Wednesday, December 30, 2015

Animal Control Comes A Callin': An Exercise in Soft Tyranny

  For those of you who don't know, we live on multiple acres  on a dirt road in a very rural area.  Our town technically doesn't exist, and  all our mail is postmarked the next town over. We have a quasi-farm populated, from time to time, with chickens, and ducks, and wild rabbits, and dogs and a pony.   The pony, as you will see, is very important.
  Even though we live out in the middle of nowhere outside the city limits of anybody, we have a recurring problem; animal control.  The entire time we have lived there, animal control has taken an unusual interest in us. For example, we had a old beagle that would wander off the property and spend her days in the 25 acres of woods directly next to us.  Sometimes she would visit a family on the  far end of the woods who would hand-feed her chicken strips and corn chips.  This beagle was picked up by animal control, and we were hit with a charge of 'failure to restrain a viscous animal' and an almost $300 dollar fine.  Due to conflicting  schedules, and an inflexible court date, we paid the fine and six months later, that 'viscous animal' had died of old age.  Meanwhile, dogs run free among our sparse neighbors and as long as they aren't killing chickens or tearing stuff up, everybody else is content to live and let live. In fact, the desire to be left alone is what most of my neighbors all have in common.
 But, as I was saying..the pony.  The pony has proven to be quite the lighting rod for animal control over the last several years. Three or four times a year they would stop by unannounced by in the middle of the day, and conduct 'wellness checks' on our animals, especially the pony.  They would usually issue us a warning  concerning some perceived discrepancy but yet they have never had enough justification to go any further. For example, a few years back we were told that our pony was 'underweight' (without a vet being consulted or a scale being used) and that we had  just a few weeks to get him back up to his proper weight or further action would be taken.  This further action would include fines, court appearances, and  the seizure of said animal.  Over the next several weeks we changed absolutely nothing in how we treated this animal, and when the officer returned , the pony was pronounced to be greatly improved.  This scenario has played itself out 3 or 4 times in the last  3 or 4 years, and the end result is always the same; a warning and then no further legal action.  From a  a paperwork standpoint, it looks like animal control is really making us toe the line, but in reality, it is harassment and hasn't changed our actions in the slightest.
  Recently we had another visit from the newest AC officer who told us that someone in the neighborhood was 'concerned ' that the pony was, once again, underweight. In fact, this officer in particular seemed to know that he was specifically 50 lbs underweight.  The officer spoke to my wife and issued a warning, then asked to  see our dog. When we told her the beagle had passed on, the officer asked to see our new dog.  The officer examined our puppy and  proclaimed him to be the very picture of health.   Of course the officer did that AFTER my wife showed  the clean bill of health he had from the vet. A warning was issued for the horse and the officer left, promising to return.
  She did return, albeit while we were not home, and left a note on our door that simply said 'call me'.  My wife and daughter get distraught every time this happens, so I called the officer back and we had  a guarded  but pleasant conversation.  I elected to offer no new information, and she told me what I was doing wrong.  She said she had measured the  pony in our absence and , sure enough, he was about 50 lbs underweight. Keep in mind to do this she had to not only access our property in our absence, but had to enter the horses'  pen, which is chained shut. I was told I was 'under investigation' for neglect and the dire consequences were repeated. I instructed this officer that it was my preference that she deal directly with me and  limit her visits to when I was home, since the actions of her office were causing family distress.  Her 'recommendations' for the pony included exorbitant amounts of veterinary care in order to avoid neglect charges. I asked the officer, quite directly, how long we could expect her repeated intrusions onto our property and she said "as long as it takes" to close out the investigation and insure the pony's health.
  You may ask how is all this possible? How can an animal control officer just stomp around our property, and climb into our horse pen while we are gone?  Well, in my state, the  AC department is given carte blanche under state law. They can appear with or without a complaint , with or without probable cause.  They can write up anything they can see, including things not related to animal control which can then be forwarded to other agencies. Unless your property is completely fenced in with a padlocked gate, they can come in.  I spoke to several horse owners who had been harassed by the agency in our county, and rumor has it that previous officers had been relieved for seizing horses who were 'underweight'. The seized horses would be adopted by the officers as 'rescue animals' and eventually resold for a profit. One horse owner in particular had to not only  gate their entire property and padlock it at all times, but had to install a privacy fence since officers were making their reports from the roadside.
  So, just a few days after that phone call, we gave the pony away.  I don't know that we really had a choice. It was either live in  dread that a country truck could drop by at any moment, or relocate the animal to a good home with other  horses.  It really was a win-win for both parties and with one less lightning rod at our little farm, maybe  they will leave us alone.  Maybe.

Friday, December 18, 2015

The Scariest Song in the World

Among the  host of insipid holiday songs that are played on an endless loop in every public square until the listener slowly goes insane is a chipper little ditty called "Santa Claus is Coming to Town", whose lyrics go something like this:

You better watch out
You better not cry
Better not pout
I'm telling you why
Santa Claus is coming to town

He's making a list
And checking it twice
Gonna find out Who's naughty and nice
Santa Claus is coming to town

He sees you when you're sleeping
He knows when you're awake
He knows if you've been bad or good
So be good for goodness sake!

O! You better watch out!
You better not cry
Better not pout
I'm telling you why
Santa Claus is coming to town
Santa Claus is coming to town
Laying aside the soul-strangling tune that is no doubt bouncing around in your skull ( I apologize), lets just take a look at the words themselves. When we do, it becomes readily apparently that something hinky is going on at the North Pole.
  The very song itself begins with a warning as we are told "You'd better watch out, you'd better not cry". The listener is admonished to alter their behavior and alter it quickly. No matter what the  reason, no matter what the justification, a blanket clarion call against crying or pouting rings out!  The reason given is yet another grim warning ; "Santa Claus is coming to town".
  But why should the appearance of this ripe jolly old elf be of such concern for us? Why does the songwriter feel the need to  call out to us to straighten up our act?  The clue is laid in the very next verse; "He's making a list, and checking it twice." Old Chris Kringle apparently is intensely interested in the behavior of the citizens of the world to the point that he documents their behavior and  back-checks it for errors.  The next line is equally chilling ;"Gonna find out Who's naughty and nice"The  CEO of the North Pole doesn't appear to already know  who is 'naughty or nice', and therefore has to "find out". It's more than a little disturbing that, while the  song hints at the existence of some sort of vast intelligence-gathering apparatus deployed by Old Saint Nick, we aren't given any insight as to the parameters of what makes somebody naughty or what makes somebody nice.  Much like the NSA, Santa monitors and documents, but holds the means and methods close to his vest.

Thursday, December 17, 2015

Baptist Catholicism

"Paul, a servant of Jesus Christ, called to be an apostle, separated unto the gospel of God,
(Which he had promised afore by his prophets in the holy scriptures,) Concerning his Son Jesus Christ our Lord, which was made of the seed of David according to the flesh: And declared to be the Son of God with power, according to the spirit of holiness, by the resurrection from the dead: By whom we have received grace and apostleship, for obedience to the faith among all nations, for his name:Among whom are ye also the called of Jesus Christ:  To all that be in Rome, beloved of God, called to be saints: Grace to you and peace from God our Father, and the Lord Jesus Christ."  ROMANS 1:1-7
  In verse 1 Paul claims to have been "separated" unto the gospel. Are you? Before you answer, consider this: didn't God draw you unto himself according to John 6:44 and John 12:32 ?  Weren't you told later on in Romans 8 that, having been received of God, nothing could separate you from the love of Christ?  Weren't you told in Luke 6:22 that men would separate themselves from you as you followed Christ?  If you are saved, you are separated from whatever you were before ( Ephesians 2) and joined unto Christ while also being joined to every other believer. Paul isn't presenting himself as unique here, he is  stating what is true of every born-again person.
  But it doesn't stop there.  In verse 5 Paul claims to have "received grace".  Have you?  Paul says in the same verse that he "obeyed the faith" . Have you?  If so, then according to verse 6 you are among those who are "also called". Furthermore, in Romans 8:30, the Bible says "Moreover whom he did predestinate , them he also called : and whom he called , them he also justified : and whom he justified , them he also glorified ." Taking this verse at face value, we can determine that if you are "justified" by the propitiatory death, burial and resurrection of Jesus Christ, then you are also,among other things "called". The epistle isn't directed to the church leadership, but rather to the "saints".  A saved man or woman who argues against their 'calling' simply because they aren't in a position of leadership isn't heeding the scriptures. Paul , rather than highlighting what makes him different, speaks of those things that all saved people have in common.
  Looking at 1 Cor 3:1-9 we see an interesting attitude displayed. It says: "And I, brethren, could not speak unto you as unto spiritual, but as unto carnal, even as unto babes in Christ. I have fed you with milk, and not with meat: for hitherto ye were not able to bear it, neither  yet now are ye able. For ye are yet carnal: for whereas there is among you envying, and strife, and divisions, are ye not carnal, and walk as men?  For while one saith , I  am of Paul; and another, I am of Apollos; are ye not carnal? Who then is Paul, and who is Apollos, but  ministers by whom ye believed , even as the Lord gave to every man?  I have planted , Apollos watered ; but God gave the increase . So then neither is he that planteth any thing, neither he that watereth ; but God that giveth the increase . Now he that planteth and he that watereth are one: and every man shall receive his own reward according to his own labour. For we are labourers together with God: ye are God's husbandry, ye are God's building. "
  Paul was the apostle to the Gentiles. Paul was used of God to start churches and spread the gospel. Paul was used by God to wrote most of our New Testament. Despite all that, Paul , under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, refers to himself as nothing, and to his fellow laborers in the ministry as nothing. He considers himself just another laborer alongside those other saved people who are among "the called".  In this passage he strongly condemns the elevation of one minister over another as the 'red flag' of carnality and division. Equally divisive is the elevation of the minister over the people to whom he is  he is ministering .  Paul rejects any special treatment that people might want to  shower upon him or Apollos.  According to Paul we're all in this together and we are all equal.  If you are saved you are called. If you are called you are in the ministry. If you are in the ministry, you are nothing, but then again, so is everybody else.
  For the sake of balance, it is worth mentioning that Paul also said "Render therefore to all their dues: tribute to whom tribute is due; custom to whom custom; fear to whom fear; honour to whom honour" and then in 1 Timothy 5, among other places, lists  some people to whom honor is due. That list includes "elders that rule well....especially they who labour in the word and doctrine."  But when you look at Paul's writings over all, you see that he is  always trying to push that honor off of himself and onto his fellow laborers.  Paul always wants somebody else to get the credit with  Romans 16 being a prime example.
  We can conclude from all this that if man has the opportunity to minister (to the lost or the saved) and he does so under the conditions of special clothes ( robes, funny hats, etc) or special titles ('reverend' or 'rector, etc ') or special treatment (kiss my ring, obey my every whim, etc.), he is engaging in an unbiblical activity. It is scriptural for an elder who labors for the edification of others to be honored by the people he labors with, but it is not scriptural for that man to seek out or  demand such honor.
 By way of illustration,  there is a subculture of Christianity that exists  among independent Baptists in the southeastern United States.  In this subculture  the following scenario plays itself out over and over again. A young man will get 'called to preach' and from the moment he 'surrenders' he is regarded differently. He is now a 'man of God' and subject to different rules and expectations that your average run-of-the-mill church member. He is now part of a club, and in certain circles is expected to keep company with other 'men of God'.  None of that is harmful in and of itself, though I would take issue with the  exclusivity of it. If he isn't careful this young man will find himself laboring in fried chicken and golf clubs rather than "in the word and doctrine" because his chances to minister will depend on his ability to 'network' among his 'peers'.
  This young man, if he properly networks, might someday achieve the status of  'full time' in the ministry. He may work the circuit as an evangelist or maybe some little church will accept him as their pastor. Unless he grasps that he is nothing, he will begin to  regard the people he ministers with and the people he ministers to as not being on the same par as himself. This may be reinforced by some of his 'preacher buddies' who will assure him that those not similarly 'called' simply don't understand. 
  Some men catch themselves at this point and make a course correction, seeing the trap for what it is. Others plow ahead, dictating the lives of church members with positional authority as 'the man of God'. They tell the congregation that opposition to the pastoral agenda is opposition to God, and that God often kills those who push back against  'God's anointed'. Some of these men fight tooth and nail when dismissed by a congregation saying "God put me here and only God can remove me".  They cite their longevity in the ministry as  the authority by which they make proclamations outside of scripture. They regard themselves as being above correction or censure except by other members of the club.
 Outside of the pastorate men who travel the land  singing or preaching will lament (to fellow club members) how poorly they are treated financially by the people that they are supposed to be serving. Paul's position , by contrast, was "And I will very gladly spend and be spent for you; though the more abundantly I love you, the less I be loved."  Rather than suffering themselves to be defrauded as they give their lives for the brethren, they consider that the people of God owe them something.
  Under this culture honor is heaped, and received gladly. At camp meetings and the like,  aged ministers are sometimes seated in throne-like chairs on  the platform, while the common rabble are encouraged to come  pray before the 'old man of God' so that they (the rabble) might  someday experience 'the power of God'  like him. The people themselves often enable this behavior and somehow get the notion that this sinner with a suit has a better grasp on God than themselves.  Instead of seeing him as a co-laborer with some oversight responsibility, or as a valuable source of practical life-won experience, they see him almost as a mediator between them and God.  Men accept this reverence to their own hurt.
   At the end of the day, all of this behavior has its root in pride, it fails to grasp a very basic truth;  we are all the same. There is, in biblical Christianity, no clergy and laity.  There is no shepherd that is above the sheep, save the Good Shepherd. There is no priest class ( or pastor, or bishop, or reverend or archbishop) that is separate and above everyone else.  There are positions of oversight in the church, and there is authority that comes with that oversight, (and wisdom with experience whether that experience is earned or borrowed) but when ministers allow themselves to be elevated they are wrong.  Not only is it prideful, and hence satanic, but it strips the body of Christ of one of the great truths of the New Testament; we are all one in Christ and any saved person regardless of position or circumstance has as much access to God as any other saved person.  Anything less is thinly veiled Catholicism, whether we call it by that name or not.

Wednesday, December 2, 2015

The Tyranny of My Own Expectations

  A few months back, before my attention was diverted towards more weighty matters, I wrote a post entitled The Tyranny of Other People’s Expectations.  In that post, I tried to explain how I had allowed other people’s ideas or my perceptions of other people’s ideas to color how I handled my children when they were all toddlers. I  talked about how my desire to ‘get it right’ led to actions that weren’t necessarily unscriptural, but were ‘extra-scriptural’.  Out of all the things I had written, this got the most attention locally.  We were contacted by several people of our acquaintance, who claimed to be speaking for other people of our acquaintance, and told that we were wrong, stupid, bitter, apostate, a stumbling block to the body of Christ and horrible parents.  These spokespersons claimed to represent a legion of parents in our sphere of influence that for years had lamented, amongst themselves, our lack of parenting skills. I was left with the distinct impression that people whom we believed to be our friends were in reality merely enduring us and our rambunctious children.  My wife cried for days. Some of these people blocked my wife on Facebook; the modern equivalent of a shunning I suppose, and to this day many of them still will not talk to us or acknowledge our presence when we run into them out in town.
  I say this not to shame those people, although I do think the Judgment Seat of Christ will sort out a lot of those things.  I don’t say these things so that you, my beloved readers, will have one more spot of sadness in your heart. I say this so that my next comments have some context.
  I have 4 children ranging in age from 13 to 7.  When we were younger parents, there was a fellow in Tennessee whose parenting advice was all the rage.  He has a ministry that puts a newsletter out full of advice, most of which is pretty solid.  But what bothered me back then (and bothers me now) is that the newsletters were all chock full of anecdotal stories about him, his children and his grandchildren.  The common thread that ran through all these stories was the remarkable success they were enjoying by deploying his recommended methods.  In these stories all of his children and grandchildren were happy, and instantly obedient, and potty-trained at 6 months old.  All of his progeny loved Jesus and were excited about church all the time.  The children in these stories would save up their chore money to go on mission trips and were always ready to give an answer to every man of the hope that lied within them. These stories were submitted as ‘proof’ that he knew what he was talking about, and the understood sentiment was that if we merely followed these methods, we would get the same results.
  (By the way I don’t mean to single this fellow in Tennesee out. The  mom-blogosphere, for example is deluged with articles about ’10 Ways to Have  Happy Toddler’ and ‘9 ways to Make Your Children Enjoy Church’ and on and on and on.  But we mainly read behind this fellow from the Volunteer State.)
  Now let me tell you this, and you can believe it or not; we did all that.  I can honestly say that, as much as was in me, we were consistent and firm. We didn’t allow whining or backtalk. We used discipline. We held family devotions, we were all involved in ministry. We prayed for our kids and we prayed with our kids. We have always been a very Bible-centered house, with scripture underpinning every aspect of our lives.  As our children were able to understand we reasoned with them and showed them how the things written in that book applied to everyday life.   
  Now let me tell you how that turned out.  My children turned out to be human beings after all. They are moral kids, and better behaved than most but at the end of the day dear friends, flesh is flesh. Saved flesh is still flesh.  Well-trained flesh is still flesh, and tired flesh wants to whine, even if you don’t allow it, and covetous flesh wants to throw a fit even if you forbid it.  . Flesh doesn’t want to read the Bible, flesh doesn’t want to submit to authority.
  I think in our rush to produce ‘good kids’ we forget that the same struggles we have with our flesh our kids will have with theirs. Our job isn’t to crank out kids who always sit motionless in church, eyes fastened on the pastor. Our job is to train up human beings how to serve God in direct conflict with their own flesh.  Then, having equipped them for that battle, we have to be willing to let them fight that battle without assuming that the mere existence of a battle means we’ve failed.
  My oldest son does not like to read his Bible. My middle son gets mad at inappropriate times. My daughter can be selfish and whines when she’s tired. My youngest son is overly compulsive. All my kids are lazy sometimes.  That doesn’t mean that we are bad parents; it means we gave birth to human beings.  We didn’t fail; we aren’t even done yet.
  So as your brother in Christ let me encourage you to continue to fight the good fight, but not lose sight of what the fight actually is, and don’t let your own expectations ruin it all.