Archive for January, 2014

Jonny’s Proverbs #1

January 28, 2014

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

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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.

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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.

Reminder

January 16, 2014

 
So remember your Creator in the days of your youth: Before the days of adversity come, and the years approach when you will say, “I have no delight in them”; (Ecclesiastes 12:1 HCSB)

Perspective is the key to wisdom. From the viewpoint of the young life is an open book of possibility and dreams to come true. For those on the downhill slope to aging it becomes a place of “what if”, “if only”, and worst of all a litany of their past failures parading through the present as reminders of how they got where they find themselves now.

The word picture Solomon paints above is poignant in its description of aging when life becomes difficult because the body no longer responds or has the strength to accomplish what we set out to do. The eyesight grows dim, sounds grows faint and pleasures become few. As death approaches people tend to reflect on what happens next with a mixture of fear and anticipation. Which dominates will depend on their beliefs about the afterlife. Inevitably the thoughts turn to either God and what He designed life to be or resignation and reflection. The God-fearing section of earth’s theater grow more spiritual as the days pass whereas the other side of the isle usually look back on their lives to see any significance to their existence.

Everyone has a certain perspective on life which depends on their view of the world–not necessarily a physical one, though this aspect can affect us. A man or woman raised with a condemning, demanding culture will see their gods/God from that light. A person raised in an environment where everything in their lives is free will expect the same once they fly from the nest–if they ever do. The fork in the road of our understanding becomes crucial to how we experience and ultimately end our lives.

I’ve been thinking about perspective quite a bit lately. What a person believes to be true makes all the difference in the world to how they act and react to what’s around them. I am not an Anthropologist so studying humans isn’t my job but a crucial (for me) hobby so I tend to think about the “why” of humanity quite a bit. Right or wrong: the skinhead believes a certain way about the human race and how it should be partitioned. The humanist believes certain things ought to be in place. The religious believe their god/gods or God ought to be in charge, and some take forceful steps to make that happen. In my observation of history each and every opinion/viewpoint of human design or supposedly god-given mandate has been used to uplift or subjugate/oppress–often at the same time.

What I find is that a select cross section of the populace, usually all those agreeing to the perspective rising in power, grow out of their poverty, “ignorance” and oppression first. Whether or not the rest of those outside this select few experiences the overflow of benefits depends on the leadership, of course. In America oppression becomes less about keeping people in poverty, which downgrades their work skills and worth to the wealthy, and becomes more about giving them lots of toys to distract them from what’s going on behind the scenes. Don’t get me wrong, I’m no conspiracy theorist or believer, but I do believe the powerful mandate the laws more than we like to believe. Justice for the wealthy trickles down in a lesser form as justice for the not so rich and sometimes even for those in poverty.

Privilege brings on a certain perspective to all we do.

When George Bush Jr. became President I recognized in him the mentality of the privileged. He wasn’t a bad president but he responded to the world from the perspective of one who looks down from his plenty and feels sorry for those who don’t. Not bad, just ignorant.

Thus all his solutions were from the viewpoint of someone who has never known want or real loss (losing an investment where daddy rescues your butt doesn’t count). I’m not criticizing because the guy created some real cool policy for the poor but also did some real damage to the country too.

Fast forward to Obama. His outlook comes from someone who has known a lower middle class lifestyle and gone on to become wealthy. How it affects his actions is seen in his efforts to raise up the lower and middle classes to the privileges of the wealthy. The problem he’s facing, and anyone will face, is that the a large portion of the wealthy didn’t get to their current state by being generous. If you’ve ever listened to the privileged middle class talk about those with less, you’ll know what I mean.

The POV that hard work and educated calculation are all it takes to get ahead is trumpeted by far too many. My dad worked hard even after his three heart attacks nearly killed him and didn’t ever make it out of his lower middle class status. Of course, his education totaled 2 months into his 3rd grade year, so may be that had something to do with it, although history would beg to differ. Nothing guarantees success–or failure.

I will say that the more money one has the more one is able to make. Be that as it may, the wealthy sacrifice many things for their position–more often than not ethics and love for others along the way. The business ethic of the Industrial Revolution latched onto Darwin’s survival of the fittest, treating the workers as drones to be pushed as hard as the boss’s desire for profit could. The only reason we have safeguards in place for the workers in factories and services is because some very wealthy powerful people with a conscience fought a

media/propaganda campaign to force the others to capitulate. As it stands, however, justice still has plenty of loopholes. For instance, a man who rapes a kid will serve 12 to 15 years maximum, and statistics demonstrate he often repeats his offense. Bernie Madoff ripped off the wealthy and received a 150 year sentence with no hope of parole. Is this justice? Of a sorts, but it shows where our values in America really lie.

Whatever our views about truth we respond to all around us from that paradigm. Changing perspectives may take a lifetime of reprogramming one’s mind and habits to reflect the new values bought through blood, sweat and tears to replace perceived faulty ones. It becomes a work in progress for all of us to create the world we envision.

One of the more recent crashing in on my awareness is that of point of view.
I mentioned skinheads a few paragraphs back in order to pull in the extremes, but I could’ve just as easily brought up the Hindu Untouchables, conservative Christianity or Muslim extremists. How we are programmed is critical to how we look at the world. Take just the simple idea that God is a hard nosed, righteousness obsessed deity into account when looking at the world and everything we do will reflect how we act–or don’t act. I hear a lot of Americans, who have never had to think outside their box much less tried to understand any other POV other than their own, condemn extremists the world over.

The feminist cries foul looking at how third world women live and spends her entire existence marching on Washington to change these injustices. The religious right fight for their particular gospel from the comforts of their pews according to whatever they believe their god/gods to be. The free market entrepreneur fights for trade agreements between our country and others to expand sales and market shares. Those out for social justice come from each of these listed and several other places besides, confusing the hue and cry for equality, living standards, and religious freedom. Each believes fervently their fight is going to change the world for the better, or at the very least their own prospects. None of them pay enough attention to the trends of history which do little to support this viewpoint.

Here’s the problem: When we subtract human nature–call it the dark side of humanity or sin–we become an optimistic humanist championing the good in people and fighting for everyone to experience life their way. When a person sees evil everywhere they champion stricter societal boundaries and we end up with a police state based on a religion, humanist ethic or mixture of both. When we see the world through the eyes of psychology/psychiatry the solutions are therapy or drugs.

The list could go on a couple of chapters and I still wouldn’t be able to speak all the ways human thinking affects how they act.

A few chapters back (in this blog) I noted our optional choices made a difference in the outcome. So it is with perspective. A person, like me, who grew up with lower income will see the world either through the lens of acquisition, resignation/despair, or a hippy-esque denial of all things financial. Someone, like my son, who grows up solidly middle class will look around the world and wonder why people don’t just live the way he does. The former people might work hard and become a success, after which many turn around to either lend a helping hand to those with similar backgrounds or chide those whom they consider to be “lazy” people for not being more industrious.

Do you see the problem here?

The moment we subtract time and chance we set ourselves and everyone else up for judgment–human in origin. The moment we subtract the negative side of humanity from the natural expressions and choices we all make–call it human nature or sin, take your pick–we set ourselves up for unrealistic goals and, I dare say, frustration by the end of our efforts. The moment we begin to see everyone as depravity waiting to happen every good action we see becomes suspect.

The biggest mistake humans make is believing everyone shares or should share our POV. The next mistake usually equals us trying to convince by argument of “reason”, and if that fails, force of arms. Neither of which work for the truly convinced. I believe it was Benjamin Franklin who said, “A man convince against his will is of the same opinion still.” Zealots of every stripe would rather die heroes championing their cause than give up.

How does this affect our view of God then?

Simply put we attribute to God (I am now speaking directly to the Christ follower here) whatever paradigm we buy into. A legalistic believer sees the world from a host of rules and weighs sins against righteousness, repentance and restitution. One who follows grace alone cannot bear to exclude even the worst humanity produces. And there are an unlimited supply of combinations of grace/law opinions and practices out there.

We don’t have to go far to see how Christians have affected the world. We also don’t have to look too hard to see how a specific POV affects how they act in public. The Christian Right are not afraid to get their hands dirty with politics, protests and media blasting. For the record I don’t find threatening people who don’t believe in Christ much less an afterlife with hell fire very effective. Convincing someone who already thinks we’re over the top and crazy just makes us sound that much more insane. Again, bombing abortion clinics might sound godly but it really is using humanistic reasoning and earthbound methods to accomplish God’s “work” on earth. If saving the unborn is such a big problem, why are these same people not taking over Hindu and Buddhist dominated countries where the practice is rampant?

No, perspective and firmly held beliefs affect everything we do.

Changing the world may not be an option in a macro sense, but changing it in microcosm might be. Our outlook should be about discipleship not war. The weapons of our warfare are not of earthly origin therefore our methods of campaigning must reflect this or we step outside our mandate from Christ Himself. In the Great Commission we are told to go make disciples not take over nations. The historical practice of fighting the enemy through the force of arms leaves a long and bloody trail for the unbeliever to decry our message of hope. God demonstrated very efficiently how effective war is through Israel’s history. That is to say, not at all. It didn’t stop evil nor stem the tide of selfish ambition.

For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision accomplishes anything; what matters is faith working through love. (Galatians 5:6 HCSB)

The gospel is clear, no effort of human origin will quell the nature of sin, only faith working through love will accomplish the Utopia we all so long for.

 

Remember

January 8, 2014

So remember your Creator in the days of your youth: Before the days of adversity come, and the years approach when you will say, “I have no delight in them”; before the sun and the light are darkened, and the moon and the stars, and the clouds return after the rain; on the day when the guardians of the house tremble, and the strong men stoop, the women who grind cease because they are few, and the ones who watch through the windows see dimly, the doors at the street are shut while the sound of the mill fades; when one rises at the sound of a bird, and all the daughters of song grow faint. Also, they are afraid of heights and dangers on the road; the almond tree blossoms, the grasshopper loses its spring, and the caper berry has no effect; for man is headed to his eternal home, and mourners will walk around in the street; before the silver cord is snapped, and the gold bowl is broken, and the jar is shattered at the spring, and the wheel is broken into the well; and the dust returns to the earth as it once was, and the spirit returns to God who gave it. “Absolute futility,” says the Teacher. “Everything is futile.” (Ecclesiastes 12:1-8 HCSB)

Banish the Thought, But…

January 7, 2014

 

Einstein's equation

Einstein’s equation

 

You who are young, be happy while you are young, and let your heart give you joy in the days of your youth. Follow the ways of your heart and whatever your eyes see, but know that for all these things God will bring you into judgment. So then, banish anxiety from your heart and cast off the troubles of your body, for youth and vigor are meaningless. (Ecclesiastes 11:9, 10 NIV)

For youth and vigor are meaningless continues the theme Solomon laid out in the beginning. The strength, energy and vision of the youth really hold little significance to the outcome of their choices nor do these “gifts” of nature mean anything to the quality with which they live. Everything we accomplish can be demolished in an instant–with or without thought or prior intent. The overarching purpose the modern psyche obsesses about doesn’t exist within this context except in one form: Live with all your might!

Solomon might sound cynical, jaded and skeptical on life but I beg to differ. All my life, and I dare say this can be said of most people in general, I felt there had to be a purpose to my life. For some reason we believe (and teach) that everyone has a calling in life; that one thing they are or do which will fulfill their hearts and create contentment along the way as well as at the end.

The reality, Solomon argues, is much more broad than that, for in his view we are put on this earth with no special purpose other than to live and even that “purpose” is a mystery only God knows. What makes one person more special than another? Is it their good looks, charm or personality? Is it the inventiveness, talent and industry one brings to the table versus another? Or, could it be the character, love and benefit one blesses the world around them with unselfishly?

Yes.

In reality, the worker earning minimum wage brings to the table something the executive in the office can’t or won’t do. Without the thousands of people working in the factory–whether its their gift or not–the business model so celebrated in the world of finance would sink into obscurity as a failure. The visionary cannot get the “vision” off the ground without someone (or many someones) to finance it and others to implement it. No one sells the product unless buyers (be they brokers or customers) find it useful or attractive. It sounds clever to create a need where there wasn’t one before, but that’s exactly what a snake-oil salesperson does to get us to buy it. That said, a useless “need” will only last so long before people get bored and move onto the next one. Just think of how fast the human race went from wagons to trains to cars; or the change from vinyl to tapes (reel to 8-track to cassette) to CDs to iPods.

At the time of this very paragraph I’m looking at a new year, 2014, the date is January 2, and I’m looking back on 2013 with some sober eyes. I made a few choices which resulted in great successes and others which ended in disaster. 2014 becomes a year of changes for me because the past speaks loud and clear about my failures and results are in: the fails created bigger holes than the successes could fill in and now payment is due.

All my strengths did me no good in the end. As industrious and energetic as I have been people threw curve balls at me and I missed the hit. I also had two people cheat while playing the business game leaving me further in the hole and owing. I worked hard, did my best to be conscientious and honest then still lost. This doesn’t mean anything as to an overarching purpose in my life nor does it speak to my lack of resolve or willingness to change. What it does say about life in general is that if someone doesn’t want to pay, he or she won’t and nothing will make this person be honest.

Again, that said, I’m not trumpeting a method for success because the way is simple: provide for ourselves and the needs of others, work hard, be faithful to our promises and the rest will take care of itself.

Whoever loves money never has enough; whoever loves wealth is never satisfied with their income. This too is meaningless. As goods increase, so do those who consume them. And what benefit are they to the owners except to feast their eyes on them? The sleep of a laborer is sweet, whether they eat little or much, but as for the rich, their abundance permits them no sleep. (Ecclesiastes 5:10-12 NIV)

This is what I have observed to be good: that it is appropriate for a person to eat, to drink and to find satisfaction in their toilsome labor under the sun during the few days of life God has given them—for this is their lot. Moreover, when God gives someone wealth and possessions, and the ability to enjoy them, to accept their lot and be happy in their toil—this is a gift of God. They seldom reflect on the days of their life, because God keeps them occupied with gladness of heart. (Ecclesiastes 5:18-20 NIV)

Notice Solomon said when God gives someone wealth and possessions not God gives everyone these things. The belief that God is the big Santa in the sky with a list and checking it twice to see who’s naughty or nice is a human twist on the truth. God desires to give us good things but not everyone receives the same commission. The word “submit” uses another form called “submission” which if taken apart is “sub” “mission”–sub- meaning to come under, and mission meaning one’s job, assignment, or purpose. We are to come under the mission of Christ, who had nowhere to lay His head.
It’s always interesting to me to listen to Christians discuss the Scripture. For whatever reason we take out of the message exactly what we most want to hear over what it actually says. Far too often the message of one passage is preferred over another to the hurt of not only the church but those who witness what we believe. In Ecclesiastes Solomon lays out a truth of creation within this paradigm: Life is unpredictable and not everyone wins. Oppression is the name of the game no matter what nation we live in. Freedom really means what is acceptable over what many proclaim as our rights; rights are what the law-makers and power-mongers tell us they are not what we know intrinsically to be true.

No one makes their future happen according to plan. I have watched over and over as people who appeared to be movers and shakers dwindled into obscurity and ineffectiveness because popular interest waned. Depending on a method did them no good; changing their method did them no good.

Youth, idealism, vigor and hard work are meaningless in the grand scheme of things because these principle gifts guarantee nothing to the outcome. Are they good gifts and great strategies for future success? Absolutely! But no gift guarantees the desired desired future.

Riding the ebb and flow of life with industry, careful thinking and a sense of the “market” society creates around itself will serve one better than almost anything else. In combination with youth, vigor and good work ethic the chances of success are greatly increased; but never guaranteed.

The hardest statement to reconcile in my modern mind is of course Follow the ways of your heart and whatever your eyes see, but know that for all these things God will bring you into judgment, for it brings up an uncomfortable dilemma. Actually “conundrum” might be a better word, for what we believe in the modern mindset is that judgment is wrong because God doesn’t judge since love won’t encourage such a thing.

At 53 I realize how foolish this mindset is. Everything we choose in life holds consequences–good or bad. Even when we choose the good the results might be either less spectacular than we hoped or disastrous in the end. Both the former and latter may be the result of poor planning, the influence of social or market conditions outside our control. Or, our choices might have nothing whatsoever to do with the outcome since the rest of the input comes outside of our abilities.
Judgment isn’t a negative but a conclusion of sorts which gets written into our epitaph or eulogy when we’re done. We get no choice in the matter or what is said because we are not the ones who get to do the talking at our own funerals. Quite frankly, besides our husk of a body laying in the coffin or ashes in the urn we won’t be at our own funerals anyway.

For some of us we won’t even have to wait until death to find out what grade we get in life–sometimes life’s “school master” hands out the grade early, and I’m not talking about God. It depends of course on what we involve ourselves in but the reality remains the same: we will be graded on how we lived and what we did with our time here.

If I have learned one truth from Ecclesiastes, it’s the need to think our way through life instead of being thoughtless or careless of the outcome. In my experience every action has a reaction to a greater or lesser degree. I know, I know, E=MC2 works for energy, I just firmly believe the same principle applies to life in general as well.

I live in Portland, Oregon, where trees are taken for granted and rain happens a majority of the days out of the year. On the way to my brother, Tom’s, house the trees give way to high desert or miles and miles of flat grasslands. The wind down the Columbia Gorge is legendary–not to mention the ice during the winter. A good rancher/farmer will build a house surrounded by trees for a wind break. If you see these places, you will notice that the really big oaks, elms, etc. are far enough away from the house so as to avoid damage if they fall. Without those breaks the house would be colder from the windchill, hotter in the summer too. Someone in the past realized the need and planted various kinds of trees in an effort to preserve their living space.

A little forethought prevents great disasters later. That is, it can, provided extraneous factors don’t swoop in to destroy all those carefully laid plans.
Solomon doesn’t teach nor appear to believe wisdom prevents disaster or guarantees success. What he seems to be saying here, as far as I can determine, is wisdom will make the chances of success better while also making the darkest days better. We might not be able to guarantee the outcome but we can choose how we think about ourselves, our family and what we do. In the end this is all we really can guarantee, and though this might not be enough for the world’s judgmental eyes, it is for God, Who alone matters.

 

The Sweet and the Savory

January 1, 2014

 

Light is sweet, and it is pleasing for the eyes to see the sun. Indeed, if a man lives many years, let him rejoice in them all, and let him remember the days of darkness, since they will be many. All that comes is futile. (Ecclesiastes 11:7, 8 HCSB)

Humans avoid darkness. Just look at the street lights in a city, how late we stay up at night, where we like to vacation and the places we call “paradise” for starters. The last phrases and the sentence speak to a place inside our collective psyche about an avoidance issue we all share. Something I know after years of trying it every other way possible is that no matter how good we have it–decent job, nice house (not expensive just average), friendly family, and toys–we still have days of darkness.

Many days of darkness.

Lately I’ve begun to notice how often people post on Facebook about their dark times or poignant quotes related to them. The memes (pictures with thoughts written on them) run rampant everyday pointing to our thought life as the source of happiness and light-hearted living. Why? Because everyone is experiencing their share of futility and despair. I’m not focusing on the negative here just pointing out a truth as I see it–or fact as it is.

One of the few things I have gleaned out of being alive for 53 years is the ability to be almost fearless when looking at the facts. Don’t get me wrong, I still hesitate and waffle when confronted but eventually I prefer to just get my hands in the mess and deal. The journey from a bruise, cut or debilitating injury to healing takes time. The one fact which has stood out for me is that it takes time to heal from anything.

We accept the truth of physical healing as a matter of course while injuries done to the mind receive less sympathy–or empathy–unless we experience something similar. How many times have you heard someone say, “Oh just grow up and deal with it!” or “Grab yourself by the bootstraps and pull ’em up!” or “Time to put on your big girl panties and…” I dare say too often, no matter what the situation someone always has that “easy” answer in the shape of a formula that works no matter what the situation. The problem I find with other people’s answers is they believe (often wholeheartedly) their method is a one size fix all rather than something that simply worked for them at the time.

This brings me to the lesson I learned of principle working theory over method.

I am approximately the same size as I was in my 20s. As an example my waist remains roughly 33″ but definitely not 34″ unfortunately. Why is it unfortunate? Because I’m slightly more than 33″ but 34″ is too loose and I struggle to keep them up even with a belt. If I buy clothes, the shirts still fit but I must try on the pants ‘cuz even though it says 33″ it might be too tight and then it’s misery.

Solutions come with similar problems attached. Even though the gist of a situation might look exactly like something we’ve dealt with before one twist can make the flavor or outcome entirely different. God created the parameters of time and chance which runs off of a set of variables so vast no one really knows how to calculate them. Yet we insist on solutions in the one-size-fits-all category, attempting to force everyone through legislation, habits, a host of guidelines and social mores into a specific bag (or number of them) so we can deal efficiently. Religions do it, governments do it, cultures dictate it, society thrives on it and families die from it. The more I think about it the more I’m convinced one-size-fits-all is a form of laziness. I don’t care how industrious or ambitious someone claims to be categorization allows us the convenience of not thinking through all the variables in a situation and blaming the person for not being subject to conventional solutions.

On the other hand, just because we misapply the principle of categorization doesn’t mean that having categories is wrong. The evil isn’t in the category but the relentless assigning of it and hard-hearted refusal to allow people to be more than one. For instance, measles as a disease is in a category of diseases which act a certain way, affect a specific part of the body and results in a defined outcome with few variables. Native Americans died from it because their immune system had never confronted it before, yet even though in the European cultures people died from it exposure to it guaranteed a better survival rate. So to categorize measles as a disease which is incurable or deadly across the board would be inaccurate. To categorize it as one with dangerous possibilities is truth.

Jesus said once, “Because of the increase of wickedness, the love of most will grow cold… (Matthew 24:12 NIV)” Methodology is the darling of some of the worst atrocities in history. The Nazis were masters of the societal norms and governed “truths” which annihilated millions before they were stopped. The history of the world is rife with examples of one method winning against another and then proclaimed as penultimate way for the future. Until of course another way is brought by those who conquer the previous conquerors. And round and round it goes. Every nation which went undefeated in battle and conquered other nations used its victories to proselytize and champion its gods/God. The method the winner used became the standard until someone else thought of something to counter it, then the newcomer championed his gods. The callous hearts resulting from hardline methodology can be seen from religions to governments to business to personal interaction and family dynamics.

Pleasure seekers are never more intense about it than when the days of darkness abound. We call addiction a disease to ease the shame of it but most of the people I know who became addicted had other goals in mind when they began the downward spiral. The reasons are complicated so conclusions as to why and what caused the spiral are as many as there are addicts. However, we can get a general gist as to the trek into this madness of sorts by watching the trends.

Many of us just want to feel good–physically or personally, it doesn’t matter. We seek pleasure as a means of boosting our own view of life or ourselves or use it as a means of gaging success. I doubt that most people who end up addicted ever set a goal for it or had even thought about it much. Having worked and lived with many people who deal with addiction I can confidently say each one experienced something uniquely similar to everyone else.

The days of darkness come to all. Escape is not an option mentally though it might be physically. Just ask someone suffering from PTSD because of war trauma and you will know the truth of that. The only solution is healing; the only way to heal is to know what caused the trauma in the first place, and the only way to know that is to be aware, honest and willing to do the work it takes to go to the dark places of one’s soul.

Yet all is not lost for most of us since there will be plenty of days where light shines brightly. Solomon’s injunction to remember the light in our days of darkness comes as a warning against despair. We have life, therefore we must live it with everything in us. We have light in some form so must cling to the memory of it to sustain us through the dark times. At the same time we need to remember the dark days in the times of light so that we don’t get blind-sided when something crashes to the ground. Life is very unpredictable with so many people putting their two cents in the pot so our response must be caution in success and hope in defeat.