is not to be trifled with.

Personally, I really do prefer the pleasant parts of Christianity. I like, for instance, going on retreats—taking time to linger in the presence of God and sitting around the campfire singing Kumbaya with my brothers and sisters in Christ. But along the way, I have also learned the life-giving value of less palatable things like hard truth, correction, and discipline. The fact that I don’t like something doesn’t mean that I don’t need it!

How about you? Ya Got Your Ears On?