The Paparazzi, Facebook, and Our Need to be Known

I have been thinking recently about the seemingly growing mass of people who do things just to be noticed and known. The examples are so numerous that it is hard to decide which ones NOT to mention. Just think on some headlines over the last few months. Remember “Balloon Boy” and his parents scam to get attention by faking his accidental trip in a hot air balloon? How about “Baseball Taser Dude” who ran onto the field at a Phillies games after calling his dad and asking if it was a good idea? Then there was the copycat the next night. Add to that the countless people who still go on shows like Jerry Springer, or the whole Jon and Kate Plus Eight debacle. Then you have people who play to the paparazzi just to keep getting noticed; Lohan, Hilton, Kardashian, etc, etc. On the far more tragic side I was reminded recently that when Mark David Chapman shot John Lennon on a New York sidewalk the first thing he said was, “I shot John Lennon”. He wanted to be famous and the closest he could get was to be infamous.

So what is it about us that we have this growing need to be known, to the point that we do the ridiculous or even the tragic just to have our proverbial fifteen minutes of fame? I think at the heart of it all it goes back to the biblical story of Adam and Eve and our rebellion against God. Now before you get all distracted by the debate of whether or not Adam and Eve were real people, let’s skip past that to the lesson the story teaches regardless of the historicity of that couple. The point of the story is that human beings are in some sort of rebellion against God and this rebellion, known as sin, has had cosmos altering consequences. We have become alienated from God and from one another. That alienation has produced fear and insecurity, loneliness and shame.

You might be thinking, “Hey, we have always had alienation, fear, and insecurity. What’s different now?” What is different now is two-fold. First, there have always been other social institutions that helped us overcome our alienation and fulfill our need to belong and be known. Once upon a time the tribal group, or community, or family gave us a sense of security, identity, and purpose. We knew people and they knew us. Not simply in the informational sense of knowing, but in the deeper heart sense of knowing. It is more like the sense in Dutch and Afrikaans of “ken” as opposed to “weet”. Weet is informational knowledge, you know about something or someone. Ken is heart knowledge. It is what the Bible speaks of in 1 Corinthians 13:12 when it speaks of a longing for a new day “Now we see but a poor reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known.” The more mobile we become, the more isolated we become behind our automatic garage doors that allow us to drive into our house without speaking to neighbors, the more we sit on the back porch and not the front stoop, the more we move from place to place and job to job, the more we run the risk of being isolated and alienated and yearning for connection.

The second factor is that on top of the human element there is the divine element. During the rise of the modern era and the commitment to science as having the answers to all our problems, we put God and spirituality on the shelf. We further isolated ourselves from the needs of our soul. Eventually people began to sense that modernism and science did not have all the answers and so an outbreak of being “spiritual” but not “religious” has been sweeping western culture. Why? Because we still have the deep inner need to be known and to know, especially by something or someone greater than ourselves.

In search of that need to be known, to be significant, those already mentioned and many others have taken a decidedly neurotic path. Others have taken a more reasonable and socially acceptable route. The rise in popularity of social media like Facebook or LinkedIn, is in part an attempt to stay connected or reconnect with people who are important to us. Such social media can be a great tool to keep and grow our relationships and give us a sense of place and belonging. Of course it can also fool us into thinking that we have deep and meaningful relationships just because people see our status updates and we have hundreds of friends, some of whom we have never met.

Ultimately all our efforts to connect with one another, to be known by one another, to feel like we are significant and that we matter, will fall woefully short if we do not address the root cause of that alienation. We are alienated from one another on a horizontal plane because we first became alienated on the vertical in our relationship with God. We can have all the human connections we want but until we are connected intimately with God, we will still be lacking and still looking for more. Blaise Pascal said it best; “We all have a God shaped vacuum in our soul that only He can fill”. When Paul wrote to the Corinthians about being known, he was speaking of the longing to be known by and to know God in as intimate a way as possible. All our searching for meaning, fame, security, belonging, and connection is at its core the result of a need to know that we are loved by God and to experience that love in deeper and deeper ways.

Love Your Neighbor; Or Not

In a tragic and ironic twist a modern-day Good Samaritan is left to die on the side of the road instead of being helped by the people who pass him by. The phrase “Good Samaritan” has come down to us from a story told by Jesus. In the tale an unknown man is beaten and robbed and left for dead by his attackers. The story is found in The Gospel of Luke 10:25-37. As the man lay beaten on the side of the road he is ignored by a Levite and a Priest, two religious leaders. He is finally helped by a man from Samaria, our Good Samaritan. That Samaritan would normally have been an adversary at best and a sworn enemy at worst. However on this day he showed what it meant to love your neighbor and that was the point of Jesus story, to show us that whoever we come across who has a need is our neighbor.

Recently a woman was being attacked on a New York street. Coming to her rescue was Hugo Alfredo Tale-Yax. The woman was able to escape as a result of the Good Samaritan Mr. Tale-Yax. Tragically, during her rescue, Tale-Yax was stabbed several times. He collapsed on the sidewalk, bleeding. During the next hour and a half more than 25 people walked by him. They were all caught on camera as several even stopped and looked at him. At least one man leaned down and shook him but ran off when he saw the pool of blood on the sidewalk beneath his body. The whole time it is obvious from the film that our Good Samaritan was still alive. Eventually he bleed to death.

The story of this fallen hero is not unique and it is not isolated to New York City. Jesus was able to tell the Good Samaritan Parable and give it such a lasting impact because it is all too common, then and now, for people to ignore those in need even if they have to step around them to do so. What made this story particularly unique is that Tale-Yax had tried to break that cycle of personal isolationism by helping a woman in trouble. He refused to ignore the desperate plight of his “neighbor” and acted in a most Christ-like way. He gave his life, not for a friend, but for a person he had never before met.

The additional tragedy is that many will use what happened to our modern-day Good Samaritan as their justification for not getting involved. Rather than being motivated to act in the future because of the callous lack of action by two dozen people, many will pull further back into isolation. “You never know what is really going on and what may happen to you if you try to help”. “It’s best not to get involved”. “You need to think of yourself and your family first”. Certainly the priest and Levite in Jesus’ story used such statement for their own justification. For many of you it will sound wise and prudent to mind your own business and the death of Mr. Tale-Yax serves to reinforce that. My friends, that is an even bigger tragedy. That is evidence of a life lived in fear. Fear of what might happen. Fear of the cost. Fear of the unknown. Fear of hardship or struggle or danger.

Maybe Mr. Tale-Yaz should have ignored the woman being attacked. Maybe he should have crossed to the other side of the street. But what if the next day he read a headline that told of the death of a woman on that corner and of the man who crossed to the other side of the road refusing to help? What then? I suspect that he would have not been able to live with himself knowing that he could have saved her, even at risk to himself. I wonder what the two dozen people who passed by Mr. Tale-Yax felt when they saw not only the headlines, but the video of themselves passing him by? Would their fear from the previous day have been replaced by guilt and shame? Which do they now wish they lived with, the unknown repercussions of loving a neighbor or a lifetime of guilt?

Time and again the Bible calls us to “fear not”. Why? Because it says, “God is with us”. We are told that two people are better than one for if one struggles the other is there to help. When you walk in a relationship with God you are never alone. It doesn’t mean that nothing terrible or painful will never happen to you. It simply means that He is there with you to help you through it. That is all we need ask or hope for, that God be with us at all times to carry us through whatever comes our way. That includes sometimes doing hard things to help and love those around us. It is an effort to love your neighbor. It is sometimes dangerous. But it is extremely Christ-like. People used to have “WWJD” bracelets. It was a big fad for a time. “What Would Jesus Do?”. The answer is simply. He would love His neighbor no matter the cost, no matter the risk, no matter the danger.

Oh, one last thing. Don’t be the kind of person who reads this story, bemoans how bad the world is and who wrong those two dozen passers-by were, and then goes back to life in your little Christian bubble. The easiest thing in the world to do is point out what others should have done and then retire to our own safe haven, thinking we are fine and wonderful simply because we can see what someone else should have done. Why not go out your front door, look the left and the right and ask God what you can do to love your neighbor today. Loving your neighbor and taking a risk seldom requires putting your life at risk. Usually it just requires that we get up off the sofa and open our eyes.

I Went to Jail Last Night

There is a certain sense in which I am glad that most people I know have never been inside a jail. After all, people usually end up there because they have done something that in hind sight they really wish they had never even considered doing. It usually means someone was hurt in some way and often becomes one more chapter in a lifetime of sad and tragic events. But on a completely different level I wish that most people I know had spent at least some time in jail. I did that last night and it wasn’t my first time.

Fortunately for me, my few times being in a jail were my own choice and they were in service to someone who was forced to be there. Their time in jail was always the result of some terrible choices they made. My time there has always been the result of a choice I made many years ago to follow Jesus to any place he led. Last nights visit was my second to the Seminole County Jail. The first was a year ago in order to make arrangements for the worship services from Northland Church to be made available, via a web-stream, for inmates who wished to gather for worship. I went to jail last night so I could actually worship with those men and a dozen volunteers who go to the jail every week to serve them. It was an amazing experience and one that I wish every follower of Jesus could have.

The main reason I would hope that every Christ-follower would visit people in jail is because Jesus said that we should. In Matthew 25:36 Jesus said, “I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came and visited me.” He said those words in a parable that was intended to show us that whenever we serve the outcast, the downtrodden, the sick, even the person in jail, we are really serving Jesus. He made it clear that these are the kinds of things that are to mark the life of His followers. It should also be noted that what Jesus asks of us is a very intimate, personal involvement. He does not say, “I needed clothes and you donated your extras to the Salvation Army”. He does not say “I was hungry and you gave to the local food bank”. He does not say, “I was a prisoner and you gave money to Prison Fellowship”. He says, “You clothed me, you cared for me, you visited me”. Don’t misunderstand what I am saying. Giving to organizations and ministries that care for the homeless, the sick, the prisoner, and the rest of societies outcasts and downtrodden is a good thing. But it is only a part. The real deal is giving yourself, getting close enough to touch, to smell, to feel, close enough to be uncomfortable. It is what Jesus showed us when he touched the leper, the blind man, the bleeding woman.

The reason behind this need to make it personal is that God is personal and intimate and he makes his ministry to us personal, and intimate. He does not sit on high looking down on our plight, refusing to engage us. Rather, he emptied himself and came into the world, taking on the form of a servant, being made in likeness as we are, serving us to the point of death on a cross. Jesus took on flesh, became one of us. He got up close and personal with humanity in order to demonstrate the powerful and intimate love of God for lost people. If we are going to be like Jesus, then our ministry to others must get up close and personal. It requires an investment of ourselves, not just our check book.

Such an investment can be costly and scary. It is costly because it takes a piece of who you are. It means giving of yourself from the heart, maybe from a place that you have never wanted to give. It is scary because it means dealing with people who are unknown and apparently unlike you. But such fears are not coming from God. They are not the voice of prudence coming from God for our protection. They are more often than not the voice of the enemy disguised as light and reasonableness. Jesus never calls us to take council of our fears but rather to “fear not”.

I mentioned that a reason for our fear is that these are people who are unknown and unlike us. But that is not true. They are not really unknown and they are certainly not unlike us. Last night in the jail, I saw and spoke to one young man who I already knew. I didn’t know he was in jail. He is 22 years old and I have known him since he was 8. There were others there who I had never met, but in just a few minutes of conversation it was clear that I “knew” them. I knew enough of their story to know what they faced, the pain they have, the mistakes they made, the regrets covered over with bravado. In those brief conversations and in observing these men worship Jesus, I also learned that they are not unlike me. They are in fact just like me. Their sins may be different but they are still sinners like me. And as we stood before a holy God worshiping him last night, I knew that God saw no difference. I knew it, because I knew that He saw all of us through the lens of the Cross on which Jesus died.

The reason Jesus came into the world was made clear in the earliest days of his ministry and it is what we have been called to in His name. Jesus said in Luke 4:8 “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me because He has anointed me to preach Good News to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight to the blind, to release the oppressed”

Should you really be afraid of God?

For great is the LORD and most worthy of praise; he is to be feared above all gods. 1st Chronicles 15:25

That verse from 1st Chronicles is one of more than fifty times in the Bible when fearing God is viewed as a virtue. Yet for all that frequency it may be one of the most ignored, even disputed concepts in all of Scripture. Why? Experience has taught me that anytime something so commonly found in the Bible is ignored or disputed it usually is because we don’t really understand what it means.

A friend of mine writes for Her name is Sue Bohlin. Recently I read an article in which she talked about four questions that you should always ask when speaking with someone who disagrees with you. The first question is, “What do you mean by that?” followed by, “Where do you get your information, How do you know its true, and What if you’re wrong”. The first question needs to be asked when people say they don’t believe in the whole idea of being afraid of God. When it comes to fearing God, most people seem to think it means being terrorized by the thought that an angry and capricious deity may decide to smack you up side the head with a lightening bold for no good reason. As a result of that kind of thinking people decide that they don’t want to believe in a God like that so they give up on the God of the Bible all together. Well I don’t want to believe in a God like that and fortunately the Bible doesn’t want me to either. God is not some spiritual version of Freddie Kruger or Norman Bates. We are not to be terrorized by Him or the thought of Him. Jesus made that clear when he so often told the disciples, “Fear Not”.

Just by taking a look at the first half of 1st Chronicles 15:25 we can be sure that we are not talking about being terrorized by God. It says “great is the Lord and most worthy of praise”. God is amazing and should be adored and honored. That’s what it means when it says, “most worthy of praise”. The whole history of God’s relationship with His people is one of Him stepping in and caring for them, meeting their needs, protecting them, being their shield and defender, their Good Shepard. God is to be praised, not run from in fear. We are told that He loves His children to the point of coming into the world in Christ and giving Himself for them.

So what does it mean to fear God? I can’t help but make the analogy with my dad. He was 6’4″ and in many ways a disciplined and sometimes demanding father. I loved him, admired him, trusted him and in a certain way feared him. I was not terrorized by him, but I did have a very healthy respect for him. He was the boss, no doubt about it. There was just something about his presence that gave me a certain amount of awe for him. When the Bible speaks about fear of the Lord, that is what it means. The word for fear in the Hebrew is the word yare. It means to stand in awe of, to revere. When you stand in front of the Rocky Mountains for the first time, when you see the Sistine Chapel ceiling, when you hold your new born child, all these things can evoke a sense of awe, wonder and reverence. When we think of God, who He is and what He has done it should cause us to honor, worship and adore Him.

With that sense of awe and reverence comes a desire to follow and obey. The desire is not rooted in a need to avoid punishment but rather it is motivated by wanting to show respect. Far to often people approach God like He is some average Joe from down the street. Certainly we are invited into an intimate relationship with God through Jesus Christ. But that does not mean we treat Him like our golf partner or poker buddies. There needs to be a sense of being overwhelmed by the beauty, majesty, power, holiness and love of God. All of who God is should cause us to at times stand slack jawed before Him, speechless, overwhelmed, amazed. It should cause us to obey and follow Him because their is no other like Him. He is to be honored, respected, feared, above all gods. Nothing should demand our alliegance, worship or dedication like the Lord. That is at least in part what the Bible means by fearing God.

Provocative Bible Verses: Don’t be Afraid

How often does God need to say, “fear not” or “don’t be afraid” before we actually get the idea that as His followers we do not need to be afraid of anything? Apparently at least one more time than the hundred times He already has said it in His word. I have been struck recently by the realization that so much of what happens in the world of Christians is driven by fear, in spite of this clear message from God. Given the fact that we believe, at least in our heads, that God is the sovereign King of the Universe, I am amazed at how often Christians act as if God has no clue what is going on and that doom is clearly upon us.

That sense of fear and dread can even come over the strongest of Christians. There is a story told of Martin Luther that during a particularly difficult time of The Reformation, he sat in his study in despair. Suddenly his wife burst into the room and cried out, “Martin, Martin, all is lost, God is not sovereign”. Luther turned on her and rebuked her saying that she should never say such things because God would always be sovereign and on His throne. At that point she gently replied, “If indeed God is still the sovereign Lord and rules from his throne, why do you sit here in despair?”

Luther’s wife asked a great question. Why is it that so many Christians are the first to preach fear and run scared? I hear people crying out in anguish over the growth of Islam. I hear them bemoaning the economy and preaching the end of life as we know it. I hear people expressing fear over the uncertainties of life in the 21st century. I watch as parents raise their children in fear of the culture and how it might impact their kids development. I remember prior to Y2K, (remember that non-event) there were Christians literally stocking up on supplies and cashing everything in for gold, getting ready to hide out in their bunkers. In each one of these instances people were turning to some warped reading of scripture to justify the fear. Yet time and time again in His word God say, “Do NOT be afraid!”

Why does God tell us not to fear? There are two reasons. One has already been mentioned. We need not fear anything because God is still the sovereign Lord and that means He is in control. I love how Paul says it in Romans chapter 8 after listing a series of things that people might fear he says:

“37No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. 38For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, 39neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

We have nothing to fear because God’s love is so strong that nothing can separate us from it. The reason nothing can separate us from it is the second reason that we must not be afraid. Jesus promised that he would always be with us. We are never alone. No matter how desperate or dark the situation seems, you are never alone. When you have put your faith, your trust in Jesus Christ for your salvation, he promises to never leave or forsake you. I draw incredible strength from the fact that Jesus is always with me. To never be alone is huge! Even if disaster should strike, we need not fear because we have not been abandoned. If nothing else we know that we have a place with Him for eternity. That is what really matters.

The problem is that we are afraid for things that are temporary. We are afraid for our economic position, our reputation, our health, our happiness, our children’s comfort and safety, the list goes on. Our perspective needs to be a long view into the future. The Apostle Paul looked at all the things in this life, all he had gained and counted it as nothing more than dung compared to the surpassing riches of his relationship with Christ. If your hope is set on your health, then losing your health is a fearful thing. It your hope is set on your material things, then the lost of those is a frightening prospect. If your hope is set on your reputation in the community, or business world then having that threatened is frightening and painful. But if your hope is set on Jesus Christ and his promise to be with you always and it is set on his assurance that you need not fear, then you can be confident. You can be confident that no matter what the temporary situation is, Jesus has you covered.

So often we are afraid of the unknown. We may not know the temporary details. But we do know the permanent, eternal outcome of all things. We are victorious in Christ. On top of that we know that He knows even the temporary details. He is not caught of guard. Jesus has you covered and he is with you always. Fear Not!