Tag Archives: conscience

50 Shades of Meat

roman-templePaulfg has just posted an excellent reflection (“More godly than God Soft Hands Jesus”) on a lot of the commentary surrounding the movie/book “50 Shades of Gray”, and the oft-heard Christian echoes of “do not watch the film, do not let this filth enter your eyes, I have not watched it, I never will, and you shouldn’t either.”

Paul rightly points out these scriptures:

”Nothing outside a person can defile them by going into them. Rather, it is what comes out of a person that defiles them.” Mark 7:15

”What goes into someone’s mouth does not defile them, but what comes out of their mouth, that is what defiles them.” Matthew 15:11

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For me to say “I agree”, would be comically pretentious. Not only do I agree, but for more years than I could count I agreed SO much that I would judge and ridicule many Christians with principles more conservative than my own. I have NO sense that Paulfg is doing this, and I don’t want to be read that way. I only see Paul as confronting a rightly wrong thing… what I call “bubble wrap Christians”, who seem to believe that if you can keep “evil” from coming in through the eyes, ears, or touch… you can keep it out of your universe. (Would that were so!)

I have more than a few friends who keep their radios and TV’s tuned to nothing but “Christian” programming…. not so much because they truly ENJOY that programming, but rather because they are afraid of seeing or hearing anything else. They subscribe primarily to the “Three Monkeys” interpretation of the Gospel, apparently believing they can insulate their hearts from darkness or shadow.

And I used to “judge” them. Even if I did not do so in words, in my heart I would “ridicule” them. Paulfg does not. But I did… Can you relate? I hope not, but I think most of us have or do at some time or another. Whether we think eating fish on fridays, or praying the rosary is “quaint”… or that saying grace before meals in public is “showing off”… or that carrying a big print Bible to church in these days of iPads and electronic tablets is exhibitionist… or that abstinence from alcohol is contrary to Scripture, or the reverse… I have struggled for years with the challenge of not judging the piety or devotion of others by my own standards.

Ironic, is it not?

This is the nature of the critique of those who advise all others “not to see this movie”, and judge/condemn those who do… at the very same time that I, for one, am tempted advise all others “not to listen to these critics”, and judge/condemn them and those who do.

Um… it seemed like for years I could not find the “center line”, the “balance point” between “not judging” people for their taste in reading, drama, or art… and judging those who did! Given my own worldview, I almost constantly struggled with this frustration. My Jesuit Dad was the world’s best at attaining this balance, and he had a saying. “I have unboundedly liberal principles, that lead almost unerringly to conservative conclusions.” And that was true. There were no unaskable questions, no unspeakable thoughts, no irreverent propositions… God, when left free to consider all possibilities and propositions, always leads back to Scripturally consistent outcomes.

OK… now I want to share a “how” thing… not so much a “what” or “why”, but a “how?”… but I don’t want to come off as “having my act entirely together” on this, with some tone of “spiritual superiority”. You are more than welcome… invited even… to pray for my ongoing “reformation” in this area. Over years, as I struggled with my own judgmentalism, God would lead me to the same Scriptural place… every… single… time…

Now accept the one who is weak in faith, but not for the purpose of passing judgment on his opinions. One person has faith that he may eat all things, but he who is weak eats vegetables only. The one who eats is not to regard with contempt the one who does not eat, and the one who does not eat is not to judge the one who eats, for God has accepted him. Who are you to judge the servant of another? To his ownmaster he stands or falls; and he will stand, for the Lord is able to make him stand.” [Romans 14:1-4]

Going on…

Therefore let us not judge one another anymore, but rather determine this—not to put an obstacle or a stumbling block in a brother’s way. I know and am convinced in the Lord Jesus that nothing is unclean in itself; but to him who thinks anything to be unclean, to him it is unclean. For if because of food your brother is hurt, you are no longer walking according to love. Do not destroy with your food him for whom Christ died. Therefore do not let what is for you a good thing be spoken of as evil; for the kingdom of God is not eating and drinking, but righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit.” [Romans 14:13-17]

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So here’s the thing… here’s my problem…

When people whose conscience convicts them that it is “sin” to watch a given movie, and they go watch it anyway, that is out of order.  OK, fine so far. BUT, when they tell OTHER people who do not share their convictions, that watching that movie is “sin”, because of THEIR convictions… that’s just as wrong.

And, of course, when *I* judge… whether for watching, not watching, advising to watch or not, or refraining because of these criticisms and commentaries… *I* am just as out of order as any of it!

It’s like being stuck on some horrible mess of fly paper. Every way you turn or twist, you just keep getting caught and gummed up. I was left “twisting” this way for years.

Finally, only a fairly short while ago, (and written up in this blog in a reflection on drosophila), I got this sorted…

The “trick” to this is… follow one’s own conscience, realizing that God deals with us each in our own appropriate way. “Share” about those reflections freely, as the spirit moves one, for the encouragement or edification of others… But only in the encouragement of “obedience to one’s own template”, NOT for the imposition of one’s own template onto the lives of others.

It takes no special training or theological sophistication to know the sense of “violating one’s conscience” or “being wrong”. Little children get this one down fairly early in life. There’s nothing “neurotic” or “psychologically unhealthy” about the sense of “right and wrong”, or the signals of conscience given off when we violate our values. In fact, we have a variety of “symptom terms” for conditions that have no sense of right/wrong or responsiveness to the Ayenbite of Inwyt, or the prick of conscience.

I know this may sound incredibly dense, but after a lifetime of wrestling this specter, I finally “got it”, and came ’round to the simple statement the Apostle Paul put right out there in black and white, that… “I know and am convinced in the Lord Jesus that nothing is unclean in itself; but to him who thinks anything to be unclean, to him it is unclean. For if because of food your brother is hurt, you are no longer walking according to love.

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C.S. Lewis, in The Screwtape Letters, narrates Screwtape advising his apprentice (Wormwood) about encouraging judgmentalism, spiritual arrogance and superiority in his “client” (the fellow being tempted). Screwtape’s comments include:

“We have quite removed from men’s minds what that pestilent fellow Paul used to teach about food and other unessentials—namely, that the human without scruples should always give in to the human with scruples. You would think they could not fail to see the application. You would expect to find the “low” churchman genuflecting and crossing himself lest the weak conscience of his “high” brother should be moved to irreverence, and the “high” one refraining from these exercises lest he should betray his “low” brother into idolatry. And so it would have been but for our ceaseless labour. Without that the variety of usage within the Church of England might have become a positive hotbed of charity and humility,Your affectionate uncle   SCREWTAPE”

Eventually, I figured out the key that sorted this whole thing for me. Having done so, I sometimes upset some of my more conservative brethren, because it can seem to them as if I “have no standards”. But, rather like my boss and mentor from long ago, it comes down to the “One Rule”, and the iron grip of the discipline of that.

The key Scripture here is:One person regards one day above another, another regards every day alike. Each person must be fully convinced in his own mind. He who observes the day, observes it for the Lord, and he who eats, does so for the Lord, for he gives thanks to God; and he who eats not, for the Lord he does not eat, and gives thanks to God.” [Romans 14:5-6]

Or, as the One Rule was woven into my internship, “discern the clearly delineated will of God, as affirmed by scripture, love, and witness of spirit, and obey that without hesitation or argument.” I find it enough of a challenge, these days, to conform to this alone. I don’t need to try to “inform the conscience of others”, or overlay my template on their lives.

But… but… what about exhortation? What about encouragement? What about confrontation of sin?

Well, that would be a whole new post of its own, but here’s how that works out in my own life and walk…

I encourage everyone I know and love to… discern the will of God for each moment as affirmed by their conscience and spirit… and do that. Right alongside that there’s the truth that although I endeavor to do that, sometimes I don’t succeed… and Jesus embraces us regardless. Like all of humanity, I am frail, I stumble and fall with clockwork regularity.

What then? Then Jesus stretches out His hand, I grasp it and He helps me up, we brush off the dust, and keep on walking. It’s the JOURNEY that He enjoys… the destination will come in its own time. If I keep staring at the map, or inspecting everyone else’s, I miss all the scenery, adventure of the trip, and joy in the company of wondrous travelling companions!

Happy Journeying!

Grace to thee — The Little Monk


Posted by on April 26, 2015 in Quiet Time, Sermon Seeds


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Light Bulbs and the Scrupulous Christian

Flight 401While we’re on the subject of aviation…

Here’s a story that I just find amazing. Tragic, and I tell it with tremendous reverence and respect, for many lost their lives here… and improvements in safety resulted to benefit all of us, but it is nonetheless amazing.

On December 29, 1972 or thereabouts… a light bulb… a little green light no bigger than you would use for your Christmas tree, blew out.

That light bulb was intended as a safety device, indicating when the landing gear nosewheel  of Eastern Air Lines Flight 401, on final approach from New York into Miami International Airport, was properly deployed and locked into place. Because it did not light, the captain (pilot) and crew did not take the risk of landing, but decided to change the bulb instead, as they also tried physically to see if the nosewheel was down or not.

That decision was not the problem. That wasn’t a bad decision at all. The problem was… this light bulb… changing this light bulb… became the overwhelming focus of all attention by the flight crew in these critical minutes as they bypassed the airport, and the bulb refused to seat properly into the switch. Perhaps that should have absorbed ONE person, the co-pilot actually attempting the installation. But it captured the focus of him, the pilot, and the engineer as well.

So, when a control yoke was accidentally bumped, and the autopilot’s command to maintain a 2000 foot altitude got switched off, and the control yoke slipped into a slightly downward position slowly decreasiing their altitude… no one noticed. The light bulb still hadn’t clicked into place, and it was too dark to see the nosewheel directly. Foot by foot, they inched towards the ground until proximity alarms notified them that they were about to hit the swamps of the Florida Everglades below them. They were unable to recover in time. While 75 souls survived, 101 did not.

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A little while ago I wrote of “Aglets”, of the enemy’s strategy of trying to “throw us off our game” in seeking and following the life and path that the Lord lights up to walk with(in) us. Temptation, sin, in the enemy’s arsenal, has a two-wave payoff for him. This is especially true for a Christian who may be unclear about what his agenda (and God’s agenda) truly is.

Without getting bogged down in a lot of hassle and detail here, I’m just going to say a thing, and if it rings true for you and your Spirit affirms it, that’s fine. If not, cast it aside.

But, for myself, God’s agenda is to love us, and embrace us in such a relationship of intimacy that we respond with reflection of His love back to Him, and we refract His love outwards towards others. We focus on the joy of intimate relationship with Him… Jesus in us, we in Him, together we in the Father, Holy Spirit indwelling… such that His will becomes our own. In and as that happens, our gaze upon others becomes the communion of mutual sacredness, as we grow to love others as He loves us.

The unique feature to such a worldview is, our gaze is always focused on Him, or on others. We know and we rest in our reliance on His provision for us. As we become filled with life, and learn truly to live, our words and acts become His, and those of the Father. We learn to love with His heart.

Right… so… the enemy’s agenda? To take all that… NOT.

Just that simple. The enemy is not nearly so concerned with “getting us to do BAD things”… as it is simply to focus on ourselves, love ourselves, please ourselves, pay attention to ourselves… and become so myopic as to shadow and darkness we never think of looking towards Love Himself, or refracting any outwards at all.

God wants us loving outwards. The enemy wants us desiring inwards. It’s about that simple.

So… it really doesn’t matter much to him if he gets somebody to commit murder, cheat on their wife, or swipe a server’s tips from a cafe table… as long as temptation can get someone to think about pleasing themselves alone, treating God like an absentee landlord, and treating other people as objects for their gratification. Another way to put it, his agenda is to entice us to violate our own conscience, without a lot of regard for the content of the violation.

He gets a “boomerang” effect, a “double tap” out of this if… first, he can entice someone do harm to themselves or another, and second, if he can get them to feel hopelessly ashamed, guilty, and defensive about it. Then he can not only leverage people against loving relationships through successful temptation to the FIRST sin, but that secondary rebound effect can alienate caring relationships even further.

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So what has this got to do with Flight 401?

Bottom line, the light bulb was important, yes. That blown out bulb was a bad thing, the light not coming on rightly prevented a whole planeload of passengers from arriving in Miami’s terminal on time because the landing had to be bypassed. Right. But the light bulb was being dealt with, could have safely been dealt with as a matter of due course in operating the craft safely.

THAT is where this went so wrong. The bulb didn’t just become a part of operating the craft safely. Somehow the bulb became the overarching task and mission of the entire flight crew, RATHER than continuing to operate the craft safely. This single wrong element, this bulb, became sufficient distraction to draw everyone’s gaze from the real task at hand, and tragedy resulted.

All too often, conscientious Christians and others of good will and conscience, do something wrong, offend someone, fail to meet their own (or others’) standards of acceptable conduct… and get utterly hung up there. They can become obsessively fixated in guilt over what they’ve done. They may become hypervigilant against ever experiencing similar feelings again. They can become so concerned about ever committing “sin” that they avoid engaging any one or any thing in any situation where they do not feel they have absolute control.

Ironically… the fault of “scruple”, the misplaced FEAR of potential sin, can be as strong a deterrant to actually living and doing in the will of God, as wanton recklessness itself.

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So what am I saying? That we should never examine ourselves or our conscience? That we should just live a wild laissez-faire lifestyle of license without conscience or accountability? That, as some people argue about those who focus primarily on the grace and love of God, since we are “covered by the Blood” anyway, we should just go do anything we feel like at any time, because after all, what the heck?

Um, no… none of that. But scruple doesn’t assure any greater union with the will of God than does license. Rather than constant anxiety and fear of offending God through our frailty, I find three stratagems far more effective.

First, trust to the relationship between the self and God. Our loving King Father is not going to let us get far beyond our legitimate boundaries without calling loudly to us. The conscience is quite a reliable interface between us and Our Father and Lord.

Second, when our will conflicts with Our Loving King Father, yield to Him. “Obedience is better than sacrifice”, and He means this. For one thing, um… He’s God, and in a battle of wills or anything else, He’s gonna win, as long as we don’t leave the arena. For the other thing, He’s a loving Father and perfectly willing to deal with us in whatever way we demand, whether as prodigal returning to celebration, or defiant brat hauled home by the collar. (I’ve been both… trust me on this.)

Third, deal with past sins the same way He does… forget them. Time absorbs into Him like water into blotting paper. It dries, and it’s gone. He embraces us, as we are, as we’ve been, as we will be.. utterly and totally. We may disappoint ourselves from time to time, but we NEVER.. EVER… disappoint Him. We can’t, we simply cannot surprise Him, and you have to be surprised to be disappointed. Did we stumble and fall? OK. Did He help us stand back up, brush us off, and help us process the experience? OK. Then, are we ready to walk on and carry on with our task in/with Him? Good! Let’s go!

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I refuse to get distracted by burnt out bulbs. I refuse to add icing and give a secondary payoff to the enemy when I’m careless or willful enough to stumble into one of his snares. THAT is not where grace is, where light is, or where I want to invest my limited time, breaths, and heartbeats.

I’d rather hold our wondrous Lord King Love Father’s hand, and truck on down the road.

How about you?


Posted by on February 12, 2015 in Quiet Time, Sermon Seeds, Uncategorized


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