Let’s Talk

As I write, it is a couple of hours before the big first presidential debate featuring Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump. It is a bit misleading, I think, since it is not likely to be either very “presidential” or a real debate. No, this will likely be all about who gets in the best timed zingers so media pundits can declare faux victories. I would not expect to hear to many answers tonight to questions like how can we sustain a Social Security system whose model no longer appears sustainable or what can we do about the plight of poor schools and mushrooming drug violence in our great urban centers. The only real ways to address such things is by talking to one another, and we no longer do that… we only talk at each other.

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But America’s communication problem is not just a political problem. Nobody in the culture really talks to anyone anymore, unless they are relatively certain they are talking to someone with whom they are in agreement. Everyone else (those we fear may not agree with us), is just an object of disdain to be branded with demonizing labels and bullied with convenient half truths and exaggerated hypotheticals. Usually this occurs on our favorite social media platform, where we can bombard each other with cooked Facebook videos, so bonus, we don’t really have to look our rivals in the face as we question their motives, call them names, and generally pillory their character. Is there anything more uncomfortable and less “social’ than seeing family members “debating” meaningful things and hurling accusations at one another on social media?

I miss the day when we could actually talk to each other, even about uncomfortable and difficult things. I also think the “culture” misses those days. We used to call America a melting pot. We greatly benefited from the things we learned from each other. What a ridiculous notion that would be today. Nobody “melts.” America is more like 10,000 little homogenous ice trays. Stay in your cube and I’ll stay in mine.

Of course, where this becomes challenging is when Americans have to make decisions which effect us all. Decisions about social norms, security, or a host of other tricky issues. It is a zero sum game now… meaning you better get the political numbers to impose your will because you will never reach a true compromise. Even if one political side does muster enough power for a season to impose their particular partisan solution to a national problem, nothing is really solved, as the other side simply bides their time until they can undo what was done.images

But, while I sigh a bit for an America which has come to this state of cultural and political obstinance, I mourn over an America that has come to this place spiritually. Paul wrote in 2 Timothy 4:3 “For the time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions, and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander off into myths.” (ESV) Jesus said of his generation that they were ‘ever listening but never perceiving’ in Mark 4. He was explaining how it was possible that the people of his day could miss a Messiah who was standing right in front of them… the answer: they had stopped listening to God a long time ago.

God, help us open our ears and our hearts again to one another, and even more importantly to you… the One who loves us and saves us. LET’S TALK!

You Shall Know the Truth,
J Beckett

The Curious Case of the Inconvenient Commandments

In the cover of darkness the Ten Commandments monument was removed from public grounds in Oklahoma a few weeks ago after the Oklahoma Supreme Court ruled 7-2 the monument violated t10-commandments-monument-oklahoma-AP-640x480he state constitution. Curiously the original lawsuit was brought by a “baptist pastor”

The monument has had a rocky ride to say the least. It was established by a Republican led congress in 2012. The statue was demolished into rubble in 2014 when a 29 year old mental health patient ran his car over it. In recent months it had again become the center of attention as various fringe groups petitioned to have their “venerated” objects memorialized. For example, a satanic church in New York wanted to erect a 7-foot-tall statue that depicts Satan as Baphomet, a goat-headed figure with horns, wings and a long beard. A Hindu leader in Nevada, an animal rights group and the satirical Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster also made requests.

A few saddened supporters stood nearby as the statue was detached from its base on October 5 in the nighttime hours (because we all know how violent those wacky Christians can get) and carried away to a nearby warehouse. You think there might be some fodder for sermon illustrations in Oklahoma pulpits over this?

I do not know if we need giant statues of the Ten Commandments on public property or not, especially if noodle-headed officials and courts think it also means we need to have 7 foot tall statues of Baphomet nearby as well. But I do know this, the primary place the commands of God are to be displayed is in the life of the Jesus follower. (Jesus said, “If you love me, keep my commands.”) That would be a monument that could never be knocked down or stored in a warehouse. And until congressmen in Oklahoma are a little more focused on that reality, I am not sure how significant the statue is in the big picture.

The truth shall set you free,

J Beckett

Getting Cleaned Out

So I apologize in advance for the context of this blog post. I am about to go through a dreaded preventative care procedure which shall go unnamed. The infamous part of this procedure is the preparation. Let’s just say that there is an elaborate process of getting yourself cleaned out that is necessary. I know, enough said, right?

As I go through these next few days I can’t help but think about how great it would be if there was some prescription for the spiritual cleaning out we all need as well. Something that would jolt the system, and purify the insides of our churches. If there was something like that I think it would be called revival. I think if we sought it with the diligence of a certain routine medical procedure it just might happen.

Wash me clean from my guilt.
Purify me from my sin.
For I recognize my rebellion;
it haunts me day and night.
Psalm 51:2-3

And the truth shall set you free

J Beckett

Let the Bells Ring

The story goes that on Easter Sunday morning in 1799 the residents of the sleepy scenic Austrian town of Feldkirk awoke to find Napoleon’s army on their doorstep just outside town. Town leaders gathered to discuss what they should do. Was it time to raise the white flag of surrender to save their town?

Someone suggested that since it was Easter morning the first priority ought to be to simply “Let the church bells ring” in honor of the Lord’s resurrection, worship and then reassemble to decide their city’s fate. The story goes that when the bells peeled out loud and strong for Easter and the joy of resurrection, Napoleon’s generals, not particularly focused on what day it was, assumed that the Austrian army had arrived in Feldkirk to fortify the town, and so the French moved on to “greener pastures.”

The awesome little story is apparently basically factual if you look into the history of Feldkirk. But irregardless, there is a great take away from the central idea of just “let the bells ring!” Whatever is going on in your life today, let the bells ring. As I write this on the day before Easter, 2015 there are about a half dozen worries I can think of at the moment that are clanging around in my head: major issues in the world, nagging health struggles good friends are going through, recent deaths of precious friends, and so forth. There comes a point where we simply stop and say, “This is the day the Lord has made, I WILL rejoice and be glad in it.” I will let the bells ring!

The truth shall set you free

J Beckett

The power of a godly grandparent

My kids did not get to grow up around any of their grandparents. It is one of the deeper regrets of my life. Because of early death and geography it just wasn’t possible. I have no way of really explaining to them what they missed. On both my wife’s side of the family and my own, they were such wonderful people of faith. They did get the chance to experience a touch of grandparent love from a distance which was amazing, but still not the same. I had the same experience. I grew up in a military family and my grandparents who lived into my childhood years were just too far away to really get to know. There is something so powerful about the influence of a godly grandparent.

Years ago Dr. James Dobson published a little note from a 9 year old girl who was trying to define “What is a Grandma?” And this is what the child said. She said, “A grandmother is a lady who has no children of her own.” “She likes other people’s little girls and boys. A Grandfather is a man Grandmother. He goes for walks with the boys and they talk about fishing and stuff like that. Grandmothers don’t have to do anything except to be there. They’re old, so they shouldn’t play hard or run. It is enough that they drive us to the market where the pretend horse is and to have lots of dimes ready. Or if they take us for walks, they should slow down past things like pretty leaves and caterpillars, and they should never say `hurry up.’? Usually, grandmothers are fat, but not too fat to tie your shoes. They wear glasses and funny underwear. They can take their teeth and gums off. Grandmothers don’t have to be smart, only answer questions like, `Why isn’t God married?’ and `How come dogs chase cats?’” Then she finishes. “Everybody should try to have a Grandmother, especially if you don’t have television, because they are the only grownups who have time.”

How’s that for sheer wisdom from the pen of a child? This little girl has told us what children value most highly: an adult who appreciates the finer things of life.

If you had the influence of a godly grandparent and they are still alive give them a call today and big “God Bless You!”

J Beckett

This Amazing Piercing Word

In Hebrews 4:12-13 we are told:

12 For the word of God is alive and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart. 13 Nothing in all creation is hidden from God’s sight. Everything is uncovered and laid bare before the eyes of him to whom we must give account.

Too many of us treat the Word like a dead thing that can be put on a shelf… something we can grab in case of emergency, but do not really need in the normal course of the day. For others the Word is like a hammer we can use to pound others into spiritual submission. But the author of the Hebrews letter skillfully reminds us that God’s Word is actually a scalpel, when in the hands of the Holy Spirit. It penetrates the hard places we think we have well hidden and exposes us for who we really are.

God’s Word is alive, as Swindoll said in his Hebrews study, it is the “acorn that holds the potential of the forrest inside.” God’s word is active, literally “dynamic” from the Greek ‘energes’ so why would we want to shelve it? It can even divide soul and spirit. A curious phrase… every human has a soul, but not every human is spiritual. John Piper offers a nice summary on the topic, and reminds “flesh gives birth to flesh and spirit gives birth to spirit.” The Word lays us bare, exposing whether we are spiritual man or natural man.

I have been happy to avoid the thought of dissection since my Middle School experience in Biology with the formaldehyde soaked frog. But the truth that Hebrews 4:12-13 reminds me of is that I cannot really know spiritual vitality if I am constantly avoiding the divine dissection of God’s Word!

You shall know the truth

J Beckett

Not Ashamed

Interesting days are ahead for the christian in America. The days when there was at least an uneasy truce between biblical faith and America’s secular culture are fast disappearing. No I don’t think they will be dragging christians into the streets to be stoned any time too soon, at least I hope not. But the days in which christians will face more vivid and consequential choices regarding their stance on matters of faith are upon us in America, and I frankly am wondering how we will handle it.

Of course, those days (the days of standing strong for matters of faith) have always been upon us, since we were supposed to be salt and light…. right? But who needed salt and light here… we were THE United States! We have been able to blissfully co-mingle our faith, patriotism, and nationalistic pride in ways that probably make believers in other parts of the world a little confused and curious. Our forefathers were pantheons of faith and virtue, so move over Moses and Abraham and make a little room for George Washington and Thomas Jefferson. Or so you would think to hear many American christians reflect on our national heritage. After all, we are the land of the free and home of the brave, founded by a manifest destiny and “In God We Trust.”

This heritage, even if somewhat embellished beyond full veracity led christians in the US to feel entitled. We don’t have to operate as a sub-culture like christianity in China or well, most anywhere else in the world. The shift in America to a more overt secularism may actually have some unintended good effects in the Church. Perhaps it is time to take the salt and light obligation a little more seriously.

I realize this is an unsettling subject. The truth is that christianity in America has become very comfortable, even coddled by the faith friendly heritage of the nation. It was nice to think the masses had our backs on a few key issues. I think that was mostly an illusion, but still a pleasant one. It kept us from having to struggle for a place in the culture with distinctive spirituality. We have been able to carve out a place in the culture with business acumen and promotion instead. “Join us we are winsome, and popular and successful!” America is the only place the Church makes such an appeal. In most countries where this has not been the case I find a much hardier form of faith generally. Christians who pray by necessity for survival tend to have a more vibrant prayer life than christians who spend their prayer life requesting nicer things and healthier bodies. How does, ‘Join us, we are subversive and counter-culture, yet you will find life everlasting’ sound as a new tag line?

So now with our fairy tale completely shattered perhaps we will actually get around to being salt and light to an America that really needs it. Or, perhaps we will crawl deeper into the bed with covers pulled over our heads and wait for this wave of secularism to pass by. Good luck with that, I am afraid George and Thomas are otherwise occupied.

The truth shall set you free

J Beckett

Quick Thoughts on This and That

Religious Freedom

The Supreme Court is hearing a case right now involving whether or not private business owners can be forced to violate their religious convictions by the new ACA usually referred to as Obamacare. Businesses like Hobby Lobby and a few other privately held businesses (one of them is a woodcrafting business that is Mennonite owned), particularly oppose being forced to pay for the provision of the “abortion pill”, mifepristone, or if the mifepristone does not take, then an actual medical procedural abortion.

I am personally shocked that the current administration allowed it to come to this with the Supreme Court weighing in on the matter. It really makes no sense in the big picture. Obamacare is already one of the most distasteful and unpopular laws ever enacted upon the American people, and to date it has been altered, delayed, postponed, and tweaked in thirty-five different ways and occasions. Most of these delays and changes have been designed to push enactment of unpopular aspects of the law past upcoming elections to lessen the electoral fallout. How cynical can we get as a nation? We can tweak anything and everything about an unpopular law for the sake of someone’s personal or political gain, but we cannot make allowance for the small handful of companies whose owners will be cast into agonizing religious turmoil if forced to pay for abortions.

I am convinced that most Americans do not really understand the First Amendment. The great wall of separation of Church and State was established not to rid the people of their religious character and core but to protect any one religious expression from being perpetuated by government force. It is not freedom from religion, but the freedom to pursue our religious beliefs. The First Amendment of the Bill of Rights says it this way, “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof…”

Come on, Feds… you have already changed major provisions of Obamacare, amounting to billions in its consequence to business, the job market and insurance companies, unions, etc… Is Hobby Lobby really the place where you draw the line? Why?

Hollywood goes Biblical… well by Hollywood standards

Have you noticed the rash of “spiritual message” movies lately? We have the amazing “Son of God” movie now in theaters. The movie, “God is Not Dead” is out right now and may be a bit hard to find, and I have not seen it yet, but I hear it is very good. And, of course, we have the big budget production of “Noah” with actors like Russell Crow and Emma Watson, two of my favorites.

I know the Noah movie is taking some heat and perhaps deservedly so. The director has gone to extremes to “de-biblify” his movie. I believe director Darren Aronofsky’s exact quote was that Noah would be ‘the least biblical biblical film ever made’. Imagine a movie about Noah in which the word God is not used. There is creative license and then there is simple stupidity. None the less, many Christians regularly watch far worse fare at the theaters and I for one am simply glad to see Hollywood willing to utilize the Bible to locate some ideas for new productions. Pass the popcorn and watch where you step, the ark is a little messy.

March Madness is Awesome

I look for spiritual lessons wherever I can find them, and March Madness is dripping with good stuff. The little guys like Mercer get to go toe to toe with the basketball royalty like Duke on neutral floors (was Raleigh a neutral floor). But my favorite image so far is anything involving Coach LeVelle Moton and his NC Central Eagles. Coach Moton’s son was hospitalized just before the tourney began after pulling a hot coffee cup off a table and spilling it onto his face. Thankfully, the child is fine and doctors assured Moton he could head off to the tourney. Moton is an awesome man who speaks of his faith often. You should follow Levelle Moton on twitter at @LevelleMoton. He says in his bio “Basketball is what I do, not who I am. Child of God…” That’s LeVelle Moton in a nutshell.

NC Central is in good hands.

What Change Looks Like

Nelson Mandela died several weeks ago at 95 years of age. Rarely has one man been able to so dramatically change an entire nation, at least a man who was not born to the throne or the power elite. Mandela used the tools of remarkable patience, incredible persistence and gracious humility to accomplish the end of apartheid in South Arica. In his younger days he tried more confrontative, and even violent approaches which landed in him prison for 27 years. Well, mostly what landed him in prison was simply opposing apartheid.

I am doing a sermon series on Gideon from Judges right now and Gideon was an insignificant man (though a part of a powerful family, just as Mandela was in his tribe) who rose from obscurity to radically change his world too. But before Gideon got started with changing Israel, he transformed his own family, knocking down the Asherah pole in the front yard an destroying the alter to Baal. He even sacrificed the prized calf set apart for his father’s Baal sacrifice to Jehovah on the rebuilt altar. One of the things that was impressive about Mandela was that he saw how the approach of most of his fellow protestors and colleagues was not working and in stead of getting bitter he changed his surroundings and strategy.

Ironically it was from a prison cell that Mandela had his greatest impact as he became a symbol of an oppressed people. I do not know enough South African history to have much insight into Mandela’s full impact, but I do know how difficult it is to effect that kind of change.

When we get entrenched in a way of doing things, even if it is a terribly dysfunctional way, (such as apartheid), we can justify almost anything to avoid the painful necessity of change. Thinking about the current landscape of US politics highlights this point dramatically. Somewhere deep in our national conscience we know we can’t go on accumulating these kinds of debts for our grandchildren to bear, yet we do. We know Social Security is in terrible long term trouble, but we do nothing. We know massive numbers of poor children are continuing to languish without fathers in the home and without decent education, yet we keep peddling on the same cycle of insanity. We know the culture will languish as people turn their back on marriage and traditional family values, but instead of embracing such values, we mock their “value.”

But before we get too critical of our government, or our culture, it occurs to me that the faith community is no different. We also resist needed change. We spend a good deal of the time in denial. We face this now in the SBC. After impressive growth throughout its existence, the Southern Baptist Convention plateaued a decade ago and has since begun a steady decline. In the face of shrinking congregations, lessening influence, and diminishing baptisms, what do we do? We fuss with one another over music and soteriology and strategy. We hold on to our past securities, and our personal preferences hardly realizing these are not flotation devices, they are anchors. We can’t figure out how to truly engage our culture so we wash our hands of the culture and barricade ourselves behind our past glories. If not careful, soon we will become as obsolete as, well…. a balanced government budget.

The truth shall set you free

J Beckett

Thanksgiving 2013

Nothing is as deeply spiritual as a truly grateful heart. Gratitude is the great “fabric softener” of the heart. Since God is the source of every good gift (James 1:17, NIV), a truly deeply grateful heart does us a world of good. It humbles us, it re-focuses us on the source of good, and it softens us for the next thing that will fall from God’s hand, be it delightful or painful.

When I think of what a grateful heart should look like, my mind goes to the bible character Job. In the midst of absurdly unfair and painful suffering, Job declares, “The Lord gave and the Lord has taken away– Blessed be the name of the Lord!”

Clearly, Job was simply thankful for God! Not the array of things God was doing for him at the moment. Just God Himself! What a great place to locate our heart and mind that would be.

Happy Thanksgiving to you!

“and the truth shall set you free…”

J Beckett