An Ancient Example of Cancel Culture

1Some time later, King Xerxes promoted Haman son of Hammedatha the Agagite to prime minister, making him the most powerful official in the empire next to the king himself.  2All the king’s officials would bow down before Haman to show him respect whenever he passed by, for so the king had commanded. But Mordecai refused to bow down or show him respect.  3Then the palace officials at the king’s gate asked Mordecai, “Why are you disobeying the king’s command?”  4They spoke to him day after day, but still he refused to comply with the order. So they spoke to Haman about this to see if he would tolerate Mordecai’s conduct, since Mordecai had told them he was a Jew.  5When Haman saw that Mordecai would not bow down or show him respect, he was filled with rage.  6So he decided it was not enough to lay hands on Mordecai alone. Since he had learned that Mordecai was a Jew, he decided to destroy all the Jews throughout the entire empire of Xerxes.  7So in the month of April, during the twelfth year of King Xerxes’ reign, lots were cast (the lots were called purim) to determine the best day and month to take action. And the day selected was March 7, nearly a year later.  8Then Haman approached King Xerxes and said, “There is a certain race of people scattered through all the provinces of your empire. Their laws are different from those of any other nation, and they refuse to obey even the laws of the king. So it is not in the king’s interest to let them live.  9If it please Your Majesty, issue a decree that they be destroyed, and I will give 375 tons of silver to the government administrators so they can put it into the royal treasury.”  10The king agreed, confirming his decision by removing his signet ring from his finger and giving it to Haman son of Hammedatha the Agagite—the enemy of the Jews. 11“Keep the money,” the king told Haman, “but go ahead and do as you like with these people.” (Esther 3:1-11, NLT)

Have you heard of this social phenomenon called “cancel culture”? It’s when someone commits an offense, whether intentional or unintentional, that so offends another person that they seek retributive justice in the form of public shaming and ridicule, often for the purpose of seeking a viral response of outrage that might lead to larger consequences, such as loss of job or livelihood.

As I read the third chapter of Esther, it occurred to me that this phenomenon of cancel culture isn’t new. In fact, it has existed for centuries, even millennia.

Haman is actually an ancient example of cancel culture. He gets so offended by the fact that Mordecai won’t bow to him that he decides that it’s not enough to punish Mordecai, but Haman decides to eradicate, erase, yes CANCEL, anyone even associated with Mordecai. (Does this sound familiar?) Hence, Haman approaches the king and arranges for the execution of all Jews throughout the empire on a determined date about a year into the future.

What motivates a person to want to completely cancel or even eradicate another person or race? Verse 5 gives a clue as it says that Haman was “filled with rage.”

Unfortunately, we live in a culture where many people are filled with rage. We can easily become offended and demonstrate unloving and unforgiving behavior towards others (see my post on January 3, 2021 regarding “Online Interactions”). When offended, our tendency is to react and seek immediate justice instead of slowing down and responding in a loving and gracious way.

Cancel culture is real and it’s a symptom of a greater problem – humankind’s sinfulness and self-centeredness. Contrary to what we might think, it’s been around for a long time, and I suspect it won’t be going away any time soon!

Reflection

When have you experienced cancel culture, either as the recipient or initiator?

What issues might cause the kind of outrage in you that would lead to wanting to cancel others?

How can you invite the Lord to develop within you the kind of heart that would demonstrate love, grace and forgiveness to others?

What happened to Barabbas?

15Now it was the governor’s custom to release one prisoner to the crowd each year during the Passover celebration—anyone they wanted.  16This year there was a notorious criminal in prison, a man named Barabbas.  17As the crowds gathered before Pilate’s house that morning, he asked them, “Which one do you want me to release to you—Barabbas, or Jesus who is called the Messiah?” 18(He knew very well that the Jewish leaders had arrested Jesus out of envy.)  19Just then, as Pilate was sitting on the judgment seat, his wife sent him this message: “Leave that innocent man alone, because I had a terrible nightmare about him last night.”  20Meanwhile, the leading priests and other leaders persuaded the crowds to ask for Barabbas to be released and for Jesus to be put to death.  21So when the governor asked again, “Which of these two do you want me to release to you?” the crowd shouted back their reply: “Barabbas!”  22“But if I release Barabbas,” Pilate asked them, “what should I do with Jesus who is called the Messiah?” And they all shouted, “Crucify him!”  23“Why?” Pilate demanded. “What crime has he committed?” But the crowd only roared the louder, “Crucify him!”  24Pilate saw that he wasn’t getting anywhere and that a riot was developing. So he sent for a bowl of water and washed his hands before the crowd, saying, “I am innocent of the blood of this man. The responsibility is yours!”  25And all the people yelled back, “We will take responsibility for his death—we and our children!”  26So Pilate released Barabbas to them. He ordered Jesus flogged with a lead-tipped whip, then turned him over to the Roman soldiers to crucify him. (Matthew 27:15-27, NLT)

What ever happened to Barabbas? Have you ever asked yourself that question?

I’ve often wondered how Barabbas felt when he was released because of Jesus. How did he live out the rest of his life? Was he grateful? Did he feel sorrow that an innocent man died so that he could be released?

Did Jesus’ sacrifice, which effectively freed him, have any impact on his life from that point on?

Of course, we don’t know the answers to these questions because the Scriptures don’t tell us, but these are questions WE are faced with because WE are Barabbas. Just as Barabbas was set free because Jesus was crucified, so we go free because of Jesus’ death. We deserve to die but we go free because Jesus dies instead, even though he was innocent and didn’t deserve to die.

If you’ve ever wondered how Barabbas responded to his new lease on life, just ask yourself how YOU have responded to the new spiritual life that Jesus’ death provides for you!

Reflection

What is your response to the fact that Jesus dies so that we can be released and set free?

How do react to the idea that Barabbas represents you and me and that we are notorious criminals, just as he was?

Saul’s Conversion and Confirmation Bias

17So Ananias went and found Saul. He laid his hands on him and said, “Brother Saul, the Lord Jesus, who appeared to you on the road, has sent me so that you may get your sight back and be filled with the Holy Spirit.” 18Instantly something like scales fell from Saul’s eyes, and he regained his sight. Then he got up and was baptized. 19Afterward he ate some food and was strengthened. Saul stayed with the believers in Damascus for a few days. 20And immediately he began preaching about Jesus in the synagogues, saying, “He is indeed the Son of God!” 21All who heard him were amazed. “Isn’t this the same man who persecuted Jesus’ followers with such devastation in Jerusalem?” they asked. “And we understand that he came here to arrest them and take them in chains to the leading priests.” 22Saul’s preaching became more and more powerful, and the Jews in Damascus couldn’t refute his proofs that Jesus was indeed the Messiah.  (Acts 9:17-22)

Acts chapter 9 documents a pivotal turning point in the early church detailing the conversion of Saul, the great persecutor of the early church who then became its biggest advocate.

Immediately after his conversion, Paul began preaching the good news that Jesus “is indeed the Son of God.” In verse 22, it says that “the Jews in Damascus couldn’t refute his proofs that Jesus was indeed the Messiah.”

How was Paul able to so quickly go from being a staunch opponent of the faith to its greatest defender, baffling non-believers with his convincing arguments?

The truth is that Paul was already well versed in the Old Testament Scriptures and he knew all of the prophecies regarding the coming Messiah. And yet, he was blind to the information he already had at his disposal. His preconceptions and personal preferences regarding Jesus kept him from seeing the truth that was already evident.

While on the road to Damascus, Saul has an encounter with the risen Jesus and all of his biases and preconceived notions about who Jesus was are wiped away. Ironically, Paul’s encounter with Jesus results in physical blindness at the same time his eyes are finally opened spiritually. Later, Paul receives his sight back as Ananias laid his hands on him and “something like scales fell from Saul’s eyes.”

We all have personal biases and preconceived ideas that keep us from seeing truth that may be evident to others. We call these blind spots. Additionally, many of us may feed our own biases by filtering out facts and evidence that might contradict our opinions and beliefs and considering only information that may support our preferred narrative. This is what’s known as confirmation bias.

Fortunately for Paul, he had a divine encounter with the truth that was so powerful it opened him up to his blindness and set him on a new trajectory. Because he had already been trained and schooled in the Old Testament Scriptures, he was able to quickly pivot his approach and immediately become the foremost apologist in the young New Testament church.

Reflection

In what areas might you be susceptible to blind spots?

What can you do to avoid confirmation bias?

How can you invite Jesus to expose you to truth that you might not be prone to see because it conflicts with your personal biases?

The Christian Response to Government and Laws

Given the current state of events in our country, yesterday’s reading from Titus 3 was particularly timely. Verses 1-2 say:

Remind the people to be subject to rulers and authorities, to be obedient, to be ready to do whatever is good,  2to slander no one, to be peaceable and considerate, and to show true humility toward all men. (Titus 3:1-2)

This is just but one example in Scripture admonishing us to obey our government and its leaders.

This does not mean that we should act immorally if our government asks us to do something that violates God’s moral standards.

In Acts 4, the disciples tell the Jewish religious leaders, who had commanded them to stop preaching about Jesus, that they must obey God rather than men.

But if the government creates a law that is not in violation of God’s moral law, then there is no basis for us to ignore it.

For example, speed limits do not violate any moral law of God, so therefore, we have no reason to violate the posted speed.

In our highly polarized, fractious culture, may we heed Paul’s admonition “to be peaceable and considerate, and to show true humility toward all men.”

Reflection

What are some laws that you find easy to dismiss?

Which of Paul’s 5 admonishments do you find easiest to follow and which are most difficult?

      1. be obedient
      2. be ready to do whatever is good
      3. slander no one
      4. be peaceable and considerate
      5. show true humility toward all

Are You an Idol Worshiper?

For my daily devotional reading, I’ve been following the Grant Horner Bible reading plan. I’m in my third year of following this plan, which invites the reader to read one chapter a day from each of 10 different segments of the Bible (Gospels, Old Testament Pentateuch, New Testament Letters #1, New Testament Letters #2, Wisdom Literature, Psalms, Proverbs, Old Testament History, Old Testament Prophets and finally, the book of Acts) for a total of 10 chapters each day.

One of the unique elements to this plan is that you begin to see how the scriptures are related to each other as you see certain themes and topics show up in completely different segments of your Bible reading. This was again the case for me a few days ago when I read the following similar verses from completely different chapters and segments of the Bible:

The idols of the nations are silver and gold, made by the hands of men. 16They have mouths, but cannot speak, eyes, but they cannot see; 17they have ears, but cannot hear, nor is there breath in their mouths. 18Those who make them will be like them, and so will all who trust in them. (Psalms 135:15-18)

They told Aaron, ‘Make us gods who will go before us. As for this fellow Moses who led us out of Egypt—we don’t know what has happened to him!’** 41That was the time they made an idol in the form of a calf. They brought sacrifices to it and held a celebration in honor of what their hands had made.  (Acts 7:40-41)

Idols have always been an issue with people. We see the theme of idols repeatedly throughout Scripture. In the Psalms passage (and many other locations in Scripture) the author writes about the sheer irony of a person fashioning a figurine out of metal or wood or some other material – giving it eyes and ears and a mouth, even though it cannot see, hear or speak, and then bowing to that figurine as if it had some power to grant to us whatever we might request. It’s utter foolishness. To do this, the Psalmist says, will make you just as senseless as the idols you’ve created.

In the Acts passage, Stephen, who is about to be stoned, is giving a short history of the nation of Israel when he recounts this incident that occurred while Moses was on Mt. Sinai communing with God and receiving the 10 commandments. The people weren’t sure what happened to Moses or why it was taking him so long to come down from the mountain so they asked Aaron to fashion a gold calf which they subsequently began to worship as their God.

It’s easy to read passages like these and wonder how the Israelites could be so dumb to think that something they have just created with their own hands is somehow a god that will do your bidding! How can something you have created have the power to give you whatever you want and do whatever you ask?

People today are still in the habit of creating idols. We may not fashion figurines that we place on the mantel and worship, as we see in the Scriptures, but we create an idol any time our image of God suits our preferences instead of reality.

Think about it this way – in the Bible, we see people fashioning idols to represent gods the way they see them, whether they are in the form of an animal (calf) or people (eyes, ears, mouth). Even if we don’t create a physical representation of God via some figurine, we are still creating an idol any time we create a mental image of God that doesn’t comply with how God is revealed to us in the Bible.

In today’s world, it’s easier than ever to appeal to a “god” that bends to my political views and my cultural preferences.

Because God is infinite, there is always going to be a sense in which our views of Him are not completely accurate. So how can we avoid worshiping an idol? The key is our heart. God doesn’t expect that we would know everything about Him perfectly but He does exhort us to seek him with our whole heart and to worship Him as He’s been revealed.

This is another reason why it’s so important to read and understand God’s Word, for it’s the primary source for truthful information about who God is and what He’s like.

Reflection:

What are some ways you may be tempted to bend your understanding of God and His nature to fit your own views or preferences?

What is the source of information you have about God?

What steps can you take to increase your understanding of who God is so you are worshiping Him in spirit and truth?

 

To learn more about the Grant Horner daily Bible reading plan, you can google it, or go to this blog post, which I found to have a very thorough description.

Keep Your Mouth Shut!

If you keep your mouth shut, you will stay out of trouble. (Proverbs 21:23, NLT)

Think about all the ways our words can get us into trouble. We can consciously or unconsciously lie about something, or stretch the truth. We can offend people, purposefully, or inadvertently. We can say truthful things but with the wrong tone. We can joke or make fun of people. We can criticize, judge, or mock others.

However, if we keep our mouths shut, there is hardly any way a person can bring a charge against us. Keeping our mouths shut can keep us out of trouble.

What are some ways your mouth can get you into trouble?

What are some things that would help you to implement this advice?

The Consequences of Deceit

1There was also a man named Ananias who, with his wife, Sapphira, sold some property. 2He brought part of the money to the apostles, but he claimed it was the full amount. His wife had agreed to this deception. 3 Then Peter said, “Ananias, why has Satan filled your heart? You lied to the Holy Spirit, and you kept some of the money for yourself.  4 The property was yours to sell or not sell, as you wished. And after selling it, the money was yours to give away. How could you do a thing like this? You weren’t lying to us but to God.”  5As soon as Ananias heard these words, he fell to the floor and died. Everyone who heard about it was terrified. 6Then some young men wrapped him in a sheet and took him out and buried him. (Acts 5:1-6, NLT)

I don’t know about you but I’ve read this story dozens, if not hundreds of times over the years and I always thought the punishment seemed kind of extreme. I mean, I know God doesn’t like lying, but to see these two fall dead for their deceit always seemed a bit extreme (Verses 7-10 tell of a similar fate for Sapphira).

My standard explanation has always been the idea that God is really holy and any sin is deserving of death. We really can’t be surprised when peole get what they actually deserve. Theologically, that’s true, but we don’t tend to see the consequences of lying play out this way normally. Perhaps there is more at play here.

So what’s going on?

A few thoughts:

    • The sin was not in selling the property or even keeping part of the proceeds. Peter says that the land was theirs to sell or not sell as they saw fit. The sin was deceiving others regarding how much they gave (see Acts 5:2).
    • They (Ananias and Sapphira) wanted to give the impression that they gave everything when they really didn’t. This is religious charlatanism. It is projecting an outer image that doesn’t match what is really true.
    • If you read through the gospels, you’ll see that Jesus spoke of this often with the Pharisees. He often pointed out their hypocrisy and the true nature of their heart condition. So it’s not surprising that this kind of attitude and religious impressionism is dealt with swiftly in the early church.

Honestly, it’s much easier to object to the outcome of the story as being unjust instead of reflecting on my own heart and thinking about the myriad of ways in which I do the same thing. The truth is, we all want to be liked and it’s very easy to stretch the truth or bend the facts of my situation in order to make myself look better to others. This is what John Ortberg calls “impression management.”

In what ways are you tempted to make yourself look better to others than you are?

What are the areas in your life where you struggle to present your real self?

What is keeping you from sharing your real struggles and honest thoughts with those closest to you?

I’m thankful that this story is not normative of how the Lord responds to those who engage in the sin of deceit, for I know if that were the case, I would’ve been hauled out in a wrapped up sheet long ago!

About Online Interactions

You should also know this, Timothy, that in the last days there will be very difficult times. For people will love only themselves and their money. They will be boastful and proud, scoffing at God, disobedient to their parents, and ungrateful. They will consider nothing sacred. They will be unloving and unforgiving; they will slander others and have no self-control; they will be cruel and have no interest in what is good. They will betray their friends, be reckless, be puffed up with pride, and love pleasure rather than God. They will act as if they are religious, but they will reject the power that could make them godly. You must stay away from people like that. (2 Timothy 3:1-5, NLT)

Is it just me or do people seem angrier and more polarized these days?

Two hallmark characteristics of Christianity are love and forgiveness. Jesus raised the bar by telling us to love our enemies (Matthew 5:44) and to forgive others an unlimited number of times (Matthew 18:22). Yet even among Christians it’s sometimes difficult to see these qualities of Jesus expressed.

Social media, in particular, has contributed to an environment where it’s easy to argue with and even slander others with whom we disagree. If you spend any amount of time on social media platforms like Facebook, Twitter and Nextdoor, you’ll quickly see conversations devolve into the equivalent of a digital junior high food fight. It often seems as if kindness and civil discourse no longer exist. We can often fall into the trap of arguing with others to prove our point.

Alan Jacobs, in a 2017 blog post (https://blog.ayjay.org/vengeance/) warned about the dangers of vengeance and vindictiveness online:

When a society rejects the Christian account of who we are, it doesn’t become less moralistic but far more so, because it retains an inchoate sense of justice but has no means of offering and receiving forgiveness. The great moral crisis of our time is not, as many of my fellow Christians believe, sexual licentiousness, but rather vindictiveness. Social media serve as crack for moralists: there’s no high like the high you get from punishing malefactors.

Paul’s words to Timothy are especially relevant to us today. Given the environment in our culture and on digital platforms, it’s often easier to look like the people Paul describes than the people Jesus invites us to be.

Reflection

In what ways do you find yourself mirroring the people Paul describes?

What would help you to maintain the loving and forgiving posture of Jesus in your interactions with others?

As we enter 2021, my prayer is for an extra measure of self-control so my  engagements with others will be seasoned with grace, love and kindness!

A Wise Person Thinks About Death?

A good reputation is more valuable than the most expensive perfume. In the same way, the day you die is better than the day you are born. It is better to spend your time at funerals than at festivals. For you are going to die, and you should think about it while there is still time. Sorrow is better than laughter, for sadness has a refining influence on us. A wise person thinks much about death, while the fool thinks only about having a good time now.  – Ecclesiastes 7:1-4 (NLT)

At first glance, this passage seems kind of morbid. How in the world is it better to spend time at funerals than festivals? Who in their right mind likes going to funerals? With all that’s going on in the world, why would I want to intentionally think about death?

At closer inspection, this passage has profound wisdom that is especially appropriate as we begin a new year.

The author might have communicated his point in a different way, by inviting you to ask yourself this question: when you get to the end of your life, what do you want to be true of you? Or to put it another way, how do you want to be eulogized by others?

The fool only thinks about the here and now (verse 4) and what kind of fun they can have (festivals). But the wise person thinks about what kind of person they want to become (their reputation) and what will be said about them by others when they die.

As we embark on another year, it’s only natural to think about the things you want to accomplish in the coming year. Perhaps you want to lose weight and get healthy. Or maybe you want to advance in your profession or develop yourself educationally.

It’s ok to set material and professional goals but don’t neglect your character and your reputation. The wise person realizes that this is the most important area to think about and reflect on.

What steps can you take this year to move toward becoming the kind of person you want to ultimately be known as? What resources do you need to help you get there?

If you’re a Young Adult, contact us about coaching and other resources that can help you grow and develop in all areas of your life.

Here’s to a Happy and blessed New Year!