Juxtaposed

April 3, 2014

James does a great job of presenting the contrast in wisdom:

Who is wise and has understanding among you? He should show his works by good conduct with wisdom’s gentleness. But if you have bitter envy and selfish ambition in your heart, don’t brag and deny the truth. Such wisdom does not come from above but is earthly, unspiritual, demonic. For where envy and selfish ambition exist, there is disorder and every kind of evil. But the wisdom from above is first pure, then peace-loving, gentle, compliant, full of mercy and good fruits, without favoritism and hypocrisy. And the fruit of righteousness is sown in peace by those who cultivate peace. (James 3:13-18 HCSB)

The key phrase is But if you have bitter envy and selfish ambition in your heart…for it spells out what is going on behind the scenes of the play we write for public consumption. Notice the principle characteristics of heavenly wisdom tie in nicely with Paul’s fruit of the Spirit in Galatians 5:22, 23. Human wisdom hates hypocrisy when it’s made public and someone else but practices it without batting an eye when the spotlight is diverted. Those exposed as acting (which is what hypocrisy means) in public displays of righteousness while being somewhat or wholly other than in private are crucified on the cross of public opinion and scorned. Unfortunately, many doing the crucifying and scorning hide similar or even worse attributes behind their stage curtains and backdrops. Which means they are using the misfortune of someone else to divert attention away from themselves.
The believer lives out in the open for the most part. Oh, we shouldn’t trust just any person off the street with our hearts or inner struggles since the world has a tendency to turn on anyone who displays weakness. Jesus declared, “By their fruit you will know them.” If we display the characteristics of the world’s desire for blood when dealing with sinners, then we are no different. It’s no wonder so many people become bitter about the message of the gospel when its self-proclaimed practitioners fail to show the key ingredients grace and mercy.
Yet here’s the kicker: What do we expect out of sinners? What do we expect out of even those sinners washed in the blood and saved by grace?
Our expectations set us up for disappointment when applied to fallible, fallen and recovering sinners, even those saved by grace. What we believe should almost always stand juxtaposed with what is. Again, what we believe ought to be the norm often flies in the face of what exists and has never changed since the beginning of the world.
Those who follow my blog might remember the entry from Ecclesiastes where Solomon declared, Don’t be excessively righteous, and don’t be overly wise. Why should you destroy yourself? Don’t be excessively wicked, and don’t be foolish. Why should you die before your time? It is good that you grasp the one and do not let the other slip from your hand. For the one who fears God will end up with both of them. (Ecclesiastes 7:16-18 HCSB) What else can this mean except that we should acknowledge both traits reside in us–albeit not peacefully. Paul claimed the two natures were at war with one another (see Romans 7:22, 23). If this is the state of every follower of the Way, then who has any advantage over anyone else? And if the Word of God declares all sold under sin and no one righteous without the blood of Jesus, who has the right to condemn anyone else?
This being the case does this mean we throw in the towel and give up trying to change ourselves or the world for the better? No. Yet neither does it mean we expect the impossible. Where sin affects the reasoning power the perspective skews to a lesser or greater degree. It’s impossible this side of glorification to find an un-skewed POV anywhere on the planet because everyone’s affected–or infected might be a better term. The moment someone begins their advice to me or anyone else within my hearing with words like “If the world or church would just…” I realize I’m listening to either a power-monger or an idealist.
According to the gospel, in order to get rid of oppression we must get rid of sin; to get rid of sin we must purify the human race. How do we purge the sin out of a race of practicing sinners? What sin goes first? Who’s sin gets targeted as the worst of offenses?
Again, to get rid of lying, cheating, murder, sexual deviancy, abuse, or any other evil infecting the human race to its ruin we don’t get rid of the people, ideology, or make stricter laws governing behavior but focus on the core cause of these. Behavior grows out of the thought life and inner reality a person is either educated to or chooses to believe. Culture is just a name we put on a lifestyle/modus operandi for a group of people who live in a region. They (and we in our own) develop beliefs, ethics and social structures based on the most powerful and, thus, influential voices among them.
Understandably we don’t think of the historical development of our culture because it happens so gradually the changes appears natural–or as naturally as those in control of an area present it. I’m not being cynical merely as realistic as I know how to be in order to point out what makes things “right” or “wrong” in a given context. I am amazed how little we notice the reasons for the changes made in society. For instance, why do women wear burkas in certain Middle East cultures? We could say it’s because they come from Muslim backgrounds and that’s what that religion/culture does, but that would be inaccurate since some Muslims don’t make their women wear it.
So what would be the reason behind a burka or dress style in any given culture? Many different factors could contribute to a current style or pattern. The climate, religious affiliation, family ties, government structure, and a host of other factors contribute to said culture. Now take into consideration the fact that those in power are just as often capricious, willful, self-absorbed, conceited, highly opinionated and, in some cases, ignorant in a cosmopolitan world sense, as they are just, well informed and open to diversity and you have the makings for oppression and ignorance being dictated to the ruled. What if one of the early advocates of the burka realized that his wives didn’t get noticed and stolen as often? Quite understandably that leader would be anxious to protect his “property”, posterity and sexual outlet. Look at the reasons why the ultraconservative leaders of the Islam object to an uncovered woman and you’ll see lust at the bottom. Just like blaming the woman for the gender of the child, the determination of which has been proven beyond a doubt to reside in the male sperm, blaming lust on a them removes responsibility for a man’s behavior or choices and puts it on others.
American Christianity is no different since there are sects who declare “modesty” is the best prevention of lust. If I, as a man, don’t have a problem with lust, a woman should be able to go naked in front of me and cause no alarm. But men lust after women with clothes on so it’s a no go situation and completely not the woman’s fault. I’ve seen women dress conservatively and still get lustful looks from men. So blaming others for my internal attitudes, once I have the reasoning power to choose what I will believe, is a lie.
Still, the burka could have started out as a way for women to protect their skin from the harsh desert sun. The poetry of ancient Arabic cultures speak of the milky tint of a woman’s skin as desirable so it would follow that the early Bedouin women would probably have begun wearing a scarf to cover all but their eyes in order to preserve their skin. It’s not that farfetched to reason some of the attitudes about women began quite innocently only to develop into laws of decency much later.
Just take a moment to think of habits, family traditions or accepted norms within the society or subculture in which we were raised. The reasons might not have meaning or any good purpose other than preference behind them. Which, in hindsight, almost takes the joy out of some of our most cherished traditions, making them seem shallow in light of how seriously we hold to them now as the “right way” in contrast to others. In this context our vehement defense of our methodology or tradition as “just the way it’s done” is defensible only as it pertains to a harmless practice of preferences but really contains no moral authority over those who live differently. Yet we will defend the imposition of our ethic, social structure or religious belief to the death and often decide to go to war with those who believe a diametrically opposed viewpoint as means of conforming the world to our preferences.
Comfort has a lot to do with our actions. We have no way of knowing if the person doing the dictating might be mentally disabled, the child of violence or sexual abuse, or a lack of education resulting in holding onto superstitious beliefs based on a hallucination or drug induced vision. How do we know? The aristocracy of Europe were, for the most part, the only ones educated to read and write, yet look at the atrocities and oppression they brought about.
In the church I come from the “prophet” was hit in the face by a rock when she was young which left her sick for a long time. During the 1840s she had visions which might or might not have been really from God but since the evidence of her past points to brain damage it’s more likely these were brought on by a damaged frontal lobe. I honestly don’t know at this point, neither will I argue for or against her visions because my point is we give trust to the outspoken far too easily.
The moment someone declares a revelation from God I start looking for the motivation behind it. What’s in it for them? Prestige? Power? Pleasure? Redemption? Hope? There’s an old saying which goes something like this, “When a preacher shakes your hand keep the other hand on your wallet.”
You see, humans don’t do anything from uncomplicated motives. Even the best of us, if we’re willing to delve into our psyche, make our choices out of a mixed bag of motives or reasons. Even if no hidden agenda can be discovered, the reasons we choose to go with one option over another grows out of a history of choices, biases, teaching and socioeconomic pressures.
The only thing to rescue us from bent choices is heavenly wisdom. Of course receiving daily doses of it and immersing ourselves in the source manual doesn’t guarantee we will be wise for that takes submission–coming under the mission of–to Christ and what He stands for. We can be defeated before we are even out of the starting gate by latching onto meanings without fact checking or testing the spirit with which we came to our conclusion.
Pure wisdom from heaven filters through human minds which are full of distorted images and misdirected truths to be interpreted by our biases. Denying the possibility is unwise; denying it happens with all of us is downright foolhardy, a lie we first tell ourselves then foist on others. If you don’t believe me, just count not only the number of denominations within the supposedly “unified” church of Christ but all the world religions and try to find some unifying factor. The only common thread will far too often be a complicated reasoning based on obscure motives. Almost always people accept or reject a “truth” based on their bias of the moment. The few who actually do their homework might escape it but usually default to whatever thought process fits their current comfort zone.
A believer who values truth above everything else will admit the biases and prejudices which run him or her. The only people I trust to give me good advice are the ones who I know recognize their own faults and are in the process of taking steps to grow away from them. Anyone who displays the pride of comparison or condescension not only loses my respect (for the their opinion not as a person) but my trust. When I see someone abusing the authority which God established (again, not specifically for them but the benefit of all) that person will lose both my respect for their authority and counsel.
The servant of Christ is a purveyor of peace and gentleness. One who preaches purity or any other truth without these traits has the form of godliness but without the power of the Spirit.

The Contrast

March 26, 2014

Where is the philosopher? Where is the scholar? Where is the debater of this age? Hasn’t God made the world’s wisdom foolish? (1 Corinthians 1:20 HCSB)

To answer Paul’s questions as to where the philosopher, scholar and debater are in a modern context: everywhere. In his era probably not so much because education was limited to the wealthy and even many of those didn’t have any. But in our modern context we can’t take two steps forward without running into someone who thinks they understand the mysteries of the universe or the way the world really works. I’m not complaining, just making an observation. It’s good that people have this freedom.

So what has God made look foolish?

According to Paul He’s taken what the world counts on as constant truth/reality and uses the very thing they consider to be the ultimate defeat, death, to win the war. Of course this doesn’t mean God despises conventional wisdom otherwise we wouldn’t have Proverbs or Ecclesiastes. No, the point He is trying to make is not that commonsense is useless or foolish but that our conclusions about how to save ourselves misuse or misinterpret the facts. The path of iniquity is no less mysterious than that of God’s designs.

If the message of the gospel is so easy to explain, why do we have so many denominations? Could it be the Church (and by that I mean the people not the organizations) still have too much of the world’s wisdom locked inside our hearts to understand the simple wisdom of God? Is it even possible for us to understand?

My answer will probably disturb some of you: Yes, it’s possible but not very probable.

The people who like organization like organizations, who in turn like their ducks in a neat little row with labels and categorized (or in this instance probably canonized). While I see nothing wrong with this as a method, I do see a problem when we run organization up against something new, say like walking on water or feeding five thousand men (not counting women and children) with just five loaves and two fish. But, then, now that someone canonized the event we can accept it as a possibility, though not much of a probability.

When those who love routine come up against the deviation to whatever they set up to make their world function without further effort they balk. It makes no difference if the deviation is good or bad they will hesitate, balk, resist and sometimes destroy it out of preference for what they already know. The deviation might work better than their “tried-and-true” but can’t be accepted since it doesn’t fit in with what is already comfortable.

The other side of that coin, of course, is the idea that only the new has anything to say to us. You’ll hear this in certain churches where they will declare, “God is doing a new thing!” as if all the stuff He’s already done is useless or old hat and needs to be replaced. In studying the Bible I noticed the time distance between miracles in the stories. Sometimes hundreds of years would pass by without even a trace of God’s miraculous power being in evidence. My conclusion found its source in Paul’s letter to the Romans:

For His invisible attributes, that is, His eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly seen since the creation of the world, being understood through what He has made. As a result, people are without excuse. (Romans 1:20 HCSB)

The miracle of life is its own argument for God. Every planet, star, galaxy, meteor, tree, animal, and human argue for a divine design. When we look for miracles in the spectacular we often miss those around us in the everyday. Jesus warned miracle seekers, Jesus answered, “I assure you: You are looking for Me, not because you saw the signs, but because you ate the loaves and were filled. (John 6:26 HCSB) Reading the whole story he finally tells them not to look for any sign other than Him. He is the biggest miracle God has ever performed.

And Jesus is enough, right?

Of course we want to see the healing, the walking on water, the storms stilled, and whatever else God can do. But many modern Christians either fixate on the miraculous or become staunchly theological. We’ve created a conundrum which holds no basis in the Word. God’s Word is whole not fractured, we can see the message of the cross in Genesis through Revelation. Which means the modern Christian has a conundrum to solve: if scripture is all one unified message and God breathed, then how do we relate to those things which seem out of character for our modern grasp of truth?

While I believe in progressive revelation, I don’t believe that the truth of the OT is cancelled completely now that we have a new revelation. Put another way just because Jesus has come in the flesh doesn’t mean the truths of OT are now useless to us. Look at every time Jesus quoted scripture and you won’t see a single one from the NT–He was in the process of creating it. All the truths He revealed to us about God the Father came directly from the OT.

It’s not truth that’s to blame for the misunderstanding but the perspective. At the same time we have to recognize all those people from the OT with no idea about NT theology were called righteous by God and named His. He not only accepted them but blessed their journey, all the while none of them understood the complete picture or even practiced whole truth. This last truth remains something to consider in our own era. Even though Paul told the Roman believers the veil has been lifted because of the Spirit ( see Romans 3:12-18) and that we anyone who turns to Jesus looks into the glory of God open faced, we still do not understand. The veil that hid the glory of God on Moses’ face might be gone but we continue to interpret what we see from our experience and bias instead of going back to square one to start over.

In this 21st century some modern theologians have even suggested that God was learning and growing too. They intimate that since the OT is so full of wrath and death-wielding judgments that God by the NT had figured out this didn’t work so changed His method. In other words the OT methods were God’s mistake. I believe the mistake they make with this reasoning is judging God’s grasp of things by ours.

We humans work hard to understand the truth of the universe and our place in it and far too often our perspective is so limited we forget to hold onto our opinions lightly. Truth is not progressive for it exists outside of our control, it’s our knowledge of the facts that grow and change. I find the condescension and arrogance of our current culture toward the ignorance of the past a little silly since the efforts and progress of the past brought us to where we find ourselves today. We stand on the shoulders of giants who challenged the norm of society to bring about the future.

I’ve read the OT over several times using different methods, e.g. from beginning to end, skipping around at random, and taking first a book from the OT then comparing it to one from the NT. What strikes me every time is how accepting our God is. The Law of Moses held strict guidelines for human interaction and worship yet God didn’t react harshly when they didn’t perform it to the letter. His response to David who ate of the holy bread was silence and later a declaration of his faithfulness. How can that be if God expected strict obedience and even a small deviation meant punishment or even worse, death?

When we were children our perspective of time differed greatly from what we now experience. Every kid who stood in the corner for five minutes felt like it lasted forever, but from the parent’s standpoint it seemed only a few seconds. This has to do with how we experience time not time itself. The same can be said of NT theology. The apostles revealed the Messiah’s teaching and mission all from the OT perspective. No one had a NT book to quote from since these very men were in the process of writing the NT. Anytime you read the word “scriptures” in the NT it refers to the OT writings.

This means every story, prophecy, book of wisdom or psalm holds a message about the gospel in one way or another. Jesus even reinforced this truth more poignantly by declaring, “You pore over the Scriptures because you think you have eternal life in them, yet they testify about Me.” (John 5:39 HCSB) I find it fascinating how we explain away what we don’t want to see or believe. It’s almost like we can’t stand for something to be true so we sabotage it in ourselves by ignoring it, which doesn’t make it any less true we just choose to be foolish.

If we refuse to be aware of our bias, it will ruin our ability to grasp the world around us and skew our perspective. The danger here isn’t necessarily the perspective we hold but what we do with it. I guess I shouldn’t be surprised when people with strongly held opinions follow with equally strong actions. It’s just that most of us have enough of our own faults and failings which should give us pause in our quest to recreate the world more to our way of thinking.

I’ve experienced, as I’m sure you have, the facade of sincerity some people use to get under my skin and find my weaknesses. Wisdom tells us to beware of these types but it doesn’t necessarily guarantee we will be able to always recognize them. The church of Jesus is overflowing with actors who want applause while refusing to expose their true nature behind the script or camera. The message of the gospel not only encourages us to be authentic but demands us to be so; for the judgment will bring everything to light anyway.

Many believers are far too fond of applause and not interested in real change or authentic living. Oh, we praise the Lord at come-to-meeting-time then go home to forget or ignore the message until next time. The wisdom of the Word of God stands in stark contrast to the world: be authentic, honest, loving, true, respectful, defend the weak, stand for truth no matter what…I could go on. God might love humanity unconditionally but intimacy with His Spirit is based on our openness.

As a rule humans desire truth. The flip side of that coin or underbelly of our nature desires its own way in spite of the consequences–what our desires might do to us or someone else. The wisdom of the world centers around success and being well thought of, while the wisdom of God focuses on being itself. Who we are internally matters more to the way we will behave all the time than how we choose to act at any given moment. A person who is polite in public but rude or derisive in private is a rude or derisive person who knows how to play others for their own personal gain.

The desire for truth is not enough if we conform to the lies of cultural bias or religious traditions which obscure it. An incredibly intelligent person can still believe fables, myths, traditional interpretations outside of the facts, etc., etc. (do the names Plato, Aristotle, Newton ring a bell?). What we believe about the world colors our conclusions no matter what the evidence suggests to the contrary or in support. Unless we recognize this factor in our decision making process we will bring inaccuracies and fallacies into our reasoning which will lead our conclusions astray.

Fooled By Appearance

February 23, 2014
What is behind the mask is always more important.

What is behind the mask is always more important.

For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but it is God’s power to us who are being saved. (1 Corinthians 1:18 HCSB)

So what is real wisdom? Paul claims there is a contrast between the truth of the cross what the religious and logicians think. Where is the line drawn and why? What makes heaven’s wisdom so different from the conventional earth-bound variety? And, anyway, didn’t God make it all, so what’s the fuss?

This will be my key verse for the next while. Studying Ecclesiastes set me on a path for about a year to deconstruct reality and reassemble it into a Christ-centered truth. Since 1 Corinthians 1 & 2 speaks directly to this point I want to focus on the book to see how Paul expands on it. He spends nearly 2 chapters dealing with the contrast between human wisdom and God’s. I need to refocus my own heart on heaven’s wisdom because while I see the contrast and understand the difference, my understanding of Jesus took a beating. I recognize in myself many preconceptions born of unsubstantiated or supported traditions lurking in the corners of my psyche which needed to be brought out into the light and put into perspective.
I’m sure many people would be scared for me. Admitting to doubt and frustration with the gospel’s wisdom seems to be blasphemy in certain circles of Christian thought. To me, however, doubt is the beginning of searching for truth and wisdom. Before we can turn to Christ as the Light we have to doubt our own understanding of what we believe to be light. Far too often that which we believe illuminates our path turns out to be darkness reflecting enough light to fool us, disguising the dangers. Quite frankly I don’t doubt the gospels or scripture just some of our interpretations of it.
Too often I have been fooled by the polished arguments of those in authority with a seemingly endless knowledge of truth. What I found behind the stage, pulpit, books, memorized scripture and authoritative stance made me doubt their conclusions because they didn’t practice the very things they preached so hard. I’m not cynical merely aware that if an ethic or teaching is not practicable to those who preach it, there’s either something wrong with them or their understanding of the teaching.
Since I believe no one on earth is infallible or complete in their grasp of God, the natural thing to do for me is to hesitate to swallow what anyone wants to feed me without first examining it. I also don’t doubt an ethic just because those who teach it are hypocritical (the Greek word for an actor is hypocrite) about practicing it only in the public eye. I know my own struggles with righteousness due to my sinful nature and therefore also refuse to condemn anyone who finds it difficult to practice it.
But I believe there is light for those who want it while also recognizing our inability to handle or understand what we see. I can’t remember where I read this next thought, but I believe it came from C. S. Lewis: A person who has lived all their lives in the dark caves and confusing tunnels underground will not be able to handle or grasp the light in its fullness when they finally find the way to the surface. Our eyes grow accustomed to the light as we walk toward it yet still the full force of the sun will take some getting used to before one can live on the surface under the open sky. Sadly, because of the brilliance and power of the light from the sun (Son) most of us will remain in the cave to varying degrees–the mouth of it where there is shade; back a few feet so all we get is a glimpse of what is available; or as far back as we can and still see a speck of light.
So there are some issues and preconceptions I want to address in the coming study within myself and the world around me. By no means do I intend or ever even declare that I’m outside the cave and living fully in the light. I wouldn’t really know how to measure where I am positionally and refuse to waste my time attempting to know what only God could reveal. What I can tell you is I see a light in front of me and I am continuing to walk, stumble, crawl, or run as I have energy, but in no way do I think I’ve reached the mouth of my cave. And since I know human nature pretty well by now, I doubt anyone reading this has reached it either. I expect some to be further ahead in their journey, some just a few feet in front, some even with me, and others behind. Whatever! Hopefully, my journey will help someone in the process. Let’s see if we can step a little closer to the light of heaven together.

Destiny Looks A Lot Like…

February 11, 2014

Knowing truth is one thing; understanding it is something else completely.

Let me expand on that statement a bit.

From the perspective of the gospel I know I am a sinner saved by grace right? I have past sins which destroyed relationships, hurt my forward movement, affect the now, and might affect the future. Just because this is true does not mean I cannot move in the direction I choose or continue to pursue life, love and happiness. Wisdom declares time and consideration a person’s friend.

A person who advises anyone from a fear of failure, a critical spirit, condescension, or some form of repressive behavior will hold a slant on life which cannot be completely trusted. This doesn’t mean we can’t listen to their advice or mine nuggets of experiential wisdom from what they say. For if we pay attention, discernment will guide us to take in what is helpful and reject what is harmful. Wisdom looks not only at the losses which might occur from a choice but also weighs the benefits and assesses the risks of success.

On the other hand, focusing on the positive truth to the exclusion of the negative truth is a mistake. We cannot grow if we refuse to deal with how our mistakes and failures affect us or what we can learn from them. Some people who want us only to look at our successes when telling our story; but a life is also defined by loss and failure in many ways because what we do in response to those two things defines who we are and will become.

In other words, our “destiny” looks a lot like the potential held in our personalities, abilities and goals. Now if we choose to include Christ into that mix, then we add onto our “destiny” constant refinement to the aforementioned characteristics. The more I know about the “who” of me the better decisions I will make spiritually, physically, socially and in every other way I relate to the world. Yet knowledge in and of itself without wisdom lacks the ability to squeeze the potential out of these raw “talents”.

A perspective which conforms to reality also recognizes the variables in life and the opportunities vary for everyone depending on their environment, culture, education, family dynamic and personality. Solomon deals with this concept beautifully:

Again I saw under the sun that the race is not to the swift, or the battle to the strong, or bread to the wise, or riches to the discerning, or favor to the skillful; rather, time and chance happen to all of them. For man certainly does not know his time: like fish caught in a cruel net or like birds caught in a trap, so people are trapped in an evil time as it suddenly falls on them. (Ecclesiastes 9:11, 12 HCSB)

So we see his teaching about doing our best with all our might and investment is tempered with a reality on the other side of his argument for industry and happiness.

Look at what the editor/commentators say about Solomon:

In addition to the Teacher being a wise man, he constantly taught the people knowledge; he weighed, explored, and arranged many proverbs. The Teacher sought to find delightful sayings and write words of truth accurately. (Ecclesiastes 12:9, 10 HCSB)

He searched out wisdom not only for the pleasure of it but also without regard to the source. If you read the beginning in the book of Proverbs, you’ll see Solomon’s approach was collecting from many different sources not just his own religion. Now read his story to see what happened to him in the final tally. It wasn’t his search of wisdom which sidetracked him. Knowledge alone did no good. Some theologians have taken Ecclesiastes to be his swan song or evidence of repentance. I’m not going to argue for or against that conclusion because I find of a lack of evidence either way too problematic to conclude anything about him. What I will say is that nothing is guaranteed.

Solomon held the highest position a person can have yet squandered it for the purpose of treaties in the form of wives from other nations and cultural diversity within his own uniquely fixed part of the world. The compromises he made to accommodate his foreign wives by building temples and shrines for them in which to worship stole his heart away from the very God who blessed him with such a position in the first place. His ecumenical stance wasn’t necessarily wrong as a diplomacy method but it was for the unique place he inhabited as God’s ambassador in the world.

We all compromise to one degree or another with the world around us–it’s not only how we continue to function but a must for navigating the confusion we call “life”. There are, however, a few compromises none of us can afford. One is what Solomon got caught up in–not only allowing for & tolerating other religions in the world around him but letting them build shrines and temples where only his faith belonged. And I’m not talking about just the physical buildings because eventually he began to take part in the ceremonies and rites of these other religions. His reasoning probably started out as research, then fascination, and ended with buying into them.

I’m open to America’s diversity, where every religion, creed, ethic and opinion should be respected and left alone. What I’m not open to is anything but the one I have chosen to rule my life being present in the inner sanctum of my heart. That said, I have compromised the vision for my life by allowing others to persuade me to theirs. Not that this is wrong if I find I want a version of what they offer, but it is if I know in my heart their vision or goals for me don’t fit who I am or what I want for my now or future.

For some time now I’ve realized I made decisions based on the fears and desires of those of my inner circle for my life which were wrong for my own goals. The end results have been devastating for I now have a big hole to dig out of without much help from those who influenced me. Don’t get me wrong, the decision to compromise was mine alone but when we attempt to put a square peg into round hole by clipping the corners it still leaves gaps. The gaps are glaringly apparent so that even those who helped us “round off” the edges of our square look helplessly on the mess with chagrin. That is, of course, unless the round hole is big enough to accommodate the square’s corners, then clipping isn’t necessary but the gaps remain.

To be fair it goes the other way as well. A circle might fit into a square more comfortably than the other way around but there will always be gaps.
In Solomon’s case it wasn’t even a question of fitting in but a full blown apostasy on his part. Taking the very blessing God gave him he used it to extract God from his life. He reformed his allegiance to include other gods and paid the price. This book might be his way of saying “don’t do what I did” but none of the records which speak of his life say he turned back to God. Solomon squandered his calling in favor of the temporary and paid the price.

After years of searching out what it means to have a “calling” as Christian I’ve come to the conclusion the mystery is all man made. What we term as a “calling” caries connotations of specific personal or career choices we must make and if we don’t make them, we have failed God. Which, in the end, just becomes another way to sin and feel defeated. Instead of thinking of a career or personal map the writers of the Bible put our calling in the form of an ethic for life.

Yes Paul makes a distinction by saying some are called to be apostles, teachers, pastors, etc., but these weren’t career choices rather he saw them as gifts with which to serve others. Not all the apostles were missionaries like him, in fact some rarely travelled at all. Not all the teachers were paid staff or supported by the church; not all of the elders were pastors. We serve a function within the place we find ourselves not as a career but it must grow out of who we are.

I am a musician. I love touring, traveling, playing and singing live, the whole recording process and I could go on. I don’t like dealing with paper work or office management stuff. I’m pretty good at the big picture and methods by which the day to day stuff can be done efficiently yet not the one to accomplish it with the same efficiency. Artists in general, by nature, are distracted people. They live in a world of ideas, ideals, pictures, language, thought and reaction to the immediate and grande world around them.

I’ve listened to the more organized people in my world tell me how to get the chaos of my filing system under control. I’m now laughing–not in derision but sympathy for them. Telling someone like me to be organized like an accountant or office manager is like telling an office manager or said accountant to write a song or paint a picture like the improve artist. Sure there are overlaps but this isn’t the time to discuss them. We are speaking of contrasting reality here not just what is possible for these poler opposites. There will always be combinations of traits just as there will always be a myriad of ways to live. What I’m saying is we wouldn’t have an Einstein if he weren’t distracted by math and obsessed with the abstract. The guy sometimes went out of the house without pants but that’s part of his charm not a detriment to his intelligence.

What all this comes down to is value. Utilitarian thinking is healthy only in so far as it applies to the purpose of an object, project or person in a job situation. When it begins to be the sole reason we do or value anything and anyone its own purpose gets thwarted and perverted. An artist who can’t be bothered to tie his or her shoes but creates incredibly beautiful art of one kind or another gives humanity part of its characteristic diversity. I would also say part of the charm of humanity’s collective personality grows out of the quirks, idiosyncrasies, perceived weaknesses, not just its gifts or functions.

The next time you look at a tree think of it in a collective form–as a bio-mechanical machine first, then as a beautiful work of art. See the grass as a safeguard against erosion as well as a waving sea of green beneath which life happens as much as it does above. Solomon’s perspective in Ecclesiastes isn’t negative but an acknowledgement of both sides. In theology understanding a book takes seeing it from the perspective of the author (if that info is available), the era or time it was written, and who the audience is expected to be. The other factor theologians look for is repetitious phrases or words. Once we understand the context within these parameters we can begin interpreting the actual message.

The most repeated phrase besides everything is futile is a variation of I know that there is nothing better for them than to rejoice and enjoy the good life. (Ecclesiastes 3:12 HCSB). While I haven’t counted the times he says this, I do know he says it quite a bit. Recognizing that we can expect bad stuff to happen prepares us to deal with whatever comes, right? Taking the time to enjoy life come what may in whatever way we can makes more sense when we know it is made up of both.

Our happiness, in other words, should never be dependent on the times we live in, the family or community we find ourselves born into, or the specific situation we face at any given time. We can still smell the flowers in our sadness, still love the people we value and definitely give whatever we find to do everything we have in us.

The Teacher

February 7, 2014
I built this door which leads into a recording studio.  To enter here means one is destined to enter the building.

 I built this door which leads into a recording studio. To enter here means one is destined to enter the building.

In addition to the Teacher being a wise man, he constantly taught the people knowledge; he weighed, explored, and arranged many proverbs. The Teacher sought to find delightful sayings and write words of truth accurately. The sayings of the wise are like goads, and those from masters of collections are like firmly embedded nails. The sayings are given by one Shepherd. But beyond these, my son, be warned: there is no end to the making of many books, and much study wearies the body. (Ecclesiastes 12:9-12 HCSB)

Knowing truth is one thing; understanding it is something else completely.

The first time I read Ecclesiastes I felt I had finally arrived home intellectually. I can’t explain it any other way because up until then my logic followed whatever my church defined as truth. Solomon however points to a reality which happens, not just what is hoped for in some distant future. It seemed to me that he sounded determined not to sugarcoat reality. I really needed this mechanism to cope with my own life at the time–and since.

At first I objected to the word “futility”, which in the King James is translated “vanity” and in another earlier version, “meaningless”. As a Christian the mere suggestion Solomon might be speaking truth left me confused and not a little anxious to explain it away. Thank God for wise friends and family, they gave me insight enough to get me through my own crisis of faith later on. The gist of this wisdom being: our Bible gives progressive revelations in place of just simply spelling out everything from the beginning. Now that Christ has come we know our present and future regain their value, although much of what we think is valuable will burn. So the believer in Solomon’s era saw death as the end of all their efforts which made these futile or meaningless in the grand scheme. The believer in Christ receives a promise that everything we do in the now affects the rewards in the future, yes, but also creates the atmosphere of heaven on earth.

Of course, our hope doesn’t mean or equal comfortable houses with secure incomes because no one in the early church even considered that part of the promise. Only through our modern interpretation where greed disguised as righteous claim on the promises of blessing and covetousness disguised as desiring all God has for us do we come to the conclusion God will give us that kind of comfort this side of glorification. If all the apostles save one died a martyr’s death while proclaiming the rewards of living for God, then our conclusion must include their end. When Paul speaks of having everything we need for life and godliness, he’s not talking about wealth. For if he was speaking of the American dream, 2 Corinthians 11 wouldn’t declare his trials as well as blessings.

Being able to look at that which sucks rotten lemons or celebrate the beauty around me and just identify it as such helps a great deal. I have fallen in love with truth–no matter the source. The caveat of my love for truth is that I don’t always know what that truth means or how to connect the dots (the various truths which exist). I see so much which leaves me confused, stressed out and generally lost to any kind of gasp on the purpose of much of what I see that I confess to letting go of worrying about stuff I can’t explain or solve.

Solomon helped me sort out a lot of the unknowns as well as the unknowable from the arena of reason. And I don’t use the word “reason” to signify the why of things or to point to definitive answers or anything but the method by which we arrive at our conclusions. Most of us have never even discovered the information in front of us, whether from lack of attention or being too preoccupied, in order sort fact from fiction to get at the truth. Nor do I believe humanity has the wisdom to discern the purpose or meaning behind most of the truths we think we have figured out to date.

 

Jonny’s Proverbs #1

January 28, 2014

Knowing truth is one thing; understanding it is something else completely.

The End of the Matter

January 27, 2014

 

Justice is a part of judgment.  It is the image of determining the weight of the actions from two sides

Justice is a part of judgment. It is the image of determining the weight of the actions from two sides

When all has been heard, the conclusion of the matter is: fear God and keep His commands, because this is for all humanity. For God will bring every act to judgment, including every hidden thing, whether good or evil. (Ecclesiastes 12:13, 14 HCSB)

I recently sent the above scripture text to a friend of mine who responded with, “Wow that’s a scary one.” I text one or two verses everyday and most of them speak to the positive side of God’s love and expectations but this one…

Here’s the thing: the thought of being judged scares the begeebers out of most of us because we know we have skeletons in our closets and/or our spiritual house isn’t very tidy. We use the fear to induce obedience but find it just isn’t enough motivation to keep the pet sins at bay. None of the prevention methods work because we are addicted to getting our own way by hook or by crook.

Now while I can see some sense in our keeping the skeletons out of sight of the general public, it doesn’t work with God. Yet, like four year old children, we continue to behave as if somehow we can fool even the Holy Spirit into believing all the nonsense we foist on other people. Speaking of the Jewish nation in contrast to the Gentiles, Paul writes: What then? Are we any better? Not at all!

For we have previously charged that both Jews and Gentiles are all under sin, as it is written: There is no one righteous, not even one. There is no one who understands; there is no one who seeks God. All have turned away; all alike have become useless. There is no one who does what is good, not even one. (Romans 3:9-12 HCSB)

I find it amazing when pastors feel they have to hide behind a facade of sinlessness, all the while assuring their parishioners of their continued need of Jesus. If what Paul claims is true, then anyone with a mind for the Word will see through the disguise and shake their heads–or worse. Though we might not call it a lie, none the less that’s what putting on a good face is when we know we have pimples or worse.

Paul commands in another place: Since you put away lying, Speak the truth, each one to his neighbor, because we are members of one another. (Ephesians 4:25 HCSB) The facades of perfected wisdom, righteous methodology, and piety should be avoided at all costs since any allusion to such a state is a lie. But here again is where it gets sticky for us because the “sheep” feel let down and afraid of a pastor or leader who admits to faults. On the other hand, every hidden thing will be brought into judgment before God.

There’s no escape from judgment–either human or divine.

What to do?

I’ve come to the conclusion, after years spent living and speaking openly to the world around me, we must show discretion and wisdom even in sharing ourselves with others. Admit to sin, yes, but the continuous struggle and deep anguish we feel about it cannot be shared with everybody precisely because most people can’t handle the truth! (I hear Jack Nicholson every time.) That’s why we don’t confess our sins to the babe in Christ rather assure them we struggle too without getting into specifics. They have enough of a burden dealing with their own problems without worrying about their leaders. At the same time, if the person we are counseling struggles with one of the more public problems that we also experienced, we can use our experience of failure, forgiveness and growth to inspire them to keep hanging on.

I challenge every single person reading this blog to be vulnerable and not lie to the body of Christ.

In my view the best witness of God’s power is not in the miraculous healing of the body or adjusting circumstances to fit our needs but in the mysterious change happening in our hearts. A new Christian will look up to those who teach the Word, as they should, which can be a good thing in the right context. However, if we are not honest with them about our own struggle against sin, they will learn to fear their own failures as unnatural, themselves as unable or somehow less in touch with God, and finally devolve into either a white washed tomb or give up all together.

There is nothing new under the sun–meaning, everything, including every manifestation of sin, is currently and historically been a problem.
Through our vulnerability and humility before the body of Christ we demonstrate the miraculous changing of His Spirit at work in our lives. This change, to be noticed, must be lived in example not words to affect those following us. If the greater percentage of communication is non-verbal, then we should consider our witness in that proportion. I ask you: What’s more inspiring? Seeing a person you admire never make a mistake or watching them crash and burn only to get back up with renewed determination to keep moving forward?

For me it’s the latter. I am definitely a hippy still and despise fakes more than I can say. I determined not to be one by living on the outside of my skin–metaphorically speaking of course ;-). The people I found who couldn’t handle the truth of my own struggle with sin wasn’t the new Christian however, because they seemed to be encouraged to keep moving forward, but the brothers and sisters in Christ. We like our images dressed up and pretty for everyone to look at don’t we?

Without fail those who put up a facade have a stench of death about them for they live in fear and…There is no fear in love; instead, perfect love drives out fear, because fear involves punishment. So the one who fears has not reached perfection in love. (1 John 4:18 HCSB) It stands to reason–through the logic of the message of Jesus–that everyone who builds or maintains facades is not perfected in love because they are afraid to be known. Again, I’m not saying we reveal what’s in our inner closets or let everyone indiscriminately into our private chambers (metaphorically speaking). Not everyone can be trusted with such intimacy. Not everyone can be trusted with truth.

No, the gospel doesn’t command us to be forthright with those of a devious mind or who gossip as a way of life. We owe no one anything but the debt of brotherly love. Trust is earned. Yet a sense of openness remains the only way to live–and by “live” I mean truly be alive. God’s command through Jesus is:

“You are the light of the world. A city situated on a hill cannot be hidden. No one lights a lamp and puts it under a basket, but rather on a lampstand, and it gives light for all who are in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before men, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father in heaven. (Matthew 5:14-16 HCSB)

I don’t think we can get any clearer than this. Just picture what a lamp does, where it stands and who can see it, then the point becomes obviously clear. A person who hides behind actions which do not reflect their inner world lives two lives which are at odds with one another. One who lives in the light as He is in the light is unafraid to be seen–even if the light flickers, goes out for a time or simply isn’t as bright as someone else’s.
Yet Jesus also cautioned us:

Don’t give what is holy to dogs or toss your pearls before pigs, or they will trample them with their feet, turn, and tear you to pieces. (Matthew 7:6 HCSB)

In the context of this command Jesus also tells us not to judge or we will be judged in exactly the same way, and to first remove the sin in our own lives before we try to remove it from someone else. This context is vital for our understanding of what it means to give to dogs and pigs what is holy and valuable. If we can’t remove the sin from someone else without first removing our own, it means (to me) we are never qualified to remove it, for we are never completely free from sin this side of the redemption of our bodies. Our hard drives (physical memories) have been so corrupted we will never clearly see how to do the required surgery others need without the guidance of the Holy Spirit.

Yet here’s where it gets sticky: The pearls of the kingdom must point to the teachings and blessings the Holy Spirit bring, yes, but the removal of sin is a holy work that only God can do, therefore we are not to hand the cure of our addiction/disease off to those who are not Him.

“I am the vine; you are the branches. The one who remains in Me and I in him produces much fruit, because you can do nothing without Me. (John 15:5 HCSB)

The fruit of the Spirit is?

The flesh produces no fruit only works. Look at the phraseology of Galatians 5:19 begins with: Now the works of the flesh are obvious… Therefore, I conclude works are a byproduct of the fruit not the fruit itself. Every fruit mentioned in Galatians 5:23 focus on what is done in the heart first; if the heart is changed, then the actions will follow. This work of change is not ours to do rather we submit to the Holy Spirit’s influence and presence which then produces such fruit.

We don’t give to dogs the job of taking out the planks and specks in our spiritual eyes nor do we give the pearls of the kingdom to those who would trample them. This does not mean however that we put our lamp under a cover (facade) at all. A light says nothing to a listener, it simply shines as a result of the fire igniting the fuel within. The fruit of the Spirit is sufficient for this task; preaching is not.

Jesus’ command is that we bear fruit–He is the vine, we are the branches. We don’t bear anything but death on our own. The whole duty of humankind is to fear God and keep His commands right? Our spiritual duty is to let the Spirit bring about the change in us so radically that the world sees a light shining from our very beings. This is a supernatural light and will never be reproduced through human effort.

This, then, is all that is required of us.

Blew My Mind

January 27, 2014

Great article:

http://viralchrist.com/spiritual-growth/love/1559-qlover-or-prostitute-the-question-that-changed-my-life

 

Absolute Futility? Really?

January 22, 2014

image

 

“Absolute futility,” says the Teacher. “Everything is futile.” (Ecclesiastes 12:8 HCSB)

Too many of us fall prey to the notion that everything we do is futile. I’m in a situation right now where every investment (financial and work ethic energy) didn’t pay off, which means I lost the day and it’s time to leave the field. To be honest, I felt the need to change paths years ago but hated giving up before trying every avenue to make self-employment work.

It hasn’t.

Oddly though, I don’t sense futility or despair in its failure. Certainly I know feelings of frustration, loss, sadness and failure but no real sense that I didn’t give it my all. That said, I probably continued plowing through when I should have walked away a couple of years ago. I just didn’t know–did you?

The reason this blog is called Jonny’s Habit is because I make it a practice to study what I believe is God’s Word twice everyday even if it means just reading a verse without comprehension. Habits form our behaviors as well as influence our attitudes and outlooks. This blog entry probably sounds too personal for most but let me be clear that it was always intended to be. I am not someone who philosophically looks at life through a telescope at a safe distance because I don’t believe we can always be certain of our conclusions.

The last nearly twenty-odd years have been educational, humbling and revelatory for me. Through so many experiences I have come to realize personal limits and understand the world around me through that perspective. That said, I also realize someone else in my position would have made a better profit of the opportunity than I did because they have that knack.

I don’t.

Saying so doesn’t make me negative on myself nor does it mean I’m giving up on life. It does mean I recognize time and chance defeated certain goals while prospering others. Being honest about myself and others is about seeing life for what it is over dreaming of what could be. While the latter is great for moving forward, sometimes it limits the now and the hard choices we have to make. I have also learned I am more resourceful and able than I ever thought possible before now. Saying that doesn’t mean I think I’m the greatest thing since sliced bread came into existence, rather I’m better at seeing where my abilities truly lie versus just guessing.

All that said you’ll now understand what I say next in context of Solomon’s declaration that everything is futile. I think I understand the truth of his words and where he’s coming from, but I don’t buy his conclusion as the final word on the subject.

“Resistance is useless,” the Vogon guard declared. I read Solomon’s solemn statement and laughed because the book, Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy made them mindlessly true for the situation the protagonist, Arthur Dent and his companion found themselves in. This part their story was the very first thing that came to mind when I read Solomon’s conclusion. If you’ve ever read the series (there are 5 books in the trilogy–yes, I said five!), you’ll know how things turned out and that the seeming impossible took place. Hey, it’s a book where the impossible is probable, ok. The point is that we sometimes borrow trouble in the form of worry about the future when all we can do is plan as best we can for as many eventualities as possible and live in the now.

As much as any of us hate change it comes anyway, inexorably, steadily, yet sometimes so fast we don’t have much time to adjust while at other times so slow we don’t even realize it’s happening. The one thing time teaches is as much as things change much stays the same. As much as the cosmetics, methods and attitudes adjust, they are still variations on a theme which remains constant.

For example: We might have conquered certain forms of slavery but it still exists. Prejudice still operates strong in the light of human activity though it wears a disguise of acceptance in certain circles. If you’ve ever heard yourself or someone else say, “I accept everybody and can’t see why people don’t accept everyone too…”, you have just demonstrated why prejudice remains strongly entrenched in the human psyche. As another example, attitudes about providing basic necessities might have changed in the way we access it but the need is still there at the root.

Modern society only thinks itself different because we have procedures and styles our history didn’t–or did but we don’t recognize it.

image

Concluding thought: The outcome of truth in Solomon’s paradigm is not in ours since the cross. Jesus changed our reality. It doesn’t make Solomon’s words any less true for his era, but it does change the outcome and hope for the future. A life merely lived for the now will be futile, one lived for Christ holds lasting promise. It also changes how the truth is perceived. Perception is the key here not just the words. Truth doesn’t change our understanding of it does. For instance the sun has always been something humans knew about but its place in the solar system (another unknown until recent history) was misunderstood. The truth of the sun didn’t change our perspective did.

Again, another example is the bread analogy. Basic flat bread is oil, water, salt and flour. The moment we add anything to the bread we change its consistency and possibly flavor. Solomon’s assertion of no afterlife in death, the futility of industry while we live and the need for us to go ahead and live anyway is like the basic flatbread. Jesus’ gospel adds yeast and honey to end up with something that rises and tastes good. We call both bread (truth) but the latter one changed the way we perceive what is possible.

The ingredients are basically the same in both Solomon’s and post-Jesus’ era except Jesus takes away the futility by adding eternity as a final outcome. This changes everything by adjusting our priorities. What we do on earth counts in heaven if we continue to live and think in the paradigm of Christ’s life and message.

The Story Behind the Song: I’ll Wait For You

January 17, 2014

I’ll Wait For You

Here in the darkness
I’m listening for Your Word
The silence gently whispers
but I still haven’t heard
what You want of me

I’ll wait for You
show me Your plan
I’ll wait for You
until I understand

Here in the quietness
I’m looking for a sign
Come show me, Lord,
and teach me
the depth of Your design
Your great love for me

I’ll wait for You
until the silence breaks
I’ll wait for You
for as long as it takes
(c)1993 Lyric Jonathan Varnell/Isaac Miller//Music: Isaac Miller/Jonathan Varnell

Isaac and I were getting ready for a church worship service one morning when he began to noodle on his keyboard. The chord riff for this song seemed to pop out of his fingers and I began to listen. I must have asked if I could write words to his chords because within about 20 minutes we had almost finished it. We sang it over a few times to commit it to memory, both excited at the power of it.
We never got to record it because life got in the way as it often does.

If I remember my state of mind at the time, Isaac and I were working on an album with a bunch of other guys in a band named Awake (I still have T shirts). Since then someone else appropriated the name and appear to have a certain amount of success. Anyway, all of us were in the throes of change with one thing or another so this subject seemed to be natural fodder for a song. It must have been on my mind quite a bit because the imagery remains so vivid to this day. Recently I got in touch with Isaac, not having spoken with him for a few years, about the song and found he couldn’t even remember writing it!

About the time Awake broke up (someone stole all our instruments from my van) Isaac taught me the chords and I memorized it. Fast forward 20 years, I began trying it on guitar. The fingering kinda’ challenged me since the first chord is shaped like a F2 add Maj7/Bb or, as a Bb chord it would probably be a Bbsus#4/6. So if you played an FM7 and dropped the A note to open up the G string then put a Bb on the bass, you’d have to use your 1st finger (index) on the Bb, 4th finger on F (D string), 2nd finger on C (B string) leaving open the G & high E strings. It took my head a while to wrap around this finger position–don’t know why I play a lot of hard chords in other songs. Now that I have it, of course, the chord feels natural.

My plan is to record it with acoustic driving it at first then to replace the notes with single notes on the electric guitar on the second verse. I’m not sure about the rest of the arrangement because all I have in my head’s ear is a feel–which means I’ll have to experiment. What I play on the video is a raw form powerful in it own right.


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