The Devil

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I have a cold today.

Which is fitting. Because we are going to be talking about the devil.

I do wish we could blame the devil for things. He would be such an easy one to pin it on. We nod in that direction.

We say things like

  • the devil made me do it,
  • the devil is in the details,
  • the devil is coming out of my nose.

That last one isn’t a saying, but maybe it should be.

But then we have a feeling that isn’t what we really believe, as Presbyterians. It would be easy to pin this cold on the devil trying to get me to stay in bed and watch Netflix but I think i think the blame actually lies with the start of school germs that are in every home with children right now.  So if we can’t blame the devil for things like a cold, what do we believe then about the devil?

The devil and demons aren’t something we talk a lot about in the Presbyterian Church. As postmodern Christians, we tend to shy away from really thinking about the devil and demons and evil. It feels a little like Greek mythology, with God and the devil battling it out. But there is no getting around the mention of them in the gospel teachings. 

I was thinking back to my earliest impressions of what the devil might be. 

A lot of it came from cartoons.

The devil showed up a lot in the cartoons of the 80s, usually perched on someone’s shoulder. This version of the devil would whisper things into your ear, trying to get you to listen. But there was always a little angel on the other shoulder, pulling you the other way to convince you to do the right thing.  

Or there were kids who dressed up like the devil on Halloween, which always involved a red tail and a pitchfork and usually some sort of horns. 

Or, there was the George Burns version.

I grew up watching the 1980’s ” O God” movies with George Burns on VHS tape. He may have been my favorite devil of them all. George Burn’s devil had a great sense of humor and drove an amazing car.  Why wouldn’t you, if you were the devil? These were my earliest devil impressions.  I’m sure you have some of your own too.  We all have some image of the devil.

But what do we really believe about the devil?

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Individualism: Everything Jesus Taught about the American Way

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Individualism: the idea that freedom of thought and action for each person is the most important quality of a society, rather than shared effort and responsibility

I’ve got to say, I’m a little conflicted about this topic. Because I really love my freedom of thought and action. Really really.

Really. 

It’s also clear to me that we’ve gone too far with it. 

But it’s really hard to draw the line between personal freedom and shared responsibility, isn’t it?

Individualism is one of the greatest innovations in history. It has its roots in the Bible. It’s the foundation of our country, and of all Western society.  I wouldn’t trade it. 

But it also has a long list of downsides.

Individualism combines with our natural human arrogance in an insidious way. I don’t think it would be off-base to say that all of the major problems we’re facing in our society right now are all consequences of individualism. Our division, our suspicion of one another, our inability to talk about our values with people who don’t agree, the idea of a post-truth world, even the staggering wealth gap, and the disappearing middle class, all stem from individualism run amok.

But it’s still better than the alternatives, which on the extreme end politically would be communism and totalitarianism, and in the local church and community would be communal living, and I really like my privacy.

So I’m conflicted. 

That’s why we’re looking at everything Jesus taught about the American Way. Because there are a lot of things about being an American that aren’t necessarily bad,  that shape the way we see the world, and the way we approach God. But they sure aren’t Christian. And individualism is one of those things. 

Individualism is all about each person doing things their own way.

That’s not the way the world always was, and there’s a whole history to that, but it’s kind of boring, so we’re not going to get into it. 

Well maybe just a little. And really reductionistic… 

So…why did the Pilgrims cross the ocean?

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Scarcity: Everything Jesus Taught about the American Way

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As Americans, most of us wrestle with some level of a fear of there not being enough. We worry there won’t be enough for us, or that there won’t be enough to go around. The truth is this fear isn’t unfounded.  The competition that is at the core of our economy as Americans virtually assures that some will not have enough. For those who struggle each day to get food on the table or to make rent, scarcity isn’t a distant fear, it is is a reality.  This is the kind of hardship we have been talking about the past few weeks when we looked at what Jesus taught about social justice, and our call and responsibility to help those who need us.

But for today, I want us to focus on the fear of scarcity that isn’t grounded in a daily struggle to make ends meet. This is the kind of fear that shows up in us when we aren’t experiencing an actual hardship, but we still have a nagging feeling that there won’t be enough.  We hold on tight to what we have, we protect what’s ours, we worry about me and mine. When this happens, there really is enough for what we need, but we make decisions as if there isn’t. This is what we will call the scarcity mindset.

The scarcity mindset believes there will never be enough, and acts based on this perception of lack, whether there is truly a lack of resources or not.

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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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