This is Not Star Wars

The past few decades have seen several presidents who stood strongly for one thing or another, and the opposition has cried out for impeachment. Legal removal of the president based on legitimate transgressions. (I’m defining this for myself, too.) Although a few may have truly transgressed, none have been removed from office. With our current president, there’s been a dramatic shift in attitude and expression of disapproval. Louder than any cry for impeachment has been the shout of revolt. It’s dumbfounding how many people are calling for Trump’s assassination — in speeches, on social media, in plain conversation. And then there’s the new wave of bumper stickers like “Not My President” and “Rebel.” Rather than expressing disagreement, people announce their intent to rise up against the head of our government and those in office of the same political views. It’s gone from “I disagree with you and think you are mishandling our government” to “You’re not my president, and I wish someone would kill you.” It’s a leap from logic to emotion — a wild, crazy shoot-em-up rebellion.

But this is not Star Wars. President Trump is not an evil Emperor bent on the total submission of the entire galaxy, and there is no heroism in rebelling against the established government.

Somewhere in our recent history we have lost something important: understanding of and respect for authority. We’ve felt comfortable cracking jokes about our political leaders; creating goofy memes about them; and proclaiming endless opinions of their weaknesses, shortcomings, or whatever we find offensive. After all, we have freedom of speech, don’t we? We can say whatever we like, can’t we? And if we believe them unfit for public office, we can refuse to follow their rule and publicly condemn them, right?

Frankly….. No.

No, we can’t.

Those men and women are in positions of authority over us, whether they were elected or given their jobs by those already in power. All authority comes directly from God; “The authorities that exist have been established by God” (Romans 13:1). And after his resurrection, Jesus was given authority over every heavenly and earthly ruler (Matthew 28:18). He is the ultimate creator and distributor of authority, and every person on this earth who leads owes their authority to him.

Now what of the tyrants? What of the cruel, scheming, murderous rulers? What of those who have killed or connived to attain power? Why would God allow or tolerate that? Are you saying, Marta, that he gives them authority?

I don’t know exactly. But since God seems to operate on a higher level of strategy, I bet it’s a case by case deal instead of a formula. Our little brains would probably explode trying to figure out why he does what he does, but we can’t accuse him of evil. Maybe he allows evil rulers to be in power because people ignore him and choose these leaders, or at least choose a path that allows these men to take power. If a certain group of people or a country rejects God, he tends to give them their way rather than force his will on them. But he also withdraws his protection and his blessing. Happens again and again to the Israelites in the first few books of the Bible.

But one thing is quite clear: no one can take authority. It is only given from one who has the power to give. He also has the power to remove those in authority, and he’s done so quite frequently. A quick skim of history reveals a startling number of coups, losses at war, sudden madness, or imprisonment that results in the termination of an evil man’s rule. Sounds rather extreme, doesn’t it? It’s rather sobering how seriously God judges those in charge. They are completely accountable to him, and he will deal with them justly either now or later. We can rest assured of that.

Just as serious, then, is our response to those in authority over us. We may not like them as people, we may disagree with their political views, but “everyone must submit himself to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except that which God has established” (Romans 13:1). There’s a direct chain of command here; God, earthly authorities, us. We are directly told to obey those who govern us, no two ways about it. We can’t claim God as our only ruler and ignore earthly authority. We can’t claim the right to overthrow leaders. We can’t refuse to follow the laws of the countries we live in simply because we don’t like them or think they’re stupid. All of these upset the natural rules of authority God himself created. And there are consequences; “….he who rebels against the authority is rebelling against what God has instituted, and those who do so will bring judgment on themselves” (Romans 13:2).

Whoa.

Have you read any passages where God sends judgment on someone? Korah and company were literally swallowed up by the earth. Ananias and Sapphira died immediately after their sin was revealed. And according to Revelation those who persist in rejecting God must endure all kinds of nasty diseases and horrid living conditions on a cursed earth.

Most of us have seen or experienced the merciful, loving, intimately miraculous side of God. I can’t fathom what it would be like to bring his judgment on myself.

So we shouldn’t even consider disobeying our leaders. What should we do then?

1 Timothy “[urges]…. first of all, that requests, prayers, intercession and thanksgiving be made for everyone — for kings and all those in authority, that we may live peaceful and quiet lives in all godliness and holiness” (2:1-2). If we pray to the one who holds the heart of the king (or president) in his hand, we may see some astonishing changes. Both in our own hearts and in the lives our leaders. And notice the “godliness and holiness” part? This is how we uphold the chain of command and make our Father’s heart swell with pride. He encourages us to pray, and he acts when we do so in line with his will and his desires. For all their power and wealth, our leaders need our prayers in order to govern well. We have an important job to do.

We can also show them honor and respect by watching our words and refusing to join the tide of angry arguments; “Remind the people to be subject to rulers and authorities, to be obedient, to be ready to do whatever is good, to slander no one, to be peaceable and considerate, and to show true humility toward all men” (Titus 3:1-2). Well, that’s definitely not the American way. Candidates for office regularly make fun of or sling mud at each other, and the rest of us follow suit. Even Christians that I know and like have gone on angry tirades, posted derogatory jokes on Facebook, and lashed out at each other for supporting the opposing candidate. It’s awful and embarrassing. How can we claim Christ and do such shameful things? We look no different from anybody else, and we’ll gain nothing but sneers if we try to share Jesus after such behavior.

That’s great, Marta, but what about civil disobedience? What if the authorities require I do something that directly contradicts God’s Word?

There you have the only case I know of for disobeying the established law and ruling authorities. In the book of Acts the religious leaders in Jerusalem and political authorities command Christians to stop spreading the gospel, which went directly against the Great Commission they had just received from Jesus. I love how Peter and John responded; “Judge for yourselves whether it is right in God’s sight to obey you rather than God” (Acts 4:19).  Notice how humbly and respectfully they put this to the leaders, how gently they refused to quit doing what they knew was right. They left their fate in the leaders’ hands with the clear knowledge that they were right before God. “Judge for yourselves.” It is a submissive statement, yet unyielding of their beliefs. Always these godly men gave true and noble answers to the authorities who grilled them. Never once did the apostles or their companions lash out, ridicule, or even refuse to accept punishment from the authorities. Think of Paul and Silas in prison; they could have escaped once those doors sprang open, but they didn’t. Think of all the abuse Paul took — stonings, whippings, imprisonment, jeering, death threats. Not once did he rise up against those in power or encourage anyone else to rebel against them.

We are so blessed to live in a country that isn’t after our blood for following Christ or forcing us to choose between following the law or following our faith. Not yet. We must remember, with all the political and racial turmoil in our country now, that the people in charge are not our enemies; “For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms” (Ephesians 6:12).  What you’re really fighting is an invisible enemy who likes to pit you against the people around you, who loves nothing better than to watch us tear each other apart. Rebellion and division are his tactics. And the most effective way to fight this evil is to pray to the One who has the power to defeat our enemy and sway the heart of the king. Or President.

 

 

 

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Welcome to Zootopia

You know a post must be important if you have two migraines in a week and no computer access during non-kid hours. No more impediments! Here goes…

If you’ve got kids, you’ve probably seen Zootopia. Bear with with me a minute while I describe it for those who haven’t. Think I’m required to warn you: spoiler alert.

Zootopia is a fairy-tale existence for animals. All the animals live in peace and harmony with each other, the predators seemingly without the hunting instinct. A young bunny moves into the heart of the city to become a cop. There’s nothing much to do but issue parking tickets. Until animals begin to disappear. Each missing creature is a predator. When the bunny and her fox friend investigate, they find the kidnapped animals have reverted to their primal state; the creatures grunt and prowl in their cages and try to attack the cop. The evidence points to the mayor, who is promptly arrested. There seems to be no cure for the captured predators. Fear reigns in Zootopia. The animals eye each other askance — Will he attack me? and Will she put me in jail just for being a predator? 

Pause for a minute. Does this story line ring any bells? I’ll wait….

Okay, moving on. We’ve all noticed the change in atmosphere lately — tempers flare, words bite, mobs take to the streets. One mention of what was once simply a political issue will get you a verbal lashing. Disagreement? That means you hate. You are a hate-filled person. And the people doing this? Church members. Neighbors. That nice mom from my son’s elementary school. My favorite teacher from middle school. My normally compassionate friend. I was absolutely flummoxed. What happened to these normally reasonable people? Why are we attacking each other? What in the world is going on?

Back to Zootopia. Underneath the pandemonium is a rather clever plot hatched by a sheep who wants to be mayor. Her team used rifles to shoot drugs into the predators’ bodies, causing them to go wild. Fear, suspicion, and some clever manipulation almost gets her into power. But the bunny cop remembers a plant that produces a feral reaction in animals. She realizes what has happened to the predators and follows the trail to the real culprit. The power-hungry sheep is arrested, an antidote is made for the affected predators, and Zootopia is back to normal.

Well, maybe there is a reason for all the anger we Americans are experiencing. Maybe our friends and family aren’t entirely to blame for going on the attack.

Anybody else had someone take a shot at them on Facebook? That seems to be where a lot of the action is right now — rants, attacks, violent expressions of hatred. One of the recent ones I experienced went something like this: “If you’re really pro-life you should adopt or foster a child. Otherwise you’re not really pro-life.” Neither a fair or logical statement. My first reaction was anger — type a super-long defense and chide this person for posting such a thing! I didn’t do it, though. It might have thrown another log on her fire.

Another was a picture of a Syrian refugee, a young boy, face-down in the water of the Mediterranean. Drowned trying to escape the horrors of his homeland. My heart still hurts over that image, but the words…. The words that went along with it were a shot fired at those who agreed with putting immigration on hold in America. It’s your fault he died, was the message of that caption. You don’t care if they all die. I wanted to cry and scream at the same time because those accusing words held absolutely no truth. My instinct again was to react, lash out at the person who posted those nasty words. Again it would have been pointless to do so.

National Geographic recently published a story I knew I’d disagree with, but I read it anyway. Just to see what the arguments were. It all seemed absolutely silly. Where in the world did these people learn to think? And there it was again — anger. Why the heck was I angry? I knew before I read the story that National Geographic and I see the issue differently. I knew that. And I also know myself; I have an extremely slow boiling point. This flare-up wasn’t like me at all.

Something niggled at the back of my brain, something about all these encounters. Who else said, “If you’re really….?”  Where I have I heard that before?

“Then Jesus was led by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil. After fasting forty days and forty nights, he was hungry. The tempter came to him and said, ‘If you are the Son of God, tell these stones to become bread’” (Matthew 4:1-3). Aha! There’s that guilt-trippy line, that hint of “You’re not really this unless you adhere to my definition of it,” that goad to act, that spur to do something you don’t want to do, maybe shouldn’t do. That is Satan’s line. Those inciting words about the picture? His tactics. That whisper to my heart about the article? Satan again. 

We are not each other’s enemies. Your friend? She’s been hit with a dart of anger, and that’s why she’s ranting all over the place. Your neighbor? He swallowed the bait and attacked you. Democrat and Republican, Muslim and Christian — we have the same enemy. He’s the one firing those little blue balls of anger at us and watching us take it out on each other. He’s been playing these tricks since the beginning of time. He loves it when we fight and kill each other because that is his desired destiny for us. He’d love nothing more than to see America, land of the free and home of the brave, tear itself to bits.

Now I do realize that it’s not just Satan at work here. Some people are simply angry people. Some people are out to destroy the U.S. Some people really are hate-filled. I don’t want to over-spiritualize what’s happening in our country, but I do want to examine the invisible forces at play here.

So. Enemy identified. Strategy revealed. Now what can we do when he fires those darts at us? What can we do when a friend or relative bites our heads off? One is to realize who’s doing the actual talking here; the person is not the enemy. It’s worked best for me to hold that thought and remain calm. Sometimes you can have a logical conversation, sometimes it’s best to actively steer it to another topic. Or leave if they won’t drop it. And you can talk to that indignant voice in your head — tell him to go away. Fight him off. Jesus battled with the words of Scripture, and he sent Satan packing. And for me, the media seems to be a major way anger tries to get at me. I’ve had to filter a lot of people out of my Facebook feed, and even now I only check in occasionally. Not reading newspapers or magazines that I know have a particular bent. And praying for help to be loving and reasonable, lots of help.

There are so many convinced that fear and hatred are tearing America apart. That’s largely based on emotion. If we all took a step back and examined the big picture, we’d see that nothing has fundamentally changed. Our reactions have changed, and those emotions color everything. It’s going to be hard to maintain our equanimity and kindness in the face of all this rampant emotion, but with God’s help we can be the peacemakers. We can be the guiding lights for our friends and neighbors.

Broken or Crushed?

My husband is an amazingly perceptive and communicative man. Most of the time I love and admire those gifts, but a few weeks ago I didn’t like it so much. He pointed out some key issues in my life. Nothing irks a perfectionist more than a wrinkle she can’t iron out. These flaws? Can’t change ’em, can’t cover ’em. But I desperately want to make them go away, whether that means hiding them under a smooth coat of perceived change or actually digging to the root of the issue. It didn’t help much that my husband said I didn’t need to change that instant — point was I didn’t know how to live with my flawed, unchanged self.

I halted my trek to the kitchen when my thoughts hit this wall.

I couldn’t fathom how to live with myself, and I felt in my bones the lack of power to overcome myself.

These words floated through my mind: “‘Everyone who falls on that stone will be broken to pieces, but he on whom it falls will be crushed'” (Luke 20:18).

Finally, FINALLY, I understood those words. I understood how my sin is melded with the rest of my humanity; in fact, it’s inseparable from the good parts. Then there’s the stain of others’ sin patterns on my life. Some have seeped in, others I’ve been able to wash away. But there is no process I can use to separate the beautiful from the bad — they are swirled together in a permanent design.

What does one do when confronted with that? What do you do with cold, hard truth? I bumped up against that hardness. I felt the inevitability of breakage, but there is also a choice.

“‘Everyone who falls on that stone will be broken to pieces….'” Jesus speaks of himself as the capstone — powerful, inevitable truth.  I can accept the fact of my deeply ingrained flaws, my inability to withstand his scrutiny, and fall on him. I will be broken. Undone. And it is scary, knowing everything I control, everything familiar and comfortable, my life as I know it may be lost. What will he do with my shattered pieces?

The alternative seems even more horrific: “‘he on whom it falls will be crushed.'” This truly frightens me. To become purposefully blind to my flaws, rigid in my thinking, ruthless with others’ hearts, inflexible and unresponsive to Jesus’ whispers. Every trial and temptation I encounter would serve to further harden me. At the end, I’d be crushed under the weight of the truth I hadn’t allowed in my life. Absolutely and utterly destroyed.  This I’ve seen playing out in the life of someone close to me. It is perhaps the one thing that gives me pause, that keeps me from instantly choosing to harden myself against truth.

So there is the choice: we can either let ourselves break against truth or he will eventually break us. Not because we are wrong and must either change or be eradicated. No, it’s because he himself is truth. And he lets us choose whether we will acknowledge him or carry on to our own destruction against him.

What will he do with my shattered pieces? I choose to let myself break, but I’m so nervous about the outcome. I know in my head he can remake me into something more beautiful. Have to let that get into my heart.

Diagnosis: Heartsick

Recently I took my 5th grade son on a tour of his new school, which happens to be my old high school. I hadn’t been there in years, and I winced at the possibility of flashbacks. Fortunately it was so altered I barely recognized it. I breathed an inward sigh of relief and thanks. Those teen years were some of the worst in my life. By the time I finished high school (crawled out, barely breathing, just survived), I had been diagnosed with ADHD and depression.

Small wonder. For years I had been verbally bullied, same kids since elementary school, no way to hide or escape. I internalized the pain, remembered every insult, relived every incident nightly. My heart was battered mute. And those last few years I went from a good student to just barely making it. Why? Where in the world had my talent gone? Why were the simplest homework assignments major struggles and timed tests nightmares? The final straw came in the form of an AP English class — something I should’ve reveled in, eaten up, breezed through. But I was floundering. I had no social life, and it looked like I would just squeak through my senior year. Small wonder the doctor prescribed Zoloft.

For five years I floated along, experiencing neither joy nor deep sorrow. A few laughs, a few tears, nothing serious. Took my vitamins, sat in front of a special “Happy Light” designed to mimic natural sunlight. I went through life in a slightly numbed state until my marriage. It was a new year of hope; God had been warming my heart, and I had a good man who really loved me. It seemed like a good time to try weaning off Zoloft, to take the risk of experiencing emotions again.

Slowly, so slowly and gently, I learned how loved I am. Each passing year has brought new depth to my relationship with my husband, an opening of old wounds so that truth could be applied, the revelation of my identity and worth as a person. Healing. Eleven beautiful years of healing.

Do you know what I realized? My heart was sick, and Zoloft only treated the symptoms. Vitamins and Happy Lights couldn’t repair the damage. I needed to be told that  I have worth and value in God’s eyes, that I could find my identity in him. I needed to be loved on, held, told how beautiful I am, told that those horrible words spoken to me were lies and I shouldn’t let them take root in me. I needed the men in my life to stand up for me and protect me, the women to share their love and affection and what it means to be a woman. All that beautiful medicine has been applied in liberal doses over the past decade, and I am no longer depressed. “Hope deferred makes the heart sick; but a longing fulfilled is a tree of life” (Proverbs 13:12).

 

I have to wonder how many of us are suffering physical symptoms of sick hearts? What might be cured if our doctors would look beyond our bodies to our hearts and minds?