Calvinball and the Art of Changing the Rules

Who here has played Calvinball, or its equivalent? This is the famous game played by Calvin and Hobbes where they constantly change the rules. Playing a game where the only rule is who can change the rules to their advantage can seem fun at first, but in time, it really becomes exhausting. If you have ever played games with a grade school boy, you might have experienced this and it can be difficult to keep up.

The challenge isn’t just related to being the most creative, but also dealing with the fact that a previous concrete expectation has now been smashed to bits and replaced by something more jello or quicksand. Instead of certainity, we only find uncertainity. When you go to lean against the wall of the building, you find it is just a facade that falls right over.

This is an amusing endeavor, but it is no way to live your life. We depend on boundaries and order to live our lives. For 19 years, I lived in a different country. It may not have always played by the same rules of the country of my birth, but it did have its own rules and way of doing things. Part of living in a different country is learning the cultural norms of that country so that you are able to function there. Some of those rules need to be adopted, but they all need to be understood, otherwise you’ll find yourself living out of sync with the reality you find there.

In the United States, there are many cultural norms that we take for granted. There are laws of the land and common practices that we sometimes treat as normal as gravity. Just driving down the road, we expect people to stay in their lane (something I couldn’t always depend on in Turkey). When people move to our country, most people expect them to learn our laws and cultural norms and adapt. The video below was made by an Italian which demonstrates the challenge of living by 2 standards of cultural norms. Italians are both Italian and EU citizens.

When I’m overseas, I’m often asked about cultural norms for America. Questions like, “What do Americans think of ….?” or “What do Americans say for….?” If you have never lived outside of one small region of America, it might be easier for you to answer that question, but if you have traveled around, you have probably noticed the amazing diversity in America. We are more like the EU than a single country, such as Turkey. States sometimes have different laws and cultural norms even than their neighboring states, but they all have them.

The vast majority of society desires to live their lives by the rules and cultural norms. I studied psychology and counseling and there are actually several psychological disorders that are defined by people’s inability or complete unwillingness to follow these guidelines. For most of us, when something happens in society, we expect it to follow the rules laid out for it. There is comfort in that and people can find peace in knowing that while the outcome might not be determined, the road that leads us to that outcome are clear.

As a lifelong sports fan, I can attest that it is much more frustrating to believe you were cheated out of something than to lose because of an exceptional performance by your opponent. We want the life we live, just like the games we play, to be “fair” and “just”. We desire boundaries and right and wrong. I believe this is something that is inside of us, created by God.

The problem with this is that there are many in society that desire to play their own form of Calvinball. They either want to have the right to change the rules, or they want the rules to be so obscure and ambigious that no one knows how to intrepret them. This allows for a redefinition of conduct as we go. One famous example occurred recently during the confirmation hearings for Justice Barrett. She used the term “sexual preference” when answering a question. This term was redefined on the spot to be offensive in an attack on the candidate. Webster’s dictionary even joined the fray, by changing their dictionary defintion that same day. Link

In some ways, this is just a more sophisticated form of Calvinball. Shifting the norms and rules so fast that people don’t know what to expect even in the moment. Some people seem even more willing to be complicit in this than others. This is incredibly problematic when it comes to cultural norms, but it is even more troublesome when it comes to the laws of the land. When people go out to drive their cars, run their businesses or even cast their votes, they need to know that the rules of engagement will remain constant. If they find that they have been changed after the fact, it not only demoralizes, but over time destroys people’s willingness to abide by any laws.

As a Christian, as much as I dislike it when something like this happens, I shouldn’t be surprised. There is absolutely no reason for any man without God to behave any differently.

““The human heart is the most deceitful of all things, and desperately wicked. Who really knows how bad it is? But I, the Lord, search all hearts and examine secret motives. I give all people their due rewards, according to what their actions deserve.””

Jeremiah 17:9-10 NLT

As much as we want to focus on obedience to laws that govern behavior, God is more concerned with the heart. We may try to enforce laws that will keep things “fair” and “just”, but if we have secret, sinful motives in our heart, then we have sinned and broken God’s law.

“Everyone who sins is breaking God’s law, for all sin is contrary to the law of God.”

1 John 3:4 NLT

As Christians living in this country, we must in some ways, be like the Italians living in the EU. We are here, living our lives according to 2 different standards, the law and rules of the land, and the law of God. Only one of the those laws is of eternal significance. God has given us a new covenant.

““This is the new covenant I will make with my people on that day, says the Lord: I will put my laws in their hearts, and I will write them on their minds.” Then he says, “I will never again remember their sins and lawless deeds.””

Hebrews 10:16-17 NLT

As children of this new covenant, we are “aliens and strangers” in this land (1 Peter 2:11) and we should live our lives according to the standard of Jesus, rather than the standards of man. Many times these standards will align, but we know that God’s standard will never change. He provides us with that solid foundation that we can build our lives upon in an every changing world. In that foundation, you will found hope, peace and true justice.

Don’t Be a Fool

Wisdom is valuable. When we learn from our experiences, we gain wisdom. We avoid making the same mistakes in the future and we tend to have a better experience than we did in the past. It can apply to both simple and complex circumstances.

We learn not to burn the food, we learn to add a little more salt, we learn to get up a few minutes earlier so we aren’t late for work, we learn to take better care of our homes, our cars, and hopefully our lives. Wisdom can be a treasure of immeasurable value. Not only does it improve our lives in real tangible ways by the good practices it leads us to, but it greatly enhances everything by avoiding the foolish path.

The Bible contains many passages about wisdom, and in many cases, it contrasts that wisdom with the foolish path. Proverbs is often called one of the wisdom books and it lists not only principles but practical examples of both wisdom and foolish behavior. 2020 is a great year for wisdom. Information is flowing constantly, but discerning the value of that information is very challenging. People take information and they process it with wisdom or in a foolhardy manner. If you take the book of Proverbs and read through it, you will find relevant guidance for today that can help you avoid being a fool in your actions and in your words. Here are a few examples.

Don’t answer the foolish arguments of fools, or you will become as foolish as they are. Be sure to answer the foolish arguments of fools, or they will become wise in their own estimation.

Proverbs 26:4-5

These verses might seem to contradict each other, but they are actually 2 versions of the same principle. The difference requires wisdom. We certainly shouldn’t be drawn into a foolish argument with a fool. When you argue with a fool on their terms, you find yourself being drawn to their level. A fool that won’t listen to reason can lead you to come off looking just as foolish as they are. This reminds me of the kind of arguments we see regularly on social media, where people argue in circles, spouting one foolish platitude after another. Fools are known for to refusing to listen, as we will see later in Proverbs. On the other hand, we should be sure to collectively or privately answer the arguments of fools, otherwise their foolishness will reign as the truth of the day. Biblically, this could be a private answer that calls the fallacy to their attention, or with wisdom you may want to involve others in correction. Wisdom is the antidote to foolishness, not arguing, but that leads us to the next problem with fools.

Fools have no interest in understanding; they only want to air their own opinions.

Proverbs 18:2

Lots of people lack understanding or information. Not knowing about a subject doesn’t make you a fool. According to this verse, what makes you a fool is insisting on airing your uninformed opinion. If the goal is only for the opinion to be heard (which seems to be one of the main purposes of social media) then providing a fool with new information or insights will not be welcomed. Instead, you will find yourself on the path to becoming as foolish as they are. Many public arguments on social media head in this direction. Flamewars leave no one unscorched. Talking to someone privately or via direct message is a better avenue, but according to this verse, you will often find people who have no interest in understanding. Why?

Fear of the Lord is the foundation of true knowledge, but fools despise wisdom and discipline.

Proverbs 1:7

Fear of the Lord is a moral foundation of truth and an understanding of your place in the world God created. Those who understand who He is have a foundation that is different and should have the confidence to not be drawn into foolish engagements. Fools lack the wisdom and discipline to do the same. A fool’s confidence and self-image are locked up in their own words. This contrast comes out in chapter 12.

Fools think their own way is right, but the wise listen to others. A fool is quick-tempered, but a wise person stays calm when insulted.

Proverbs 12:15-16 NLT

To be wise is to not always assume you are right, but take the time to listen to others. To be a fool is to continue to insist you are right, ignoring contrary opinions. A fool gets ticked off at the most miniscule slight, but a wise person can endure a barrage of insults without losing it. The differences are stark between the two and it doesn’t take long to watch an interaction to identify who the fools are.

In might seem too simple to just say, “don’t be a fool”, but it really is something we should all strive for in our lives. Wisdom is valuable. When you pursue wisdom, you will have a better life. You will suffer less from your own foolishness and you will find yourself suffering less from being involved in foolish interactions. As you read through these verses, you may have been thinking primarily of other “fools” that you have seen in person or on-line, but the most important step you should take is looking in the mirror to see if you find yourself being foolish in any of the ways listed here or throughout the book of Proverbs.

It is horrible to lack wisdom and no one should desire to be a fool, but ultimately the biggest fools are those who refuse and continue to follow the path of Proverbs 26:11:

As a dog returns to its vomit, so a fool repeats his foolishness.

Don’t be the person that lives off of foolishness and builds their life around foolishness. Build your life around truth, and especially the truth that is found in God’s Word. If you are interested in knowing more about who God really is and what it means to follow Him, I wrote a whole book on that subject. It is available here. The best source of wisdom is the Bible, start reading that today and read it every day.

The Dead End of Trespassing in Other People’s Offenses

The world is unjust. Injustice will happen. Sometimes to you, sometimes to those you care about. When it happens to you, it is hard and sometimes very difficult to find the Grace to forgive, but forgiveness is freeing. In forgiveness, we can find freedom to move on with our lives. God can give us the Grace to forgive an offense, even when it isn’t made right.

When you have personally suffered a wrong, one of the best things you can do for your life and your future is to find forgiveness for that wrong. Unforgiven wrongs do not hurt the person who committed the wrong, they only hurt yourself. God loves us too much to see us continue in unforgiveness and for this reason, He spoke about forgiveness in His Word frequently.

Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you.

Ephesians 4:32 (ESV)

Paul wrote this letter to a church. He wanted the believers to experience the freedom that this kind of life brings. Every one of us would like to be a part of a Church where these things are practiced and it begins with us and our ability to treat others in this way. In this passage, we aren’t forgiving because the person has made it right and restitution has been made or even because the person who wronged us has asked for our forgiveness. Rather, we are forgiving them because of the great forgiveness that we have received.

Pay attention to yourselves! If your brother sins, rebuke him, and if he repents, forgive him, and if he sins against you seven times in the day, and turns to you seven times, saying, ‘I repent,’ you must forgive him.”

Luke 17:3-4 (ESV)

This quote is found in the Gospels in both a general teaching to the disciples and a response to a question from Peter. The disciples, like many of us, seemed to have believed that there should be limits on human forgiveness. When someone has done something wrong to us over and over again, surely we eventually are justified in holding a grudge. According to Christ, if they express repentance, we are to continually forgive them. Why?

Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you, along with all malice.

Ephesians 4:31 (ESV)

This verse, which occurs before the one above is a good context for 4:32. We’re removing these harmful things from our life, not just because of the damage they could do to others in the local church, but also for the harm we do to ourselves when we live a life of bitterness, wrath, anger and these other forms of malice. By putting these things aside or away, we have the proper perspective to love one another and forgive one another.

When you are the one wronged, this process is straightforward. You know exactly what was done to you and the way that impacted you and how you felt about it. When you are working through the process of forgiveness, it is your bitterness, your anger and your hurt that you have to be able to set aside in order to reach the point of being ready to forgive. This is something that, with the help of God, we can all reach. We can remember our sin and Christ’ forgiveness and turn our hurt over to Him, in order to forgive and be free from the burden of bitterness.

Photo by on

When we take on another’s offense or wrong we are taking on a burden that we have no control over the outcome. It is much more difficult to find forgiveness for someone who committed an offense against someone we care about. Instead of us identifying our own pain, we are looking at the pain of others and getting worked up into a place of malice over our perception of their pain. When you are the one wronged, God can give you the grace to find forgiveness, but when you take on the wrong of another, you are instead waiting for either the wrong to be corrected or the person wronged to give us the permission to let the hurt go. Essentially, we are taking God out of the situation.

While we should care for those suffering an injustice and support them, when we take their offense and make it our own, we have trapped ourselves in a maze with no clear exit. Bitterness is common where there is no forgiveness and can destroy the life of anyone who lets it. If you are choosing an offense over an injustice done to another, you need to realize that is a very dangerous path. Over the course of my life, I’ve seen situations where people were sent to prison, fired from their job, treated horribly by others and ripped off by people they trusted with their finances, as well as other great wrongs that none of us would want to suffer.

In looking back over these horrible situations, the great irony is that the person who suffered through these things often comes out better than the friends or family members who take on that offense. Those in prison might eventually get out, but if you build your own prison of bitterness over your loved one being sent there in the first place, you may serve a lifetime sentence. People fired can get a new job, but the anger over being fired can ruin future happiness, even after the person fired goes on to have a long and successful career.

If you find yourself in these circumstances or see this kind of bitterness destroying the life of someone you love, there is hope for forgiveness, but you have to choose a path out. It isn’t worth it to continue in unforgiveness. Even if the injustice still stands, you have to put it into proper perspective. We have to release our ownership of the wrong being righted. It isn’t our battle to fight. Instead, the only clear path out is by giving it over to God.

Dear friends, never take revenge. Leave that to the righteous anger of God. For the Scriptures say, “I will take revenge; I will pay them back,” says the LORD.

Romans 12:19 (NLT)

You can still love your friend. You can care deeply for them and the pain caused by the injustice. You can pray for everything to be made right and for the Lord to act according to His character, but you don’t want to end up in the dead end of “owning” their offense. You can’t afford the damage the bitterness will do to you and your spiritual life. Not to mention how it damages your ability to be a true encouragement to your friend and your community. Release yourself with God’s help from the prison of unforgiveness.

Three Lies of Sin

“For this reason deliverance is far from us and salvation does not reach us. We wait for light, but see only darkness; we wait for a bright light, but live in deep darkness. We grope along the wall like the blind, we grope like those who cannot see; we stumble at noontime as if it were evening. Though others are strong, we are like dead men.”

Isaiah‬ ‭59:9-10‬ ‭NET‬‬

“Look! Listen! GOD ’s arm is not amputated—he can still save. GOD ’s ears are not stopped up—he can still hear. There’s nothing wrong with God; the wrong is in you. Your wrongheaded lives caused the split between you and God. Your sins got between you so that he doesn’t hear. Your hands are drenched in blood, your fingers dripping with guilt, Your lips smeared with lies, your tongue swollen from muttering obscenities…. They know nothing about peace and less than nothing about justice. They make tortuously twisted roads. No peace for the wretch who walks down those roads!”

Isaiah‬ ‭59:1-8‬ ‭MSG‬‬

Periodically, various Christian leaders or supposedly moral celebrities have been in the news for the wrong reasons and their sin is celebrated by the media. There is nothing quite so comforting to the sinner than the sins of another exposed. Even Christians can find themselves joining the onlookers who are piling on via social media with their not so silent judgement.

Whether public or private, sin can be devastating. The community aspect can either help or hinder someone’s response to sin. If it is our sin, we want people to be understanding and encouraging, pushing us towards God’s forgiveness. If it is another’s, we should act the same way towards them. This passage addresses the full impact of sin as well as it’s restoration. It has the picture of the guilt of sin, the blindness of sin and the goodness of God. There are three lies represented here that can keep us from that goodness if we are not grounded in the truth.

First, we are often blind to our sin, stumbling in the darkness. This is how sin begins. In the small dark corners of our life, where things are seemingly innocent and easily justified to an all to willing heart. “There’s nothing wrong with…” Is probably true in isolation, but when you take the specific context into account, it can be the incidental un-premeditated murder of our soul. This is where sin becomes a step by step process, farther away from God and Truth. People love to point to the big, bold sins that make the headlines, but the path into darkness starts with steps that seem innocent enough, but lead us away from the Truth.

This is when we find ourselves in guilt and that is where Satan tells His next lie. “Your hands are dripping with blood, so God can’t hear you“. Our sin becomes our shame when we finally realize what has been born of our innocent dallying. In our shame, we separate ourselves further from God and our community of faith. It creates an atmosphere of denial where we believe the worst thing in the world would be the revelation of our sin. This path can lead us to despair over our condition, it can lead us to publicly despise the sins of others. It can lead us towards bitterness towards the church and God, who we feel have rejected us, even when it is our own choice to live in separation.

And this is because of the third lie that we believe, “God’s reach is too short to save us. God’s ears are too deaf to hear us.” This is the lie that leaves us trapped in the pit described by Isaiah. This is the biggest of all lies, because it is the lie about God. It is in this lie that we live in our sin, without hope. But it is a lie.

Regardless, of my sin. Regardless of your sin, God is big enough, His reach is long enough, His love is great enough. Sin doesn’t have to be a life sentence to a tomb of devastating darkness, God has made a way out.

“This is the message we have heard from him and declare to you: God is light; in him there is no darkness at all. If we claim to have fellowship with him and yet walk in the darkness, we lie and do not live out the truth. But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus, his Son, purifies us from all sin. If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness. If we claim we have not sinned, we make him out to be a liar and his word is not in us.”

 1 John‬ ‭1:5-10‬ ‭NIV‬‬
Photo by Pixabay on

John was honest about sin and honest about God. Sin is awful, it is destructive, we are sinners. All of those things are true, but the greater truths are these: God is faithful, He is just. He will forgive us. He will purify us. There is no doubt in these statements. He is. He will. Believe in Jesus, that He was God’s son, that He came to this earth and died for our sins and that He was resurrected, triumphing over death. In Christ, we find salvation and forgiveness for our sins.

As You Wish

by Justin Hensley

I have the right to do anything, you say

– but not everything is beneficial.

I have the right to do anything

– but not everything is constructive.

No one should seek their own good, but the good of others.

1 Corinthians 10:23-24

    There lurks in most minds the gravitation to self-interest over the attention to another’s.  It is a tendency all have from the start and our efforts ought to be against it.  We all are somewhere along this path of self-denial.  Indeed, much of the battle in our faith is the strife against gravity to overcome the self.  For cannot all sin be traced to the idolatry of pride?  This is truly a work of utmost importance that we face.  When we are absorbed in the self, we do not consider how our actions affect those around us, or else we simply do not care.  We can imagine what the alternative is, in all its excellence.  There are a variety of methods that exist to combat this inclination, though only, let us not forget, by God’s help.

    It is not uncommon for us to be placed into situations by others that are outside where we would have placed ourselves.  In this discomfort, we have the choice to either remain in our position, out of apathy, stubbornness, or something else; or we can choose to change (or make the first step to change) our stance and embrace the discomfort.  Take that it is a hot day and your friends are wanting to play a game of cricket outside, but you’re honestly quite comfortable sitting as you are.  You may choose your comfort, at the expense of the game (and more than that I’d think), or you might say to yourself, “Why it’s just heat, a little sun will be good for me.” (or whatever reasoning it might be that gets you there) and join the game.  Or say the group you are in is going out to eat but you don’t particularly enjoy what they will be having.  You might drop out of the group or cause them to reconfigure to your preferences, or you might say, “That’s not helpful!”  and decide to try to enjoy the food.   

In learning to consider others more, we can not only rid ourselves of noncontributory mindsets but also learn to match the concern that another has for something.  If you are impartial about the way a certain rule or objective will play out, and you find that another does have a preference, why should you not support them in it rather than leaving them on their own?  Or say you do have a particular preference in some manner, yet you may decide to forgo it to match another’s idea on the matter.  Either, with the proper motivation, is a step towards wholesome self-forgetfulness. 

Now, there is something to be said for standing up for your own beliefs, but in many circumstances, this is not required. If you are firm in your own identity, can you not set aside your preferences and opinions for the sake of others? The apostle Paul shows this best when he says, “Though I am free and belong to no one, I have made myself a slave to everyone, to win as many as possible.” In the interest of others, he becomes all things. The next time someone asks you to do something, take a moment to consider, what would you do if you weren’t considering yourself?

Hope in Dark Days

2020 may be the most hopeless year of most of our lifetimes. Every week there is a new meme about whatever apocalypse is happening or on the horizon. Since March, the significant changes to our lives brought about both by the Coronavirus and the response to it have rattled everyone and the impact on people’s lives is having it’s toll.

This crisis has been different than many that we face or have faced. 9/11 was an attack from the outside and brought most Americans together. Natural disasters such as hurricanes, tornados, earthquakes, and floods evoke a compassionate human response that draws many to reach out and help. A personal crisis of health or other misfortune often brings the community together as family and friends, both near and far, jump in to support the needs of the hour.

When these type of things happen and people experience this type of support, it is much easier to find hope in the dark place that circumstances have landed us in. As believers, we know that God is real and that He has promised His love for us, but we often need the tangible reminder through other people’s actions to help us see what He is doing. God has blessed us with the Body of Christ, the Church, to come alongside us and speak truth and take action.

Many things in 2020 have seemed to disrupt this normal human support. Staying home to save lives and practicing social distancing further isolated a populace that was already trending in the direction of disconnection. Restrictions on gathering left people facing additional burdens when faced with sickness and loss. Funerals either couldn’t happen or had heavy restrictions. Those who were ill couldn’t be visited in the hospital and uncertainty left people more distant than normal. “Can I bring food to my sick neighbor?” “Would a visit be appropriate?” “Is someone coming to pray for me too risky?”

Photo by Nandhu Kumar on

Nursing homes were the hardest hit, and just not by the virus. In most of these facilities, staff are limited in their ability to do more than the bare minimum for each resident. The residents rely on visits from family and friends and programs run by volunteers, especially churches. Without these connections, the most isolated became cut off from life giving support.

Additional challenges came in the form of divisive issues. There are always controversy, but 2020 brought us new conflicts over things like masks and Covid treatments, in addition to the items we regularly deal with, such as racism and politics. When I was growing up, we used to joke about churches splitting over the color of the carpet. The 2020 equivalent may end up being over masks.

We have less than 3 months left to go and rather than wait for the next turn of the wheel of the meme apocalypse, I was encouraged this day to focus on reasons for hope. After all, if we are in Christ, we have much to be hopeful for. It is important to remember that as bad as 2020 might seem, many of the Biblical authors were living under much greater difficulty at the time of their writing. They were displaced, often persecuted, with little resources and much need and suffering. In spite of all this, they found the time to write the words below.

May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.

Romans 15:13 (NIV)

Paul wrote to a group of house churches in Rome that had no privilege in society. Christians lived on the fringes and had no power. Later, they would face great persecution in that city. He writes a message that is relevant for us today. God is a God of hope and the secret to finding joy and peace is trusting in Him. Hope come through that and the power of the Holy Spirit.

“For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the LORD, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.

Jeremiah 29:11 (NIV)

Jeremiah was a profit in a pitiful time. Israel was about to be destroyed for their sin. In other words, they were about to get what they deserved. In the face of this, Jeremiah had the task of preaching God’s judgement on the people, but also casting a vision of hope for the future. He was preaching a sermon about what he would never see, but what God intended to do, because of who God is, not because of anything they deserved. We can pray a similar prayer, putting our hope for the future in God’s hands, not in any other place.

3 Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! In his great mercy he has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, 4 and into an inheritance that can never perish, spoil or fade. This inheritance is kept in heaven for you, 5 who through faith are shielded by God’s power until the coming of the salvation that is ready to be revealed in the last time. 6 In all this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while you may have had to suffer grief in all kinds of trials.

1 Peter 1:3-6 (NIV)

Finally, we must center our hope on Christ, our living hope. Peter would soon after this face his death for his faith, where tradition records that he requested to be crucified upside down, rather than face the same death as his savior. God has promised an inheritance that will never fade. We can find our joy in His promises, which never fail. Christ is faithful to provide salvation and we can rejoice, though we suffer grief in our current trials.

Our hope is not in a vaccine, or in a president or even in a church or Christian leader. Our hope is in God alone and in His son, Jesus Christ. When we place our hope there, we can find joy and peace, even in the face of 2020. Spread that hope to your family and friends. Spread the truth of God’s Word, don’t spread fear, despair and division.

The Ultimate Destinations of Cancel Culture

There has been a lot of talk about the idea of “Cancel Culture” in recent days. Public figures are “cancelled” because of their opinions or sometimes even because of something from their past, even potentially far in their past. This usually involves the elimination of their voice from the world of the person who is cancelling them. You might block them on social media or say you refuse to ever watch their show or sport or buy their products again. In some extreme examples, it has involved more aggressive tactics including group shaming by having everyone attack the person who is cancelled (usually by media) or even “doxing” the person by publicly outing personnel details about their life to make it easier for people to harass them for their viewpoints.

When this idea first started trending, it was usually related to something that was more universally considered to be wrong and often criminal behavior. Prominent figures who were caught with their hand in the cookie jar were not only arrested and tried, but they were tried and shamed in the court of public opinion as well. Legitimate criminal behavior should be condemned and making people aware of these crimes could be seen as a way of reducing the prevalence of this type of activity. This type of public response to wrongdoing happened many times in the past before the concept of cancelling anyone was ever talked about, but the main difference now is the walls between public and private are much thinner. Social media makes most people public figures and the amount of information that can be learned and quickly passed on has grown on an accelerating curve. In the past, some of those in trouble ducked out of sight for a bit and came back not long after. Now, the shame seems to linger.

Over the last 2 years, the targets for cancelling have moved out of the realm of the criminal and landed more on what could be called “popularly out of favor”. It is not unusual to see someone lose a job or an opportunity because of an opinion they hold (or perhaps held a long time in the past) and for that to cascade into calls for a type of ban on this person to continue long into the future. People are being cancelled for actions and ideas that are not crimes and they have not been convicted, only condemned. Movies let go of actors and directors, companies fire staff and even CEOs and it can even spread and happen on smaller, more local levels like communities and schools. People find themselves cancelled with little opportunity to defend themselves.

When this type of thing becomes commonplace, it is highly problematic. Rational dialogue and discourse is thrown out the window. Instead of going to someone and asking, “what did you mean by that,” we make the assumption that we are perfect interpreters of another person’s words and thoughts and our condemnation and criticism spreads the interpretations faster and farther than the original message. Many people read these type of scripted misinterpretations without ever hearing the original context. This doesn’t just happen on social media, but through the news media as well. The extreme reaction to an opinion is found to be more interesting and newsworthy than the original opinion in its proper context.

There is of course an arrogance in always assuming our perspective is the correct one. We are all guilty of Fundamental Attribution Error at some levels. It is the assumption that our motives are pure, but to refuse to give another person the benefit of the doubt. Of course, just like sometimes we do have mixed motives, sometimes the person we are criticizing really does deserve it, but to move away from the opportunity to engage the person and find out more about the why behind the what they said is to engage in our own form of fascism.

Fascism is another trending topic and accusations of this abound. It seems that seeking to cancel someone over fascist-like views is on the docket for one of our next trends in cancel culture. Fascism is frequently applied to controlling governments, but it also can be applied to the behavior of individuals and groups. At it’s core, it involves a ruling elitist class that inflicts their preferred viewpoint through force. For 19 years, I lived in a country that trended sharply in this direction. People were arrested and thrown in prison regularly for having opposing viewpoints. I heard many stories of people whose family members were picked up because of what they shared on social media. 10,000’s of people lost their jobs because of their viewpoints. All press except that which was controlled by the government was eliminated. This is what fascism in government looks like.

Can Cancel Culture be fascism? It can be applied in a fascist way, but cancel culture isn’t fascism unless it has the power. Power defines the outcome in these circumstances. When a large company that has total control of an industry begins to systematically eliminate viewpoints that don’t fit their perspective that goes beyond censorship and enters the realm of fascism. When a powerful media conglomerate forces out anyone who has a different opinion that also moves in that direction. Fascism has to have the power to succeed, then the entity or person is able to force their perspective of the world on whoever they want.

In the time leading up to the election, it seems cancel culture has evolved yet again. In the past, it was focused on a type of punishment for past or current behaviors, but this election seems to have brought out the worst in many people, including some who call themselves believers. From both sides of the voting divide, I have heard very strong statements to the effect of, “If you vote for ” “, I will cancel you. Sometimes this is cloaked in Biblical rhetoric. Jesus wouldn’t vote for…. or x# of reasons why you can’t vote for so and so. Other times the threat is not about faith, but about relationships. If you vote for this person, we cannot be friends anymore. They are in effect, threatening everyone who reads their post or hears their proclamation.

This type of threat is the social media equivalent of putting a gun to someone’s head and demanding that they comply with your directions. Instead of having reasoned conversations with people and being willing to listen to opinions that may be vastly different than our own, we assume that all the wisdom lies on our side of the aisle and the other side’s perspective must be eliminated. This is the type of fundamentalist perspective that certain groups have been accused of, but it seems to be more and more common across the majority of groups now. By threatening our friends, neighbors and family members concerning their opinions, we continue to reinforce the walls of our own echo chamber of ideas as we eliminate all discourse across groups.

Ultimately, this sort of thinking has 2 possible destinations if it continues. One is fascism and the other is terrorism. Fascists have all the power, so they enforce their viewpoint and that viewpoint alone on everyone they have authority over. Terrorists recognize their lack of power, but still refuse to acknowledge the validity of any differing viewpoint, so they act in violence, abuse and destruction in order to do as much damage as possible to those in power. Both of these alternatives destroy lives and leave wreckage behind, the only difference is in the nature of the way the damage is done. Our country hasn’t known either of these evils in their truest forms and for that we can be grateful, but if we aren’t careful, absolutism and cancel culture can force us further down these roads.

We do have an election coming up very soon. One side will end up with more votes than the other. Some of those who threatened their fellow citizens will end up on the losing side, others will be on the winning side. No matter which side wins, if we continue on the path that we are on, we will all lose. Don’t wait for the election, engage the opposition now. Build bridges, not walls. Listen first and seek to really understand. Don’t cancel your relationships. There really is much more at stake than just the election.

For believers, if you don’t already know, cancel culture is not an option. We can disagree with people, but people are too valuable to cancel out of our lives over opinions. Here are just a few of the things the Bible says about disagreements with one another:

I therefore, a prisoner for the Lord, urge you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. There is one body and one Spirit—just as you were called to the one hope that belongs to your call— one Lord, one faith, one baptism, ..

Ephesians 4:1-3 (ESV)

As for the one who is weak in faith, welcome him, but not to quarrel over opinions.

Romans 14:1 (ESV)

Do not speak evil against one another, brothers. The one who speaks against a brother or judges his brother, speaks evil against the law and judges the law. But if you judge the law, you are not a doer of the law but a judge.

James 4:11 (ESV)

An Election Year Prayer

In 2016, with the election looming and a divisive campaign in full swing, I was living overseas and it was disconcerting to open up the internet and social media to see the rhetoric from both sides. I made a commitment to stop and pray when I saw something shared about the election. That was a big commitment, given how prevalent this content was, but personally it helped me to keep my focus properly aligned as the days passed. The focus for all believers should be more focused on things of greater significance.

Now in 2020, things are the same or worse as far as the information related to the election and candidates that is being put in front of us every day goes. For myself, because I’m currently in the United States and not overseas, it is much worse than what I normally experience. It is very difficult to get away from these daily distractions. There is just a short time to go before the election, but as a Christian, I want to commit to do more praying than reading, posting and reposting over the course of the next few weeks. If you want to join me in praying for all of the candidates and for those who are currently serving in leadership in roles in government, I have put together a few things you might find helpful.

Verses to pray through:

I urge, then, first of all, that petitions, prayers, intercession and thanksgiving be made for all people— for kings and all those in authority, that we may live peaceful and quiet lives in all godliness and holiness. 

1 TImothy 2:1-2 (NIV)

This is a good place to start with all of us. God desires these things for all people, but specifically sets apart those in authority over us. Let us all have peaceful and quiet lives of godliness and holiness. All of our lives would be better if we reflected this prayer and our lives would be better if our leaders reflected this as well.

Everyone must submit to governing authorities. For all authority comes from God, and those in positions of authority have been placed there by God. So anyone who rebels against authority is rebelling against what God has instituted, and they will be punished. For the authorities do not strike fear in people who are doing right, but in those who are doing wrong. Would you like to live without fear of the authorities? Do what is right, and they will honor you. The authorities are God’s servants, sent for your good.

Romans 13:1-4 (NLT)

As an adult, I have lived under many presidents appointed by God over my country, Bush 41, Clinton, Bush 43, Obama, and now Trump. The Bible says these leaders are God’s servants, sent for our good. We can pray for them to act as God’s servants and for our own hearts as we submit to our authorities.

He changes times and seasons; he removes kings and sets up kings; he gives wisdom to the wise and knowledge to those who have understanding.

Daniel 2:21

All the people benefit from a ruler who is wise and understanding, we can pray that those appointed for our country would be filled with wisdom and understanding as they lead.

Things to pray for your leaders

  • Salvation – We all need Jesus – Our leaders are no different – Acts 4:10-12
  • Courage – It is difficult to make the right choice, they need courage – 2 Samuel 10:12
  • Humility – Leaders lead best from a position of humility – 1 Peter 5:5
  • Discernment – To know when and when not to act – 1 Kings 3:9
  • Teachability – To learn and grow in their ability to lead – Proverbs 9:9
  • Perseverance – To persist through trial – 2 Timothy 4:7
  • Self-control – To not react, but to respond – Proverbs 25:28
  • Integrity – To hold to a moral standard – Psalm 25:21

Craving What is Fading

What do you crave? Cravings can have many forms. Probably the most common craving that we think of is something to eat. After living most of my life in the Midwest, I moved to another country, where I lived for the next 19 years. One thing you notice about cravings is that you often crave what you can’t have. When I was in Istanbul, I sometimes would crave things that weren’t available there. When I was in the United States, I found myself craving familiar tastes from Turkey. This is a common trait with ex-pats. Even though you may be surrounded by delicious food that would make most people jealous, it is normal for ex-pats to long for their favorite candy or fast food guilty pleasure that is inaccessible to them while abroad.

Some other cravings could be missed experiences, desires or possessions. We can become obsessed with all these things. People often daydream about their desires, wishing for happiness through acquisition. This can be incredibly unsatisfying. Food is actually a wonderful comparison for all cravings, because we have all experienced the fact that we will hunger again, even after our desires have been satisfied by our most sought after craving. This is obvious with food, but doesn’t stop us from having the craving again. This is because the things we pursue are not lasting. It is described like this in 1 John:

Do not love this world nor the things it offers you, for when you love the world, you do not have the love of the Father in you. For the world offers only a craving for physical pleasure, a craving for everything we see, and pride in our achievements and possessions. These are not from the Father, but are from this world. And this world is fading away, along with everything that people crave. But anyone who does what pleases God will live forever.

1 John 2:15-17 (NLT)

We usually love what is in front of us. If we primarily love the things of the world, it is because our vision and our hearts are filled with the things of the world. We crave these things because that is what our appetites have been built upon.  In the scenario that John describes, the love of the world fills the person, driving out the love of God. When we fill up our life with other things, which we see and hear everywhere that we turn, we lose sight of God. John writes, “this world is fading away”. In other words, it doesn’t last. It is temporary.

A friend of mine used to dismiss this perspective with the phrase, “It’s all gonna burn.” He had picked that up from a talk that we had heard on this subject. That is a harsher way of describing what John is describing when he says it is fading away. John is getting at the temporal, passing nature of placing our hope and satisfaction in the world. The irony of these statements is your ability to receive them as truth depends on your status. If you are immersed in the world, you will hear these things and condemn the preacher as “no fun”, “Judgmental”, or “just trying to control me”. If you are hearing from God, you then see the love of the Father in these statements. God is telling you these things, not for His benefit, but for ours.

God knows how hard it is to live a life in pursuit of everything that is empty and meaningless. Throughout all creation, He has seen over and over this pursuit of the fading shadows of temporal dissatisfaction. God, in His love for us, calls for us to crave something different. He wants us to find our satisfaction not in the fading, but in the lasting, in eternity. As young, immature Christians, we might begrudge God some of His commands that lead us away from these pleasures of addiction, but lasting faith leads to a depth of understanding that allows us to see the insignificance of these idols.

God’s love for us is given for us to move on from insignificance and a love of this world. We move towards a love of God, which can give us a love for this world that is properly in balance. This allows us to see the world according to the economy of God, where the value of eternal things is in front of us, hiding in plain sight in the midst of all the things we previously craved. With this perspective, they will fade away and we can experience the heart cry of desire for meaning and things that matter and will last. Then we can set aside the things that are fading every day.

Help My Unbelief

Excerpt from Seeing God, available now at Amazon

The instrument through which you see God is your whole self. And if a man’s self is not kept clean and bright, his glimpse of God will be blurred

C.S. Lewis – Mere Christianity

One of my favorite passages in Scripture and one that presents a clear picture of the concept this book is addressing is found in the Gospel of Mark in Chapter 9. Beginning in verse 14 we see the story of a desperate father, who has tried everything to help his hurting son. The boy is mute and has seizures as a result of his demon possession. The demon not only causes regular physical difficulties, but also tries to kill the boy, by throwing him in the fire or the water. That poor father! To love your son so much and yet have no power to help him. He must have been on edge every moment, knowing that at any time his son’s life could be at risk.

The father took the boy to the disciples, but they weren’t able to help the boy. Jesus says, “O faithless generation, how long am I to be with you? How long am I to bear with you? Bring him to me.” (9:19:ESV) The problem is faith. The disciples had been with Jesus for some time at this point and they had seen miracles. This rebuke could be seen as directed at them, but also at the scribes who were present. In verse 14, when Jesus showed up, he found the scribes arguing with the disciples. What a dreary site for not only Jesus, but especially for the father. He comes for help and those he comes to end up doing nothing but arguing. The church sometimes comes across like this to the world, when our arguments are displayed publicly on social media and blogs for all to see.

Theology and distinctions of belief are very significant, and we should care deeply about them, but we should never be found arguing about them in the face of real spiritual or human need. As believers, we are the hands and feet of Christ in our world today. This father didn’t care about their argument, he just wanted help. The father cried out to Jesus, “if you can do anything, have compassion on us and help us.” (9:22b:ESV) This is what the father wanted, someone to see his son as he saw him, to have compassion on their circumstances. When you are struggling with a trial, you want help, but you also don’t want to feel alone. As a church, it is so important not to merely talk about people going through a crisis, but to support them with empathy and care, even when we can’t fix the problem.

Jesus wants to make it clear to the father what the circumstances are, “‘If you can!’ All things are possible for one who believes.” (9:23:ESV) Jesus is unlimited in His capabilities, but He also bridges that power to all who have faith. We have access to His power through our faith in Him. This is the kind of teaching many of us as believers have heard repeatedly over the years. We are taught of the sovereignty of God, of a real, living God who does miracles. From Sunday School to the sermon we heard last week, we hear of a God who is able to do anything and has the power to not only change your life through salvation, but to help with physical circumstances through healing and His supernatural provision.

Despite all of that truth, which we have been exposed to over and over, many of us would be right to echo the words of this father in response to Jesus, “I believe; help my unbelief!” (9:24b:ESV) When we come to Christ in faith and join His Kingdom, we do believe. The Gospel means accepting the miracle of who Christ is, what He has done and what that means for us. We believe in that truth and we move forward in our life with Christ, hopefully growing in Him along the way. And yet, we don’t believe. We are sometimes afraid to pray for God to act in our lives and the lives of others. We are challenged with the doubt of a God that might not be big enough to provide for the circumstances that we find ourselves in.

Our unbelief can creep in over time as we give in to all of the challenges that we’ve talked about in the previous chapters, or it can slap us in the faith in a moment when we realize we thought that being a believer in Christ would protect us from physical loss and suffering. Jesus’ previous comment about them being a faithless generation wasn’t for this father, instead it was for those who stood to the side and argued in the face of this man’s very real and personal pain. Instead, Jesus offers no condemnation for the father’s confession of unbelief, He only acts. Jesus releases the son from bondage and gives him back to his father. At long last, despite the father’s imperfect faith, God had chosen to answer their prayer and end their suffering.

There are many lessons for us in this. This is one of those stories that doesn’t flow the way we might like. The disciples aren’t who we would want them to be. The father doesn’t really strike us as a person responding to Jesus as the Messiah and exhibiting true faith and worship, but a regular person, desperately seeking help in any way he might find it. Unlike some other healings in Scripture, he doesn’t turn and worship Jesus or proclaim any great truth about Him. Instead, the Bible is silent on his response and he fades out of history without another word. This passage is about Jesus, who He is and what He does, and it is about fallen sinners before Him. The father is someone any father of a child in need could relate to.

When Jesus chooses to heal the boy, it is because of who He is, not because of the father. Later, the disciples ask Jesus why it is that they were unable to help. Jesus responds, ““This kind cannot be driven out by anything but prayer.” (9:29:ESV) I can imagine how baffling that might have been for the disciples. Surely, they had prayed. Surely, they had done their best to imitate the things that they had seen Jesus do previously when He had healed others, and yet their efforts were ineffectual. There were probably many differences between their efforts to heal the boy and the father’s efforts to get help from Jesus, but the biggest difference was the amount of emotional capital they had invested.

Photo by Ric Rodrigues on

We can assume the disciples legitimately wanted the boy to be healed. I’m sure they felt some compassion for the father and didn’t want either of them to go on suffering, but the father needed it all to be true. His prayer and desire for the healing wasn’t superficial, it wasn’t something he hoped would work out, but it would be okay if it didn’t. Instead, the father was desperate. He would have given anything to see Jesus heal his son. He came to Christ without hope and yet, what if the things he had heard about Jesus were true. Could it be possible? He believed, but he didn’t believe and yet he really did need to believe that everything he had heard about Jesus was true. The father’s words to Jesus are an honest prayer expressed out of his pit of despair.

God is a loving and compassionate God and He understands this struggle. He would prefer we be real, like this father, struggling with our lack of faith. It is right and true to pray to God and ask for His help in our unbelief. Christ lived with human emotion; he knows the burden of this kind of struggle. In J.B. Phillips rendering of 1 Peter 5:7, it says, “You can throw the whole weight of your anxieties upon him, for you are his personal concern.” This is what that father needed to see. Someone who didn’t see his son in the abstract but would enter into the reality of their pain and meet them there, sharing their burden. That’s who God is. He knows all your doubts, so why not be honest about them?

Finding our way to this kind of honest transparency isn’t easy. Many of us grew up in environments which did not encourage us to express our doubts or talk frankly about them. Reading through the Psalms, you find the exact opposite. These passages are filled with people lamenting both their circumstances and their feelings of distance from God. Seeing God involves acknowledging the areas where He is out of focus to us and where it seems like His presence might be lacking. Until we really take stock of where we are at, it is difficult to know how far we are from where we want to get to. We should be willing to admit our need for help in the same way this father was when he cried out to Jesus.

Read the rest of the chapter by ordering Seeing God – For Who He Really Is