Archive for December, 2013

No Holds Barred

December 26, 2013

As you know not what is the way of the wind, or how the spirit comes to the bones in the womb of a pregnant woman, even so you know not the work of God, Who does all. In the morning sow your seed, and in the evening withhold not your hands, for you know not which shall prosper, whether this or that, or whether both alike will be good. (Ecclesiastes 11:5, 6 AMP)

In discovering new truths about life, the universe, and everything, science keeps demonstrating how much we don’t know. Unlike Solomon we now have an idea how the bones of a baby are shaped in the womb–though the mystery still remains as to why and what exactly causes the metamorphosis. And while we have more educated theories as to what the process is as well as knowing several of the catalysts in so many areas, everyday we discover how many of our theories were either slightly or widely off.
I’m not here to criticize our scientists or science merely pointing out how limited our grasp of reality is. We don’t know the way of the wind, or how the spirit comes to the bones in the womb or even what the spirit is as yet that’s why I’m more concerned with our understanding of living. Since we don’t know the answer to many of the questions of what constitutes life itself, Solomon instructs us to live no holds barred and invest intentionally for we can’t know the outcome of our efforts until the tally at the end of the “day”.
My take is: Live with gusto, purpose and a sense of adventure. Life is short (though when we’re young it seems to be long) so don’t waste time worrying about failures. Instead forge ahead knowing that life is its own investment and everything becomes subject to time and chance in the end. What far too many call “failure” springs naturally from the steps of learning and growth. I’m not trying to ease the sting of it either, rather it’s important to point out that every single accomplishment in my life came with its own learning curve. Failure is part of getting to know any subject and accomplishing anything.
The conclusion? Invest! Be wise and cautious but don’t be frozen by the latter, instead use it to prepare for the worst yet always work for the best.
I’m taking this message to heart and determined in the coming year to practice them as best I can with what I know to do. What about you?

Turn On The Power

December 23, 2013

If clouds are full of water, they pour rain on the earth. Whether a tree falls to the south or to the north, in the place where it falls, there it will lie. Whoever watches the wind will not plant; whoever looks at the clouds will not reap. (Ecclesiastes 11:3, 4 NIV)

Do you ever read a scripture which states the obvious like our text above and just go “duh!”? When we react like this we show we miss the opportunity to exercise our brains. Solomon points out a reality in our world to make a statement about life itself not just the mechanics of it. If I were to say it my way, it would go, “Yeah, yeah, the clouds rain when they get full, the wind blows too hard sometimes, whatever! A tree falls down and wherever it lands is where it stays…got it! If someone worries too much about what can go wrong, they will never get busy with the things that need to be done. How you think will determine where your path will lie. blah, blah, blah…” Yet if a tree stays in in the course of its fall, there is no changing the outcome later once its down without some pretty significant intervention. The same could be said for a course of action.

As reality sinks in for me I am beginning to be less and less given to railing against it. At the same time I do everything I can to change it when the open door seems to present itself. Some open doors lead me right into the worst problems I’ve ever faced in my life, others just work like cutting soft butter.
If we worry too much about the barriers to our goals, we will eventually be frozen into inaction. I find in myself all sorts of excuses to avoid the pain of certain relationships, work opportunities and a host of other steps which will move my life forward because I see (or imagine) all the things which will prevent me from accomplishing said options. Take the words weather and wind as metaphors to be replaced by political climate, social barriers or mores, physical limitations, and a host of intellectual facts we know and some we don’t know. If we let the known or unknown stop us from even attempting or carrying on to the goal, we are worrying about the “wind” and “weather” too much.

Let’s admit right up front that some things we want to attempt are impossible for us right now. As I’ve said before in this devotional, Edison used almost all his “failures” to make the lightbulb into semiconductors and tubes of various sorts. Each of those “failures” made him sound brilliant instead of foolish. He turned his failed efforts into patents and helped usher in the age of electronics as we know it. Of course, he wasn’t alone since people all over the world were working on similar projects.

Tesla, on the other hand, commonly credited for inventing the television, died broke and bitter because he was like an artist who doesn’t think about the salability of what he was doing. He just did it because he could and probably enjoyed it. Unfortunately, someone he knew ripped him off and took credit for it, leaving him destitute.

The difference between Edison and Tesla might take a better psychoanalyst than me to figure out where who went right or wrong. What I do know is that one turned his failure into a future while the other didn’t. Edison patented even his “failures” and started a company; Tesla trusted other people with this and was soundly abused for it, to the point of losing everything he worked for all his life.
Is there a lesson here to be learned? Certainly. Yet I can’t help thinking that if Tesla had someone with business savvy devoted to him, his life would have written a different story. Edison was no better at people skills except in public, from all accounts, neither was Henry Ford. What made them different was the drive to turn their skills into lucrative results. I don’t know Tesla’s motivation but the results speak loudly for a man fascinated by his passion for invention but who lacked the desire/sensibility/knack for thinking of these inventions in monetary terms. Unfortunately for him the world around him stripped him of the credit and ripped him off without even coffee in the morning or flowers.
The Tony Robbins (not the man but all those like him) of the world will look at Tesla with pity or disdain–admiration for his inventive mind but disparaging his lack of business sense. These same success gurus will point to Edison with high praise for his drive and determination. And may be they’re right by purely business savvy terms, but I think they are wrong in what makes a person successful.

Time and chance is not just a philosophical conundrum but a universal law of addition and subtraction. I speak to this constantly but want to again in order to emphasize its weight on the outcomes.

That Untouchable born in Bangladesh without an education or any means of changing their fortunes cannot be preached to by the Tony Robbins of this world. For one thing without the education and society to inform them of what is possible they won’t even consider being something other than what they are. Now take a culture steeped in Buddhist or Hindu belief both of which looks on one’s status as a progression to better things in multiple reincarnations and you have an apathetic society developing bent maintaining the status quo. Humans are basically lazy when it comes to truth, which means few put out the effort to discover or change what they believe, preferring instead to survive with what they know. A Tony Robbins wouldn’t even be able to get through to such a person without physical interference and lots of money to raise them up. The solutions for one may not equal the solutions for another if the latter have further to go.

For a person in the slums of a third world country to reach the heights of someone like Steve Jobs or Tony Robbins they must jump incredible hurdles and receive help in chance-based ways. No one becomes a success on their own for all success grows out of the community supporting them then their opportunities and reception in the world around them. Steve Jobs’ success grew out of a certain self-absorption, according to his own account. He fixed his eyes on that goal and went forward in spite of all the naysayers who would call him back to “reality”–whatever they thought it was at the time. Yet he also was not a nice man to be around a lot of the time.

I’ve known musicians, like myself, who worked their entire lives to earn a living at music only to find themselves broke and playing bars or churches of 5 people–most of whom are friends or relatives. Of these musicians many of them are as talented or more so than those in the spotlight already earning the accolades. The difference? Time and Chance.

Will Ferrel’s dad gave him some advice: “Well, if it was all based on talent, I wouldn’t worry about you. Because I’ve watched a lot of your shows, and I really think there’s something there. But you have to remember that there’s a lot of luck involved. And if you get to a certain point in 3 years, 4 years, 5 years and you just feel like it’s too hard, don’t worry about quitting. Don’t feel like you’ve failed and it’s okay to pick up and do something different.”

(Read more: http://www.uproxx.com/webculture/2013/12/will-ferrell-marc-maron/#ixzz2nTDtNpzs Follow us: UPROXX on Facebook)

A saxophonist I met in San Francisco in the late 80s who worked for Kenny G at the time told me at one point when I expressed discouragement, “Jon, there are million guitarists out there better than you and they’re living on the streets or stuck in dead end jobs because they can’t catch a break.” Strange as it might seem to some of you reading the blog, that was a great comfort to me. He didn’t tell me to quit trying only that my current or future state wasn’t an abnormal experience.

Let me talk about what I know so you get the how crucial a community can be.
For a musician to be famous doesn’t always take exceptional talent or virtuoso performances. All that’s needed is crowd appeal and they’re off and running. Some appear timeless but we don’t see behind the scenes where a group of dedicated promotion and management people work to keep the artist in the spotlight. In almost ever instance these musicians reach a crisis point where their fame takes a turn for the better or worse. I could quote examples until the blog was full of stories about famous people who tried and failed–not once but several times. Bands broke up, only to get back together less effective because they shot themselves in the collective foot. Bands broke up and one or all of the musicians go on to great solo careers. Those who succeed tour nearly 300 days out of the year and the only time they take off is when they record an album or need a break.

We criticize artists for their use of drugs but fail to realize most of them start with struggling to sleep or anxiety from crossing time zones so much. We disparage them for their lack of self-control but forget how much we contribute to their current state of mind. A part of our community treats them like gods, the rest are looking for them to fail or fall. These people are in a constant state of crisis and without consistent friendship or community support they will fade into obscurity. Of course if they succeed or fail, books will be written and analysts will try to make sense of their lives and choices. I dare say that almost any famous musician we could name dealt with it in one or more unhealthy ways.

Jesus told us to love even our enemies, to support the good in others while refusing to turn a blind eye to their faults. Yet the “Golden Rule” doesn’t say our POV should just be looking outward but love your neighbor as you do yourself. For us to truly practice love we must love ourselves equally. Not more, not less but in the same way. Treat ourselves as others want us to treat them; treat others as we want to be treated. Now this moral guideline works unless we tend toward masochism or sadism; neither of which are healthy mindsets.

A part of success is being content within oneself and inspiring others to the same. It appears counterintuitive to be content when we believe in accomplishment, yet contentment doesn’t indicate laziness, lethargy, apathy or any sense of futility. On the contrary, contentment speaks to being satisfied with our accomplishments and what we have at hand. We can take pride in our accomplishments without comparing our lives with anyone else (see Galatians 6:4). Success is not based on self-absorption or self-centeredness but a sense of being true to our own nature as best we know how to. Discovering how and where we fit in the world around us brings contentment.

When we know our inner shape we also discover the ever evolving person inside and outside. The shape we take in our youth, for example, will not look exactly like what we grow into as we mature. Oh, the basic design remains the same but the exact fit will be different. Solomon’s warning about the weather changing unpredictably should give us a sense of our own evolution in the grand scheme of things. Humans adapt as part of their make up. We figure things out no matter what the circumstances and learn to live with some pretty challenging environments.

Life holds such mystery. If we live with encouragement, we will see the sunrise as a sign of good things to come–no matter what the day holds. If we live in an environment of discouragement, our world will see even the beauty of the flowers as a mockery of our hopes and dreams. Jesus gives us hope not only for the world to come but here and now. His assertion of the enemy’s plans contrasts with His own goals for us, The thief comes only in order to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have and enjoy life, and have it in abundance (to the full, till it overflows). (John 10:10 AMP)

Today is the day of salvation and hope. Solomon’s argument supports Christ’s declaration of His mission. We must seek life no matter what the weather is like, no matter what the climate is like, no matter where the tree falls. Our goal is to live the life Jesus came to give us starting now, letting our fears inform our choices with caution but never preventing us from attempting, striving or investing our all. We hold to the promise though everything around us opposes it, for our forward movement in the spiritual realm will never be subject to the earthbound circumstances set to hinder us.

 

Investments

December 13, 2013

 

Ship your grain across the sea; after many days you may receive a return. Invest in seven ventures, yes, in eight; you do not know what disaster may come upon the land. (Ecclesiastes 11:1, 2 NIV)

Every investment will show results–eventually. I often worry about spreading myself too thin from over commitment, which can be a problem, but the advice here is to invest. So, I do.
Yet, may be Solomon isn’t telling us to be so over-committed work related projects that we have no time for the rest of our lives. May be what he’s suggesting is we take advantage of every opportunity which comes our way within the parameters of good planning. In other words we are to invest in things for which we have the means and time without destroying the home crop, food for the winter or next year’s seed. These other pieces to our human psyche puzzle need attention as a form of wealth as well–metaphorically speaking. Every area of our lives takes an investment and exacts a price.
A healthy person recognizes he or she is made of many parts which all need to be maintained for that health to continue. An unhealthy person however makes great strides in one or a few areas and the rest suffers from either neglect or minimal time given. It’s easy to perceive the personae these highly “successful” people as the best means to everything we desire, but the dark underbelly of hyper-focus shows up after a while and we see the rest of their world begin to unravel. Whereas the healthy person invests in a wholeness approach–considering every aspect of themselves as important.
Solomon’s entire message here follows the theme of the rest of his book, namely laziness is foolishness and industry makes life interesting and fun. The repeated phrases in this small book (e.g. work with gladness of heart, enjoy time with your spouse, food, and friendships) add to our conclusion and when ignored or subtracted change our understanding of the message. Since time and chance happen to all, sitting on the sidelines watching or checking out through working long hours or partying just makes it worse. I’m sure most people can’t imagine how an ongoing feast could be bad but anything which takes without replacing eventually needs to restock. So if those in the party aren’t providing the food and fun, someone has to.
And right there is where oppression asserts itself into the situation. Those in power who are too lazy to do the work to supply their party take from those who already have to fund their fun. This continues until those who do the work are left with nothing at all for themselves, which angers the fools in charge. Of course their anger is unwarranted and selfish but they don’t care. What’s sad is these same leaders will tax their people into poverty then blame them for being destitute, all the while missing the irony.
Yet Solomon doesn’t let us off the hook just because we experience oppression or loss. Everything he’s said about life before this in Ecclesiastes comes into play at this point: Yes, life is unpredictable and the golden ticket doesn’t always go to those who seem to deserve it; yes, good people suffer when bad times happen and bad people often thrive; yes, oppressive kings exist and those who should be in power languish in obscurity; yes, everything we do might seem futile because death takes us all and we leave all we worked so hard for to someone who might squander it. BUT invest in life anyway since there is nothing guaranteed because one never knows what the outcome or rewards will be.
I don’t think Solomon is arguing for a sunny, always positive outlook on life. I do think he’s telling us reality sucks for some and not for others in unpredictable, wholly subject to time and chance ways except where God directly intervenes. His perspective seems to focus on what we can do about our reality rather than what we can’t. In other words when life gives you lemons make pie or lemonade and sell your product to whomever is buying. Don’t speak against those in power unless you have the power to do something about it, and if you do, be aware of the risk that you will be found out. It’s also a waste of time to rail against those in power when there’s absolutely nothing we can do about their abuses–outside of leading an insurrection that is.
But here’s a reality too: investment pays off one way or another. No one ever earns any profit off their product by storing it in barns; it takes risking the market to get the rewards. Sure we might fail, that’s what risk means, but it also means we might win. If we couple our risk with wisdom and follow the proven methods of others who have succeeded before us, we can at least be sure of putting the odds in our favor.
Here’s another reality: Some pay offs won’t be seen by us in our lifetime. In fact, I’d say much of what we do will only be seen by the next generation to appreciate as profit or learn from as a lesson of what to avoid.
As a follower of Jesus I believe in His word which says, “What a man sows, he will reap…” One way or another the “profit” of our investment will come back to us. If we sow grain(s) (both real and figuratively speaking), we most likely will see a harvest to be proud of–that is if the weather, war, illness, death or pests don’t take it out first. Knowing we did the best we could within the parameters we have at hand limits the negative outcomes but doesn’t subtract them completely. To paraphrase a discussion earlier in this book we are just one ingredient in life’s bread. The outcome depends on choices of others and unpredictable nature those choices as well as nature’s inherent input.
Railing against it, complaining, becoming bitter, holding onto anger or anything else which the powerless express in times of great calamity won’t solve it. Though it feels good to express our frustration, anger or hurt, remaining in that state of mind doesn’t move us forward.

The Context of Investment

December 3, 2013

Ship your grain across the sea; after many days you may receive a return. Invest in seven ventures, yes, in eight; you do not know what disaster may come upon the land. If clouds are full of water, they pour rain on the earth. Whether a tree falls to the south or to the north, in the place where it falls, there it will lie. Whoever watches the wind will not plant; whoever looks at the clouds will not reap. As you do not know the path of the wind, or how the body is formed in a mother’s womb, so you cannot understand the work of God, the Maker of all things. Sow your seed in the morning, and at evening let your hands not be idle, for you do not know which will succeed, whether this or that, or whether both will do equally well. (Ecclesiastes 11:1-6 NIV)

 

News Birds

December 2, 2013

 

Do not revile the king even in your thoughts, or curse the rich in your bedroom, because a bird in the sky may carry your words, and a bird on the wing may report what you say. (Ecclesiastes 10:20 NIV)

Jesus said something which I think goes along with this in a way (I know His subject was different but the principle remains), “Out of the heart the mouth speaks…” What we think about will come out in conversation in one way or another. Attitude accounts for much of the tone our words take which means even if we don’t say anything blatant about someone else, our tone when we do shouts what we think.
The thought life controls much of the demeanor and expression of not only our words but our actions. Say for instance a person suffers from low self-esteem this attitude will affect what they say and how they live. If someone is confident in their abilities, they act accordingly–even sometimes when their overall self-esteem is low. As strange as it might sound to some the way we think affects what we will be able to access in life as well.
I have lived in the opinion that I am no better than anyone and no more deserving either. This affects the way I approach opportunities. BUT (and notice it’s a big but) those two ideas are mutually exclusive to the opportunities offered. Just because I’m no better and no more deserving doesn’t mean I shouldn’t take advantage of every opportunity which comes my way. Having a humble attitude is about being real with one’s ego; taking the opportunities which life offers in its often haphazard way is not only about benefiting oneself but down the line others.
So reviling the king here is definitely the subject but the principle works itself out through many other avenues as well.
As another example: Jesus told us to be peacemakers. To actually be a peacemaker one must have peaceful thoughts. We cannot produce anything (except by accidental chance) which doesn’t already grow and remain present in us. In keeping with that a person who lives in a negative headspace will never help someone else in the same frame of mind rescue their thoughts unless the second person recognizes the signs and uses it as a springboard to better thoughts. In other words, the second person sees and hears the first person’s negative center and suddenly sees their own thoughts mirrored, which in turn repulses them and inspires them to change.
Solomon lived in a type of system which predated him, then continued for thousands of years after him. The most charismatic, strongest and richest became the most powerful and ruled in absolute unquestioned sovereignty. No one was allowed to voice dissent for fear of retribution which took different forms depending on the ruler. So when he tells his readers not to even think reviling thoughts about the king he’s talking about their health, safety and continued welfare.
The majority of the world remains ruled by dictatorships. These governments are designed to kill dissent and continue the status, power and life of luxury of those in power. The welfare of the people might seem to be a priority in rhetorical speeches but the reality is the ruled are viewed as the means to wealth and power for the rulers. The ruled are not seen as being worthy of respect, difference or value except as they benefit those in power.
The only reason I can say this publicly is because Americans pride themselves on freedom of speech and the principle of dissent as a national right. In the past this has not been true and in the present is still not true for most of the world. Here we say everything we think right out in the open, most other places such openness would result in some form of retaliation. Even in private it’s not safe (I almost said “wise” but that doesn’t fit) to express displeasure with the oppressive governments because there will always be supporters who will either side with those in power or desire such power for themselves. These are the “birds on the wing” who will take the whispered dissent to the ears of the “king”.
Now contrast the dictatorships with God’s absolute rule for moment. Jesus said something to this point in another discussion, “I tell you the truth, all sin and blasphemy can be forgiven, but anyone who blasphemes the Holy Spirit will never be forgiven. This is a sin with eternal consequences.” (Mark 3:28, 29 NLT) And another version of it: “Anyone who speaks against the Son of Man can be forgiven, but anyone who blasphemes the Holy Spirit will not be forgiven. (Luke 12:10 NLT) In both cases the sin against the Holy Spirit is one of calling good evil and evil, good.
I won’t get into a long discussion about the unpardonable sin because I don’t think most of us–if anyone–really understands it. I will say this though: blasphemy against the Son is forgivable while the sin against the Holy Spirit is not. I don’t pretend to grasp what that means exactly (though I have my theories) but I do understand that those who blaspheme against Jesus will be forgiven. Now put this into the context of our text for a moment and see the contrast.
No earthly dictator allows for public or even private dissent out of fear and/or a need to maintain absolute control. Jesus on the other hand is forgiving of those who actually speak against Him. Think about this for a while. Let the truth of it seep into the roots of your beliefs and affect how you express and maintain them.
There’s a move in America to clamp down on those who dissent against both our religion and God/gods in general. To be clear this goes for all ethics and ideals not just religions. I hear gay rights activists spouting the same sad oppressive hate speech against those who oppose them as they accuse their oppressors of saying. The efforts to silence people in Canada for example against speaking about homosexuality as immoral by Bible standards mirrors the same reactions as what has been done to the homosexuals for ages before this. In other words, if we are so against oppression and forced censorship of expression, why do we do it to anyone? I’m not picking on the gays here just pointing out a well known problem. To me they have just as much right to be in the public forum as anyone else in America. But that doesn’t excuse bad behavior when they make it a crime for someone to object and denounce their lifestyle as sin. What these very people are saying is: It’s ok for us to condemn and punish you for disagreeing with us publicly but a crime for you to condemn us eternally for our views. This dichotomy will never quit being a problem as long as human nature remains static in the mindset we experience in the present day. To be clear: In a free society I do not believe anyone should be persecuted or ostracized from public function because of race, religious or sexual preference, creed or gender. To do so undermines what “free society” means and makes it a lie.
For the follower of Christ there is no Scriptural precedent for this practice in the New Testament. Those who shout down the other side by claiming America was founded as a Christian nation ignore a lot of the injustice done not only to the slaves but immigrants and the native peoples already living here. Our nation’s forefathers usurped rulership of this country by violence and some pretty underhanded means. Lands which belonged by historical occupation–if not a formal claim–to the natives living here long before we staked a claim on them for our own purposes and called the natives savages to justify our elimination of their objections.
No where in Scripture is there a godly person ever recorded as being justified and praised for oppression or violence. Yes, the heroes of the Bible were often violent and took over Canaan but in reality the only reason the other nations were conquered was precisely because they wouldn’t leave Israel or anyone else alone–ever. If you look at the region occupied by the Jews after Egypt, you’ll see they didn’t kick everyone out and God didn’t require them to. At the time there was plenty of room for everyone. What He did make them do is become the police for justice and limiting evil.
No where does the NT command such a thing. The early church, under the apostles and their immediate disciples, didn’t ever preach overthrow of the governments in power at the time. To be pointed: The primary instructions to the church at that time–under one of the most Aryan, oppressive and unjust governments in history–was to be submissive in public decorum to these rulers. The only time a believer was justified in any kind of civic disobedience was when it came to submission to Christ; when it went against one’s conscience in Jesus.
So my point is we are to be in the world but not of it; part of the world but our internal worlds are not ruled by the need to rule it. Strangely enough the modern Christian church thinks prophecy justifies them building a nation based on Christian values and in this way the kingdom will be established. Unfortunately Scripture makes it clear no human government will do this only Christ’s cataclysmic return will accomplish it.
Jesus told the woman at the well (John 4) those who worship God in the future would do so spirit and in truth. The big mistake of both the Jews and the Samaritans was they worshiped God as if the physical realm mattered the most. God is spirit and those who wish to be a part of His kingdom will worship Him in spirit and in truth. This fact leaves out nation building as we know it. We are to build His kingdom by changing the heart, which will in turn change the desires of those we affect, after which we will see a change in the way the world is governed.
So where does this leave us with the issue of blasphemy? Well I believe we see a shift in Christ from earthbound nation building to an internal spiritual one. What I mean is the entire world lives in rebellion against God which is at its core blasphemy. Paul told the Christian church that we once were no different–unholy and blasphemous. If we who experience salvation from such rebellion can be placed in a position of grace and forgiveness, then so can the rest of the world. This flies in the face of the world’s value system where only the strong survive long enough to be king of the hill. Anyone willing to submit and confess to God in repentance will experience the daily renewal.
What could be scary is that every thought that isn’t subjected to Christ is a form of rebellion and speaks against Him. Remember He said, “Anyone who is not for me is against me.” Anyone remaining outside the circle of salvation lives in rebellion and a blasphemous state until the Spirit gains control. At that point we enter a state of being saved from our own condition.
God doesn’t need anyone to report our rebelliousness to Him for in Him we live and move and have our being thus He experiences through our very state of being alive whether or not we flow with His Spirit. Yet He is forgiving and longing to be gracious to us, unlike the rulers and powers of this world. And we are to be like Him. He does not execute or jail the blasphemous nor does He seize their possessions for ignoring or refusing Him. In the NT the believers didn’t boycott merchants whose lives were immoral or of other religions. In fact Paul instructed several places to eat whatever we buy from the marketplace with thanksgiving to God for providing. The early church would’ve been hard pressed to do business with just believers since they were so few in number.
Makes ya think doesn’t it?