Fred Phelps and the Sermon on the Mount

Fred “God Hates Everyone But Fred Phelps/Thank God for Dead Soldiers” Phelps and a couple of his family member-followers paid St. Charles a visit today. And I thought of him when I read the Sermon on the Mount. Specifically, Matthew 5:11-12.

“Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me. Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.”

Suddenly I think I know what motivates them.

Read more

Love is patient, love is kind, love is not a license to say anything you want

Yep, I’ve got another pet peeve. Last weekend I wrote about passing “Christian” judgment.

This week I’d like to talk about another favorite tool of the fundamentalist: so-called “Christian Love,” which, when it has the qualifier, often is anything but.Many fundamentalists belive that Christian love is a license to rip someone a new one any time they feel like it. They justify it to themselves by saying it’s their duty to point out their Christian brothers’ and sisters’ faults.

No one has ever shown me the verse that gives us that right. And that idea isn’t exactly compatible with Jesus’ command to get the log out of your own eye before worrying about the speck in someone else’s (Luke 6:41-42), or that he who is without sin should cast the first stone (John 8:7). (Note that in John 8, He Who Was Without Sin refrained from throwing any stones. He told her to cut it out and go home. He didn’t even tell her what to cut out. She knew full well.)

Let me tell you why I think “Christian love” is often anything but. Let’s refer to 1 Corinthians 13. I know you heard it at the last wedding you went to. But this chapter has a whole lot more to do with interpersonal relationships than it does with weddings.

Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It is not rude, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.

Love never fails. But where there are prophecies, they will cease; where there are tongues, they will be stilled; where there is knowledge, it will pass away. For we know in part and we prophesy in part, but when perfection comes, the imperfect disappears. When I was a child, I talked like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I put childish ways behind me. Now we see but a poor reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known.
And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love.

My pastor is fond of personalizing this. “Dave is patient, Dave is kind. Dave doesn’t boast and isn’t envious, and he isn’t proud or rude.” And he interjects “Tell me when to stop,” in there frequently, because he knows none of us can measure up to this chapter. The fact is, too often we aren’t patient, we aren’t kind, we boast like crazy, we burn with jealousy, we try to make ourselves look good… Need I go on?

So the next time you get the urge to chastise your Christian brother or sister, and you feel the need to sign, “In Christian love…” drop your pen, grab your Bible (don’t rely on your memory; it’s selective) and turn to 1 Corinthians 13. If what you’re writing isn’t patient or kind, then don’t sign it like that. If it’s a record of wrongs, you could be in for a world of hurt. See Matthew 18. The part of Matthew 18 that everyone likes to forget about, that is (verses 32-35):

“Then the master called the servant in. ‘You wicked servant,’ he said, ‘I canceled all that debt of yours because you begged me to. Shouldn’t you have had mercy on your fellow servant just as I had on you?’ In anger his master turned him over to the jailers to be tortured, until he should pay back all he owed.

“This is how [God] will treat each of you unless you forgive your brother from your heart.”

Christianity isn’t a race. We don’t get extra floors on our mansions in Heaven for each sin we point out. We have nothing to prove. Max Lucado once pointed out the futility of this with an illustration: What if God changed the rules and said forget all that stuff in the Bible; all you have to do in order to be saved is jump to the moon on your own power. So get to it.

Well, it doesn’t matter if you’re Michael Jordan or if you’re Christopher Reeve. Michael Jordan might be able to jump 15 feet in the air if he tried. Christopher Reeve can’t jump at all. But when the goal is the moon, which is a quarter of a million miles away, Michael Jordan’s 15 feet is a rounding error. Who cares? Someone standing on the moon wouldn’t be able to see it!

I like the illustration in Matthew 25:34-40.

“Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.’

“Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?’

“The King will reply, ‘I tell you the truth, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me.’

There seem to be several points to this verse, but one of them is that we won’t know all of our good deeds. I wonder sometimes if the truly righteous don’t know any of them, and I wonder if, when God counts our good deeds–which don’t get you into heaven; remember, Isaiah 64:6 calls our good deeds “filthy rags” in the nice translation, and in the not-as-nice translations, it uses words closer to “soiled undergarments”–maybe when God counts up our good deeds, maybe only the ones we don’t know about are the only ones that count.

Because it sure seems to me those are the only ones we do without some ulterior motive.

So tear up that note. Skip that conversation. Read 1 Corinthians 13 out loud, substituting your name for “love,” and then read Romans 2 for good measure.

You, therefore, have no excuse, you who pass judgment on someone else, for at whatever point you judge the other, you are condemning yourself, because you who pass judgment do the same things. Now we know that God’s judgment against those who do such things is based on truth. So when you, a mere man, pass judgment on them and yet do the same things, do you think you will escape God’s judgment? Or do you show contempt for the riches of his kindness, tolerance and patience, not realizing that God’s kindness leads you toward repentance?

Kindness leads people to repentance. So what’s the best way to be kind? Start with love. How do you love? See 1 Corinthians 13.

It’s funny how the people who are best able to take those two passages to heart have the best, longest-lasting relationships. Non-Christians like those people too. It’s funny how non-Christians are impressed by kindness and forgiveness.

It must be because usually when they look for it in the places it’s supposed to be, they don’t find any.

Accessibility: God, the computer field, and me

I got a comment on the site here today that I was going to repeat verbatim here, but I realized it was basically asking three questions, so why not just ask and answer the three questions?
They were, in no particular order, how do I hear from God, how do I get into the computer field, and can I hear back from you?

Last first.

Can I hear back from you? Well, that’s what this is. My question is what’s so special about me? OK, so I’m a book author and I’ve got this Web site that gets tons of comments from lots of different people and has lots of content, some of which might be readable and helpful. There’s nothing more special about me than there is about your next-door neighbors.

I’ve done the same thing, even recently. I met a girl who seemed larger than life. Her field is in an area I admire and have no particular skill in. It seemed like you could take every woman I’ve ever admired, whether I knew her or not, combine them, and you had her.

Eventually she turned out to be a human being with hopes and dreams like me and fears and doubts like me. Still incredibly talented and incredibly likeable, just not superhuman.

Really, if there is anything that makes she or I seem more special than the average person, it’s that God has given us gifts and has helped us to identify them, refine them, and use them to something approaching their potential. Sadly a lot of people never recognize and utilize their gifts. But our passions are a clue. Chances are if you love something, you have some kind of gift in that area and you should explore it.

That’s the reason why I write. It makes me very little money but hopefully it helps somebody, and I know if I don’t use that gift, it will fade away. Which leads us to:

How does someone with little formal training get into the computer field? I don’t have much training in computers. I took a couple of programming classes in college. In an emergency I can program a little in C. I started fixing computers because I couldn’t find a reputable place to take a computer to be fixed when I was a teenager. When I’d take it to the local shop, they’d charge as much to fix it as it would have cost to buy a new one. So I figured I might as well try fixing them myself. At best, I’d save money. At worst, I’d have to buy a new one. Either way, I came out ahead. So I’m self-taught. I’ve been using computers since I was 7 years old, so I’ve been using them nearly 22 years. I’ve been fixing them since I was 15, so in two years I’ll be able to say I’ve been fixing computers for more than half my life.

I know there are lots of promises out there about making huge salaries working from home and being your own boss. I’m not the fulfillment of that. I don’t telecommute and neither does anyone else I work with.

This web site doesn’t make back the money I sink into it–it’s strictly a hobby–and my book made me less money than a part-time job at the White Castle down the street would have.

Occasionally people looking for second careers ask me for advice, but I can’t provide a fast track into the field. My recipe works if you can afford to spend years messing around and learning how to do stuff. That doesn’t describe most people.

So I always end up asking another question: Why computers? Finding IT jobs isn’t really any easier than finding any other kind of job right now, at least in St. Louis. If it’s easy where you live, my suggestion is to enroll in the local technical school, figure out what area of specialty interests you, get the closest certification that matches it.

One of my coworkers went through a career change about 15 years ago. After teaching music for almost 20 years, he left that profession and took an entry-level computer job. He actually took a pay cut to do it. He recommends a book titled What Color Is Your Parachute? I’ve never seen it or read it, but he says it’s in most libraries. It’s designed to help people find and get started in a new career, and, most importantly, to find the right one for them. The right career for every person is a little bit different.

So let’s talk about something more absolute.

How do I hear from God? Let me draw on another recent experience. Two people were trying to solve a problem. Both of them realized it wasn’t possible without God’s help. One of those people was me. I knew what the end goal was but didn’t know what it looked like. I prayed, asking God to show me. The next morning, I woke up with a specific Bible passage on my mind.

That was nearly two months ago. I still haven’t found exactly what I was looking for then, but I have found a lot of things that more closely resemble it. God is showing me the way.

The other person prayed, told God about the intended course of action, and and basically told God if He wanted a different course of action, to give a sign or something. The next morning? Dead silence.

I remember when I told this story to my friend Wayne, from my Bible study group. He chuckled and said, “That’s normal!”

This perfectly normal silence was interpreted as affirmation, which it may or may not have been. God sets His own deadlines and isn’t terribly pleased when we try to set them for Him. Or, as my friend and coworker Charlie often quotes: A wicked and adulterous generation demands a sign. God’s been trying for 2,000+ years to wean us off of signs and wonders.

God communicates to us primarily through His Word. While I do believe there are prophets today, I also believe they are very rare, and I know I don’t want the responsibility of that gift and I can’t imagine any sensible person wanting it either. God tells us that a prophet will never contradict His Word. So we can look for prophets for answers or seek to become one ourselves and we can search God’s Word for affirmation, or we can be lazy and just look to God’s Word.

Charlie told me about a conversation he had a few weeks ago. He spent half an hour beforehand reading some relevant passages from the Bible. At some point in the conversation, she asked if he’d heard anything from God about her specific problem. At that point I interrupted. “As a matter of fact, you did. You heard from Him for half an hour straight just before she called you!”

I recommend reading the Bible every day, although I have to admit I often miss a day. Bible.crosswalk.com is a Web site that divides the Bible up into three daily readings that will get you through the entire Bible in a year’s time. Frankly it takes me longer to read my morning work-related e-mail most days than it does to read a day’s worth of scripture.

There are other ways to immerse yourself in God’s Word. Find a church. Visit lots of them. Hopefully you’ll eventually find one where you’re comfortable and become a member and attend every Sunday and get involved. Even if you never find a church where you’re totally comfortable, try to go somewhere every Sunday that you are able. I’m constantly amazed at how God uses other believers to speak to us.

If there’s a Christian radio station where you are, listen to it occasionally. Find a Christian author or three to read. (A lot of people find Max Lucado very understandable and helpful.)

The idea is to open as many channels to God as you can. The more we do that, the easier it is to “hear” Him. But often we don’t hear Him so much as we see His guiding hand in our circumstances.

These are the things I wanted to tell this other person but never got the chance to. Hopefully they’ll help you or someone else.

That’s it, I want to be an author again

I want to write a book. A short book. One that won’t mention computers at all, hopefully. I’m thinking 100-120 pages would be a good length. A Christian book. Not terribly deep, but very hands-on and practical, which will say what God has to say about a problem a growing number of people face. (What I have to say alone isn’t especially worthwhile. I’m just a journalist turned systems administrator, which means I studied a lot about nothing in particular in college, and somewhere along the way learned about computers.)
Back to that book. I want it to say to people what my heroes Paul Zindel, F. Scott Fitzgerald, and Max Lucado said to me the first time I picked up and read a book written by each of them: Hey, I understand what you’re going through right now. Not only that, I understand you, because I’ve been there too. I know your doubts and your fears, because I’m having them right now. I know it doesn’t seem like enough that God says He’ll pull you through it, because I know He will, and yet it doesn’t seem like enough for me either.

Anyone out there have any experience in the Christian publishing biz, by any chance? (You never know.) The subject matter? Well, one might be able to make an educated guess, but I’d really rather not confirm anything just yet.

Should I file this under ‘Christianity’ or ‘Writing?’

We had two Christian authors at church Wednesday night. I went to Tim Wesemann’s presentation. The topic was family devotions with your children. I don’t have children. I’m still glad I went, because I didn’t have family devotions growing up, and neither did anyone else I know. So I’m dealing today with people in their twenties and even in their thirties who don’t know how to pray.
It’s a good thing I learned how to pray when I was 23, so there’s someone now, four years later, who can teach them, eh?
Read more

WordPress Appliance - Powered by TurnKey Linux