The thin veneer of self-righteousness

June 30, 2009

Mark Sanford was one of the rising stars in the GOP .  Even as governor of South Carolina, he was making a national name for himself by rejecting Obama’s bailout money, tossed out to the states earlier this year.  And the news wags and political pundits mention his name often as a prospective candidate for the presidency in 2012. 

Clearly that changed last week after his announced 8-year relationship and affair with an Argentine woman.  Now his falling stock price is declining even further as the details come out from an Associated Press interview given today.  He confesses to having “crossed lines” with several other women, but never the “ultimate line.”  Don’t you just love that qualification?  He lays this out for us with the appearance that the even broader betrayal of his wife’s trust, not to mention the breach of the promise he made to the God he professes, are so trivial as to justify a kind of smug self-righteousness at having NOT “crossed the sex line” on these other occasions. 

There is something narcissistic about these latest admissions.  I understand the need for confession, but I am not certain that these announcements today conform to the Biblical requirement given that I, for example, was not sinned against, yet I am now made aware of them along with the rest of the world.  Sanford had already come clean with his whereabouts when no one could reach him a week or so ago, his political career is over, and now all he is doing is piling more shame and embarassment on his wife and four young boys.  While Sanford may in some way feel some catharsis by having gotten these matters off his chest, his wife now is once again publicly humiliated by the greater degree to which her husband is known to be a philanderer.  The stomach turning nature of his admissions to the indiscretions with the other women beyond his Argentine lover might only be matched by his comment that his mistress is his “soul mate.”  BUT, he wants to fall back in love with his wife. 

Mark Sanford’s fall from “stardom” in contemporary politics has largely been by virtue of the contradiction between his squeaky-clean, devoted family-man image and the reality of an apparently pathological inclination for spousal betrayal and moral failure.  I am grateful to God for His restraining grace, that I do not share in the specific nature of Mark Sanford’s sin.  But Sanford’s good-guy outward image prior to the disclosure of his misbehavior, is a great reminder that any righteousness that WE produce and project outwardly, is nothng but a very thin veneer that covers absolutely wicked hearts and minds.

I am grateful that real righteousness has been given to me by God himself.  Not by virtue of any merit I possess.  Instead, this righteousness was awarded to me through the greatest exchange that was ever conceived, when my sins, different from Sanford’s but equally deserving of Holy judgment, were imputed (credit by transferal), to Christ’s account on the cross.  In that same exchange, Christ’s perfection, His righteousness was imputed (credit by transferal), to my account.  

The practical, day-in, day-out evidence of grace and the genuine manifestation of true righteousness in my life is still caught up in the process of progressive sanctification.  I pray that I will never experience the type of moral failure that Mark Sanford has.  But I am certain that like Sanford, I will be inclined to continue to manufacture my own thin veneer of self-righteousness to gloss over the stumbles I do have.  But by God’s grace, I am growing more and more in the image of Christ with each day, or at least that is my hope and my goal.  And I believe that is God’s goal for me as well, in Christ Jesus.


Misplaced hope and confidence

June 26, 2009

With the death of two celebrities yesterday, it has been interesting to hear PR statements being released by other famous public figures, expressing their condolences, usually including some spiritual references for Farrah Fawcett and Michael Jackson as they pass from this life to the next.  The comments and hopeful confidences that these folks express are understandable given the public struggle with cancer that Fawcett waged over the last couple of years and the world-wide attention given to the last 20 or so years of Jackson’s stunningly troubled and freakish life.

But what is striking to me is the apparent hope-against-hope, or perhaps better said, misplaced confidence that people have for both of these departed souls.  With the acknowledged risk of sounding cruel or piously cynical, I ask a serious and heartfelt question…was there anything about the content of  these two people’s lives that would lend support for a hope or confidence that they are now experiencing paradise in the presence of the One True God, as opposed to an eternal continuation of their tortured existences?  Is it possible that anything significant might have been missing?

I’ll grant you that I was not a fan or follower of either of these people at any point in my life.  Yes, I watched Charlie’s Angels and if memory serves me correctly, I think one of those posters of her wearing that red bathing suit was in my possession at some point in time.  And yes, I was familiar with Michael Jackson both when he was a young black man, and through his metamorphosis into whatever it was that he became in the last several years of his life, including apparently a pedophile.  Nevertheless, because I did not follow these two very closely, it is entirely possible that I missed some significant announcement about both of them having experienced the life-changing, justifying and regenerating power of God’s grace.  However, if that is the case, my lack of having heard about it in life, is now matched by the silence about it in their deaths.

What I do know is that Fawcett and her long time “partner” Ryan O’Neal, effectively thumbed their noses at God with respect to their cohabiting relationship, which produced their troubled son, Redmond.  And even though it was reported that O’Neal wanted to marry Fawcett at the end, no such covenant was ever made.  Therefore, it is perhaps not unreasonable to assume that repentance for their decades long immoral relationship also never came.  And, while news reports indicate that she received “last rites” on the evening before her death, I do not hold to the belief that that alone, apart from a personal confession of Jesus Christ as savior, is sufficient to escape eternal punishment.  (I say this with respectful apologies to my Roman Catholic friends, who may believe otherwise.)

As for Jackson, I understand that his family was identified with the Jehovah’s Witnesses, who deny the deity of Jesus Christ.  Not a good thing!  Even if Jacko denounced that counterfeit religion, I am not aware of any confession that he may have made to a belief in Jesus Christ as the son of God along with repentance for the bizarre and perverted choices he made over the course of his lifetime.

I will be the first to acknowledge that our sovereign God may have intervened in these two people’s lives in some miraculous way near the time of their deaths.  But there is no possible way for us to know with any degree of certainty if that happened or not.  So, for those who want to think “happy thoughts”, that might be a hope upon which one might place more energy than the alternative, which is the secular view that with death, all of this life’s struggles and battles are over, with nothing but peace and tranquility awaiting on the other side.  Those outcomes await only those who possess the unshakable assurance of eternal life through Jesus Christ, and Him alone. 

And I am sure about that!

How to Argue Like Jesus

June 24, 2009

How to Argue Like JesusWhen I first saw the title of this book, I was a little put off by it.  In fact, the only reason I bought it was that in the course of ordering several other books from an on-line retailer, they offered it as an add-on for like next to nothing.  As it turns out, I am quite glad that I spent the few extra bucks to get it.  The book turned out to be pretty interesting. 

I am still not crazy about the title and it is still equally off-putting.  And as it turns out, there may have been a shock value kind of strategy employed here by the authors or the publisher, because the subtitle “Learning Persuasion From History’s Greatest Communicator” is more indicative of what the book is really all about.

At 174 pages in length, divided into 6 chapters and a final one, of sorts, called ” Case Studies” the book is not a difficult read, although it does wade pretty deeply into the framework of effective rhetoric that Aristotle proposed…logos, pathos, and ethos.  There were times when I felt like I had somehow stumbled into a 400 level college English course.  My head is still muddled with some of the terms that were used.  I suspect that the authors anticipated that this would be the case as they have included a really nice glossary of all the terms many of which I had never heard before, and likely will never hear again, apart from coming back to this book (seeing as I am not going BACK to college and if I did, it would not be to study English).  

In spite of the technicality of some of the content, the authors really do make it relevant and useful.  And perhaps more importantly, they provide evidence of how our Lord used these among other techniques to communicate to his hearers, whether common people, ruling authorities, or his disciples (which of course includes us).

While the examples from the book have an obvious theological basis, the authors have done a very good job of broadening their application to any contemporary need for persuasion.  Anyone who finds themselves engaged in speaking before groups of people of any size, related to any subject, will find this book offering some really useful suggestions for ways in which to improve their communications effectiveness.

UPDATED:  For the first time ever at “WHATEVER!” an author has made a comment related to my review of a book he/she has written.  You can find those comments below.  Also of note, the authors of How to Argue Like Jesus have been interviewed by Christian Book Notes, and are responding to questions left in the comment section of that blog.  Check it out by clicking HERE.

J & K + 8

June 23, 2009

Even serious news channels seem to be obsessed with “the big announcement” that came from the trainwreck of a show, otherwise known as “Jon & Kate plus Ei8ht“.  (And no, I did not misspell eight, this is how TLC has graphicly titled the show, using the numeral “8” instead if a “g” in the word eight.  Oh, ha ha ha, aren’t they clever?)  And here it is, the big announcement, in case you missed it… Jon & Kate are going to get a divorce.  Wow, who could have seen this coming?  If these two can’t make it, what hope is there for the rest of us?

What a sham this show is.  From two ostensibly stay-at-home parents of sets of twins and sextuplets, to Jon and Kate’s on-camera complaints about the unnatural lifestyle they are “burdened” with by having a production crew around all the time, and now lamenting that their relationship problems are being played out in the tabloids, where is the “real” in this so-called  “reality” show?  Give me a break.  Typical of our culture that seems to value victim status, these two knuckle-heads are looking for scapegoats to blame for their just impending divorce.  Apparently, they see right past themselves as they sit in front of the mirrors while  being made-up for the filming of their show. 

I’ll grant you that the very nature of this odd show and its production would put a strain on any relationship.  But, who exactly is responsible for that?  The short answer, that does not require a whole lot of deliberation is, Jon & Kate.  In the promotional pieces leading up to the show that aired Monday night, they claim that their just announced divorce has been long in the making.  Yet they appear to be too dumb to figure out the cause.  Or perhaps it has nothing to do with their intellectual capacity, maybe it is just good old fashioned greed.  Either way, rather than try to repair the rift in their marriage by putting an end the very show that has contributed to the ripping of their “one flesh” and privately starting an effort at reconciliation, they have now contrived some “arrangement” wherein, they will house their kids on their Pennsylvania estate, and the two of them will alternate residence.  One can only assume that the schedule of which parent is present at any given time will be dictated by the production needs of the television show.  If this is not ample evidence of the lower priority they place on the integrity of their collective family, versus the money to be made by the nearly unbridled exploitation of it, I don’t know what else can be offered.

Perhaps the most charitable thing that people of good conscience can do would be to stop watching this show in such convincing numbers that its advertisers and the network cancel it so that these 10 people can get back to a true reality.  As a sad commentary on our voyeuristic culture, I am guessing that our appetite has not been satisfied by merely watching this family come apart at the seams.

Basic Christianity

June 15, 2009

Basic ChristianityBasic Christianity is a “modern” classic I suppose.  The original edition was dated 1958, and the second (and most recent) was 1971.  The reason why I paid attention to these dates is because there were sections of the book, wherein the author, John Stott, made commentary about our modern culture, that was was, well, very contemporary.  I kept looking to see how recently the book had been edited.  I suppose a whole blog post could be devoted to the idea that our culture today is, in many ways, not appreciably different than it was in the early 1970’s.  And yet, in so many ways it is much worse.  But that, for another time.

Basic Christianity is divided into four sections or parts as Stott refers to them:  Christ’s Person; Man’s Need; Christ’s Work; and Man’s Response.  Within each part, there are two or three chapters.  This alternating style between the study of Christ and corresponding reflection on mankind, works very well as Stott lays out a VERY foundational understanding of our Christian theology and man’s response to it. 

Given the title, I give a modest amount of credit to Stott for not tipping his hand in any significant way as to his soteriological leanings, although it seemed in more than just a few instances his attempts at keeping his vernacular simple seemed to point to an obvious Arminian predisposition to the working of God’s grace in salvation and Stott’s descriptions of man’s work to “seal the deal.”  Another complaint I have, although it does not occur too often is his use of scripture completely out of context, again seemingly to make a point, or out of an interest in using relatively simple terminology, or perhaps better said, terminology that would be familiar to anyone who had even the remotest background in the scriptures.   

The most peculiar of which was Stott’s insistence that Christ knocks at the door of all people, awaiting a response.  While I would agree that there is a general call made to all people to repent, I understand scripture to say that this proactive “knocking” by Christ is reserved for the saved elect.  Had Stott not cited Revelation 3: 20 for his use of this concept, I might have chocked it up to his trying to use nice metaphor.  But the exact context for this knocking of Christ, is to already existing believers in the Church at Laodicea, and NOT unbelievers.  In its original context, Christ is sending a message of conviction to the backsliden believers in Laodicea, who needed to step up their faithful obedience, not become saved.

This oddity and a few others aside, Basic Christianity is a good book, and its durability over the course of the last 50 years is evidence of that.  Strangely enough, and in betrayal of its title, I probably would not recommend it to someone exploring the faith because of the matters described above, but instead offer it as a good book for group discussion among more mature Christians who can discern some of the points that Stott makes from whatever theological stream he originates from, and accept or reject them based on their own more developed understanding of scripture.

Social Media

June 5, 2009

I admit, I am probably not terribly cool.  Of course, being in my mid-50’s no doubt contributes to that.  It simply goes with the territory.  That said, I do consider myself open to the benefits that are derived from so-called social media.  I suppose that this blog itself falls somewhere in the genre of networking, although it clearly falls well short of the “power to connect” in near real-time, as is the case with other forms of social media.

I don’t have a facebook account, for a couple of reasons.  Even after it was opened up to people who were not still in college, I thought it seemed a little weird for someone my age to have an account.  I know lots of “mature” folks who have facebook accounts, including my lovely wife.  She enjoys the networking and often tells me about people she has “friended” via facebook.  Perhaps on a subconscious level I fear rejection and being a person with a facebook account and no friends, or worse, just a bunch off “pity-friends”, a  term I may have just made up.  And, as someone who is mildly competitive, I am not sure that Ashton Kutcher’s million plus friends is a goal that is, in any shape or form, one that would be attainable by me. 

In all seriousness, while I am still groping for the real benefits, I remain open to the possibility that I will someday understand why I would want to establish a facebook account.  Perhaps it is the ability to communicate more effectively with my younger friends who seem to prefer this method above all others for staying in contact electronically with their peers.  And that might be the only reason to do so.  Still, the broader benefit of having a facebook account is not readily apparent to me at the present.

One of the social networking tools that absolutely defies understanding for me is twitter.  I cherish the thought of someone actually sitting down in front of me, face-to-face, to explain what twitter is all about.  I’ve seen and read the blogs, I’ve seen the YouTube video published by twitter explaining how it works, and I still absolutely don’t get it.  It is so not apparent to me that this graphic says it all.  (In the process, it might also provide something of a near clinical diagnosis of why other types or forms of social media are so popular.)

Social Media