It’s Time to Ban Dark-Colored Hoodies!

photo credit: Fayez Closed Account. via photopin cc
photo credit: Fayez Closed Account. via photopin cc

Having spent far too much time meticulously watching local news reports out of Pittsburgh, I have come to the conclusion that most of the reported crimes are committed by people wearing dark-colored hoodies. For the life of me, I can’t imagine why someone hasn’t moved to ban them. I think that light and bright-colored hoodies would still be acceptable—as long as criminals don’t begin to use them when the dark ones can only be found on the black market.

No, this isn’t a sarcastic statement on gun control—a little levity now and again can help us from being overwhelmed by the weight of such issues as violence. However, I do want to again emphasize that we rarely focus on underlying issues because we are the problem.

Over the next few posts, I plan to highlight each of the three primary roots of the human heart that create conflict between us. The only real difference between violence and conflict is that violence is somewhat further down the same tumultuous road. I’ll also highlight how the Gospel provides the only truly effective antidote for each deadly root.

photo credit: david_shankbone via photopin cc
photo credit: david_shankbone via photopin cc

Where do you think all these appalling wars and quarrels come from? Do you think they just happen? Think again. They come about because you want your own way, and fight for it deep inside yourselves. You lust for what you don’t have and are willing to kill to get it. You want what isn’t yours and will risk violence to get your hands on it.

You wouldn’t think of just asking God for it, would you? And why not? Because you know you’d be asking for what you have no right to. You’re spoiled children, each wanting your own way. James 4:1-3 (Message)

The Message Bible isn’t always the most accurate, but there are times when I think it does a great job of communicating the intent of the original writer. In this case, James was strongly challenging his readers that selfish lust is a primary source of conflict–even to the point of violence.

Nowhere is the contrast between a worldly and a kingdom mindset greater than when it comes to selfish desires. The message of our world is, “You can have it all! You deserve it! You owe it to yourself! Put yourself first!” On a daily basis, we find ourselves bombarded by thousands of advertisements intended to play upon the selfish tendencies of human nature, compelling us to spend our money on a vast array of products.

In contrast, the message of the Gospel is one of selflessness—of laying down our desires for the benefit of others. After all, isn’t that what the heart of love involves? Certainly, the Gospel is about God’s amazing love for us, but we dare never forget that we are called to deeply love God and others in return.

One of them, a lawyer, asked Him a question, testing Him, “Teacher, which is the great commandment in the Law?” And He said to him, “‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ This is the great and foremost commandment. The second is like it, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ On these two commandments depend the whole Law and the Prophets.” Matthew 22:35-40 (NASB)

photo credit: hoyasmeg via photopin cc
photo credit: hoyasmeg via photopin cc

To our detriment, we have tried to shape the Gospel to fit our Western consumer mentality.  How can we expect people to be unselfish when all we do is proclaim what Jesus can do for them? How often do we hear altar calls in which potential responders are challenged to fully count the cost of becoming a disciple of Christ before making a decision to receive Him (see Luke 14:27-33)? Almost never.

Would fewer people respond if they were compelled to count the cost first? Absolutely! But in the process, the Church would begin to look much more like the Church should look. Rather than fighting amongst ourselves because of envy over who got the bigger blessing, we would be alive with the power and vitality to make a real impact in the world around us.

How can we influence the world around us to become more peaceful and loving when conflict due to selfishness so heavily colors the fabric of our churches? Love is the answer—not only God’s love for us, but our love for Him and others in response to all that He has done for us. May we never minimize love’s importance or fail to realize love’s amazing power to transform even those who wear dark-colored hoodies!

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Dancing with Who?

Original Photo by liza31337 - CC By 2.0

Did you know that Hines Ward of the Pittsburgh Steelers football team is doing really well right now on Dancing with the Stars? Baltimore Ravens fans are upset with his success and launching a vote against Hines campaign. Go Hines!

I’m on top of all of this, but not because I watch the show. The Pittsburgh area news stations provide an update just about every evening. To be honest, it all really bugs me! My real concern isn’t about how well Hines is dancing or whether Ravens fans despise him, but why a trivial entertainment issue garners so much attention on the nightly news. But there it is–right up there with earthquakes, tsunamis, nuclear meltdowns and global conflict!

As a culture we are losing our ability to identify what truly matters and what doesn’t. We struggle with understanding how key issues relate to one another. More and more, people are critical of others, but not critical thinkers for themselves. Through it all we lose the value of individuality and set ourselves up for mass deception.

I’ve also noticed some other interesting (and somewhat frustrating) trends over the past several months. Readership peaks when I post about finding personal security in the midst of a crazy world, or about the ideal of Christian unity. But when I speak of the concept of covenant and some of its powerful ramifications, interest drops significantly.

This tells me that we are grasping for an ideal which we don’t have a clue about how to achieve. Don’t we get it? One is a prerequisite for the other!

Do you want to find personal security in the midst of an ever unstable and chaotic world? It comes not from some wishful thinking about some far off God who maybe, hopefully might actually care. Personal security is a byproduct of understanding the nature of our covenant relationship with the Creator of our universe.

Do you want to find deep, rich fellowship with other people–relationships in which you are loved and accepted for who you are regardless of appearance, money or status? The substance of such connections is established in the foundation of covenant.

For a long time I mistakenly thought that an understanding of covenant was lost to the western church due to some quirk of history. I’m slowly beginning to understand that we want it to be lost. Real love is expensive! We long for the unconditional and sacrificial love of God to be shown toward us, but like bugs scurrying from an uncovered log, we flee from extending that same form of costly love to others.

Photo by Adam Zivner - GNU Free Documentation License

As a culture we selfishly grab at the sweet fruit of Christianity while ignoring or rejecting its true substance. We’re left grasping for nebulous concepts of love and peace that we will never be able to achieve.

All that we truly desire is found in Christ, but our faith will remain shallow and hollow if we do not adjust our thoughts and actions to His paradigm. God will not yield, not even for a moment, to a human manner of thinking. For Him to do so would mean the destruction of all that is good. No, it falls upon us to search out the ways of God and to align our lives with His divine order.

How does all of this apply to the unity of the church? Unity is possible, but only on God’s terms. If we choose to ignore those terms, we will tremble with the fear of abandonment as this world continues to shake—all while He brings His faithful church to a peace-filled maturity in these last days.