The Danger of Deceptive Posture

locust
That position is called “the locust”. She makes it look so easy, so comfortable. Perhaps she could do that all day?

It’s fitting that yoga originates with religion and gurus because today’s thought is about the danger of deceptive posturing.

Here’s how it goes. Pastor Guru Guroferston has a bit of influence, and a bit of charm. So a would-be padawan decides to try to win him over as his master. In this dance of acceptance he wins the role of padawan by standing on his head and bouncing around. Pastor Guru is impressed! He’s clearly no “rolling saint” but he’ll do for now.

After putting on such a show to win the interest of his new master the padawan has a tall order to fill. He must always appear comfortable bouncing around on his head to maintain the new found status.

Months, even years go by and finally the contortions are paying off. Pastor Guru is looking for a successor (sometimes code for he’s bored and ready to expand his influence). The young padawan is anxiously awaiting his opportunity to be the master and he does! His first act as master is to accept auditions for his own padawan and after watching a few different acts he is nearly ready to make his choice. In fact he’s pretty sure he can choose several of these people, maybe even a half dozen or so when the news breaks… IN BREAKING NEWS… “World renound Pastor Guru Guroferston caught in prostitution raid…” or “Guroferston’s wife leaves him after 10 years.” or even just: “Pastor Guru destitute after a series of bad investments.”

Kaboom… the would-be master is now turned into nothing but a bad investment, a divorcee, or a cheap “trick”. Yes, the padawan. Why? Well simple, the padawan was building his house on the sand of Pastor Guru Guroferston. So every dumb thing that Pastor Guru did reflects on the padawan. Pastor Guru was the authority that declared him “master” or “pastor” or whatever title was bestowed on him and for however long as the padawan finds his identity in that title he is linked to everything Pastor Guru Guroferston does. He was ordained by a fraud and by association is himself a fraud. Even if he isn’t, for as long as he defends the title he cherishes, he defends his guru.

This is not how it is supposed to be! Of course the story was a caricature of this dynamic, but tone down the exaggerations and this is precisely how many churches work. It feels like a competition because that’s precisely what it is. The padawans and gurus would never admit such, but they play-on, vying for titles and admiration precisely as Jesus warned they would do:

“Everything they do is done for people to see: They make their phylacteries[a] wide and the tassels on their garments long; 6 they love the place of honor at banquets and the most important seats in the synagogues; 7 they love to be greeted with respect in the marketplaces and to be called ‘Rabbi’ by others.” – Matthew 23:5-7.

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When anger=sin…

gossip slander cowardsWhen anger=sin it becomes utmostly important to never appear frustrated so…
When anger=sin we only speak about sin to others and not the one we accuse because…
When anger=sin gossip is necessary to avoid “sinful” confrontations. The problem is…
ANGER DOES NOT EQUAL SIN!

There are some questions in the Bible that are not clearly answered, but this is not one of them, not only was Paul quite clear in: Ephesians 4:26 “In your anger do not sin”; but Jesus Himself demonstrated anger and frustration regularly and quite publicly:

“So he made a whip out of cords, and drove all from the temple courts, both sheep and cattle; he scattered the coins of the money changers and overturned their tables.To those who sold doves he said, “Get these out of here! Stop turning my Father’s house into a market!” His disciples remembered that it is written: “Zeal for your house will consume me.” -John 2:13

“Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You are like whitewashed tombs, which look beautiful on the outside but on the inside are full of the bones of the dead and everything unclean.” – Matthew 23:27

“You snakes! You brood of vipers! How will you escape being condemned to hell?” – Matthew 23:33

Ironically in Romans 1 Paul makes a pretty comprehensive list of sins and while anger is not in there another sin is:

“For although they knew God, they neither glorified him as God nor gave thanks to him, but their thinking became futile and their foolish hearts were darkened. Although they claimed to be wise, they became fools…”

“Furthermore, just as they did not think it worthwhile to retain the knowledge of God, so God gave them over to a depraved mind, so that they do what ought not to be done. They have become filled with every kind of wickedness, evil, greed and depravity. They are full of envy, murder, strife, deceit and malice. They are gossips, slanderers, God-haters, insolent, arrogant and boastful; they invent ways of doing evil; they disobey their parents; they have no understanding, no fidelity, no love, no mercy. Although they know God’s righteous decree that those who do such things deserve death, they not only continue to do these very things but also approve of those who practice them.”

While anger is clearly not in the list there are a few terms that are associated with anger that are: “insolent, arrogant and boastful”. These are worth discussing:

Matthew 16:23: “Jesus turned and said to Peter, ‘Get behind me, Satan! You are a stumbling block to me; you do not have in mind the concerns of God, but merely human concerns.’

insolent:
showing a rude and arrogant lack of respect.
In true Paulian translated to English form, there is a degree of redundancy here. However, a word-study – especially useful in such situations – makes it fairly clear that the Greek communciated more than the English translation. The Greek word is “hybristḗs” and Strong’s defines it this way: “This kind of individual delights in wrong-doing – finding pleasure in hurting others.” As is often the case the English definition comes far short of describing this properly. By the English definition Jesus was “insolent” toward Peter in Matthew 16:23 above, but by the Greek definition He lacked important characteristics to qualify for such an adjective. 1. He clearly did not “delight in wrong-doing”. 2. He clearly did not “find pleasure in hurting others.” Perhaps this is why alternate definitions and English synonyms of the word “insolent” includes “boldness” and “a very confident attitude or way of behaving that is shocking”.

arrogant:
having or revealing an exaggerated sense of one’s own importance or abilities.
There does not appear to be any reason to look any further into this term. To assume that one is demonstrating such a characteristic one must also assume to know how important or unimportant another is. In short, one must demonstrate arrogance to judge another as arrogant.

boastful:
showing excessive pride and self-satisfaction in one’s achievements, possessions, or abilities.
Similar to arrogant above, this is a value judgment. What constitutes “excessive”? However, the Greek again doesn’t humor such a simplistic definition. “alazoneía” in Strong’s is specifically “empty” and quite similarly to “arrogant” in this context one would have to be pretty arrogant to determine whether someone’s claim is “empty” or not. For it’s only the empty sort that would be sinful and that because it’s a form of deception, lying.

gossip:
casual or unconstrained conversation or reports about other people, typically involving details that are not confirmed as being true.
At this point it is only fair that we look at what the Greek has to say about “gossip” as well: “psithyristḗs” means “whisperer”. “Quietly (secretly) destroying another person’s character. – i.e. covertly, not out in the open, but rather operating ‘in a corner.'”

As with most things spiritual there is no formula for flagging gossip either. The English definition does work, but whether or not the conversation is about details “confirmed as being true” or “destroying another person’s character” are often points of debate. One thing that is certain, any person overly concerned with their own image would choose “whispering” over “a very confident attitude or way of behaving that is shocking.”

I hope it is clear that I’m not trying to give you a formula, but Strong’s numbers and scripture are good ways to test your discernment. Exercising discernment is more of a leap of faith than a hard and fast formula. However, we get some pretty good clues along the way. Concerning gossip, while my suspicions may be heightened during a private conversation when someone shows an overt willingness to discuss other people’s inadequacies while beating around the bush about their/my own, I also find most do this to some degree. In fact there are sadly VERY few that will criticize the person in front of them and even fewer that appreciate such things.

What happens after the “whispering” is what is most telling. Are they willing to stand by their private words in public? Does their posture match their accusations? Do they seek out those people they slandered and try to resolve their conviction? Do they – do I – get to the man-to-man of it? If I’m not willing to speak my opinion to someone’s face then I should not be willing to “whisper” it either. I’m not sure I’d suggest this for everyone, but a trick I use is to warn folks that I have a “tough time remembering what’s a secret and what isn’t” and caution that: “if this is such a problem, I’ll probably talk to them about this pretty soon.” Trustworthy people don’t mind this so much, but deceptive people see all kinds of red flags with such warnings. Some will go so far as to accuse me of being untrustworthy, or claim that it is gossip to share with the person what was being said about them. It requires a fantastic stretch to claim that one can gossip to another about that very same person. Though deception is not characterized by its adherence to logic.

So hopefully there is a lot to take away here:

1. Anger is not sin by itself.
2. Several words mentioned above are insufficient in the English to represent the concepts from the Greek.
3. Gossip sucks.
4. Cowards suck.
5. Saying “suck” is not sinful. (definition: is bad, is rubbish)
6. We should all be more willing to discus ourselves and the person before us when meeting and less willing to discuss others.
7. If you’re really brave perhaps you should warn people upfront that you don’t keep secrets, especially about other people.

Next week I’ll discuss how deceptive posturing leads to self-inflicted wounds.

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“You ain’t Him!” – The paradox of Christ-likeness.

In my 20 years of actively participating in churches, everything from “youth worker” at 18, to “youth pastor” at 20, to “worship leader”, to “missionary”… in all of those years and all of those places I’ve heard, and ashamedly said: “You ain’t Him” more times than I can count. It may be a bit cynical, but at this point in my faith I consider that to be famous last words. Here’s why:

There really is no orthodox question that God wants us to be “Christ-like”, and any reformation that claims otherwise would be amiss. However, within orthodoxy there is imagined and implemented a backdoor to this. That backdoor being that many reserve the right to decide exactly which of Christ’s traits one can demonstrate and other traits that are off-limits as they see fit. Ironically, this leads to them accusing others of not being “Christ-like” when those others are actually imitating Christ quite accurately. If/when an exhorter or prophet crosses this imaginary line they are accused, and if they answer the accusation with examples of Christ doing exactly what they’ve done they are reminded (as though they need to be) that they “Aren’t Him!”

My previous post mentioned the flattery of cons. That kind of flattery is more prevalent within churches than the Christ-likeness that we supposedly value so highly. In short flattery is patently NOT Christ-like. However, it’s forgivable and even desirable, especially among those that fancy themselves in authority over others. Since they are often the beneficiaries of such flattery. Am I the only one that finds unfounded flattery deceptive and downright offensive? I think not. It is right about now that I’d like to quote Paul, not as Christ Himself (since Paul also “ain’t Him”) but as a wise man that experienced first hand the primitive and frustrating process of exhorting other believers: “By smooth talk and flattery they deceive the minds of naive people.” Yet somehow those that should know better will imagine everyone but themselves, even those “cruel” and “belligerent” exhorters whose spiritual gifts have not only been deprecated, but ostracized. I haven’t known many exhorters or prophets that could be accused of being “smooth” talkers.

So back to “famous last words.” The major problem with playing the “You ain’t Jesus” card is that it frees the wielder to decide for themselves which of Christ’s traits another is allowed to demonstrate and which they are not. In fact, they’ve made themselves the ultimate authority instead of Christ and set out to make others in their own image and not Christ’s at all. They are making disciples of themselves, not of Christ. This is an impasse, especially when they believe they have authority over you. You have reached a “shake the dust off your feet” (Matt 10:14) moment. Lies and flattery, gossip, and manipulation are all tolerable, but don’t you dare imitate Jesus.

We’ve discussed this “keys to the kingdom” dynamic before as it relates to Bible interpretation. A fallacious but effective technique that deceives others, whether pre-meditated or accidental, this is destructive: “a time is coming when the one who kills you will think he’s serving God.” (John 16:2)

So dear exhorters and prophets, and generally Christ-like people, do not allow others to pull you down to their level by demanding you stroke their egos or worship their partial image of Christ. Non-believers require kid gloves but for other believers to condemn you exercising your man-hands toward them despite their claim of being spiritually superior to you is a sure sign that those who have maneuvered themselves into leadership are dangerously arrogant. Unless God shows you hope for those principalities and powers, and I mean God Himself and not some sudden change of posture meant only to flatter, then do shake the dust off your feet and move on. For every person you spend your time with there is usually someone else that you are not. So don’t be sentimental, just recognize that there is more fertile soil to be found.

Exhorters and prophets are somewhat doomed by human nature to come and go in waves as they wear out their welcome. It’s a natural process that has existed since Adam & Eve hid their nakedness from God Himself. Darkness hates light so: “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.”

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Putting the Con in Confidence.

The con in the word “conman” comes from the word “condfidence”. As we have come to recognize it today, cons are liars who are out to exploit people. In short they are evil.

If you’ve ever heard the saying: “fool me once shame on you” you may have heard the second half: “fool me twice shame on me.” We do have a responsibility before men & God to recognize fakes.

The trick to being a good conmen is being plausible. However just because what they describe may be possible, what makes them deceptive are the facts that they skip over. A common one being, what they offer isn’t usually probable. Think lottery ticket. They sell advice like lottery tickets and exploit hope in the process. There is nothing for them to lose in this process, they cannot, will not, and do not guarantee your success. They don’t even have to print tickets! They just build your confidence. The more confidence they can build the more “con” they can exploit.

Besides the lottery (“it could be you!”), another great example of a con is a company called Amway (formally known as Quixtar, formally known as Alticor formally known as Amway). They’re probably due for another name change soon. Here’s a quick look at conmen at work:

Does it look familiar? Think Church. Unfortunately, there is little soil more “fertile” than the hope of religion. Chant Jeremiah 29:11 or the prayer of Jabez enough times and Christians are all over the hope that comes from promises of success and riches. The catch? It’s a con.

This isn’t yet another criticism of the prosperity gospel, there are plenty of those to be found going back years. John Piper, David Platt… um Jesus. What this is is a warning to be on your guard against “confidence” men who puff others up with strings attached.

The reason Church is a common place to find this is because in Church we “encourage” and “compliment”. It is perfectly good theology to let people know the “good news” and to pat them on the back along their way. We highly value “encouragers” but “exhorters” are “too opinionated” and the prophets get outright ostracized readily. Remember, it’s the prophets that are hated and killed. If prophets are the buzz-killers of the Body of Christ the encouragers are the chocolate, caffeine, even crack. However, those encouragers, who can argue with them?

2 Timothy 4:3 : “For the time will come when people will not put up with sound doctrine. Instead, to suit their own desires, they will gather around them a great number of teachers to say what their itching ears want to hear.”

Sound familiar? Or how about this?

Luke 6:32: “If you love those who love you, what credit is that to you? Even sinners love those who love them.”

Of course everyone loves “encouragers” because we’re all sinners, even non-believers are… so we “love” those that “love” us. However Jesus didn’t dwell on this type of “love” much. It comes naturally to everyone. So it stands to reason that we shouldn’t be surprised if nothing supernatural follows behavior so natural as flattery. Yes, flattery. Encouragement’s evil twin.

Conmen thrive on flattery. They appeal to your ego, they appeal to your vanity, and to find an in they can even appeal to your emotions. However, what they often lack is the ability to deal with anything that threatens their image. If a conman gets caught in a lie that he can’t weasle out of he will flee. His intentions were never relationship or love, they were exploitation. They may have even believed that they were serving God and just getting a little bit of “reward” on the side. They should check out a guy named Achan in the Old Testiment who thought a little on the side was innocent.

In fact, let’s all consider Achan for a moment, because there’s a bit of him in all of us. It may be rare to find an actual sheep under the sheep’s clothing nowadays, but when we do it’s an amazing thing. So whether you are fellowshipping with other believers or not, don’t be surprised that it’s rare. Look in the mirror instead. Ask yourself what “reward” you’re trying to get for you time .  Even the smallest little trinket could be a major problem. Become the person that you long to find. To do that will probably require sacrifice, and almost certainly not be financially or socially profitable for you. But that’s when you can smile and say with confidence: “I am not a conman. I am not Achan, I am not robbing God.”

The rewards of sacrifice go to Christ, and He redistributes it as He sees fit. The great “socialist” in the sky & the only one qualified to rule that way.

For those of you that know conmen, recognize that Achan didn’t think what he was doing was terrible either. In fact, it was impossible to pin down the sin without God’s help. Nowadays God isn’t *usually* in the business of swallowing people up with earthquakes. So tread lightly, and test carefully, and bear 100% mercy. We’re not the judge, and we may discover that with God’s help we can rescue our brother from Achan’s fate. Even if you are sinless, you undoubtedly at one point were not. So put yourself in their shoes and be a rescuer not a condemner.

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