My Easter Blog: But the Cowardly…

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Any chickens out there? People afraid of pain, tight spaces, dogs, bodies of water, flying, moths–yes, moths–heights…? Everybody raise your hand because if I keep listing, I’m going to eventually get to the thing that chills you to the core. We live in a scary world: snakes, spiders (they’ve discovered a new species the size of footballs, y’all! http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/2017/04/14/massive-spider-red-fangs-discovered-mexican-cave/amp/), tornados, terrorists.

Most of us carry out some aspect of our daily lives in ways that help us avoid or at least minimize exposure to that which we fear, which is not always a bad thing. Sometimes our fears grow fangs and become phobias that make some day to day activities extra stressful, which can be a very bad thing. But worse still is when fears and phobias become our idols, become things we sacrifice our peace and power to. When those hideous little gods are allowed to rule and reign over every move, every decision, we become something dangerous and despicable ourselves: We become cowards.

“It is done. I am the Alpha and the Omega, the Beginning and the End. To the thirsty I will give water without cost from the spring of the water of life. Those who are victorious will inherit all this, and I will be their God and they will be my children. But the cowardly…”

‭‭Revelation‬ ‭21:6-8‬

But the cowardly…Those three words used to frighten and confuse me. I didn’t understand why “the cowardly” are not only on the list of the so-called serious sinners to be consigned to a fiery second death, but are listed first. After a few decades of witnessing how cowardliness destroys everything from families to countries, I understand.

By definition a coward is “a person who lacks courage in facing danger, difficulty, opposition, pain.” The word comes from the Latin cauda, meaning tail, as in not the head, as in bottom, backside, behind–with all the ensuing implications thereof.

By practice a coward is a person who climbs out the back window rather than stand up to a bully at the door. They avoid even essential conflict, confrontation, discomfort, opposition, or difficulty. Their fight song is Take It Easy. A coward doesn’t just feel fear. The Greek word used for coward in the New Testament establishes the cowardly as those who are fear-driven, who lack the courage needed to follow Christ.

Thus cowardliness paves the way for all other sin by regarding self and self-preservation as first and foremost. Cowards are often self-righteous, self-centered, even self-aggrandizing: They adopt any self-serving posture they must to keep conviction at bay.

A coward assumes that feeling good–no matter how much hellishness is going on around him, and often because of him–is his right. He dreads feeling discomfort. Thus a coward will reject anyone who challenges him, anyone who even so much as hints that his attitude might (gasp) be wrong, anyone who points out that his decisions are shallow and self-serving, anyone who confronts his abdication of reason and responsibility. In fact, a coward only manages to display fierceness in his vehement and sometimes violent attacks on those who seek to separate him from his Precious.

A coward will give in to whatever his selfish flesh desires to avoid feeling the burn of self-control. He mocks the forthright, the steady, the brave because he is threatened by them. He wants to know how he can attain complete peace, aka eternal life, but when he hears he has to give up everything he loves about himself and follow a God with a cross on his back, he slinks his way back to cowardly futility.

Cowards can’t compromise. To do so would require them to deny self, and for the cowardly, self is king. So all relationships with cowards must be on their terms, making those in relationship with them slaves to the very things the coward is enslaved to. Every whim, every anxiety, every opinion, every change of mood must be not only endured but embraced by those who share his life in order to extend the illusion that the coward is in charge. Cowards are the ultimate control freaks.

Cowards see disagreements as attacks. All conflicts, even necessary ones, are a threat to be silenced at any cost. Cowards hate truth and despise boundaries, while blithely tolerating injustice and brutality against others lest the attack be launched on them. Cowards bail when things get tough with no thought for those whom their desertion makes things even tougher. Cowards are the ultimate betrayers.

Yeah, I can see why cowards go first.

This weekend, those of us who follow Christ celebrate that we serve a God who did not turn tail and run when his very human flesh was being excruciatingly tortured by sins he never participated in, a God who commands us to be strong in the power of His might, a God who assures us that His strength is made perfect in our weakness, a God who acknowledges we who fight alongside Him will face tribulation but that no weapon formed against us can prosper. We serve a God who loves us all–even if we’re scared of moths–but whose kingdom has no room for, makes no allowances for cowards.

Galatians 6:9 reminds us to not grow weary in doing what is good. That word weary doesn’t mean “get tired” even as cowardly doesn’t mean “one afraid.” It comes from a Greek word that means “evil, fearful, weak, give up.” With that in mind, the scripture could be read like this: Do not become so evil and fearful that you become weak and give up...

Thank God Jesus didn’t. Really. Thank Him. And have a most courageous Resurrection Day!

That’s the Word, and I’m a witness. 

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My Easter Blog: But the Cowardly…

image

Any chickens out there? People afraid of pain, tight spaces, dogs, bodies of water, flying, moths–yes, moths–heights…? Everybody raise your hand because if I keep listing, I’m going to eventually get to the thing that chills you to the core. We live in a scary world: snakes, spiders (they’ve discovered a new species the size of footballs, y’all! http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/2017/04/14/massive-spider-red-fangs-discovered-mexican-cave/amp/), tornados, terrorists.

Most of us carry out some aspect of our daily lives in ways that help us avoid or at least minimize exposure to that which we fear, which is not always a bad thing. Sometimes our fears grow fangs and become phobias that make some day to day activities extra stressful, which can be a very bad thing. But worse still is when fears and phobias become our idols, become things we sacrifice our peace and power to. When those hideous little gods are allowed to rule and reign over every move, every decision, we become something dangerous and despicable ourselves: We become cowards.

“It is done. I am the Alpha and the Omega, the Beginning and the End. To the thirsty I will give water without cost from the spring of the water of life. Those who are victorious will inherit all this, and I will be their God and they will be my children. But the cowardly…”
‭‭Revelation‬ ‭21:6-8‬

But the cowardly…Now that chills me to the core. Those three words used to frighten and confuse me. I didn’t understand why “the cowardly” are not only on the list of the so-called serious sinners to be consigned to a fiery second death, but are listed first. After a few decades of witnessing how cowardliness destroys everything from families to countries, I understand.

By definition a coward is “a person who lacks courage in facing danger, difficulty, opposition, pain.” The word comes from the Latin cauda, meaning tail, as in not the head, as in bottom, backside, behind–with all the ensuing implications thereof.

By practice a coward is a person who climbs out the back window rather than stand up to a bully at the door. They avoid even essential conflict, confrontation, discomfort, opposition, or difficulty. Their fight song is Take It Easy. A coward doesn’t just feel fear. The Greek word used for coward in the New Testament establishes the cowardly as those who are fear-driven, who lack the courage needed to follow Christ.

Thus cowardliness paves the way for all other sin by regarding self and self-preservation as first and foremost. Cowards are often self-righteous, self-centered, even self-aggrandizing: They adopt any self-serving posture they must to keep conviction at bay.

A coward assumes that feeling good–no matter how much hellishness is going on around him, and often because of him–is his right. He dreads feeling discomfort. Thus a coward will reject anyone who challenges him, anyone who even so much as hints that his attitude might (gasp) be wrong, anyone who points out that his decisions are shallow and self-serving, anyone who confronts his abdication of reason and responsibility. In fact, a coward only manages to display fierceness in his vehement and sometimes violent attacks on those who seek to separate him from his Precious.

A coward will give in to whatever his selfish flesh desires to avoid feeling the burn of self-control. He mocks the forthright, the steady, the brave because he is threatened by them. He wants to know how he can attain complete peace, aka eternal life, but when he hears he has to give up everything he loves about himself and follow a God with a cross on his back, he slinks his way back to cowardly futility.

Cowards can’t compromise. To do so would require them to deny self, and for the cowardly, self is king. So all relationships with cowards must be on their terms, making those in relationship with them slaves to the very things the coward is enslaved to. Every whim, every anxiety, every opinion, every change of mood must be not only endured but embraced by those who share his life in order to extend the illusion that the coward is in charge. Cowards are the ultimate control freaks.

Cowards see disagreements as attacks. All conflicts, even necessary ones, are a threat to be silenced at any cost. Cowards hate truth and despise boundaries, but blithely tolerate injustice and brutality against others lest the attack be launched on them. Cowards bail when things get tough with no thought for those whom their desertion makes things even tougher. Cowards are the ultimate betrayers.

Yeah, I can see why cowards go first.

This weekend, those of us who follow Christ celebrate that we serve a God who did not turn tail and run when his very human flesh was being excruciatingly tortured by sins he never participated in, a God who commands us to be strong in the power of His might, a God who assures us that His strength is made perfect in our weakness, a God who acknowledges we who fight alongside Him will face tribulation but that no weapon formed against us can prosper. We serve a God who loves us all–even if we’re scared of moths–but whose kingdom has no room for, makes no allowances for cowards.

Galatians 6:9 reminds us to not grow weary in doing what is good. That word weary doesn’t mean “get tired” even as cowardly doesn’t mean “one afraid.” It comes from a Greek word that means “evil, fearful, weak, give up.” With that in mind, the scripture could be read like this: Do not become so evil and fearful that you become weak and give up...

Thank God Jesus didn’t. Really. Thank Him. And have a most courageous Resurrection Day!

That’s the Word, and I’m a witness. 

Control: the Illusion, the Delusion, and Yo’ Self 

 Control: to exercise restraint or direction over; dominate; command; to eliminate or prevent the flourishing or spread of… 

If you’re a control freak/micro-manager/passive-aggressive manipulator, you’re not going to want to read this blog…but you probably will. Because–to turn those old Carly Simon lyrics a bit–you probably think this isn’t about you. But it kinda is.

In fact, it’s about most of us at some point in or area of our lives. Like, I control how the laundry gets sorted and folded in my house, how the fridge and pantry are organized, how the tea and coffee are made. Pretty benign stuff. BUT I have a strong, aching, unrequited desire to control how traffic flows, how institutions are run, and how online forms are handled. I can’t control those things, of course, and I must live with that. (Ahem, if anyone out there would like my input on any of the above…)

Control “freakness” over laundry procedures or kitchen arrangement is fairly harmless, as long as it’s in your domain and not your neighbor’s/sister’s/random stranger’s domain. It’s when you project your preferences–overtly or passive-aggressively–into a shared space or someone else’s life that the line is crossed.

For Christians, the desire to exercise control over people or situations within the context of our fellowship is downright ungodly, as we are commanded that to be first we must be last, that we are to “work together with one mind and purpose…to be humble and think of others as better” than ourselves, to “have the same attitude Christ had” in giving up his “divine privileges” (Philippians 2). In other words, just because I can assert my preferences or orchestrate things to go my way doesn’t mean I should. In fact, perhaps the more compelling my desire to exercise control in an area–even in the context of leadership–the more I should probably resist the urge to do so.

And for good reason. Much of what we call “control” is an illusion. Case in point: Pedestrians in NYC still hit traffic light buttons that haven’t worked in decades (everything is done by computers now) because they THINK it helps them obtain the right of way faster. That’s a telling, albeit harmless, illusion that reveals our need to feel like we control our everyday experiences, something that can motivate us to take responsibility for our choices but can also frustrate us to distraction when things don’t go according to some well-orchestrated plan of ours.

Less harmless is the delusion that we can be in control of areas that defy human intervention as that delusion causes its victims to believe they are unusually gifted or superior to others. For instance, some people who win the lottery attribute the luck to their ability to play the odds and refuse to entertain any other explanation. A more high-stakes example of this delusion was identified in a study on financial markets that found traders who believe they have the greatest control over the markets actually perform the worst in those markets (“The Illusion of Control: Are There Benefits to Being Self-Deluded?” PSYBLOG spring.org.uk). Why this overestimation of their abilites? Perhaps because this kind of grandiose self-delusion prevents people from seeking or accepting constructive criticism. The more a person believes he is in control, the stronger the delusion of control becomes, and the more likely he is to ignore the signs that things aren’t going so great. People who are controlling avoid or reject confrontation. They resist collaboration.

And they are difficult to be friends with because controlling people are consumed with a desire to dominate and find it difficult to defer to others, even in minor matters.  By definition, control “prevents the flourishing of,” which is great if you’re talking about weeds but devastating if you’re talking about relationships.

Of course, there are areas where we do have considerable control. Ironically, the higher the level of our actual control over a situation, the more likely we are to underestimate it. This is known as the “illusion of futility” by psychologists. The rest of us call it “making excuses” and we are all guilty of it at times. Whatever my excuse, controlling what I eat and how often I exercise keeps me healthier, controlling my speed and attentiveness in a vehicle keeps me and others safer, and controlling my tendency to be a control freak makes my relationships much more pleasant and fruitful.

Because the fruit of the Spirit is love not lockstep, joy not judgement, peace not pettiness, patience not pessimism, kindness not condemnation, goodness not goading, faithfulness not foolishness, gentleness not grievousness, and self-control not self-aggrandizement.

Galatians 6:4 Pay careful attention to your own work, for then you will get the satisfaction of a job well done, and you won’t need to compare yourself to anyone else.

1 Peter 4:7-8 The end of all things is near. Therefore be self-controlled and sober-minded so that you may pray. Above all, love each other deeply because love covers a multitude of sins.

That’s the Word, and I’m a witness.