No Sales Pitch Required

So many sales pitches… so many voices… so many things to discern… it’s really quite overwhelming.

SnakeOilSay you want to get the news – whether TV, paper, magazine, or online. Try finding a source that provides the full, circumspect story. You can’t. Instead, the facts are filtered through the biases of the source you choose. Any facts to the contrary are ignored, vilified, or otherwise disregarded. So maybe you are wise enough to also take in news from the polar opposite news source in order to fill in the blanks and read between the lines…only to find that the facts they present and the ones they negate from the other side just leave you more confused. So then maybe you at least turn to the Daily Show to watch Jon Stewart skewer both sides for their hypocrisy, but you are still left without the whole story (though you’ve enjoyed some laughs in the process).

Or maybe you looking for facts on health, nutrition, disease prevention, etc. Again, every source is selling their angle, whether it’s take a pill, eat certain foods, stick pins in your face, have your spine adjusted, consume a small dose of the disease to fight it off, or whatever. In this case, the medical/pharmaceutical profession is able to leverage the government and police to try to coerce your choices, while other avenues speak to your heart, your wallet, your mind, your fears, your hopes, etc. But everyone is selling something, and it’s hard to get to the truth.

Worse yet, try getting the straight facts on things related to the church and the Bible. Good luck. There are a myriad of perspectives, all claiming to be right, accurate, historic, orthodox, and God-approved. And most of them want to sell you books, music, and collect your weekly dues. And the same tactics used by the other professions are used here – fear, uncertainty, doubt, coercion supposedly in the name of Jesus. Or good advice intended to manipulate you and keep you in line, spending your money in all the approved places.

Recently, I’ve had my fill of self-assured know-it-alls tell me all the things that are wrong with me and what their one right solution is. I’ve experienced every form of manipulation at their hands. And in almost every case, they tried to use logic and reason from a very limited foundation to show how right they were and how wrong everyone who opposed them was. But none of their arguments and apologetics moved me in my heart, where I know things most deeply within. And as Bill Mallonnee so eloquently sang, “Reason – she’s still the Devil’s whore.”

I believe that the highest knowledge is that which we know in our hearts and have experienced personally. It is that kind of knowledge that we actually own and can stake our lives on. Everything else is just theory for the mind to assert or dissent, without any real power or substance. I believe this is tightly connected to the concept of faith – not a theological confession or wishful thinking, but rather a serious risk one is willing to take based on something known “in the heart” that will likely never stand up to rational scrutiny. As the writer of Hebrews said, “Faith is the SUBSTANCE of things hoped for, the EVIDENCE of things not seen…without faith it is impossible to please God.” And once you have endured the risk of faith and come through to the other side, that experience of the reality of God’s provision, care, love, etc. can never be taken away from you. You now have knowledge you can own and stake your life on, having endured the risk.

I can never really KNOW for certain if God is a tri-unity, if things evolved or were directly created, or if Jesus was actually God in the flesh and born of a young woman who had never had sex. These things can only be asserted or affirmed, but they cannot be KNOWN. And even if they could be known… so what?

That’s the problem I have a lot of this so-called biblical knowledge – there is no real point to it, no benefit to bless the world. Instead, it’s just another thing for some people to feel “right” about, which allows them to propagate their “us vs. them” mentality and sell lots of product.

And on top of that, Jesus didn’t spend time talking about that kind of junk. Instead, Jesus’ conversations had more to do with things that actually affect our lives and the lives of those around us…

– Let go of anger and condemnation
– Be faithful and loyal to your spouse, friends, family
– Speak the truth and keep your commitments
– Give, pray, worship, and serve quietly
– Let your good works shine and bring glory to God (not to yoU)
– Trust God for your daily and future provisions
– Trust God to change other people in his time
– Be willing to make sacrifices for the good of others

Those things are pretty straightforward. We don’t need an 8-part series with DVDs and workbooks to understand that. We just need the faith, time, and opportunity to work it out in our daily lives as these principles and values become intuitive over time with God’s help. These are the things that matter. These are the things that transform relationships, that transform society, that are the answer to the prayer “May your kingdom come; may your will be done on earth…”

I find this way of living to be in harmony with God’s design in creation. I see it to be consistent with what actually works to promote peace and restoration and health and growth, compared to more self-centered approaches to living. And I’m fully aware of the failure of self-centered living… I’ve experienced that in abundance. It resonates with my experience and observations. It rings true in my heart of hearts.

I suspect this is the path through the din of the many voices vying for my “time, talents, and treasure”: to let all voices fade but the one deep within us, to look for the harmony with God’s existing design, and to do so without experiencing the fear, uncertainty, and doubt with which the sales people are trying to manipulate you. And when all else fails, to sit back, relax, and enjoy the freedom of uncertainty. No sales pitch required.

In Reality

InReality“As innocent as children seem to be to us, yet if they are out of Christ, they are not so in God’s sight, but are young vipers, and are infinitely more hateful than young vipers.”

~ Jonathan Edwards

Let me be the most recent one to say…”bullshit”. This is not reality.

In Reality

When we study the real nature of things in this well-designed universe – especially in this case the whole parent/child relationship – we can detect the heart of God, our true nature(s), and the path before us that is in harmony with this design.

Yes, my children at times had a desire to explore things outside of what my wife and I wanted for them. They sometimes flat-out rebelled. But MOST of the time it was a rather joyful, loving, peaceful experience.

The challenge with kids is getting them to the point where they make their own good decisions because it is in their heart to do so. When my kids each get to the point of making good, wise choices because it’s in their heart to do so, then all of the prior training techniques have had their place but are welcome to be over and done with.

Initially, some parents use fear, shame, or guilt to try to control or manipulate their behavior. Some use enticements, distractions, and outright bribes instead (while still others leave the kids to their own devices and live with the results). These techniques tend to work…for a while. But they never seem to get to the heart of the matter.

In Hindsight

How does God parent us? What techniques (in hindsight) do we see the Creator/Father-Mother God has employed in our lives? Here are a few:

  • Consequence – both bad and good. Hot Stove and Blessing. We experience pain when we choose foolishly, and this teaches us to at least avoid the consequence if possible. We also experience blessing, the benefits of wise choices – increased privileges, material things, harmonious relationships filled with laughter and joy. It’s a form of the karmic notion that you get what’s coming to you, you reap what you sow. In my experience, God actually does this on a regular basis to provoke us (in a good way) to grow and improve. Consequence helps correct behavior and convince one’s heart and mind that it’s worth the exertion of will to choose wisely.
  • Repetition (with patience). This goes along with the notion of consequence, but it’s an important distinction. How many times have we been put into similar situations, only to fail yet again (but maybe not as bad)? Each time we seem to learn a little bit more until the life lesson seems to go away and we actually finally “own” the lesson. God is ever patient with us (as we should be with our children, much to my chagrin). God is willing to put us through the same lessons over and over while we kick and scream and wish to avoid the pain and discomfort because God knows in the end it’s the primary way for us to mature.
  • Meekness. I’m not talking about weakness; meekness is having the strength and power to act, but choosing to be gentle, patient, kind, etc. Another place where I as a parent am an epic failure, while God over and over shows meekness upon us, extending mercy so we don’t get all the consequence we deserve, and showing grace so that we receive many benefits that we never actually “deserved” but are part of any healthy, loving relationship. It’s one thing for me to not yell at or physically correct my children (showing strength instead of mercy). It’s another thing for me to withhold good things from my children (like food, shelter, clothing). God rarely does that with us. Our essential needs tend to be met except in very unusual circumstances in which either God might be using the lack of these things as consequence, or mankind’s inhumanity refuses to share to meet our needs, refusing to be God’s hands and feet to the needy.

If you have kids or have observed kids being raised, you know this is true. If you’ve embarked on a spiritual journey, partnering your life with the God of the universe, you’ve probably also experienced this as true if you look back carefully on your story.

In Harmony

Kids are neither all evil nor all good. Environment does help to shape them one way or another. Genetics and chemistry has a lot to do with it, too. If you feel physically lousy due to body issues or food reactions, you’re going to be a nasty person at times (just like anyone else who isn’t feeling well, not rested enough, or unhealthy in other ways). I grew up on a diet of sugary breakfast cereal, Twinkies, Faygo red pop, and peanut butter & marshmallow creme sandwiches. I was a spastic mess, much of it because of the poor diet I was given. Ritalin was prescribed, but it didn’t help and it missed the point. My diet was out of harmony with what my body really needed.

My children eat far healthier than I ever did. And now that we’ve identified some food allergies, they are also eating more appropriately for their bodily needs. And guess what? Their demeanor is far different in most cases. Sure, they still have some learned responses that we find annoying at times (moping, isolating themselves, passive aggressive behavior) – but these are actually fewer and farther between.

And when I view my eldest daughter – a senior in college – I’m so proud of how she has made the life lessons we tried to teach her own. Whether we trained her directly or indirectly (via delegates like youth groups, extended family, friends, etc.), she still had to make the lessons her own and add to it so she could mature to become the responsible, mature person she is. I remember when she finally took ownership over the neatness of her bedroom and her own laundry… which led to her being responsible in so many other areas. I don’t have to yell, nag, prod, or anything – it’s part of her belief system.

In Summary

I think in the end, that’s what God is trying to do with all of us – train us up so that we can make wise, good choices from the heart (regardless of denomination or political affiliation). So that we can then make the sacrifices necessary to help restore this planet to the kind of harmony originally intended for mankind.

Jesus asked rhetorically, “If your child asked for an egg, would you give him a poisonous snake instead?” Of course not. And God, as Jesus argued, is a way better parent than us in every respect. As Paul wrote, “It is the goodness of God that leads you to your change of heart and mind.” May our parenting reflect how God parents us all – not harshly condemning us all as little vipers worthy of destruction, but patiently, lovingly, meekly guiding us to know, own, and love the truth from our hearts so that it naturally flows out of us and blesses the world as we live in harmony with reality as God created it to be.

Moving Targets

encyclopedia – noun. a book or set of books giving information on many subjects or on many aspects of one subject and typically arranged alphabetically.

worldbookWhen I was a child, my parents bought a set of World Book Encyclopedias. I remember the ivory cover with the green edging (to match our hideous green living room, I suppose). I occasionally enjoyed flipping through their pages, and found them indispensable for my 6th grade magnum opus on the country of Switzerland. And in my opinion, World Book was FAR better than the suspect Encyclopedia Britannica.

In the mid-1990s, long before Wikipedia and Google as we know it, I purchased a current set of World Book Encyclopedias for my family. It’s still on the built-in bookshelves in our living room to this day. This collection is not the same as the one my parents purchased 30 years prior. Some subjects are added, some modified, some completely gone. Because the encyclopedia merely provides the current understanding as it relates to its subjects, and knowledge is a moving target.

If a friend came to me with the question “what is the plot of the encyclopedia? What is its over-arching story?”, I’d furrow my brows and think my friend had lost his mind. And if – by body language, tone, or spoken word – my friend indicated that he knew the “right” answer to that question already… I’d have to just shake my head and laugh, because he’s my friend. But if he wasn’t a friend but rather a stranger, I’d think him an even stranger stranger for it.


Whenever I hear people talk about the plot of the Bible, or its over-arching story, I likewise cringe. Because if the Bible is anything, it is an encyclopedia. It is a collection of writings across millennia that represents the current understanding as it relates to its subjects…and as knowledge is a moving target (as I said above).

The reason the “God of the Old Testament” sounds different from the “God of the New Testament” is not because God has changed or that there are different Gods or that you need to have some man teach you the one right way of harmonizing all of that. No. It’s because each book reflects the current understanding of God at that time, in that culture, for that author. And sometimes, in hindsight, we see how far off base they were in their understanding, just like comparing my 1990s World Book with my old 1960s World Book.

If you want a clearer understanding of who God is, then jump all the way to the books written by Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John. Listen to what Jesus has to say about God…because his view of God trumps all the prior views expressed in the earlier writings. I’d even argue that they trump the understanding of people who came along later like Paul, Clement, Irenaeus, Augustine, Francis, and every pope, bishop, and pastor who followed afterward.


There is no plot or over-arching theme to an encyclopedia other than what men FORCE upon it according to their system and perspective. But that doesn’t mean they are right; in fact, they simply are NOT right because it was never intended to be viewed that way. Same goes for the Bible. We must take it for what it IS, not what we wish it to be and not what men have fashioned it to be.

I don’t need to harmonize the God who ordered the slaughter of every Canaanite man, woman, child, and animal with the loving, merciful, compassionate, patient father of whom Jesus spoke. Moses and Joshua simply got God wrong. He was never a vengeful tribal God, and any mention of God telling them to kill every thing that breathes is about as authentic as a radical Muslim crying for jihad because “God told him so”. It’s poppycock, a human projection onto God that isn’t consistent with the God presented by Jesus.

The whole need for a religious system of sacrifices, special clothing, dietary restrictions, etc. is a human invention, probably adapted by Moses from that which he learned in Egypt. It was a way to unify and control this new nomadic nation, and to a certain extent it worked. But from another perspective, it kept the people enslaved – in this case, spiritually – living in fear of a distortion of the Creator. And as that perspective was propagated for centuries, it took on a life of its own that was far removed from the “spirit of the law” that Jesus later embodied.

Out of Order

Now, while an encyclopedia lays things out alphabetically, the Bible appears to be more chronological. However, while there are portions of the Bible in chronological order within certain groupings, other books are actually listed in order of decreasing size or seeming importance. There isn’t a clean sequence to it all the way through, just like there isn’t a plot.

You can’t even count on words meaning the same thing from one part of the Bible to another because words change over time within and across cultures. Idiomatic use of words makes it even more challenging because you have to understand the cultural meta-narrative to know what the author intended the reader to understand.

Just like you can’t take a World Book encyclopedia from 1920 and put your own interpretation on it, you can’t do that with the Bible either, because things have changed, words have changed, the world has changed. The best we can do is say “this is how they viewed things in 1920 in the World Book” or “this is how Joshua viewed things in his day”… and then do our best to match it up with what we know now about creation and its Creator.

Such a view makes the Bible a lot more challenging to actually understand and make strong assertions about… but that’s actually a GOOD thing. There are too many arrogant people speaking with seeming authority based on a flawed premise – that their perspective of the plot of the encyclopedia known as the Bible is the only right one. Cringe if you must. Laugh if you can. But don’t cave in to their desire to control you. It’s OK to not have all the answers. Sometimes it’s even more “right”.