Everything Jesus Taught about the American Way: Toughness

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We’ve looked at truth and justice. For the next three posts we’re going to look at everything Jesus taught about the American way.

Just like Superman! But we will continue to wear our underwear inside of our clothes.

We’ve picked three of the core values that most of us share as Americans, and we will hold them up against the teachings of Jesus to see what we find. As core values ,they often are completely unquestioned. We just believe them and sometimes we don’t even know that we believe them. They just are. 

And the first one is really captured by Superman, especially when the bullets bounce off of his chest.

And that’s toughness.

Toughness

Being super tough is what gets you hero status for us here in America. We worship the kind of power that makes others submit, whether they like it or not.

On the screen, power usually belongs to a good guy who just wants to be left alone until he’s pushed to the edge. But once he is pushed far enough, he always kills all the bad guys. And there’s something in us as Americans that says that’s what it means to be tough.  

But what did Jesus teach? 

Well, Jesus taught a kind of toughness especially for people with no power.  

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Justice While We Wait

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There is one thing we fear most as Floridians. 

It’s not sharks. Or hurricanes. Or even snakes and spiders.

No.  

There is one thing so much more frightening than that.

It is the moment when our air conditioner breaks.

A few weeks ago, Dave and I came face to face with this very fear. I noticed the house felt a little hot, and went over to check the thermostat. The thermostat was set for 75 degrees. But the inside temperature of the house was 78, which meant we had a problem. 

We found a few more signs of trouble near the condenser and quickly called the one person we knew could fix the problem, the repair company, and then sat down to wait. 

Because once you call the one person who can fix something, that’s what you do.

You wait.

And watch the number on the thermostat.

An hour later it went up another degree.  

We were powerless. All we could do was wait.  

But then it went up to 80 degrees.  There had to be something we could do!

We can’t overhaul an entire air conditioner, but couldn’t we do something to help with the problem? A quick google search gave us a few ideas, and an hour later Dave was outside with a shop vac, some clear tubing, and a roll of duct tape.

AND IT WORKED.

Now, can we fix every air conditioner problem? No.

Can we build an air conditioner from the ground up? Absolutely not.

But we were able to do something to make a difference this time when we realized it was broken.

I know it’s a big jump to move from thinking about our broken air conditioner to thinking about the broken state of the world – but hang with me, because the principles we are going to talk about are surprisingly the same.

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Justice for the Vulnerable

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I’ve been struck by two things recently that seem to contradict each other.

The first is that I’ve heard a lot of people say “The economy is so hot right now!” 

Granted I don’t really know what they mean. But I believe them. Partly because they seem like the kinds of guys who would know. And partly because I see lots of buildings going up everywhere. So I guess, the economy is so hot right now. 

But the other thing I notice is that there seem to be more people holding signs asking for money than there were even a year ago.

Moms holding a baby in one hand and a cardboard sign asking for help in the other, standing next to the drive-thru at Chick-fil-a. That feels new. It feels wrong. And it feels like the opposite of the economy being so hot right now. 

And more than anything, it makes me feel powerless.

I want to help. I do help. I’m sure you do too.

And at the same time, I’ve heard the same story, so many times, always with more details than I can keep track of, of job offers in other cities and cars that need gas, that I’ve become a little hardened to just how hard it is to be poor and vulnerable in this city. 

People are in trouble. They are taken advantage of, stepped on, overlooked, and cast aside.

And I want to help, but I don’t know how.

Or more precisely, I don’t know how to help and still have my life stay exactly as it is. 

So if that’s something that you struggle with too, keep reading.

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Justice and Mission

I feel in love with doing mission projects the same way I fell in love with chocolate cake.

One bite, and I was hooked.

I love the way mission projects wake up the team working together to a world they might have ignored. I love the way it breaks down boundaries between people you might never find in the same room short of the work of the Holy Spirit. More than anything, I love watching other people fall in love with it too.

I have this scrapbook of memories of seeing people catch a vision for helping other people. Watching a group of teenagers go out from behind the soup kitchen counter to go play dominoes with the homeless men at the shelter. Seeing the love in the eyes of young mom helping another mom who lost everything in an apartment fire.  Walking through a completed home with a man who helped build it’s frame, and now got to meet the children who would live there.

I do love mission projects.

But after several years I realized something.

These projects are really important. They are valuable and important and they transform the people who do them and show the people we partner with that they are loved and not forgotten. But they are a first step, not the only step. It’s where we start, but it’s not the end.

Social justice is more than a one day project.

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Listening For Truth

The way we listen determines what, if anything, we learn.  

That truth nugget is fleshed out beautifully by this story.

“When I was young my father said to me: “Knowledge is Power….Francis Bacon”

I understood it as “Knowledge is power, France is Bacon”.

For more than a decade I wondered over the meaning of the second part and what was the surreal linkage between the two? If I said the quote to someone, “Knowledge is power, France is Bacon” they nodded knowingly. Or someone might say, “Knowledge is power” and I’d finish the quote “France is Bacon” and they wouldn’t look at me like I’d said something very odd but thoughtfully agree.

I did ask a teacher what did “Knowledge is power, France is bacon” mean and got a full 10 minute explanation of the Knowledge is power bit but nothing on “France is bacon”. When I prompted further explanation by saying “France is Bacon?” in a questioning tone I just got a “yes”. at 12 I didn’t have the confidence to press it further. I just accepted it as something I’d never understand. It wasn’t until years later I saw it written down that the penny dropped.” (- Lard_Baron of Reddit)

I really admire that kid. Mostly, for sharing that story. But also, for keeping at it.

He was pretty sure that something wasn’t right, so he kept trying to find out what it was. Now, if he had just come out and asked somebody, he would have saved himself some trouble. But then we wouldn’t have that story. And I’m glad we do. 

It reminds me of this teaching from Jesus.

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Truth and Who You Are

Several years ago when we were living in Ohio, I was driving back to the church after lunch, and traffic came to a quick stop. The person in front of me stopped. The person in front of them stopped. I came to a complete stop. Then the person in back of me stopped too. By driving into the back of my car at 40 mph.

I climbed out of my car and I stood in the small center median looking at the damage. My car was pretty banged up. Her car appeared to be totaled. We were both basically ok. But I could already feel that I had hit my neck and head.

That day I learned something about myself. That apparently when things are not at all fine, I decide to tell myself that I am fine, and I become what Dave would lovingly call “a little stubborn.” So as I stood there in the median next to my wrecked car as they tried to put a neck brace on me, Dave received the following phone call. “Hi! It’s me. I got in a little car accident but everything is fine and I am definitely fine so no need to come. Love you!”  Click.

This was the phone call I made about 20 seconds before they helped me into the ambulance to go get checked out, just before the tow truck arrived to take my car.

Truth: I wasn’t fine.

My own perception: Nothing to worry about here. It’s just a regular day.

Lucky for me, I have a wonderful husband who knows that the more I say I am fine, the less likely that is to be true, and he was there in a minute standing next to me.  What did I learn that day, besides what it feels like to get whiplash?

Even I am not the best judge of who I am or how I am really doing.

It would seem like the best source of information about myself would be me, but it turns out that even I can’t always be trusted. Even I don’t always know what’s true, even when it’s about me.

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Disagreements and the 3 Kinds of Truth

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Do you remember this dress?

What colors do you see here? Some people see white and gold. Others see blue and black. That’s crazy to me.

 

How about this sound?

What did you hear? I hear Yanny.

Some of our disagreements just come down to the way we see things, or hear things.  And there are things like the dress and the audio clip, that just don’t really matter, and it’s funny, and we can just appreciate how different we are. 

But there are some things we disagree about with people that we can’t just dismiss as a difference of opinion. They matter far more than what color a dress is.

But at the same time, the way that we have been talking about these important matters just isn’t working. 

So how are we supposed to disagree when it’s about morality, or science or religion?

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Testimony Is Evidence

Several years ago, when we lived in Ohio, I opened the mailbox and found . . . a jury summons.

Ugh. I had never been on a jury before.  It was a super busy month at the church where I was serving, and with my family, so the timing wasn’t great. But I wasn’t too worried . I had heard from several pastor friends that no one wants a pastor on a jury.  The day of the summons came and after just a few minutes of waiting they called my number to come to the jury box to answer a few questions.

What is your name? Megan.

Is it correct that you are a pastor? Why yes, yes it is.

Can you state the name of the church where you serve?  Sure.  No problem.

At this point I started gathering up my things, thinking about what was next on my schedule, now that I was almost done at the courthouse. 

But then they asked one more question: Is there anything about your role as pastor that would keep you from being a fair member of a jury? 

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Truth and Being Social

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I remember the first time I disobeyed a posted sign. I felt like such a rebel.

I felt like this guy right here.

Signs are really powerful for us. But the signs I want to talk about today aren’t the flat signs with words and warnings printed on them.

I want to talk about the kinds of signs we look for, and listen for, that let us know if someone else is a part of our tribe, or not.

Like the way people dress.

Look at this picture. You instantly know if you can, or want to, hang out with these guys, right? You don’t need to think about it. You just know.

There are all kinds of signs that are indicators, that create an in-group and an out-group. There are all kinds of signs that say, “You’re either with us, or you’re against us. And they’re not always physical signs.

The way we dress, or talk, what we talk about, who we listen to, who we hate…all of these things are signs that say what group we belong to. All of these things are signs that tell us who we are.

Signs and the belonging they signify are powerful, so powerful that they short-circuit our ability to reason and they short circuit our faith.  Signs pre-determine what we believe to be true.

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Looking for Truth

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Today we will be talking about truth, and especially how we can find truth that affects our lives.

But this is new for us.

Because we aren’t on the look out for truth nearly as much as we are on our guard against things that are not true.

We tend to be pretty skeptical.  No one wants to be made the fool, or tricked, or come across as looking gullible. This may have started when we were kids.  Many of us were lucky enough to have amazing, loving, attentive parents.

Who also happened to be liars.

Think about a few lies almost all parents tell.  Let’s say parents are on a walk or on a car trip with kids.

Child: How much longer?  

Parent: We are almost there.

Are we really almost there? If by almost, you mean another two miles on foot, or another 3 hours in the car. Potato, Potahto.

Child: Where is the dog? 

Parent: The dog went to live on a farm.

Oh yeah? What farm? Can we go visit? I didn’t think so.

Child: Can I go to the party?  

Parent: We’ll see.

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