Rotten Trees and Hypocrisy

The other day, during a light rain, a massive tree on our lawn fell over.

HollowTree1

HollowTree2

(Thanks to Naomi Currey for the pictures!)

Despite the fact that it only took a small gust of wind to bring the tree down, it didn’t come as a surprise. As you can see from the pics, the thing was rotten straight through. It looks like you could have punched a hole in it.

While it was still standing, though, it looked solid enough. Sure, it wasn’t as green as it should have been, but it was a TREE — tall, broad, deep rooted. You wouldn’t have known just from looking at the outward appearance that there was nothing underneath the facade.

In the Greek language and culture, a hupokrites was an actor. He was someone who wore a mask and spoke lines to portray a character other than himself.

Jesus’s use of the word “hypocrite” — which I think has influenced the common meaning in English today — charged the religious leaders of his time with being actors. Pretenders. People who put on an appearance, carried out actions, and spoke words that masked who they truly were (and in fact contradicted who they were).

From dictionary.com:

hypocrite [hip-uh-krit]
noun
1.
a person who pretends to have virtues, moral or religious beliefs, principles, etc., that he or she does not actually possess, especially a person whose actions belie stated beliefs.
2.
a person who feigns some desirable or publicly approved attitude, especially one whose private life, opinions, or statements belie his or her public statements.

Jesus was not impressed:

“Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you clean the outside of the cup and of the dish, but inside they are full of robbery and self-indulgence. You blind Pharisee, first clean the inside of the cup and of the dish, so that the outside of it may become clean also.

“Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you are like whitewashed tombs which on the outside appear beautiful, but inside they are full of dead men’s bones and all uncleanness. So you, too, outwardly appear righteous to men, but inwardly you are full of hypocrisy and lawlessness.”
(Matthew 23:25-27, NASB)

All these warnings used to scare me because after all, I am not perfect. I was trying to live pleasing to God but had no illusions as to how far short I constantly fell.

But actually, Jesus wasn’t concerned about honest failure. He told a story about that:

And He also told this parable to some people who trusted in themselves that they were righteous, and viewed others with contempt: “Two men went up into the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. The Pharisee stood and was praying this to himself: ‘God, I thank You that I am not like other people: swindlers, unjust, adulterers, or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week; I pay tithes of all that I get.’ But the tax collector, standing some distance away, was even unwilling to lift up his eyes to heaven, but was beating his breast, saying, ‘God, be merciful to me, the sinner!’ I tell you, this man went to his house justified rather than the other; for everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, but he who humbles himself will be exalted.” (Luke 18:9-14, NASB)

Jesus’s warnings AGAINST hypocrisy can also be read as a call TO authenticity: scary as heck, sure, but ultimately the way to real freedom and real life. Who wants to be trapped in an endless game of keeping up appearances? Who really wants to look good on the outside but be rotted and hollow within?

“Authenticity” has become a buzzword in our culture and sometimes it’s actually used as a code word for staying loud-and-proud in our mess instead of making any effort to get out of it. Of course, being willing to squat in the mud all day has nothing to do with being authentic. Despite the frequent caricature, Jesus didn’t blast the Pharisees because they tried to live holy lives; he blasted them because they were hypocrites.

Because they were fakes: people who pretended to virtues, beliefs, and principles they did not actually possess.

Jesus called them “white-washed sepulches, full of dead men’s bones.”

Jesus calls us both to authenticity and to holiness; he calls us to climb upward, all the while being honest with ourselves and others about our humanity and our need.

He’s not afraid of the “real you.”

In fact, he sees a lot of value in the real you, value he will go to great lengths to draw out. The fake you, he doesn’t care for.

Hypocrisy is a very natural state for us humans. We naturally hide ourselves and put on the face we think others want to see.

Jesus invites us to cast off that mask and come into the light.

“Then the man and his wife heard the sound of the LORD God walking in the garden at the time of the evening breeze, and they hid themselves from the LORD God among the trees of the garden. So the LORD God called out to the man and said to him, ‘Where are you?'” (Genesis 3:8)

When Adam and Eve stumbled out of the trees in shame, God’s response was to cover them and begin the process of redemption.

When the tax collector exposed his heart as it was — raw and sinful and helpless — God’s response was compassion, mercy that justified the man and exalted him.

The worst thing about hypocrisy is that if we insist on staying behind the mask, we keep ourselves from the One who loves the person under there and wants to set us free.

The best thing about authenticity? It’s discovering how much we are truly loved.

green tree photo

Sci-Fi Writing Contest

Hey writing friends! I received an e-mail about this contest the other day and thought you might be interested. Check it out, and if it looks like a good fit for you, send in your sci-fi stories! There are some great prizes, including a free copy of Scrivener (which I’ve never used, but which many writers swear by).

Inkitt’s latest Science Fiction writing contest “Beyond Time” is now open for submissions!

beyond_timeInkitt is a free writing platform that aims to help writers achieve their fullest potential. On June 22nd the site launched a new Science Fiction writing contest:

Beyond Time
Submit your most imaginative and fantastic Science Fiction stories! Take your readers on a journey; ride a spaceship, explore an extraterrestrial universe, travel through time – the possibilities are endless and the universe is yours. Be spellbinding, be world altering, and let your imagination run free.

Contest guidelines
Authors will retain all rights to any and all works submitted in the contest.

Original stories of any length are accepted.

Entries must be posted on the Inkitt contest page to be considered eligible.

The contest opens on June 22th and closes on July 27th.

The contest is completely free to enter.

The top 10% based on reader votes get the chance to be picked by the Inkitt staff for 1st, 2nd and 3rd prize.

All entrants will have the chance to show their work to a rapidly growing community of authors and readers hungry for high-quality fiction.

Submit your stories here: http://inkitt.com/beyondtime

Heel Blisters and What I’ve Learned About Pain

A few days ago I returned from my second major hiking trip in the Bruce Peninsula — we covered 22 km of clifftop and woodland trails along Lake Huron this time. Breathtaking. I’ve seen a lot of beautiful places in my life, but this region — especially the parts you can only get to if you’re willing to hike over difficult terrain for 7+ hours and sleep in the backcountry — is one of the most incredible.

georgian bay photo
Photo by TranceMist

This was a challenging hike, don’t get me wrong, but it still didn’t equal my first real hike in the Bruce. That day, my hiking buddy and I walked a total of approx. 38 km (23.5 miles). Yes, in one day. The trail was challenging nearly the whole way (you’re clambering over a ton of exposed rock, and up and down short, steep inclines that will really mess with your knees), and I was carrying an overweight backpack.

Also, I had done a little bit of conditioning before the hike, but probably not enough.

Now, I’m not advising that you follow suit, but that hike was amazing. I learned a ton about what I can actually DO — what endurance can accomplish.

We have a sort of life slogan that came out of that trip: It’s amazing what can happen if you just keep going.

But a significant part of that lesson was learning to let pain just be there. Not deal with it, not stop it, just let it be.

hiking boots photo
Photo by cobaltfish

See, when you’ve been walking for miles and every part of your body hurts, but you’ve still got a lot MORE miles to go and the sun is not going to stay up forever, you can’t actually just stop and nurse your heel blisters, or cry over your sore shoulders, or take a break to pity your knees.

(I’m not saying you shouldn’t stop and avail yourself of tape, Band-aids, Neosporin, and knee braces — DO take care of yourself. Okay, disclaimer over.)

The thing is that pain wants you to think it’s the most important thing in the world and you must deal with it THIS MINUTE. If you can’t make it stop, it wants you to not do anything else either. Just focus on how badly it hurts.

Are you seeing the application to life yet?

Life hurts. Often, and badly.

When the pain is bad enough, it wants you to stop everything and deal with it. Medicate it. Dwell on it. Make it stop, or else make it the center of your universe.

And I get that there are times you really do have to sit down and feel what you’re feeling. I’m a believer in embracing pain, not denying it.

But that DOESN’T mean you have to give it first place, and it doesn’t mean you have to let it take over, and it doesn’t mean it cancels out every other priority.

Many years ago, the missionary Amy Carmichael wrote about her grief in losing a friend, “In acceptance lieth peace.”

I learned on that hiking trip that sometimes you can just let the pain be. You can live with it — accept it for what it is and keep going. You know it’s part of the deal — you ARE hiking 38 km over rough ground with an overweight backpack, by your own choice — and it isn’t the End of Everything.

Actually, if you keep going, you’ll reach the end of the trail, find time to deal with the pain properly and recover from it, and come out stronger.

The results of plunking down in the middle of the trail and refusing to go on any further because it hurts too much? Not great.

The Bible teaches that suffering doesn’t have to be feared and avoided at all costs. It teaches that we can actually choose to embrace and enter into it in such a way that we “suffer with Christ” and “fill up his sufferings,” and in doing so are given a way of participation in his resurrection and glory as well (Romans 8:17, Colossians 1:24, 1 Peter 4:13, 2 Timothy 2:12, Philippians 3:10-11). It also teaches that God is working everything — including pain — together for good to those who love him and are called according to his purpose (Romans 8:28).

None of that means suffering won’t come.

It means suffering doesn’t have to stop you.

No matter how loudly it yells at you, pain does not have to become the first thing in your life. It doesn’t have to sit on the throne.

That place belongs to God, who is working all things for your good.

Rather than asking, “How can I get rid of this?” you can ask “How can I walk through this?”

There’s always an other side to reach — the end of the trail to get to. No suffering lasts forever.

cross photo
Photo by Claudio ?

Take heart. The Lord who walks with you knows pain, agony, and deep soul suffering. He sweat blood in the garden. He didn’t skip out on the pain — he went through it.

And he was raised from the dead.

This is why I endure all things for the elect: so that they also may obtain salvation, which is in Christ Jesus, with eternal glory. This saying is trustworthy:

“For if we have died with Him,
We will also live with Him;
if we endure,
we will also reign with Him.”

(2 Timothy 2:10-12, HCSB)

Our Freedom Hasn’t Changed. Our Opportunity Is Growing.

storm at sea photo
Photo by Vegar S Hansen Photography

I returned home from a hiking trip on Friday to learn that earlier that day, the US Supreme Court decision regarding gay marriage had been handed down. Like many, I’m saddened and concerned, though not surprised, by the decision.

I do believe this decision opens the door for religious people to be targeted and important religious freedoms (not to mention freedom of speech) to be curtailed. It truly looks like a hard road ahead.

But I don’t really want to write about politics or how our freedoms are evaporating. Because here’s the thing:

Our most important freedoms have nothing to do with laws. Laws do not actually change much on the grand scale of things. They don’t change truth. They don’t change human nature. This law doesn’t change what marriage is. And if the Son has set us free, we are free indeed.

Because all of THAT is true, I hope that we as Christians will step up and recognize the enormous responsibility — and opportunity — in front of us.

This ruling should remind us that our culture is headed into deep waters that will leave many desperately needy people grasping for a rescue, a way to avoid drowning. Again, the ruling itself doesn’t really change the direction our culture was heading, though it may accelerate it. But the sexual ethics of our day are destructive, and they will destroy human beings — precious, beautiful human souls.

More than ever, the world around us needs what we have: The truth, the gospel, and the unconditional love of God which we are commissioned to herald and to represent.

I hope that we won’t react to this decision with fear, anger, or isolationism. I hope we’ll recognize that greater is he who is in us than he who is in the world. I hope we’ll remember that the kingdom seeds in us are meant to grow into a tree that shelters all around us, a bit of yeast that winds up transforming the whole loaf.

Yes, more than ever we need to hold the line on morality, because immorality is a rot in the bones that destroys real people. But we need to do more than that: while holding that line, we also need to be light, to be salt, to be a hand reaching out to a drowning culture and drowning people and saying, “Come, there’s a solid ground and a place of shelter and healing for you here.”

Our culture is not any darker or more immoral than the culture in which the church was born. The early Christians transformed their world. We can do the same.

If You Step Out That Door

One of my favorite moments in Avengers: Age of Ultron is when Wanda Maximoff (aka the Scarlet Witch, although you’d never know it just from watching the movie) is huddled in a traumatized, whimpering heap in the corner of a building while genocidal robots overrun her city — traumatized not because she’s a coward (she’s anything but), but because she’s realized her own complicity in what’s happening.

wanda“This is all our fault,” she says, hands over her ears against the destruction outside. “How could I have let this happen?”

Up until that point, Wanda has never exactly been a hero. She’s an immensely (immensely) powerful young lady with a desire to help her people and a personal vendetta; THAT deadly combination leads to that moment of trauma. At this juncture she’s chosen to be on the good side rather than the bad side, but that’s about as far as it goes.

Clint Barton, catching a few breaths in the building beside her, gives the movie’s best speech. “Listen,” he says (I’m paraphrasing), “you can stay in here and be safe if you want to; there’s no shame in that. I’ll send your brother to come get you. But I’m going back out there because it’s my job, and I don’t have time to do my job and babysit. So if you want to stay safe, stay safe–

“But if you step out that door, you’re an Avenger.”

She takes a minute to think about it.

And then she steps out that door.

In my opinion, it’s one of the best hero introductions in the MCU to date–an immensely powerful moment both visually and in the arcs of both character and plot.

Since I’m a firm believer that all stories reflect the Big Story, and I have a lot of fun finding parallels in Marvel movies particularly, that moment resonated with me on several levels.

Because if you’re going to really follow God, and not just sit on the sidelines, there comes a moment when you have to step out that door.

You have to move past repentance (and the self-pity that camping out too long in regret can lead to) and choosing to be on the right side instead of the wrong side, and you have to actually own your power and step out that door.

You have to realize that the team needs you. You have to realize that you have a place no one else does, and you have to decide to face the danger and do what you were born to do.

You have to step out that door and help save the world.

wandaconceptIn an earlier scene, when Wanda’s former ally (the evil maniac trying to destroy the world) accuses her and her brother of turning against him, she says bitterly, “What choice do we have?”

But after stepping out the door, when our heroes are at their most critical moment, Wanda chooses to be the last woman off the island. She’ll remain and guard the movie’s holy grail until everyone else is safe.

When Clint casts her a questioning look, she tells him, “It’s my job.”

For all of us, there comes a time when we have to embrace the fight.

Move beyond repentance.

Realize only you can play the role you play.

And step out that door.

(On another note, Barton’s role in the scene is telling. Wanda doesn’t actually come to her senses alone; left to her own devices, I’m guessing she would have stayed there, drowning in self-deprecation. She needed Clint’s help to push her out of her mental entrapment; he gave it — in part because he sees a heroine where nearly everyone else still sees a “witch.” To borrow another line from the film, how do you overcome impossible odds? Together.)