Embarrassed by God

God, knock the teeth out of their mouths;
Lord, tear out the young lions’ fangs.
May they vanish like water that flows by;
may they aim their blunted arrows.
Like a slug that moves along in slime,
like a woman’s miscarried child,
may they not see the sun.–Psalm 58:6-8

A few weeks ago, I commented on the many passages in Psalms that sound like a caller to a talk-radio show spouting off about their opponents. I can’t remember if I cited this passage from Psalm 58, but I know that I had it in mind when I wrote the entry.

I’m reminded of these words as I have recently been reading Francis Chan’s book Erasing Hell. Among the many worthwhile things Chan presents is the notion of being embarrassed by God. He confesses to having a tendency to skip over the uncomfortable spots in scripture or to at least read them really fast in order to get to the “good stuff.”

In the context of Chan’s book, the passages to be minimized are those that speak of judgment and hell, the fate of the goats. We’ll all talk about the sheep and their rewards all day long, but we’d rather that the nasty spots would fade into the background or perhaps be dropped into footnotes by cutting-edge translators.

We don’t get to choose, though. Chan compares being embarrassed by God to the kid who tries to keep his friends away from his alcoholic father. On a good day, that father might be a lot of fun, but on a bad day . . . look out. Is that how we view God?

Modern sensibilities say that all that stuff about judgment and wrath are out of step with proper understanding. “I can’t believe in a God who would . . .” people frequently say. Most evangelicals don’t say that, but we tend to act that way. That kid with the alcoholic father doesn’t have to say, “I hate you when you’re drunk” to hate dad when he’s drunk.

Part of me wants to read David’s words here and dismiss them as words spoken in anger. I want to imagine God–the God who I can believe in–saying, “Okay David. Simmer down now. Remember that we’re all about love. All you need is love.” Yes, my foolish heart believes that God quotes the Beatles now and again.

But if I accept that this Psalm is inspired, then I can’t simply sweep it away as the product of David’s bad day. If I’m going to believe that the “good” Psalms–23, 51, 100–are inspired, then I have to accept that the teeth being knocked out are similarly God-breathed.

If God embarrasses me today as I read Psalm 58, how much more often do I embarrass Him–or maybe the better term is disappoint Him. God is in charge. He created everything and sustains everything. Abandoning that belief, we’re on a glide path into creating our own god who really just reflects our own limited vision and desire. If God embarrasses me, then I suppose I need embarrassing. If his words step on my toes, then I need to move my feet.

Are You a Good Egg?

I’ve been thinking about eggs recently. Back when we lived in the hinterlands, we produced our own eggs. More accurately, our chickens produced the eggs that we snatched from them.  Since we’ve move back to the suburban wasteland, we can no longer keep chickens and have to buy eggs from the store.

What eggs should we buy? The options are, if not limitless, certainly broad. Do you buy the cheapest eggs at the cheapest store? Or do you go for something more exalted.

We can opt for brown eggs over white eggs. Brown eggs look like the ones that our flock on the farm laid, so they at least seem better. But of course, brown eggs raised in the same condition as the white eggs are exactly the same aside from their shell color. They may well have been fed a diet of drugs while residing in tiny cages with several of their closest friends, who may or may not be alive today.

Pay a little more and you can control for what you egg layers were fed: non-GMO feed, organic feed, vegetarian feed. You can also pay a premium for how the birds are raised: cage-free, free-range, or pasture raised.

What should the Christian buy? Should we be shamed into spending $50 a dozen for certified Kobe eggs, laid by hens who are paid a living wage and guaranteed to live out their natural lives in a national park? Should I feel bad if my eggs come from chickens that are not GMO-free? In mulling that, I’m reminded of something from Paul’s writing:

Therefore, don’t let anyone judge you in regard to food and drink or in the matter of a festival or a new moon or a Sabbath day. These are a shadow of what was to come; the substance is Christ. (Colossians  2:16-17)

Don’t let anyone judge you, but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t judge for ourselves. I’d suggest judging on two criteria:

First, are you buying the best eggs you can buy? Eggs laid by chickens that go outside, that eat bugs, that clip blades of grass, and that live lives fairly close to how God designed them to live, are, not surprisingly, better tasting and more nutritious than the anemic, cage-produced eggs you can pick up for $.69 at Wal-Mart. The yolks are darker, and the taste is richer. Why would I eat substandard food?

Second, can you feel good about yourself knowing how the chickens who lay your eggs live? If a hen has to live in a tiny cage, given about ninety square inches in which to “range” so that I can buy cheaper eggs, I’d say that price is too high. For comparison, imagine spending your productive life in an airplane bathroom. Maybe you think that’s okay for the source of your omelet. I’m not supposed to judge you, but I can judge me.

In the end, I’d argue that way too much judging of others goes on while far too little self-reflection occurs. People will cluck at those who eat non-organic eggs, while others crow about the folly of spending money for something as nebulous as free-range. PETA types line up on one side while pro-business conservatives populate the other. Enough!

Notice that Paul doesn’t say that food and drink and days are not important. He just says that we shouldn’t let others judge us over them. That doesn’t release us to live in blissful ignorance.

Judgment-Free Zone?

judgement free zoneSince moving to Independence last fall, I’ve been doing my indoor workouts at the local Planet Fitness installation. With rows of purple treadmills and a wide selection of weight machines, they had everything I wanted. Mostly, I joined so that I would have a place to run on rainy or overly cold days, but since first passing the doors, I’ve taken advantage of the stationary bikes and, increasingly of late, the free (and semi-free) weights.

Planet Fitness is not inclined to be a bodybuilding gym. They don’t have those industrial-looking squat racks and bench press spots. They do have dumbbells that go up to, if memory serves, 65 pounds, and fixed barbells up to 60 pounds. Anything heavier and you have to work with one of the machines or in a Smith machine. Doing bench presses in a Smith machine is okay. Squats are reasonable. But if you want to do deadlifts, which I’d like to try out, the restricted motion of the Smith machine is less than ideal and the 60 pound barbell is going to require an awful lot of reps.

I did a Google search to see if deadlifting in such an environment was practical. The simple answer, easily acquired, was “no,” but I read on in some weight-lifting and bodybuilding forums, eager for the juicy details. What I read really surprised me.

One respondent asked, “what kind of gym doesnt have free weights???” Another, later in the thread opined, “If your gym doesnt have a barbell then your not at a gym.”

A bit later, as the discussion shifts from Smith machines to the deficiencies of the original questioner’s gym, we find this opinion: “I guess the name Fitness SuperCenters sounds better to the overweight cardio kings and queens. It’s a shame that any more our “gyms” are focused more on stationary bikes, treadmills, and stair climbers. The people come in and doing 15 ‘hard’ minutes on a bike and go home to chow down on their candy bars and potato chips.”

Planet Fitness calls itself the “Judgment Free Zone.” Does that mean that they’re catering to the “overweight cardio kings and queens”? As I look around at Planet Fitness, I see plenty of people who are clearly making some good progress. I see a World War II vet, a guy who fought with the Marines at Guadalcanal. There’s Joe, who walks hard and fast for an hour at a time. I see some legitimately overweight folks who, if they keep pushing like they are today, will soon be a lot less overweight–provided they don’t “chow down on their candy bars and potato chips.”

I don’t fault those bodybuilding guys for loving their gyms with all the grimy-looking racks and benches that look like torture machines. If they want to do Romanian deadlifts with 500 pounds while drinking from their gallon jugs of water, that’s their business, but why do they feel the necessity to deride others?

Of course, I’ll confess that I stroll around at Planet Fitness and glance at the speed at which others have the treadmill set. I feel a bit smug when somebody has it turning at less than 6.5 mph, and I assume that those who have it going at more than 8 mph are probably going to burn out fast.

Judgment of others, it seems, is one of the easiest things that people can fall into. How do we actually move into a Judgment Free Zone? I find it easiest to avoid judging others when I am most aware of my own sins. With them on my mind, the shortcomings of others don’t seem so significant.

Risking the S-Word

ScaleIn a recent post at Desiring God, Lindsey Carlson shares her thoughts about weight loss as it relates to spiritual life. The key thing that struck me–although the entire essay is worth your time–was the nerve that Carlson demonstrated in using the dreaded S-word. Yes, she referred to her excess weight as the result of sin.

While not everyone’s additional pounds are directly linked to sin, I know many of mine are. Historically, I’ve gone through seasons of facing my sin directly, and other seasons where I’ve completely avoided dealing with it and allowed indulgence to rule the day. However, this past year, I’ve experienced a measure of victory both in my heart and, perhaps in smaller measure, on my bathroom scale.

Too often in our society, we avoid labeling anything negative as the result of sin. Identifying something as sin requires judgment, and you can’t utter a (negative) value judgment without being reminded to “judge not lest you be judged.”

Of course, those who will spout off Matthew 7:1 have no problem with positive judgments. It’s perfectly fine in their moral economy to praise, for example, successful weight loss. Constructively criticizing overindulgent weight gain, on the other hand, cannot be labeled as sin.

If a gained pound, a smoked cigarette, a drained beer, or a watched porn video  cannot be the product of sin, then what are they? An awareness of the pervasiveness of sin in this world and, more to the point, in our individual lives stands as a powerful first step to gaining some measure of mastery over that world and those lives.