Archive for August, 2005

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God and the "F" Word

August 27, 2005

There are days when I feel like I am holding back the dam. And I said “dam”, not damn. Here’s the scoop.

At least four times in the past month, members of our church community have told me they don’t think it is wrong to drop the “F” Bomb (ie. to use the “F” word). In fact, some reading this are probably laughing because I don’t use the word. In some circles I have used it for clarification of what I was writing, but that was only twice that I remember, and it may not happen again.

At the same time, I am reading about more and more Postmodern Christians who are saying that profanity should not only be allowed, but even encouraged. They say that profanity is hardly offensive to God since God judges the attitudes of the heart. They say that God is offended by words which demean others, put them down, display sarcasm, express racism, or lay abuse on someone. They agree that Bono should be allowed (without censorship) to use the “F” word if he is not referring to the sex act. Actually, I feel the opposite on that issue. More about that at the end of this entry.

Let me deal with the five major arguments used about saying or writing “F*&%” in public discourse. I am not asking you to agree with me, but to understand where I’m coming from. I have never wanted to be a “holier-than-thou” Christian or a sanctimonious snit. But I think there are good reasons to avoid using this word.

Argument #1: It is a word which has lost its sexual meaning, and therefore it no longer carries its original force. This argument points out that it is more often used as an adjective, (as in “That is f***ing beautiful), or a transitive verb (“as in “My life is really f***ed”), or an exclamation (as in “Oh F***), and any number of compound noun combinations than used in its original verb context. But the reality is that no adult in America would have any trouble identifying what the original usage of the word is. This argument does hold water for words like “bugger” (which originally meant homosexual anal intercourse), but which now can mean anything from a kid who lights your cat’s tail on fire to what you have done to your fuel injectors by using cheap gas. The word “f***” means sexual intercourse, that beautiful act that God created. No matter how it is morphed to mean other things, its true emotional force comes from its origin.

Argument #2: A word cannot be obscene, only an idea. This is the argument that suggests our words are poor reflections of our inner man. This argument rightly points out that some people can sound so pious and good and yet their hearts are far from that standard. The Bible agrees with that assessment when it says, “This people honors me with their mouths, but their hearts are far from me”. But this is not the whole picture. What comes out of the mouth is an indication of where the heart is. The Bible says, “Out of the abundance of the heart, the mouth speaks”. A word which is obscene will not come from a heart which is pure. It cannot. Can foul water come out of a clean stream? But of course, this begs the third argument….

Argument #3: How can the word “f***” be obscene or profane when it refers to something which God created? In essence, I agree with part of this argument. The sex act is a beautiful thing as it was created by God. God created pleasure and sex, and combined the two together. He didn’t have to give us so many pleasure sensors in our erogenous zones, but then the mandate to “Be fruitful and multiply” may have been somewhat harder to achieve if He hadn’t. That is not to suggest that sex is primarily for reproduction. I don’t believe it is. It is the most sublime expression of Covenant love between a husband and wife. What makes “f***” profane (or any other word which is used primarily to describe sex) is that it makes something sacred into something ordinary. That is what profane means: To take something sacred and use it for common purposes. We profane worship by making it a means to make money. We profane the Scriptures by using them as slogans on golf balls. We profane the sex act by referring to our thumb smashed by a hammer as “all f***ed up”. As to whether the word “f***” is obscene, this is a harder idea. The Supreme Court in the 1970s was correct when they said that obscenity is hard to define and should be set by the parameters of individual communities. One community might allow nude bathing and another may not. That is up to community standards. Therefore, there may come a day when the word “f***” may not be considered obscene in some parts of our culture.

Argument #4: If the person using “f***” is not in any way referring to the sex act in their minds, how can this be profane? My question is, why then is the word used? It is used because it has such intensity and boldness. There are several famous comedians today who would have absolutely no routines if they didn’t use the word “f***”. Why do they choose this word instead of “banana” (and no, that was not a Freudian reference)? It is because bananas do not get people to sit up and take notice. The shock value of “f***” consists entirely in its connotations and points of reference. As a marriage counselor, I often teach that the two most emotional issues in relationships are money and sex. These two cause more fights than any other. If we want to really hurt a person, it is very common for people to say “F*** you!” They don’t say “Walk you!” or “Pick you” or “Stack you” even though each of these is a common Anglo-saxon verb. Therefore, intrinsic in most uses of “f***” is the sexual connotations or at least the emotional flavor of the same.

Argument #5: There is nothing wrong with using “f***” to refer to sexual intercourse, since this does not reduce it to something else”. This argument I agree with to a certain extent. The only stipulation I would have is that the person who refers to sexual intercourse using “f***” should understand the community standards of the people they are with. I have friends who regularly refer to sex this way, and they know that even though I don’t use the word, I am not entirely uncomfortable with their use of the word. But if they used it around some other friends of ours, it would put unwarranted barriers in their friendship. So it is best not to do it. In essence, I have much less trouble using “f***” to refer to sex than using it in profane ways.

There is a reason I walked out of the movie “Phone Booth”…and it wasn’t just because the acting was sub-standard. The language of that movie was all walked up.

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A Community that Fights

August 18, 2005

My wife and I went to the movie “The Big Raid”, and decided that it was the best war movie we had ever seen. That is not to say we have gone to all that many. Neither of us is all that hawkish, and we certainly don’t appreciate seeing people die in the line of duty, especially since our son was in Iraq. But we have seen a few. This one didn’t have the raw realism of “Saving Private Ryan” or “Black Hawk Down” (I don’t get into raw realism anyway, so I didn’t miss it). It didn’t have the big name actors of “We Were Soldiers” or the “Dirty Dozen”… or the special effects of “The Deer Hunter” or “Apocalypse Now”.

Here’s what it did have: A great story about noble people doing what no one else has ever done.

(There are no spoilers in my review btw…but for two other reviews of this film with a few spoilers…but a review that nonetheless captured the same thing I saw, go to here and here.)

It is about an Army Ranger unit in WW2 in the Philippines that is given the assignment to get 520 Prisoners of War out of a POW camp before the Japanese killed all of them (which did happen at other camps in the Philippines…the Japanese believed that their Slash and Burn policies demoralized the advancing enemy). This unit’s Colonel describes the Rangers as the “Best trained, least utilized company in the entire Army”.

It is a story about a Lithuanian nurse that works with the Philippino Underground to smuggle in thousands of doses of Quinine for the men in the camp who suffered horribly from Malaria. (btw…I had malaria in West Africa in 1978…the malaria scenes are unbelievably realistic. Take it from one who sweated and shook it out with my brothers in this movie).

It is the story of a Colonel and a Captain who trust each other even though both look like stubborn idiots several times throughout the operation. They both prove to be geniuses.

It is the story of a Philippino commando unit that knows they will probably be killed, but volunteers to take the hardest assignment to help pay back the debt they owe to an entire village that was massacred to save their lives.

And, it is about a plan that worked so well, it still stands as the greatest of its kind in American military history.

Here’s what I took home from it. People who learn to live in community and trust one another’s strengths will live with victory and achievement…as opposed to those who trust only themselves and live outside of real community. I learned that sometimes you have to pay back those who have sacrificed for you by giving the same sacrifices for someone else. I learned that real leaders go first and stay last. And, I learned that we all die…but rarely do many people die well.

Many reviewers in the MSM did not like this film. Their reasons amounted to this: a) It is not as exciting as other war movies; b) It made the raid more important than the character development of the people involved.

Duh!

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A Very Short Course on Fasting

August 17, 2005

A friend of mine found this in an old magazine I used to write for. After she commented on how much it helped her, I decided to reprint it here (used by permission).

A Very Short Course on Fasting

Years ago, I began to prepare for a series of teachings I was to give at three different ladies’ conferences. This woman’s organization had asked me to speak on how Jesus could heal the wounds of the past. Since I was only beginning to learn about this myself, I initially turned them down. But they insisted there was no one else on their hearts to teach this subject. I agreed to speak, very reluctantly, and began to pray as hard as I had for a long time – perhaps as hard as I ever had.

But God never showed me what to teach.

I then decided to read the Bible more. That was a good exercise in its own right. God did speak to me deeply and I learned a lot. The exercise did touch my heart on a dozen different subjects, but not on the subject I was supposed to teach on. The problem was that my healing was too fresh and the memories too personal to begin sharing them with others. I had kicked an addiction I didn’t want anyone to know about and I was making some things right that had been wrong for a long time, and I wasn’t quite finished the process. But the conferences were looming, and I was getting desperate for God to help me.

That’s when I decided to fast.

I did this because God didn’t seem to be helping me at all. I understood that if I fasted, God would notice I was serious about needing help and would now answer – even though He was reluctant before. Perhaps my belief system would imagine this conversation going on between God and one of the angels:

“Gabriel, look at Mike’s situation. I didn’t want to help him at all. But now he’s fasting, so I guess I’m obligated to do something for him.

Gabriel answers: “Lord God, what will we do next time he fasts?”

God: “Let’s change the rules. We certainly don’t want him asking us to help him. Perhaps make answers to prayer dependent on how much he gives to the poor.”

Of course, that isn’t what God was doing. But I definitely had the idea that fasting put an armlock on God and made him help.

During the first few days of not eating, I decided to follow Arthur Wallis’ four simple rules for an effective fast.

1. Don’t hang around with those who are eating at mealtimes. Go find a quiet place to be alone.

2. Stop doing life as you normally do during the fast. This is a time to hear God, not to fill up on entertainment.

3. Don’t chew gum (it stimulates stomach juices).

4. Drink lots of water with some lemon in it.

During the second day of the fast, God didn’t show me what to teach, but He did show me how he felt about these women in bondage to their hurts and bitterness. After that, my teachings were easy to put together. When God gave me a heart for them, they became my focus, not my wonderful knowledge.

But God wasn’t satisfied with just that. He also showed me my own heart and how I was stressing because I felt this was my ‘shot’ at becoming well-known as a public speaker. God warned me that such an attitude might just get me the popularity I sought while sacrificing my effectiveness as His servant. I repented of that attitude and it has stayed with me ever since. Sometimes the smallest choice can affect the rest of our days. Just like the rudder on a ship is small, but can turn the whole vessel, so a simple decision that comes from the leading of God can turn a life around.

Many people were spiritually touched and healed during those three teaching times. I was one of them.

For me, fasting is for one purpose. It is not to show God how great your need is, or to convince Him you are worthy of His attention. Fasting is for the purpose of cleansing your own life so you can get on with the mission of touching the lives of others.

If I’ve learned anything else about fasting, it is this: Only fast when God tells you to. Do it for as long as He leads. When He tells you you’re done, end it.

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God’s Gender Revisited

August 12, 2005

Brandon at his blog “Bad Christian”, who posts questions often, posed this one: Is God a Woman?

Here are some of his comments that followed:

Honestly, I don’t know. Frankly, I don’t think that God can be characterized as either male or female. I tend to think, though, that with reference to gender–rather than sex–God can be characterized as BOTH masculine and feminine.

I simply can’t understand, if as most people assert that God (the Father/Mother) is neither (or both…whatever) male or female, why would we ONLY apply the masculine pronoun when we refer to God. Actually, that’s not true. I do understand, I think.

It’s my contention that cultural tradition has dictated the use of the masculine to add value to things and the use of the feminine to detract value (or status) from things. That is, by calling God (the Father/Mother) ‘He’, ‘His’, or ‘Him’ we–because male is ‘good’–add value to God. Frankly, I find this value adding bit to be nothing more than bullshit. There’s nothing inherently better about being a man than a woman.

Let me add my two cents worth to this question.

First of all,

Who conceived of us as male and female? God could have created us as asexual reproducers, thus making us all the same sex. But God didn’t do it that way. I believe that maleness and femaleness express different aspects of the vastness of who God is. But is that all? I believe God is also Angelic, he is also Elderic (remember those guys in Revelation who always throw their crowns all over the place) and God is Seraphimic and Cherubimic and Martian and Venusian and any other place there might be/could be/must be other beings. If you add up all the different aspects, will we come close to seeing the fullness of God’s image? How limiting to see God as male or female…or as male/female. How many more genders could God create?

Second,

Is the masculine shorthand we have added for God playable any more? Some would argue that both in Hebrew and Greek God’s pronouns are all masculine. That argument however falls short when we speak of Holy Spirit. In Greek, Holy Spirit is neuter…defined as neither male or female. We don’t see Holy Spirit as less God than Father or Son, so what do we make of that? The King James Version makes the mistake of using the pronoun “it” to describe the Spirit. Are we to understand then that a personal member of the Godhead is only an impersonal force (if so, then let’s exalt George Lucas as a visionary Theologian). Let’s be clear on one thing. In most languages, gender is rarely an absolute designation of a thing or person’s sex. There are many things that are masculine in gender in Greek and just as many that are feminine. It is just the way they developed.

Perhaps the hardest things to overcome are the names “Father” and “Son” in describing members of the Trinity. Yet these are New Testament designations, since the delineation of Father and Son requires that we understand there is a relationship. Yes, there is mention of the plurality of God in Genesis 1:26 (ie. “Let us make man in OUR image) and in a number of other places. But the relationship is not explicitely detailed until Jesus’ baptism. Obviously Jesus had to be one sex…a Jesus with ambiguous sexual identity would not have played well on the stage of life. No, the designation of Father and Son is not a designation of sexual identity but rather a description of relationship.

I think my conclusion is that any significance of God’s sex is lost in the wonder of the totality of who God is, and who we will discover God to be in the ages to come.

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Of course

August 11, 2005

Now admit it…we’ve all wanted to do this, haven’t we?

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Conspiracy of Silence

August 11, 2005

Readers Note: What follows is a lot of philosophy. Please read to the bottom. The conclusion might be helpful.

I am asked frequently, “Why do most churches not teach that we can individually hear God’s Voice?” As regular readers of this blog know, I teach and write regularly on the skill sets needed to hear God effectively. People who come from Christian traditions which don’t teach on this subject are often confused as to why there is such silence on this issue. There are many reasons, and I advise anyone who wants a complete explanation to pick up Dr. Jack Deere’s book “Surprised by the Voice of God.”

But the roots of this problem lie with a philosopher named Soren Kierkegaard. In his day, Modernism was blooming – with Hegel, Kant and Hume leading the way in implying that unless something can be proven by scientific means, it has no existence, no importance to the lives of ordinary human beings. In essence, they reacted to the ridiculous over-exuberance of the Rennaisance in its love-affair with all things Greek and ethereal. These philosophers rejected a “spiritual realm” and locked modernism forever into the study of the physical dimension.

This created what Francis Schaeffer calls “The Line of Despair”. They claimed an uncrossable line between the natural and the Supernatural (notice it is no longer called the “spiritual”…by calling it “supernatural” they defined the spirit realm in terms of the physical, and therefore had an easy time eliminating it). The Enlightenment taught that nothing crosses the line between the natural and the Supernatural. Even if the Supernatural realm exists (which none of them accepted) nothing crosses that line, so it is as if nothing above the line is even there.

Schaeffer calls it a “line of despair” because not only does this line eliminate miracles, healing, and the Divine Origin of Man, it also prevents man from having any transcendent meaning. If our lives are to have meaning, then it must come from something that is outside of ourselves. That is what it means to “transcend”. The ultimate end of a philosophy that teaches we have no transcendent meaning is Existentialism. In existentialism, we are meaningless sacks of chemicals that only fool ourselves into thinking our actions have meaning. Most existentialists are depressed. Small wonder.

Into the early stages of the Enlightenment came Soren Kierkegaard. He believed we have meaning. He believed in the Supernatural realm. Unfortunately, he also blithely accepted the Line between the natural and Supernatural. Kierkegaard saw three stages in human development. First, is the meaning found in the Arts and Pleasure. He criticized Hegel and others for settling on this stage as the ultimate meaning of man. He called them Neo-Hedonists. (He was right btw.) The second stage was that of moral and ethical development. He urged his fellow philosophers to see the need to have an absolute moral base upon which to build modern society. Eventually some of the Naturalists came to agree with him, but more on that another time…that had its own problems. The third stage was the stage of Transcendent Meaning. Kierkegaard believed that unless one accepted the existence and supremacy of God, there could be no transcendent meaning. I don’t disagree with that. But then he said, in essence, because there is a line between the natural and the supernatural, we have to take a “leap of faith” in order to enter this third phase of development.

This is where a good portion of the church went off base. Whereas some parts of the church just followed the school of thought that the natural and the supernatural never meet (thus eliminating miracles, the Divine authorship of the Bible, the Divinity of Christ, God Speaking to people), another subset of the church held onto these as an EXCEPTION. God sort of rubs out the line until the Bible is written and then closes it up again. No more miracles, no more Voice of God, No more of anything divine entering into this world. Faith in Christ was pictured as this “leap of faith”.

They began to teach that God does not speak any more. The only reason God spoke at all was to write the Scriptures and then when the last Apostle died, God became silent again. Though I doubt anyone would state it that baldly, that is the essence of what is believed and taught in many seminaries today.

How then is God the “same yesterday, today and forever” (Hebrews 13:8)? How did the writers of Scripture get their inspiration if God “does not speak”? And why should we just accept that God only opened up the window of His Voice for that short period of time? Doesn’t John 10 tell us “My sheep hear my voice”?

The silence of the church is understandable. If you are taught that God doesn’t speak, then when God does speak you will interpret it as something else. Even in Jesus’ day, when God spoke out loud, some said it was an angel and other said they heard thunder. Modernism’s greatest blow against God’s people, removing the belief in hearing God, was performed by one who believed in God. That makes me want to scream and cry at the same time.

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Grandpa Blogging

August 9, 2005

The difference between a blog and a news article is that most people assume the blogger will write about personal items occasionally that add flavor to life’s larger issues.

Here there be pictures of the grandkids…argghh.

( BTW…I am writing this with my Ipaq 2215 and a Stowaway Bluetooth Keyboard, flying from Fayetteville, NC to Atlanta, GA coming home from visiting with my son, daughter and two grandchildren: Maci and Caleb. Go here to see my pics of these two extraordinary kids. For those of you reading this who really don’t need all the features and power of a laptop as you travel, let me recommend this combination. The 2215 has two separate memory add-in slots…one for CF flash memory and one for SD…the Stowaway Keyboard has full-sized keys and feels so much like a regular keyboard, except for when you type numbers. I have a 512 MB memory card in here and I could write 4 books and not come close to using up 100th of the memory).

Caleb was born six weeks ago at the Army hospital here at Fort Bragg. He weighed in at 8 lbs. 8 oz. As you can tell by the pictures, he isn’t fat at all, just very long and growing fast. He has passed the 11 pound mark already and will soon be signed by the Oakland Raiders as a linebacker. I also included a picture of his daddy, who is a medic with the 82nd Airborne Division. Andrew and Jennifer are dear to us and we relish every moment we can spend with them. The last night I was there, Andrew pulled medic duty as he was the Ambulance assist on a night jump of over 1000 paratroopers. He phoned his house this morning to say that there was only one serious injury: a broken femur. He was disappointed that the broken bone had not poked through the skin. He wanted practice dealing with a compound fracture. This is also the young man that took great delight patching up an insurgent in Iraq who had been shot through his perineum (look it up, if you dare). The Army gets its money’s worth with this boy.

When it comes to injuries and pain, he definitely takes after his mother.

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