Nor Sit in the Seat of Scoffers

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For some reason this chair in front of a windowed door caught my eye. I snapped a photo of it and continued on my way. Later, when I was experimenting with editing dud pics and wondered what it would look like in black and white I heard this phrase in my spirit.

Nor sit in the seat of scoffers.

This is from the first verse in the book of Psalms: How blessed is the man who does not walk in the counsel of the wicked, nor stand in the path of sinners, nor sit in the seat of scoffers.

Other translations call scoffers mockers, deriders, the scornful. People who are familiar with the internet call them trolls.

I’ve been thinking about scoffers and the temptation to sit in that seat. How many of us no longer read comments on news sites or have ceased joining discussions in formerly interesting groups because scoffers have entrenched themselves there? Scoffers block the way to greater insight the way the troll in the childrens story blocked the three billy goats from reaching greener fields. Scoffers don’t move. They sit.

Mocking, scornful deriders have been around for a long time, and they sit in the middle of many pathways. Sometimes you don’t realize you have been dealing with scoffer until they are gone. It’s like the moment when someone shuts off the persistent background noise of a loud fan. Peace. During their rare absences quarrelling, abuse, strife, doubt and dishonour leave with them – until someone else decides to sit in their chair. Sometimes that empty chair is hard to resist.

The book of Proverbs has a lot to say about the scornful.
He who corrects a scoffer gets dishonour for himself,
And he who reproves a wicked man gets insults for himself.
Do not reprove a scoffer, or he will hate you.

Contrast that with the next sentences:
Reprove a wise man and he will love you.
Give instruction to a wise man and he will be still wiser,
Teach a righteous man and he will increase his learning.
(Proverbs 9)

A scoffer presents as someone seeking wisdom but who can’t recognize it when it is plainly demonstrated to him or her because arrogance blocks their own view. Arrogance is the inability to esteem others more highly than yourself. A mocker has no grace for anyone not up to their standards and will miss the wisdom of children and folks of lower status.

My brother and I were only a year apart. Teachers in our junior high school loved his class and hated mine. His class had natural leaders (my brother was one) with a great sense of humour and sense of comaraderie that honoured classmates. Our class was greatly influenced by two extremely intelligent, but rather bitter scoffers. From the first day they so intimated the other students (I was labeled “hairy arms” by one of them) that we felt we needed their approval before cooperating with any project a teacher suggested. They rarely gave it. Secretly many of us envied their power and wanted to be like them. For three years we turned into an entire class of cross-armed witty, but nasty, skeptics who dared the teachers to engage our enthusiasm. Scorn is contagious.

To make things worse one year our home room teacher announced a seating plan based on academic merit. Every month we all knew exactly how we ranked when he re-assigned numbered desks. Those two boys never lost their seats in the first row. The teacher actually joined them in his derision of the last row. He believed he could shame the “low” achievers (who were in a class for gifted students) into trying harder, and that “healthy competition” would stir them on to greater things.

It didn’t work. For a couple of students the results of this experiment were tragic. Not all gifts can be measured by percentages on a test. Names stick.

I found scoffers entrenched in universities as well. One would think that in an environment dedicated to learning that new ideas and daring research would be highly honoured. Many discouraged potential PhD candidates and their supervisors can tell you how often a project is dismissed by a scoffer with power who sits in front of the door.

I’m not surprised by scoffers and mockers of those who believe in God or Jesus Christ. It’s a lifestyle. What surprises me is the number of scoffers who identify as believers. Now I’m not holding up naivety or gullibility as virtues; good questions lead to knowledge and wisdom. If you have a hole in your boat or those jeans really do advertise that your backside looks like a barn door you need to know. But some questions don’t lead to answers. Some questions are only meant to mock and deride and discourage and stop folks who want to press on.

Paul quoted the Old Testament prophet Habakkuk when he spoke in the synagogue at Pisidian Antioch. “Behold, you scoffers, and marvel, and perish; for I am accomplishing a work in your days, A work which you will never believe, though someone should describe it to you.’” (Acts 13:41.)

I’ve met people in churches who insist there is no proof that God still does miracles today. When provided with documentation they dismiss it or ignore it. Scoffing makes it hard to believe. Scoffing entrenches disbelief because the scornful cannot give up the power of the scoffer’s seat and turn to see the light shining behind them.

 

Wait. What?

I was about to finish up this essay when I heard the Lord say in my spirit, “You’re still in the scoffer’s seat yourself, you know.”

“What? How so?”
“Why do you find it so hard to believe what I’ve told you about the way I see you, about your identity in Christ?”

I’ve been struggling with writing a short bio for a project I am joining. It’s sometimes easier to ask someone else to write these things because it does stir up the scoffer’s stopper question,”Who do you think you are anyway?”

Oh boy. Busted.

Change is hard, but it’s time to kick the scoffer out of her chair and open that glass door by faith. Here goes.

Lord, I am no longer a hungry caterpillar crawling on my belly. I am a butterfly who is learning what wings can do.

I am, like Snow White, one who appeared to be dead, now raised to new life by the kiss of the Prince of Peace. I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.

I am learning about the power of love because you love me.

And by Your grace I am still subject to change.

Pedestal Perching

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One of the commonest causes of failure in Christian life is found in the attempt to follow some good man whom we greatly admire. No man and no woman, no matter how good, can be safely followed. If we follow any man or woman, we are bound to go astray. There has been but one absolutely perfect Man on this earth-the Man Christ Jesus. If we try to follow any other man we are surer to imitate his faults than his excellencies. Look to Jesus and Jesus only as your Guide.
– R. A. Torrey

I am so grateful for the opportunity to learn from great heroes of the faith from the early church fathers to contemporary writers, podcasters, preachers and conference speakers. I honour them. I quote them. I pass on what I have learned from them. But I don’t put them on a pedestal or follow only one person. That’s not fair to them, and it would be dangerous to me.

When I quote someone it does not mean that I accept everything they have ever said or written. The freedom to exercise the discernment Christ gives everyone in whom he lives is far too precious to surrender, but I do value truth when I hear it.

We all need to learn and sometimes that means living with incomplete concepts and trusting that more mature people may have a grasp on paradox and aspects of Christian living for which we do not yet have a grid. There is grace for that, and humility makes room for trust. Sometimes, however, we are prone to looking to public figures instead of looking to Jesus Christ for our answers.

For many years people, especially women, were given the impression they were not educated enough or spiritual enough or had enough authority to respectfully ask questions. Many have not been in a position to reject teachings or practices that didn’t line up with what the Holy Spirit and the scriptures were revealing to them. If they dared they found themselves rejected.

No one knows the perfect truth but God, but even if they did they still wouldn’t lord it over anyone. That would attract attention to themselves and distract their audience from being Christ-centered.

If you are coerced into obeying a church leader who doesn’t permit honest questions or any thoughtful disagreement, that’s not the mutual submission the Bible talks about. It might be time to get your eyes back on the One who sets you free. It might require you to forgive, bless, and move on.

Like a Night Watchman Waiting

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A song I haven’t heard for a long time was playing in my dreams last night. I’ve learned to pay attention to songs that wake me in the night.

My Soul Waits, by Bill Batstone, is based on Psalm 130.

I call to you from out of the deep, “Oh Lord, most high!”
Aware of my sin and the distance I keep from the light, Oh Lord.

But there is forgiveness with Thee,
and in wonder I fall on my knees.
My soul waits for the Lord in the hope of his promise,
in the hope of his promise deliverance will come.
My soul waits for the Lord through the night ’til the morning,
like a night watchman waiting for the coming of the dawn.

Look to the Lord all you people in need, for he is kind.
He will break the chains of your soul’s slavery for all time.

There is forgiveness with Thee and in wonder I fall on my knees.
My souls waits for the Lord in the hope of his promise…
like a night watchman waiting for the coming of the dawn,
like a night watchman waiting for the coming of the dawn.

 

My grandfather was a night watchman. For twenty five years he worked while the rest of us slept. I didn’t realize, until he developed dementia and relived in his own house those lonely dark nights of climbing miles and miles of stairs, how much he longed for daylight. He was man of small stature armed only with a huge flashlight. More than once he encountered thieves who came in the night to take what was not theirs. More than once he scared them off with his light and the authority his uniform communicated. A couple of times he called the alarm when his life was in danger. At least once his huge flashlight became a physical weapon of defense.

I didn’t realize until the day he retired and took off his uniform and boots for the last time how much he longed for the dawn. He left a big X on each calendar day leading up to the promise of a pension. Guarding the factory while others slept, and sleeping while others played left him out of sync with the rest of the world. It took a toll, but he was faithful to his employers all those years.

After his retirement Grandpa never missed a sunrise. He rose early to wait for it. He soaked in the light of the day working in his garden as much as possible.

Spiritual watchmen pray during the night watches. Sometimes they are aware of dangers  that others know nothing about as the Lord calls them to intercede. Even in the darkness they learn to walk in the light of God’s love. They are prayer warriors and use their authority as beloved sons and daughters of God to turn back meddlesome threats. They do not fight with the weapons of the world but with divine weapons designed to bring light and  pull down strongholds of deception. Sometimes they sound the alarm and call for backup when greater threats appear. It can be a lonely solitary calling, but they are the first ones to see the dawn coming.

And the dawn is coming.

Without Distortion

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This shocked me. I read a story about young women in Mauritania who were force fed to make them fat and thus more attractive to potential husbands. Apparently in that culture silvery stretch marks are particularly appealing.

None of the comments posted below the article were from people who were a part of nomadic Mauritanian culture. Outrage flowed from the keyboards of those who saw the situation from behind their own particular cultural lens. They did not have a grid that allowed for another perspective.

“How could that possibly be attractive?”
“It’s unhealthy!”

As a person who has striven to fit my body into my culture’s definition of beauty – to the point of damaging my health in a desperate effort to appear healthy, and now being cognizant of the irony of that effort – I see it differently. I’ve seen how my own culture’s lens distorts the way we treat others when they don’t fit arbitrary standards. Maintaining one’s own perspective (“our way of life”) can seem so important to us that anyone who even questions its validity can trigger angst and anger.

Another article I read provoked the same angry reaction in readers. Published medical studies seem to show that thin people do not live longer than mild to moderately plump people (based on BMI.) In fact chubbies might have the edge in the mortality game. The shared post brought out the same angry reactions in readers. One said fatness demonstrated lack of self-control and others added the “just” clause. The just clause starts with the word just and finishes with whatever eating/exercise discipline the writers assume will correct other people’s weight problems, regardless of differences in physiology and metabolism. Several commenters (ignoring the work of qualified medical researchers) concluded that the study must be wrong because, “It’s unhealthy!”

Some said, in their own words, “If you don’t heap shame on folks for not living up to standards you will be giving them permission to sin!”

Where have we heard that before? The acceptable body shape that constitutes attractiveness is merely one example of our inability to see beyond the boundaries of our own paradigm without distortion.

I’m using the weight topic as an example because many of us in North American society have an emotional investment in it. Our obsession with food, whether joyfully eating it or pointedly not eating it, takes up a great deal of our time and attention and even our money. Whatever we choose to invest heavily in can reveal where our treasure is.

But.

I don’t actually want to talk about weight so please don’t 1) advise which diet/exercise method worked for you and should work for me if I just try harder or 2) feel you need to tell me how long and hard you have struggled without resolution because 1) I’m not listening anymore or 2) I believe you.

The issue I actually want to talk about is seeing past our familiar cultural borders and instead learning to see through Jesus’ lens.

The little fellow in the photo looking at me through a bevelled and rippled glass door is actually an exceptionally good-looking cheerful kid (by my culture’s standards.) It’s the glass grid that makes him look like a morose oddity. His view of me was also warped. We have enough trouble seeing our close neighbour without adding our own judgments of normal/abnormal, let alone seeing people in other countries or times clearly. We also forget that when we read the Bible we are viewing words spoken and actions taken in another culture through our own beveled, rippled grid.

When we neglect to consider cultural context we can misread the message. Can we who live in a culture that has officially banned slavery and regards its re-appearance in the world as an evil practice understand what it was like to live in a place where people knew no other way? When Paul was inspired to write Ephesians 6 was he telling us that we ought to maintain the economy with slave labour or was he giving an insight into how relationships work when mutual respect is present? Which culture needs to be maintained, the culture of ancient Ephesus or the culture of honour?

We can also experience different cultures in different denominations. Each one says this is how to worship together, this is how to pray together, this is how to teach, this is how to serve, this is how to build an edifice, or this is how to vote. (Sometimes I think we need to be more concerned about keeping the state out of the church than keeping the church out of the state.) When we are entrenched in one way of doing church (instead of being the church) other expressions can look, well, weird.

John, one of the zealous brothers Jesus nicknamed “the sons of thunder” experienced a major shift in his own cultural paradigm. There was a time, after he returned from his first amazingly successful short-term missions trip, that he was full of himself. He had seen the demonstration of the power of the kingdom Jesus talked about flowing through his own hands. Heady stuff. In his world it was normal to expect God to smite people with punishment for not following the worship rules properly. John and his brother offered to defend Jesus with their own version of correction.

“Do you want us to call down fire on them, Lord?” they asked when passing a village that refused the Lord welcome.

“You know not what kingdom you are of,” Jesus answered. In other words, no. That is not the way things work in his kingdom.

Jesus was about to change their culture. The world would never be the same. After Jesus’ death and resurrection and the arrival of the Holy Spirit in power, John was transformed into a new man living in a new world. It wasn’t about obeying a complicated list of rules anymore. It was about living by one rule: love. This was a shocking message in a culture built on fear of punishment and the right of revenge. So shocking was this extension of the law of love that the man who later became known as the Apostle Paul set out to crush this new culture – with punishment, of course. Saul/Paul also became a changed man when he met the God of love who wanted to adopt him into his family. Then he himself set out to change cultures.

In later years John wrote:
I, the elder, to you, a lady chosen by God along with her children. I truly love all of you and am confident that all who know the truth share in my love for you. The truth, which lives faithfully within all of us and will be with us for all eternity, is the basis for our abounding love. May grace, mercy, and peace from God the Father and Jesus the Anointed, the Father’s own Son, surround you and be with you always in truth and love.

I was so filled with joy to hear stories about your children walking in truth, in the very way the Father called us to live. So now, dear lady, I am asking you to live by the command that we love one another. I’m not writing to you some new commandment; it’s one we received in the beginning from our Lord. Love is defined by our obedience to His commands. This is the same command you have known about from the very beginning; you must live by it. (2 John 1-4)

What a different tone in this gentle man compared to the rash young man who wanted to bring about judgment by calling down fire from heaven. He was subject to change in the presence of Love.

I’ve been going through a painful period of stepping outside my familiar church culture for the past couple of years. It has been a time of stripping away assumptions as the Lord has prompted me to question a lot of my former choices and habits. Sometimes my actions were fine, but my motives were wrong. Sometimes the reasons were right, but the methods did not encourage or build people up.

Sometimes I have acted on things God never actually said. Somebody else told me that was what he said and I just assumed they were right. Sometimes my prayers have not been in alignment with his purposes and sometimes what I thought was self-sacrificing love was actually a form of arrogance that did not esteem others highly enough. The revelations are somewhat shocking and I often want to defend myself and slip back into the familiar comfort zone, but God’s love is relentless and he won’t let me go.

Most of all he has been showing me that until I finally understand that He is love, that He is my source and will himself meet all my needs, physical, emotional, and spiritual, I will not be able to step out from behind my own distorted glass window and see with his eyes.

It’s a journey, but he promised to be faithful to complete it, walking with me. But just so you know, I am still subject to change. And this lecture is for me.

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