Category: Culture


In 2012, on a sunny February day, Ryan Braun stood before a collection of media outlets and gave a speech.  Earlier, Braun had won an arbitration hearing that overturned a 50-game suspension he had received for violating MLB’s drug policy.  Press conferences have become the societal norm in such situations.  Braun’s handlers, and no doubt Braun himself, were going to use this opportunity to get in the last word on the matter and move forward.  You can watch the whole press conference here.

An athlete testing positive for performance enhancing drugs (PED) is not a shocking revelation.  It happens frequently enough that the public outrage is little more than a scroll along the bottom of your television set on the major sports networks or an even briefer television segment.  Braun’s case however was different.  The Milwaukee Brewer’s outfielder won the 2011 National League MVP, beating out Los Angeles Dodger Matt Kemp.  Winning such an award, when arguably Kemp was the better player during the 2011 season put Braun in the national spotlight and in the cross hairs.

Adding to the Braun drama was also the contract extension that he signed in April 2011.  Previously signed by the Brewers in 2008 to a 7 year deal at $40.5 million, the Brewers locked Braun in for an additional 5 years at $105 million.  The signing set Braun up as the center piece of the Brewers organization until 2020, presumably a strong player to build around.  Upon signing the contract, Braun was quoted as saying, “From here on out the only thing that really matters is winning.”

I do not think anyone put much stock into those word that spring.  Some people believe the mind subconsciously lets out our most guarded secrets.  Jesus did say, “out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaketh” (Mat. 12:34).  I am not sure if this applies specifically to Braun’s words or if I am merely being anachronistic with the information I now have at my finger tips.  After all, I can think of no athlete in any of the major sports that would take a different approach to their profession.  Winning is the reason they play the game.  Winning is why franchise owners spend millions each year so that grown men can play games to the amusement of the masses.

Whatever the truth of the matter, Braun’s elation at signing a new contract, winning an MVP award, and successfully fending off a 50-game suspension came crashing down into the miry clay of despondency last week.

"I told a lie, THIS BIG!"

“I told a lie, THIS BIG!”

MLB handed down a 65-game suspension to Braun for violating the league’s Joint Drug Program.  Sources report Braun negotiated the terms of his suspension with MLB executives and will not appeal.  The number of games is significant because it means his 2013 season is over.  The suspension is without pay, which means Braun will lose roughly $3.85 million.  When compared with his potential earnings of $141.65 million throughout the life of his contract, this season’s loss appears insignificant.

My point with this post is not to go over Braun’s financials, nor is it even to comment on the use of PEDs in professional sports.  It is the reaction of Braun and those around him to the years of deception that has been at work.  Braun’s previous suspension was overturned on a technicality.  The technician handling the sample did not send it directly to a lab, but kept it refrigerated for a few days before sending it off to be tested.  Despite his best attempts at moving beyond the controversy after the suspension was overturned by an arbiter, there was a lingering cloud over him.  People were convinced, myself included, he was guilty of “juicing” and had gotten away with the crime.

Braun’s own words at the press conference following his acquittal were, “We were able to get through this because I am innocent and the truth is on our side.”  It took me some time to come to terms with the state of the American morality last week after all these revelations came to light.  In the presence of the media with microphones and cameras rolling, Ryan Braun stood before those reporters and the American people, particularly the baseball fans of this country and lied.  It was not a lie of ignorance that we all make from time to time (i.e. “I believe his name is George.  Oh, it is Glenn, my mistake.”).  It was a premeditated, scripted lie.

Appearances on a Sean Bean meme spell disaster.  You career has the same chance of survival as Bean's character does in any movie.

Appearances on a Sean Bean meme spell disaster. Your career has the same chance of survival as Bean’s characters do in any movie.

At the time, there was merely speculation.  After the infamous press conference, one reporter put it succinctly, “He wasn’t exonerated. He was acquitted. There’s a difference.”

Fast forward a year and a half.  The tune has changed, but there is still this lingering cloud of dishonesty that hangs over Ryan Braun and MLB in general.  The PED issue is not dead in MLB and is perhaps taking on a new life with a current list of active players linked to Tony Bosch and his Biogenesis clinic.  A bigger name and contract than Braun’s is at the top of everyone’s list in Alex Rodriguez, who has admitted to using PEDs in the past, but appears poised to fight the new accusations of impropriety.

After the 65-game suspension was announced, Braun came forward with another statement.  To me, it was no more contrite than his previous comments on the matter.  He said, “As I have acknowledged in the past, I am not perfect.  I realize NOW that I have made some mistakes.  I am willing to accept the consequences of those actions” (emphasis mine).  I have a few problems with this “apology” from Braun.

First, Braun’s acknowledgement of his imperfection is irrelevant.  He was not coming across as a saint to anyone.  He was acquitted on a technicality from a previous suspension.  While this feat is nothing short of miraculous legal maneuvering, it did nothing to endear Braun or his camp to the general public.  I would dare say, outside of the Milwaukee fan base, Braun became an enemy to the state of baseball.  Recognizing our imperfection is a good thing when it is done correctly and in the proper perspective of God’s Word (Rom. 3:10, 23).  Braun’s admission read and sounded like an arrogant deflection of the real issue.  This view is only supported by the eventual revelation of his PED use.

Secondly, if I am to take Braun’s words at face value, he only came to the conclusion that his actions were wrong after being caught.  There is nothing apologetic about such a statement.  It implies that Braun’s previous, premeditated lying was done with a clear conscience.  Only after exposure did Braun come to the conclusion that perhaps he was wrong!  In essence, Braun is not apologizing for the multitude of lies and subterfuge he used to escape detection and sanction previously.  No.  He is apologizing that his deception and legal maneuvering backed him into a corner from which he could not escape.  If an undetectable PED substance existed, I am confident Braun would use it without remorse.

And last of all, the interesting aspect of consequences is they come whether we accept them or not.  Braun’s willingness “accept” the consequences of his actions further solidifies his perceived arrogance in the face of this reputation-staining ordeal.  MLB sets a dangerous precedent on the cusp of the Biogenesis controversy by negotiating the terms of Braun’s suspension with him.  Plea deals are common occurrence in our judicial system; however, it does little to discourage future offenses, especially from morally blind players such as Braun.

The Executive Director of the MLB Player’s Union, Michael Weiner, praised Braun saying, “I am deeply gratified to see Ryan taking this bold step.”  What step has Braun taken that is worthy of praise.  He lied to baseball executives in 2011, lied to his organization and fan base in Milwaukee, made a mockery of the arbitration process by contesting his first suspension while knowing he was guilty, and in the process of that arbitration Braun and his lawyers sullied the reputation of the courier that collected his tainted sample.  It should also be noted that Weiner sat on the three person panel that overturned Braun’s previous suspension.

This issue has struck such a cord with me for a few reasons.  First, I am a true baseball fan.  I love the game in all of its various incarnations from Little League to Major League.  I have been a fan since childhood and feel as if I’m in a sporting limbo between late October when the season ends until the beginning of Spring Training in March.  Yes, I like other sports as well, but nothing fascinates me like baseball.

The first sign of Braun juicing was seen on this play in left field vs. the Blue Jays.  Braun was standing on first base when he jumped.

The first sign of Braun juicing was seen on this play in left field vs. the Blue Jays. Braun was standing on first base when he jumped.

Braun and all the other players have marred the game with their selfish antics.  I am not unsympathetic to those who come forward and confess their impropriety.  I even believe these men should eventually take their place in the Baseball Hall of Fame.  However, I am over the great deception from men such as Braun.  I pray he one day becomes truly penitent for his actions and becomes more than he appears to be now, which is an unapologetic cheater.

The second reason this is so troubling to me is that my son is at the age of imitation.  He likes to imitate everything that I do from the words I say to the actions I perform.  It is just a stage of life.  One of our favorite things to do is watch baseball together.  I can say it is difficult to watch the game with the deluge of questions coming my way, but I do get to see the wide-eyed wonder on my little boys face as he watches these professional athletes play baseball.

These anti-PED policies are not in place to protect the professional athletes.  They are in place to protect the teenagers and young men coming up through the various systems.  When PEDs were previously free to use, though still secret from the majority of fans, their was rampant usage in all levels of the game.  I personally know middle school athletes that were using PEDs in the early 1990’s while I was in school.  The reasoning was for competitive advantage and that minuscule hope of hitting it big in a major sport.  The ugly truth of PEDs were virtually unknown to many of us during my high school days.  I never played organized sports seriously or even very long, so there was no allure for me to use PEDs.  However, I understood why others did.  Their hero, their idol used them and that was the only motivation needed.

I know how easily hero worship can develop in a young mind, especially one with an overpowering cocktail of my genes running through his little body and mind.  My son is not old enough to understand any of the details surrounding this case and I am confident he knows nothing about it.  But, what do you say when your child does understand?  How do you prepare your children for disappointment that will surely come as they look up to these so-called heroes?

I cannot protect my children from every evil in this world, but I can prepare them to deal with it as Scripture commands.  One of the greatest lessons we try to teach our children is honesty.  The truth does hurt sometimes, but it is always, without exception, the best policy.  Merely being honest for honesty’s sake would be difficult, and I do not believer virtue for only virtue’s sake is biblical.  We teach honesty because God is truth (Deu. 32:4) and His law is truth (Psa. 117:2).  Bound within the Godhead is absolute truth and when we strive for truth we are striving to bear the image from which we were created–God.

Superstars will rise and fall in the world of Major League Baseball.  Our era will no doubt see the rise of stars faster, stronger, better equipped, and more thoroughly trained than any of their predecessors.  Long-standing records will be toppled and previously unheard of stats will be recorded for future generations.  In the end, the records and statistics are nothing more than numbers.  Sure, they lead us down memory lane and bring smile to our face as we remember the legendary player or an unforgettable game.  Yet, what are numbers against the backdrop of eternity?

A blog post about the Zimmerman trial?  I know dear readers, you are accustomed to being on the cutting edge of blog topics!  I do not think anything I write today will necessarily bring anything new to the debate table.  Yet, this post has more to do with working through my own personal interpretations of the Zimmerman trial than it does with changing anyone’s mind on the topic.

I have purposely waited a week to collect my thoughts and attempt to approach the problem with new eyes.  I must admit that I am as flawed as any other person on earth, admittedly more so on many issues, so my initial reaction to things is not always correct.  To be more plain, I struggle with reacting in the flesh rather than in the Holy Spirit.  I am a sinner saved by the grace of God, and sometimes the old nature has a way of making an appearance, especially in my reactions to the mainstream media.

I admit my flaws so that anyone reading this will not assume my personal opinion holds anymore weight than another.  I must also admit my bias before I continue.  I loathe the state of the modern media.  Loathe is perhaps not strong enough a word to describe my distaste for the practices of the day.  I have always believed, and continue to believe, journalism is to be as non-biased as humanly possible.  I qualified that statement with “as humanly possible” for a reason.  I am aware we all carry bias in our sinful hearts.  I feel the modern media has forgone the balanced approach to news and chosen sides on the right and left.  As such, I have no confidence in the media narratives from right or left on the matter.

Oh well, no use lamenting that which I cannot change, so I will end my digression and move onward to the topic at hand.

By now, if you do not know the names George Zimmerman or Trayvon Martin, I want to welcome you back to planet earth, particular these United States.  I say that because the only plausible reason you have not heard these names is you are an alien visitor or you were abducted by the aforementioned aliens and have just been teleported back to a cow pasture in Kansas after a one year captivity in a space ship.

The new law of the internet says that anytime you mention an alien, you must post a picture of this guy.

The new law of the internet says that anytime you mention an alien, you must post a picture of this guy.

I will not take the time to recap the entire story, you can find that here.  I will say that on July 13, 2013, George Zimmerman was found not guilty by a jury of his peers in the 2nd degree murder of Trayvon Martin.  It has been a topic of discussion over the past month and continues to be a divisive subject for many.  While my typical writing voice with such posts is serious with a splash of humor, from this point forward in the post I will abstain from my usual behavior due to the nature of the subject matter.

I feel I also must preface the following discussion with a disclaimer of intent.  I do not know, as I will elaborate later, what happened on February 26, 2012.  I have no strong opinion to either Martin or Zimmerman, the left or the right, prosecution or defense, etc.  My opinions in this piece are more geared towards the systems that surround us as a civilized people.  It asks for us to make a visible line of demarcation between flawed human perceptions and perfect spiritual truth.

The key problem with the outcome of the trial was the cries of derision at the jury’s decision.  The reactions came from a plethora of sources such as your usual race-baiters Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton, from pro-athlethes, from pop stars, and every one that runs the gamut in between.  My Facebook feed was littered with family members, friends, and acquaintances on multiple sides of ethnicity, gender, and financial class, opining on the case.  There were cries of a corrupt judicial system or miscarriages of justice on one hand, and as you can imagine, there were cheers of support for a smooth trial and a right verdict.  This is where the case of mistaken identity has arisen.

We have adopted the wrong idea about secular justice, the American Justice System specifically.  Too many people believe that secular justice and truth are synonymous with one another.  They are not.  American justice aspires to lofty goals of equality, truth, and the defense of human rights.  These goals are not always attainable under the man-made system of law.  The American judicial system is administered by fallen judges, tried by imperfect lawyers, and decided by errant jurists.  As a system it is subject to decay and after years of degradation it becomes an anemic shell of its foundational principles.  On a human level, justice does not equate truth, the two can operate exclusive of one another in this fallen society and often times do.  We know this because innocent men have been imprisoned and guilty men have gone free.

The masses cry for justice, yet they do not always want the truth!

Pontius Pilate famously asked, “What is truth?” after Jesus declared to the pontiff His reason for coming into the world (John 18:37-38).  There are no shortages of answers in regards to truth.  For this reason, skeptics have declared “truth” to be subjective.  I write from a Christian perspective, so I accept truth is personified in Jesus Christ (John 14:6).  Secularists would disagree with my assessment, and my answer to them is write your own blog!  Truth comes forward throughout the pages of Scripture.  Jesus declares that worship must be performed “in spirit and in truth (John 4:23-24).  He declared Himself “truth” (see 14:6 above).  Jesus prayed to the Father for his disciples’ sanctification by godly “truth” (John 17:17).  Jesus’ claims point to truth being found in God alone.  This concept of truth’s divine source is supported through Scripture (Exo. 34:6; Deut. 32:4; Psa. 43:3; 119:142).

So what is the conclusion to the matter?  I do not think there will ever be a conclusion as long as both sides are embroiled in a quest for justice.  Justice is flawed despite humanity’s best efforts to the contrary.  The only recourse is truth.  The problem with truth is our limited capacity to know truth because we are finite beings.  There is truth, free from media spin, personal feelings, and political agendas in the Zimmerman-Martin ordeal.  The question remains whether the truth of the matter will be revealed.

I pray for Trayvon Martin’s family.  It is not the natural order of the world for parents to bury their children.  The situation is compounded by the tragic events of February 26, 2012.  Regardless of your personal perception of Trayvon Martin’s life, he was a young man that died before having experienced many of the wonders of life.  It happens far too frequently in our world and it is no respecter of race, gender, or social status.  Whatever your perception of Trayvon Martin’s character, good or bad, the fact remains he has no more opportunity to add unto or to take away from it.  A life has been lost and this is a true tragedy.

I know the statistics of murder among juveniles, black on black crime, and dozens of other tragic events that plague humanity.  I find people spout off such statistics as if the numbers somehow excuse or over-shadow individual events such as this one.  All these events are horrific, yet we cannot miss the tree for the forest.

I pray for George Zimmerman.  I do not know the thoughts that were running through his head on that fateful night.  I do not know if he left his vehicle with genuine concern for his personal safety and that of his neighbors.  I do not know if he exited with malice in his heart.  I do not know what unfolded between Trayvon Martin and George Zimmerman that winter night.  Who was the aggressor and who was the defender? From Zimmerman’s own admission, he discharged his pistol and this resulted in the death of Martin.  Sadly, this is the only truth we know for certain.  Was he justified in the use of deadly force?  According to a jury of his peers, the answer is yes.  Justice spoke and it declared George Zimmerman innocent in the 2nd degree murder of Trayvon Martin.  Was truth revealed in the jury’s decision?  Zimmerman is the only living person that knows with any certainty.

With such uncertainty, in what or whom can we trust?  Our legal system has its limitations.  Our ability to know truth is hindered by our own finite existence.  It is because of this uncertainty that I trust Jesus.  It is because I am finite that I place my trust in an infinite God.  Justice will be served one day because truth, glorious absolute truth, will be revealed in the Lord Jesus Christ.

Revelation 20:11-13

“And I saw a great white throne, and him that sat on it, from whose face the earth and the heaven fled away; and there was found no place for them. And I saw the dead, small and great, stand before God; and the books were opened: and another book was opened, which is the book of life: and the dead were judged out of those things which were written in the books, according to their works. And the sea gave up the dead which were in it; and death and hell delivered up the dead which were in them: and they were judged every man according to their works.”

The First Storm, Part 1

I have been meaning to update my blog for many weeks, but as some of you know, life has taken a few unexpected turns since the latter part of April.  I will do my best to relate some of those events in the most chronological order that I can recall them.

First of all, my wife and I welcomed our third child into the world on April 25, 2013.  This was a glorious occasion, but unfortunately it was 5 weeks ahead of schedule.  Samuel turned out to be fine, spending only a few days in the Special Care Nursery due to blood sugar and body temperature issues.  He is doing great as I write this and is enjoying some quality time with grandparents in West Virginia.  The fact that our newborn child is currently in another state while his mother and I are not probably lends itself to some unfortunate foreshadowing.

At the onset of the pregnancy, Leah had severe morning sickness.  This was soon followed by high blood pressure.  This was our first clue that baby number 3 was going to be a boy.  Leah had high blood pressure with our first but nothing with our second.  The only difference . . . number one was a boy and number two was a girl.  Due to Leah’s age, which she is not embarrassed to share but I will be scared discreet, we were recommended from a regular OBGYN office to one that specialized in high risk pregnancies.

Our first sign of trouble with Samuel came around week 20 of the pregnancy.  All issues had been normal up to that point.  We had traveled this same road twice before, so all of the landmarks were familiar to us.  Leah made it through the morning sickness of the first month and the onset of fatigue starting about the tenth week.  During the twentieth week visit, we were given the news that our third was most certainly a boy!  We were also informed that Leah had a condition known as placenta previa.  There was also a small calcium deposit discovered in Samuel’s heart, which we were informed was a soft marker for Down’s syndrome (DS, henceforth).

As you can imagine, we left that doctor’s appointment stressed and uncertain about the future.  My wife’s first two pregnancies were not without their problems, but there was nothing on this level of shock and awe that so quickly deflated our sails and had us turning to God for answers.  We did feel the need, while in the doctor’s office, to make our intentions clear that no matter the risk of DS or any other complications that termination of pregnancy was NOT an option.

There will be some readers who will believe mentioning abortion in this context is not necessary; however, I believe our [my wife and I] personal experiences, including this last pregnancy argue otherwise.  Let me explain in a bit more detail.  My wife’s first two pregnancies were normal for all intents and purposes.  There were no major complications and no implications that there would be any problems with our children prior to birth or afterwards.  In each instance, we were advised by someone on staff of our options for abortion should anything be wrong with the life growing inside of Leah.  These special talks and options became so persistent during Leah’s second pregnancy that we finally had to tell the staffers that we did not wish to hear anymore about terminating the pregnancy under any circumstance.

With such trials during healthy pregnancies, the onslaught of reminders for termination or tests to insure a healthy baby was nearly deafening.   We were of course concerned about our child’s health and future, but none of these concerns were ever tempered with a thought of termination.  Doctors asked us to speak to a geneticist to determine our chances for a DS birth and even more options for termination or intervention.  We refused on the grounds that regardless of the chances for DS, abortion was never going to be an option we were going to choose.  Much to our chagrin, we were forced to meet with the geneticist anyway.  Leah’s chances for a DS birth were determined to be 1:175.

At this point and as an aside to the current post, I must admit that I have to fight off nausea when I think about the children that have been murdered because there was the slightest chance of DS or other genetic disorder.  How many have been murdered because they did not fit the world’s view of normal or better yet socially acceptable?

Anyway, after the twentieth week ultrasound and check up, we are scheduled for another ultrasound to check for the possibility of another condition known as placenta accreta.  This condition was much more serious and little did we know how it was going to shape the coming months of our lives.

Equal in Name Only

Every once in a while you come across something so disgusting and disturbing you can’t help but comment on it. The title of the article was, ‘So What if Abortion Ends Life?’ (Mary E. Williams; Slate Magazine). The title says it all and I refuse to link to her article on personal grounds that it is not for the weak of heart or anyone with any ounce of humanity left in them.

The argument I heard for years from my liberal friends was a fetus was not an a child. I DISAGREED whole-heartedly, but I thought to myself, ‘I can understand why one can be pro-choice if they believe that premise.’ I am aware that we all have different world views that shape our outlook and opinions on life, and I have come to accept that not everyone’s world view will gel with my own personal view. I am okay with that premise to the degree that I recognize other people’s world views, but at the same time, I can disagree with another’s world view.

This current article shows a new trend, one that was expressed by Joe Biden during the vice presidential debates — ‘Life begins at conception, but who cares!’ The basic premise is that an unborn child is ACTUAL HUMAN LIFE, but it is not equal life. Sounds vaguely familiar, but where have I heard that before . . .

“Representatives and direct Taxes shall be apportioned among the several States which may be included within this Union, according to their respective Numbers, which shall be determined by adding to the whole Number of free Persons, including those bound to Service for a Term of Years, and excluding Indians not taxed, three fifths of all other Persons.”

Yes, this is the 3/5th Compromise (Article 1, Section 2, Paragraph 3 of the United States Constitution), which has thankfully been nullified by the 13th Amendment. However, before its nullification, it stated that slaves were only counted as 3/5ths of a person when determining representation for slave states.

Opponents will argue this article of the Constitution did not equate black slaves as less than human, but I would respectfully argue that it takes a special type of disregard for your fellow man/woman/child to consider them property with no human rights instead of people, but I digress. Okay, I won’t digress just yet. Read the accounts of former slave Frederick Douglass and others like him, then come back to me and tell me how the slave owners truly valued the humanity of those they oppressed.

I will abstain from calling Pro-Choicers the new Pro-Slavery movement, but only for a short time.  Sadly, unlike the slaves of old who could voice their discontent or gain their freedom, the aborted have no such luxury.

Following is the beginning to a study I have started with my congregation at Grace Bible Church.  I will be preaching through the epistle in the weeks to come.  I plan to post those completed sermon notes and thoughts on this blog in the hopes that it will be of help to my brothers and sisters in Christ who do not attend Grace Bible Church in Gloucester, Virginia.  I will note sources as I use them, but just in case I miss any documentation my key sources will be the following list of books, which will be supplemented with various theological journals as I progress through the series.

Carson, D. A. and Douglas J. Moo, An Introduction to the New Testament, Grand Rapids:  Zondervan Publishing, 2005.

Fee, Gordon D.  The First Epistle to the Corinthians. The New International Commentary on the New Testament. Grand Rapids:  Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing, 1987.

Garland, David E.  1 Corinthians.  Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament.  Robert W. Yarbrough and Robert H. Stein, editors.  Grand Rapids:  Baker Academic Publishing, 2003.

Thiselton, Anthony C.  The First Epistle to the Corinthians.  The New International Greek Testament Commentary.  Grand Rapids:  Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing, 2000.

Author

Apostle Paul (1:1)

Audience

Corinthian Believers (1:2)

Purpose and Date of Writing

The epistle was written approximately AD 54 while Paul was at Ephesus.  Paul’s purpose is multifaceted, yet generally speaking, the letter addresses the application of progressive sanctification in a carnal world.  Or to frame it as a question, how can spiritual people live and thrive in a hostile and carnal world?

Corinth—City

  • The foundation of ancient Corinth is dated circa 900 BC.
  • After a rebellion, Rome destroyed the city in 146 BC.
  • Julius Caesar re-colonized the city in 44 BC.  It is this Roman colony that will be the backdrop for the Apostle Paul’s visit to Corinth.
  • With its key location on the Corinthian Isthmus, the city quickly flourished to become a commercial and political powerhouse in the region.
    • It controlled over-land trade between Italy and Asia.
    • The city bridged the Peloponnese to the Greek mainland.
    • Corinth was the home of the Isthmusian Games (an athletic contest second only to the ancient Olympics).

Commentator Gordon Fee says, “Paul’s Corinth was at once the New York, Los Angeles, and Las Vegas of the ancient world.” 

Corinth—People

  • The city was re-colonized by Roman “freedmen” and tradesmen.
  • There was no landed aristocracy in Corinth since it was previously destroyed by Roman forces in 146 BC.
  • Due to the cities commercial success, the rich became the unofficial nobles in the city.
  • Evidence shows that while the city was located in Greece, practices were dominantly Roman at their core.

The people of Corinth had a famous reputation in the ancient world.  Unfortunately, it was not a virtuous reputation.  The Greek writer Aristophanes (446  – 386 BC) coined the term korinthiazo [kori,qiazw] or “to act a Corinthian” which meant to commit fornication.

Corinth—Religion

  • 2ND century traveler Pausanias describes Corinth as having 26 “sacred places” referring to temples, groves, and possibly synagogues.
  • The Roman/Greek pantheon was extremely popular in the city with temples to Apollo (wisdom), Poseidon (sea), and Asclepius (healing).  A large temple to Aphrodite also rested upon the mount known as the Acrocorinth, but there is debate as to whether it was still in use during Paul’s visit to the city.
  • Since Corinth acted as a bridge between East and West, it was a melting pot for beliefs from both regions.  The mystic religions of Egypt and the Far East found their way into the city, as well as the Roman Imperial cult (emperor worship).

How is 1 Corinthians Relevant for the 21ST Century?

  • Status inconsistency – great division between rich and poor
  • Religious Pluralism—many religions claiming to hold the “truth”
  • Cosmopolitan immigration and commercial trade—culture wars
  • Priority in market forces in business and rhetoric—money was king
  • Emphasis on recognition and perception of honor and shame within a socially constructed world—spin doctoring in the ancient world

I was recently seated in the foyer of a local business waiting for my wife.  I take it upon myself to attempt to do something constructive while I am waiting such as playing Angry Birds or resisting the urge to play Angry Birds.  On this particular day, playing won out over resisting, so I found myself seated in an inconspicuous corner of the foyer, out of the way and unnoticed by those around me.

Safely out of the way and ignored, I was free to mind my own business and play my game.  My ninja-like abilities to hide must be greater than I ever imagined because two workers soon began having a conversation near me.  I was startled at first, thinking one of them was talking to me.  It turns out the two employees were oblivious to my presence or worse yet, apathetic.

Once the usual pleasantries were out of the way, the workers began to discuss their jobs.  I have to stress at this point that I was not ease-dropping on these individuals.  I was merely sitting in close proximity to them as they had their conversation.  In truth, I was conflicted as to whether staying put or awkwardly slipping away was the right course of action.  I tried to tune them out.  It worked for the most part, but I did come away with a few impressions.

  • Both seemed to dislike their jobs
  • Both seemed to dislike their co-workers
  • Both seemed to question their supervisor’s motives and parentage

They spoke of much more, yet I was able to block it out and focus on my game.  To protect the innocent and the business in question, I will not disclose names.  The point of this post is not to bash the business or the workers.  I also feel the need to point out that I did not listen to this conversation in context, nor did I try to piece together a psycho-analysis for these two employees.  I was in the wrong place at the wrong time and overheard two disgruntled workers venting to one another.  Okay, I feel now that I have put in the right amount of disclaimers, on to the rest of the post!

My wife soon arrived and I forgot about the conversation as I spent time with my family.  It was not until we were traveling home that the day’s events came back to me.  It came back to me because my wife and I were having an “adult” conversation with one another in our mini-van (adult conversation is anything that does not involve a Disney or Nickelodeon character).  As we are having this discussion, my son chimes in with his four year old expert opinion on the matter.  Even though I had personally strapped him into a car seat and was well aware he and his sister were directly behind us in the van, I had forgotten they were there as I talked with my wife.

My initial thought was to review the conversation.  Did I say something bad?  Were we talking about a topic that was going to take me hours to explain at home?  My wife and I are so careful to shield our children from the wrong influences, and I’ll be the first to admit sometimes we may err too far to the side of caution.  But, we know that once that innocence and wonder of childhood is lost, there is not going back.  Did I just ruin years of protecting him with a thoughtless word?

Neither my wife nor I have a coarse tongue.  Though my childhood was steeped in profanities from adults and children alike, it is not a habit that fit in with my commitment to Christ, so after great growing pains in the grace of my Lord, I left it behind.  However, when it comes to the tongue, vulgarity is not the only issue.

Does my tone or humor offend and become a hindrance to the Gospel.  Am I overly critical of my wife, my children, or my congregation?  My humor tends to lean toward sarcasm and satire, but is it creating a barrier between me and those around me?

Former pastors and teachers have told me for years to guard my tongue.  I have even preached from my own pulpit on the benefit of guarding the tongue and the dangers of a loose tongue.  James is right on target when he says, “But the tongue no man can tame; it is an unruly evil, full of deadly poison” (Jas. 3:8).  The Apostle Peter was also concerned about the tongue, urging believers, “For he that will love life, and see good days, let him refrain his tongue from evil, and his lips that they speak no guile” (1 Pet. 3:10).

As I thought about my words and searched the Bible for answers, I came across Paul’s instruction to the Ephesians, “Let no corrupt communication proceed out of your mouth, but that which is good to the use of edifying, that it may minister grace unto the hearers” (Eph. 4:29).  The term corrupt means something that is putrid and of no use.  It carries with it the imagery of rotting fish or fruit.  For anyone that has had the displeasure of being assaulted with such odors, the meaning is clear.

So be mindful of what you say and how you say it.  Do not let your speech be reminiscent of rotting fish.  You never know when a portly shepherd with ninja-like abilities is hiding in a corner!

I lost faith in the human race many moons ago.  It was not a strong faith, but more akin to the faith of that “Christian” whom can only bring himself or herself to church on Easter and Christmas.  As such, I have stopped asking some questions about popular culture.  I no longer care when and where trends begin.  I have no desire to know who or what a “Snooki” is and even less desire to tweet or blog about it (or him or her).

It is not that I have no interest in American culture, particularly the culture in which I live.  The exact opposite is true.  I love culture and the nuances of customs from one age to another (I cite this previous post as an example).  However, I do not believe we can call the current trends “culture” per se.  The collective secular populace suffers from ADHD in regards to culture to such a degree that Andy Warhol’s “15 minutes of fame” quip is a gross over-estimation.  According to James, life is a vapor that is here for a short time and then vanishes (Jas. 4:14).  If that is true of life, what unit of measure can we apply to these modern day memes that disappear more rapidly than a wisp of smoke?

One of the newer memes is YOLO or “you only live once.”  Comedian Jack Black refers to it as, “Carpe Diem for stupid people.”  While I find Mr. Black’s comment funny, I think it is categorically wrong.  Carpe Diem (Lat. “Seize the Day”) gives the impression of productive ambition.  It has long been the motto of optimists that desire to live each moment to the fullest.

On the other hand, YOLO appears to be the maxim of recklessness and poor decision-making.  The equivalent to a redneck, “Hey ya’ll watch this” moment in which you have no idea what is about to happen, but you are sure it is going to end with a trip to the emergency room or county jail.  YOLO turns a mirror upon the current state of American “culture” and it is not a pretty reflection.

The only draw back is you have to empty the lint filter after every trip.

YOLO shows how quickly the youth of our age (and granted even adults who refuse to embrace maturity and personal responsibility) will latch onto a philosophical idea without investing one iota of thought to its application.  I fully expect such reckless behavior from the secular world (1 Cor. 2:11-12).  I stand in slack-jawed awe though when those who claim to know the Lord Jesus Christ as their personal Savior adopt such drivel as a personal mantra.

The defense against me is plain, “It is just a harmless motto.  There is no reason to get so worked up about it.”  To hold such a position is to claim words are not important.  And, I just happen to disagree with that premise.  Words are important.  If words were not important, I would be out of a job as would a countless number of others who rely upon either the spoken word or written word for their livelihood.

While I do believe words are important, it is a matter of degree. Words lose their power when they are the tools of vitriolic media personalities with a side of delusional.

If words are not important, you have no reason to be upset the next time someone calls you a disrespectful name.  If words are not important, the next “I love you” spoken by your significant other is meaningless.  If words mean nothing, why have you read this far into a pointless rant?  But, the name-calling did hurt, that “I love you” melted your heart, and you are still reading because you believe what I believe—words are important!

Behind all words is an underlying philosophy.  At times, the philosophy is camouflaged by an emotional energy that blinds us to its true intent.  Other times, it is veiled under a superfluity of fanciful words and stylistic phrases that take our breath away, all the while shielding the idealistic under-pinning that gives it support.  YOLO is more the former, relying upon the emotional experience to cover up its poisonous intent.

I find YOLO offensive on two counts.  First, it is a blatant contradiction to the clear teachings of Scripture.  Jesus said, “Except a man be born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God” (John 3:3).  Jesus opening statement to Nicodemus has already created a titanic sized hole in the good ship YOLO.  If Jesus is correct (and I’m confident He is), then you can live twice!  Second, YOLO is the outcome of society’s disregard for personal accountability.  The argument is that existence itself and the perceived singleness of this existence is the only rationale one needs to set aside conscience and good behavior.

With such logic, we can justify even the most heinous of crimes.  If YOLO is our only absolute, nothing is out of bounds.  For some YOLO is a means of justifying destructive behavior that is harmful to self and others.  I suspect for the majority of people it is a process of dealing with the guilt that often comes with doing something wrong.  By saying YOLO, they are slipping into the cultural stream of complacency and the false “everyone else is doing it” mentality.

I cannot say with any certainty that as much thought went into YOLO as I have put into its deconstruction today.  However, that is the key issue with personal philosophy, especially among the general populace.  Personal philosophy has a way of digging its way to the surface without any coaxing.  We may be oblivious to our world view, having given little thought to it, yet to our thoughtful observers, it is a beam in our eye (Luke 6:42).

So how do we move away from such a destructive philosophy?  The key issue is source material.  What are we using as the basis for our beliefs?  If one thinks man is the measure of all things, this humanistic thinking will be the framework for all areas of life.  If Scripture is the guidebook of life it will mold the believer into an image that is an embodiment of its principles and practice—e.g. Jesus Christ (Rom. 8:29).  So, while you may shout YOLO from the roof tops, which is your human right.  I pray and hope it is not true of you.  Whereas it is true YOLO outside of Jesus Christ, I can assure you on the testimony of God’s Word, You Can Die Twice (Rev. 2:11; 20:6, 14; 21:8).

The Maasai tribe, found in parts of Kenya and Tanzania, greet one another by spitting.  When greeting elders, tradition demands a tribesman must spit upon his hand before offering a handshake, thus showing respect.  Men even spit on newborns and fathers spit upon their daughters at weddings.  I have attended many weddings, and while I recall many father’s sobbing as they gave their little girls away, I have never seen one spit upon his daughter.

The Toraja, meaning “People of the Uplands,” are a group that live in mountainous regions of South Sulawesi, Indonesia.  By all accounts, they are fascinated with death.  Funerals in the Torajan tradition are luxuriant events that would more closely resemble the fanfare and pageantry of Mardi Gras than the average American’s vision of a burial.  Noblemen have the more elaborate ceremonies that can last for several days.  For the poor, funerals can be postponed for days, months, even years as the family collects enough money for the event.  In the meantime, the deceased is wrapped in cloth and placed under the family home.  It is believed his or her spirit remains with the family until the funeral celebration and he or she then departs for the afterlife.

Both of these events seem very odd to me.  I do not wish for anyone to spit upon me, and I most certainly did not want a doctor or nurse spitting on my children when they came into this world.  However, these are the traditions of the Maasai and Toraja tribes.  From all the accounts I read, the Torajan rites are a wonder to behold.  I can, from afar and comfortably in front of my computer, respect the traditions of these peoples from Africa and South Pacific Isles.

I think of my own family traditions which may seem odd to other people, especially those not familiar with American culture.  I remember my great grandmother making all of us eat black-eyed peas and collard greens every New Year’s Day.  A single new penny was cooked along with the black-eyed peas and good fortune was supposed to be with the lucky recipient throughout the year.  It is not a tradition that I have brought with me into my own family.  My wife and I are in the process of creating our own family traditions.  We certainly give homage to those before us and even incorporate many from our past into the lives of our children such as family devotions, personal quiet time, and even reading the Nativity on Christmas morning.  If Clemson and West Virginia play one another on a regular basis in the college football season, we will add the tradition of awkward silence in the week following the game (FYI:  It was my year to wear sackcloth after the Orange Bowl).

Traditions make us feel comfortable and connected.  We feel comfortable because we are familiar with what is happening around us.  We feel connected to those with whom we share traditions, whether they are family or friends.  I fully support both of those elements!  Who doesn’t want to be comfortable?  With exception of that crazed uncle your family whispers about, everyone seeks to make a connection with those around them.  Traditions give us both.

There has been a great emphasis upon “traditional values” over the past few weeks.  In truth, the cultural wars of conservatism versus liberalism have been waged in varying degrees for millennia.  The recent firestorm erupted over an American CEO’s honest response to a question concerning marriage.  I have no desire to rehash all of the clichéd accusations and assertions from the Right or the Left on the issue.  But it made me question, what are traditional values?

As I have shared, traditions vary from country to country, culture to culture, and family to family.  The ever-flowing streams of time take their toll upon all things.  Once mighty statues are worn smooth and nations rise and fall.  What is rejected by one generation is embraced by another.  And yes, even traditions come and go as the years rush forward.  With such wide variances of peoples, cultures, and traditions, the concept of absolutes appear unattainable.  Or at least absolutes are unattainable if I confine myself to these fluctuating models of people, culture, and tradition.

  • Job 23:13 – “But he is in one mind, and who can turn him? and what his soul desireth, even that he doeth.”
  • Psalm 33:11 – “The counsel of the LORD standeth for ever, the thoughts of His heart to all generations.”
  • Malachi 3:6a – “For I am the LORD, I change not; . .”
  • Hebrews 13:6 – “Jesus Christ the same yesterday, and today, and forever.”
  • James 1:17 – “Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, and cometh down from the Father of lights, with whom is no variableness, neither shadow of turning.”

I could go on for quite some time citing the many Bible verses that speak of God’s immutability.  What is immutability you ask?  A. W. Pink defines it best when he states, “It is one of the excellencies of the Creator which distinguishes Him from all His creatures. God is perpetually the same: subject to no change in His being, attributes, or determinations.”  In short, God is not tossed to and fro in the various streams of human culture and tradition.

As a Christian, I take hope in God’s immutability.  Positively, I know God’s promises are guaranteed because He is unchanging.  Negatively, I know that God’s warnings are true for the same reason.  The blessings and judgments of God are not based upon what is trendy or politically correct.  He is not swayed by popular opinion or boycotts.  Only He can say, “I AM THAT I AM” (Exod. 3:14).

Traditional values?  I don’t know how to define traditional values.  Those elements that are en vogue today may be socially unacceptable tomorrow.  I have heard the cries already, “You’re just a traditionalist.  You have to change with the times.”  In some instances, this cry is correct.  I enjoy the fact that plumbing has moved indoors and I can drive from one city to another without the need to nurse saddle sores for my effort.  However, when it comes to the Word of God, there is no room for variance on those principles that are as immutable as the God that spoke them.  So for those of you that have branded me a traditionalist or one who fights for traditional values, you’ve got me all wrong!  I don’t support traditional values.  I support biblical values!