Our Greatest Social Problem

I posted the question on my facebook page recently, “What do you think is our greatest social problem in the world?” It seemed a rather lively topic, so I thought I would share my thoughts in my blog rather than attempt to nudge in one more soundbite-type response. My thanks in advance to all who posted.

I believe the single greatest social ill is our fractured relationships. Humans, in my experience, are terrible at prioritizing, communicating, focusing and nurturing healthy relationships with God, self, others and creation. When most people look at a social ill, they stare at the stalk and say, “Let’s come up with a cleaver way to pull that weed!”

A recent conversation with a dear friend about pornography is a perfect example. He and another friend had come up with a way to significantly hinder the porn industry’s ability to process credit cards. It seemed legal and ethical in the way they proposed it, and I believe it would have cost MasterCard and Visa financially to continue to do business with pornographers, not to mention a terrible headache for smut peddlers. I advised my friend not to proceed because I believe that the roots of the industry would have only dug deeper in the midst of an assault.

The reason porn exists is because of broken relationships. The industry depends on broken parent-daughter relationships, parent-son relationships, and primarily, because of a brokenness in our ability to serve the Lord and follow His ways. Because we also have a broken relationship with financial resources, we monetarily incentivize, to the tune of billions of dollars, the further degradation of the family through porn.

This isn’t a diatribe about one industry, so let’s move on. One response to my facebook post was that “intolerance” is our greatest social problem. This is absurd (my apologies to the author), because you simply cannot tolerate everything. Alexander Hamilton is credited with telling us that, “Those who stand for nothing will fall for anything.” The idea that you can allow everything to exist in harmony denies the fact that, when left to our own devices and desires, sin ensues. The primary Wiccan/Pagan tenet, “…do what ye will, harm none.”, is ridiculous when followed to it’s natural end. Can any social ill be done in private that does not hurt another person? At the very best, we use sin to isolate ourselves from necessary relationships, and at the very worst, we grieve the heart of God.

I do not believe we have too few rules or values in society. We have millions of laws, and most people would tell you they believe that families ought to be more loving, ought to show respect, ought to, ought to …. ad nauseum. The values aren’t gone from society. They are being intentionally rejected. My belief is that people in Western societies are filling ourselves with what is comfortable and entertaining rather than what is relationally healthy. I could really get on my soapbox here, but I’ll summarize by saying that I only have one T.V. in my house, and that might be one too many.

My friend, Brian Fulthorp, wrote the following on my facebook post: “most problems are symptomatic of broken relationships: divorce, war, fighting, killing, all that…. and like others have noted, all of that is borne out of our alienation from God our maker.” I completely agree. To his list, I feel compelled to add my personal conviction that it pleases God when we care for creation. This was a primary request of the Lord in Genisis 2:15, and I believe he is pleased when we steward the earth well.

Also to the list, and of utmost urgency, is a realization that we have to steward our relationship with ourselves. We tend to be sentient organisims that are particularly cleaver at seeking pleasure and avoiding pain, but humans were created very differently here. We should, at times, chase after the thing that causes us incredible discomfort. I believe the greatest human attribute it to boldly pursue something that inflicts tremendous pain in the act of serving the Lord and serving others in His name.

I love that someone on facebook finally asked for the solution. Although I am far from mastering the solution, I feel I am living it, to some degree. I tend to my relationships with God, self, others and creation, in that order, stewarding each and owning none.

Happy New Minute

As I write this, the fireworks and screams have already begun around the world. 2011 is here for more than half of the earth’s population. I can already hear the sound of resolutions giving way; like a semi-breached dam preparing to shatter.

The problem isn’t making a resolution. What I have noticed is that it is really hard to suddenly stop anything when you get really good at it. For instance, I am a really good eater (and I don’t mean well-mannered, unless my manners will increase my access to yummy calories). My first resolution ever was to give up ice cream. I was 13 & pudgy, and I finally figured out that chicks don’t dig pudgy unless you’re a puppy.

How did I work up to my resolution? I practice my craft. 6 ice cream bars latter, I made my vow to never again have ice cream, and I really wasn’t even tempted to have any until at least a day later. You know what I did.

That experience with my resolution helped me to see how fruitless a sudden and sometimes whimsical resolution can be. Resolutions do work when they are a part of a disciplined lifestyle. When we demonstrate faithfulness by the moment in our godly disciplines, we are much more likely to truly resolve to do the right thing. There is very little power in a resolution by itself. There is great power in tenaciously seeking God in the seconds and minutes of our life.

“He will die for a lack of discipline, led astray by his own great folly.” Proverbs 5:23. We all know people like this. I’m sure they make new year’s resolutions, maybe several of them for each December 31 that rolls around. We do not often enough live in the moment; disciplined and steadfast in our resolve for righteousness. We wait for something big to be our catalyst for something better. Unfortunately, the big things in life usually uncover our deficiencies rather than strengthen them. Take Peter, for instance. His embarrassing denial of Christ was preceded by at minimum four smaller failures.

Peter lacked discipline. Christ told Peter that he would deny Jesus three times, but he was very overconfident. Then Peter fell asleep when he should have been praying. In Gethsemane, Peter chopped off Malchus’ ear, a reckless and grossly undisciplined act. When Peter followed Jesus into town, he kept his distance. He already denied Christ in the proximity he kept. How could he resolve to do something like claiming allegiance to Christ when he’d practiced the exact opposite?

The Holy Spirit is in the moment. He is here, now, initiating with us to make the best choices we can. He doesn’t want us to wait until the new year, new day, Sunday, a retreat, a wedding or the birth of our children or grandchildren to do what he wants us to do right now.

“So I say, live by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the sinful nature. For the sinful nature desires what is contrary to the Spirit, and the Spirit what is contrary to the sinful nature. They are in conflict with each other… Those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the sinful nature with its passions and desires. Since we live by the Spirit, let us keep in step with the Spirit.” Galatians 5:16,17,24,25

There are many distractions to our discipline. Cut them out. If TV, facebook, Xbox, cars, or needlepoint get in the way of your daily devotion and discipline, wean yourself away from those things. They are not sinful in and of themselves, but they rob you of the moments that you could do something actually meaningful. Do things that resonate with your purpose and identity. Delve into your passions and discipline yourself in the gifting you have. Resolve to do what the Holy Spirit would have you to do this minute. Here’s what’s at stake.

Annual resolutions:

  1. Have a very high failure rate
  2. Lead to spiritual and intellectual frustration and apathy
  3. Don’t help you to develop your purpose and generally lack meaning
  4. Are forgotten by the following year

Resolving to give the minutes to Jesus:

  1. Have a very high success rate
  2. Lead to spiritual and intellectual fulfillment and engagement
  3. Help you to develop your purpose and meaning
  4. Are experienced at the end of your life, and remembered daily until then

What if Peter had been faithful in the moments preceding the cross? What if he had accepted his initial rebuke, prayed with Christ, disciplined his anger and taken the faithful steps of a friend? Peter went on to give all of himself to the Kingdom, even his life. I am sure if he had a mulligan, he would have the internal fortitude to live with Christ in the last minutes he spent walking this earth.

If you read this before the New Year, don’t wait. Give this very minute to Christ. If you’re reading this after the New Year, do the same thing! Joshua 24:15

Christmas Guilt

I am the last of five children; twenty years younger than the eldest and ten years after my parents were “done”; four kids a family makes. When Christmas presents came, I might have well been an only child. Although I remember Christmas when I was three or four, it’s the Christmases of my elementary years that really stand out.

Some of my best Christmas memories are about my favorite big brother and me. He had a knack for mischief, and one of those times involved my mom’s present. He was 20 or so, home on leave from the Navy. I was seven, and his biggest fan in the world. My mom loved Almond Roca, and the scant giftwrap did nothing to hide the fact that the tasty confections rested inside.

“Let’s eat them,” my brother goaded. I was speechless, the carrier of an impeccable conscience that in my seven year old mind had never done wrong. “C’mon,” he said in a sinister tone, “She’ll never notice if a few are missing.”

I only remember bits of what happened next. I remember being on the floor on my back, him straddling me, opening my mom’s Roca. We were both laughing; him holding unwrapped pieces in front of my nose and over my lips. I loved my mom. She loved Almond Roca. She really loved her Christmas Almond Roca… from Dad, with love. But the crushing weight of temptation, not to mention the weight of my brother’s butt on my stomach, was way too much for my will to fight.

At least one went down; maybe two or three. It tasted so good! There we laughed, next to the stockings, presents and tree… a swirling mess of colored lights, tinsel, Santa and guilt. Guilt! There you are. I felt it. An unrelenting pressure of knowing that I’d made the worst possible choice. I stole, and now the temptation came to lie in order to cover up my wretchedness.

“We’ll just put the wrap back on & she’ll never know,” smirked my big brother. How could she not know we ate half her candy? How could I look her in the eye… the evil son that exchanged his birthright for some chocolate, scrumptious toffee and wonderful crushed almonds?

This was my first life experience with what Paul writes in Romans 7:19. “For I do not do the good I want to do, but the evil I do not want to do—this I keep on doing.”

Several significant things happened around that same time in my life. Within the next year or two, I recognized that I had bigotry in my heart. Other family members had undoubtedly influenced me in ways that I knew weren’t right. My mom prayed with me for Jesus to allow me to love people the way he does. It took.

The other thing that happened was that I asked Jesus into my heart. Sitting on the piano bench with my mom, we stopped from whatever we were singing. I asked my mom what it meant to have Jesus in your heart. She explained that he wants to have a relationship with me, that he would forgive me of my sin (and guilt), and then she asked me if I wanted to ask him into my heart.

I did, and He did.

Back to the forbidden Roca – my mom did find out. The guilt was short lived. I blamed my big brother for everything and he got the evil eye and a tongue-lashing. I told her how sorry I was, and she forgave me. Grace! There you are. There’s nothing that feels as good as the salve of knowing that you’re forgiven.

Romans 3:23-24 “For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and all are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus.

Romans 8:1 “Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus,”

Thank you Jesus for coming! Happy Birthday. Now pass the Roca.

Oh, and Rick, if you’re reading this, you’re still my favorite.