Archive for the ‘Love’ Category

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.

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Word Useage

October 11, 2013

Words from a wise man’s mouth are gracious, but fools are consumed by their own lips.  At the beginning their words are folly; at the end they are wicked madness—and fools multiply words.  Ecclesiastes 10:12, 13.

 

The word “but” is a comparative word, signaling a contrast or new direction.  In modern English we get what I’m going to call “the hard” comparisons where the contrast is obvious—a this-versus-that scenario.  I’ve noticed, however, Solomon’s contrasts are more descriptive and less obvious.

So if the wise use words tempered by grace, it follows that fools do not.  The hard contrast here cannot be missed really because the word “but” makes sure we see there is one.  At the same time what we are given is not the hard contrast but the wise person’s gracious words versus the fool’s outcome—consumed by their own lips.  Solomon then spends more time describing the fool’s use of words than he does the wise.

I looked up the word gracious and found it consistently used in both the KJV and NIV, although it can also be translated favor in another context.  In this context the translators used gracious intentionally since a wise man doesn’t always grant favor but does use gracious language.  What this means for the hard contrast then is the fool doesn’t use or seek to use gracious language and is consumed by the lack of grace in their interaction.  The wise set out to be full of grace and use words carefully so as to be certain of their reception or the listener’s grasp of the meaning.

If we were to paraphrase the last sentence a bit, it might go somewhat like this:  When fools start to speak the very words they use are silly, frivolous and ungracious; when they finish speaking the point of their conversation ends up being detrimental and devious.  And they use a lot of words either to disguise their intentions or to convince whoever is listening.  The intent for them is to get their way not to do what is best.  If we work or live around someone who constantly demonstrates a lack of concern for others and generally doesn’t care who they offend, we must be aware and beware of what could happen as a result of any interaction with them.

Of all the types of people we encounter as followers of Jesus the fool/careless person is the hardest to live around.  What’s strangely consistent is that these people permeate the church to a degree that they become the squeaky wheel rather than just an annoying subculture.  Not only are they careless in their words in the body of Christ but continue to “witness” to this attitude with full intensity outside it as well.  I’d say any negative rep the church has in the world stems mostly from the fools within it who use words to manipulate, subjugate and generally dominate others.

James called for the church to gain godly wisdom, proclaiming as one of its main ingredients being considerate (see James 3:17).  A follower of Jesus who submits to the lesson of the cross submits to the character of the Master.  Being considerate is an outgrowth of peace-loving and results in being full of mercy and good fruit, impartial and sincere.

In full disclosure I have been the inconsiderate follower of Jesus.  Was I sincere in my desire?  Yup!  But I was (and still am in many ways) a fool.  I have hurt people and the rep of Jesus by being overbearing, pushy with my ideas and stingy with grace and mercy.  As hard as I try to be considerate, the moment I open my mouth to instruct someone I find long practiced habits take over without constant vigilance beforehand over my thoughts.  If I disagree with someone—even a fellow believer, it becomes apparent what my thought life is when I speak ungraciously.

We are all fools to one degree or another.  We all damage the reputation of Christ in the world by our behavior and sinful nature affecting our attitude and beliefs.  Unfortunately, if we are going to be growing Christians who deny the old nature for the new, we will fail to represent the Master properly.  It’s futile to believe anyone escapes this fool category for we are all simply too steeped in past habits and affected by the scars to be anything but fallible.

Sounds hopeless, huh?

What is impossible with man is possible with God.

Do we think God is surprised by the failure of the church to represent Him right?  Do we believe that if we just tweaked our message enough, we would be better witnesses?  Do we truly buy into the teaching that somehow we are going to get over our sin this side of glorification?

If you said “yes” to any of those questions, you have been fooled by the worst of the devil’s lies.

A child grows in stages of development not from full knowledge or experience but through incremental gains in both.  A believer is rightly called a newborn child of God at baptism, which should carry the weight of experiencing the corporeal growth as a metaphor for the spiritual.  We develop our understanding by failing and getting back up again to retry until we do it right by habit.  I don’t know anyone who is the epitome of Christ-like behavior or teaching—as if I would recognize it anyway given the bias we all share.  I am also not recommending any sort of throwing in the towel because that means an early death or a miserable life—neither of which speak from the heart of God.

Jesus promised an abundant life for those who followed His teaching.  To reiterate a point I’ve made before (sorry if I appear to harp on this) Jesus never said the truth by itself would set us free but “IF you hold to my teaching, you are really my disciples.  Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.”  John 8:32.  The world quotes this verse but leaves Jesus out of it; we Christians often quote it and leave Jesus’ teachings out of it too.  The world implies that there is some magical liberating component to truth itself— though not exactly an altogether wrong notion it’s not accurate either.  Knowing truth means light has shined on a dark subject revealing the reality hidden.  Understanding the truth will free us up to stop worrying about the unknown probably, but it doesn’t exactly follow that we will find less to be worried about in the long run.

Slavery for many people is a truth.  For instance the recent news of three women being held captive for more than a decade reveals how true this fact is.  The realization that they were sex slaves didn’t and never would set them free, although grasping the reality of it probably saved them a beating or few.  No amount of acknowledging their truth held any liberty in it for them at all.

Christ’s discipline is not about reward punishment rather it points to a practice of right/healthy living.  God designed the product (our bodies and psyche) and then wrote the operation manual.  Stepping outside that design is like pouring Coke on a computer keyboard—one can do it but shouldn’t complain when the known outcome happens.  Understanding what being a disciple is frees us to live our lives in ever increasing growth while experiencing setbacks, failures and generally being human.  While these negative experiences and attitudes might interfere with our goal of being like our Master they are simply obstacles which discipleship helps us address.

Anything outside the character of Jesus is foolishness, therefore being Christ-like is wisdom.  Jesus came to deliver us from foolishness; sin is foolish, make no mistake about it.  The wise use words which are gracious, I believe, precisely because they know what the alternative means.  Most wise people have been fools often enough to avoid it—if not out of wisdom exactly, then out of self-preservation.  God promises an abundant life IF we hold to the teachings of Jesus.  Only then will we know the truth and be set free.

The word most people miss is disciple, which points to following and adhering to the disciplines of the teaching.  A discipline is a practice one follows into a habit so that it becomes second nature rather than planned.  The freedom therefore must come from the continued practice of Jesus teachings.  Yet, later Jesus told the disciples (another derivative of the word “discipline”) “You can do nothing of yourselves; just like branches cannot bear fruit without being attached to the vine itself.”  He is the vine, we are the branches.  He provides the spiritual sap; we bear the fruit.  But notice we do something as a result of our attachment to Him.

The word “gracious” is a derivative of the root “grace”.  This means the wise are full of grace and their language reflects it.  The mouth speaks what the heart thinks; it naturally follows gracious words must emanate from grace filled thoughts.  Fools don’t think of grace so naturally it cannot be part of their vocabulary.  If you meet a Christ-follower who practices ungracious language, most likely they are either young in the Lord or not steeped in the discipline of Christ.  Christ is full of grace and mercy.  He did not come into the world to condemn it.  His intention was and is to save the world through His teachings and actions—the cross and resurrection.

The Great Equalizer

May 4, 2013

So I reflected on all this and concluded that the righteous and the wise and what they do are in God’s hands, but no man knows whether love or hate awaits him.  All share a common destiny—the righteous and wicked, the good and the bad, the clean and the unclean, those who offer sacrifices and those who do not.  As it is with the good man, so with the sinner; as it is with those who take oaths, so with those who are afraid to take them.  Ecclesiastes 9:1, 2.

 

After nursing school and a stent in Alaska working in an alcohol center’s detox unit, I ended up as a nurse assistant between the spring and fall quarters at college.  During my tenure there I met a man who, from all accounts, had been one of the most influential and well-to-do men in the area.  I don’t recall his name because, you know, he was a patient and it’s been 30 years or more, but what I do remember is he was dying a slow painful death from prostate cancer.  As a nursing assistant they would assign me a wing or set number of rooms to take care of and I’d be pretty busy keeping up with all the patients.  Even so, there would be lulls in the craziness where I could go talk to my friend/patient for a while.

As I got to know him I found out he was a believer.  This set us up for many cool, thoughtful discussions.  The day before he died he asked me to read Scripture to him.  I chose Psalm 71 since it spoke to old age and death a bit with hope.  I watched as the words washed over him bringing peace in his physical agony.  The next day he died and for the next month or more I chewed on the significance of a life lived well.

In the end it really doesn’t matter who we’ve been or how brilliant our career, life or family connections were, death takes us all.  The great disaster among the greatest disasters of all time levels the playing field to the point of dust.  I mean, we hear this pretty much all our lives without probably taking it in.  Until, of course, someone close to us dies or we face death ourselves, then life takes on a whole new meaning and value.  My friend/patient spent all his money on a cure, then, once the cure failed, the rest of his money went to the health support system to ease his pain while he died.  Everything he worked for came down to spending it on his death in the end.

Solomon calls death’s equalizing effect a great evil.  In a sense it definitely is, on the other hand, I’m kind of glad death sets limits on us.  Think of it:  what if some of the most despotic rulers lived eternally?  What would the world be like if they had been able to not only continue in their power grab but had no end in sight for their rule?  At the same time, many good people who blessed the world with their wisdom, kindness, generosity and good example also died.  Almost everybody agrees that evil people should die but good people?  It seems a shame.

We humans enjoy being self-actualizing beings.  As wacky as it sounds on paper (or in this case a blog entry in cyberspace) even the more righteous among us love self-determination.  Weird isn’t it?  We say we believe in a God who set the limits of the heavens and boundaries around our lives all the while taking the reigns of life’s horse by worry, anxiety and often just pushing our way through the crowds to whatever we call success.  All our accomplishments will be forgotten as likely as not before one generation past us dies out, yet we still fight to make a mark.

Working to be remembered is good, I believe.  The entire law and history in the Bible stories tells of men and women who will be remembered.  David grew humbled and thankful when God told him his line would be remembered for not only his deeds but those of future generations in his line.  While I’m sure most of us in America barely grasp the significance of that experience, we do however get the need to be known, recognized and canonized in history.  A Jew of David’s era found his or her identity in their nationality, customs and family traits.  David’s progeny took their identity and pride of heritage from Israel’s greatest king—him—as a means of value, claim to power and generally their relationship to others in the world at large.

Yet David died, so all we have now are stories. Nothing remains of his possessions and even the stories get garbled or distorted as we project our modern grasp of life onto the past.  His historical value continues to be contemplated in books, articles, documentaries and movies, each of these, in turn, adding myth to the legend.

Death, the equalizer, leaves us with only one perfect memory, God’s.  I think this is why Jesus taught so fiercely about seeking God’s will, opinion and perspective over other people’s viewpoints.  If I’m concerned with God’s view of me over all the others, my decisions will reflect it; how I live will reflect it.  Jesus came to bring reconciliation between God and mankind, and then to have that peace overflow to humanity.  The world is not a peaceful place as of this writing, to my knowledge.  The sheer hate demonstrated by people of different faiths, ethnicities and tribes is still very evident and clear.  I don’t think I will see peace in the world in my lifetime unless Jesus comes back to take over.

But, no matter.  The truth of death’s great leveling agent cannot be denied.  If we believe in God, a god or just mankind as an accident of evolution, we are all in the same situation:  we will all die.

So, what do we do with this fact?

Frankly, not much besides use it to inspire us to live.  What we do between birth and death, however, can make the difference for those who come after us as well as our own lives.  Here’s the deal breaker for me:  Life isn’t about birth or death, it’s about what we do with ourselves while we breathe.  What happens between the lines is often more important than the lines themselves, you know what I mean?

When Solomon declares there is nothing more that a person can do but to eat, drink and enjoy one’s life while we got it, I think he establishes another pure fact of God’s design.  I know, I know, Evangelical Christianity constantly harps on the verses which declare we must glorify God, but that’s just it—everything I am and do can be a part of that process—especially my happiness.

A Happy Recommendation

March 18, 2013

So I commend the enjoyment of life, because nothing is better for a man under the sun than to eat and drink and be glad.  Then joy will accompany him in his work all the days of the life God has given him under the sun.  Ecclesiastes 8:15.

Family DinnerReading this for the first time my reaction was different than it is today.  In the beginning, when I was a young man and fledgling Christian, my take on everything filtered through the heroic stories of martyrs, missionaries and sacrifice for God.  I wanted to be one of those heroes, ignoring whatever didn’t seem to support “self-denial”.

Time passes and either we become more entrenched in our beliefs or we adjust to the reality around us.  I’m attempting to do the latter while holding onto certain ideals of the former from Scripture which I believe are true, albeit holding them lightly since I know my interpretation of the facts could be skewed by bias undetected.  I’ve come to understand self-denial differently for one thing.  The underlying teaching we are to be unhappy here so that we can experience the joy of eternity has lost its grip on me because I see God differently now.  Where before I interpreted Solomon’s words as earthly (Christian catch-word meaning sin-infected or base) and lacking the message of Jesus, I now understand Scripture through the eyes of my Master a little better, which is to say He taught this happiness stuff too in a clarifying way.

The idea that suffering for Christ is somehow more worthy than being happy in Him has been steadily growing silly to me.  I know, I know, the preachers of all stripes teach us there’s a difference between joy and happiness…but there really isn’t.  Where the problem lies with us is our sinful nature not the mores of God.  In the beginning He created us to be happy, productive and to live a long time, we are the ones who messed this up and lost track of His intentions.  Where we go wrong is narcissism, selfish ambition and a host of other things we would rather do than conform to the Author and Finisher of our faith.  Now this is not to say we hate God, rather our self-absorption gets in the way of being our true selves.

For instance there is absolutely nothing wrong with being good in business, making lots of money, living a comfortable life, and being happy.  Where this style of living becomes harmful is when we come to the belief we are somehow the author of all of it rather than the recipient of God’s bounty.  Then there’s the problem of attitude, where we come to the belief we are somehow deserving of all the bounty.  And, when we take into account Solomon’s pretty sobering pronouncement that the race is not to the swift, the battle to the strong, nor does wealth come to the brilliant or favor to the learned or food to the wise but time and chance happen to them all, the reality of our place takes the edge off any form of conceit.  It’s the luck of the draw or, rather, life hasn’t accosted some folks same way because they were—by chance of circumstance or choice—out of the way when the wind of change came around.

Solomon is an example of what wealth, power, and wisdom gone awry does to us.  He wasn’t necessarily more evil than other people or weaker in certain areas than everybody else.  No, what happened is he gave into evil by degrees until his wisdom did him no good.  I believe Ecclesiastes is his attempt to shed light on hard lessons learned.  The book becomes a confession of what lead to his own downfall, though not one of self-revelation, his rhetoric here reveals what wisdom can and cannot do for a person submitted to it.

This is the most compelling point he makes to me, because, let’s be honest, it appeals to my missionary/martyrdom conditioning:  Even if we are poor and have barely anything to speak of, happiness can be an option if we keep it simple and decide to be satisfied with the essentials.  The recognition that wealth and power are fleeting or tenuously held at best, can comfort those blessed with one or both by helping them live in contentment.

The recommendation in our text above declares happiness to be a state of being rather than the cause or effect of circumstances; a choice.  I don’t believe Solomon is talking about all circumstances or every situation because he does say just a few verses prior that oppression can weigh heavily on people.  I do accept, however, a person can live in such an attitude of happy contentedness with what he or she has instead of being discontented with what isn’t.  I might be wrong but I believe the message of Matthew 6:25-34 or Luke 12:22-34 at their essence speaks to this principle Solomon espouses.

In my short life I’ve met people representing all spectrums of human strata.  I’ve met wealthy people who are happy or unhappy as well as the poverty stricken dominated by either state of mind.  Some people are happy in nature because that’s how they are wired, I get that, but some choose to find satisfaction in with what is in front of them.  Others of us struggle because of our “wish list” of things we think will fulfill us.

Let me speak to a couple of mine.

I am a romantic soul.

When you read the word “romance” what’s the first thing that comes to mind?  Love, marriage, hearts, flowers, kisses, etc?  Hmmm…then you don’t grasp the real concept of romanticism.  For instance, I read Huckleberry Finn nearly 10 times by the age of 12 or so.  Forget the lack of food, income or anything else, I wanted to float down the Mississippi River on a raft lost in the idyllic life of adventure.  So, when I say “romantic soul” understand it encompasses more than just love feelings for a woman.

How this works out is my perception of a music career.  I romanticized the rock n roll lifestyle to the point of putting it up on a pedestal with the belief that the only place I would ever be satisfied would be there.  I was wrong of course, in the process of growing up I found satisfaction in other places as well.  Yet (and this is a big addendum) I’ve experienced the musical stage and know it is about the only place I’ve ever felt at home.  Some of you might look at artists as odd and strange, which many of us are; but what you find uncomfortable is my comfort zone.  I have never felt as at home in the company of people until I began to hang out with other people who were creative in the arts.  For me it represents that life of floating down the river with Huck and Jim, free of the worries of politics, slavery, oppression and judgmental attitudes.

The other area of romanticism is marriage.  While I was married, I loved being married.  Yet it was a troubled union and not very fun to be with a woman who claimed she loved and liked me but did everything to undermine the man I am.  Still, even after that disaster, I put marriage up on a pedestal in my emotions.  Intellectually and spiritually I know real life is nothing like my imagined relationship, but my emotional/passionate side still hopes.

I guess what I’m driving at here is that happiness can be a state of being rather than tied conditionally to a situation or lifestyle.  I’m happy in a general way.  I don’t like being single—and in saying that I’m not advertising—but I’m still happy.  It’s been a condition of mine for years.  I’m not always in a good mood, joyful or even satisfied with things around or inside me, but I default to happiness—by choice if necessary.

We can’t do very little about the tide of human opinion, the political leanings or even the choices our spouse, children and extended family will make. However, we can choose to be content with our internal world, and at peace with God and mankind as far as it depends on us.  In this, I believe, is the source of all happiness.

The “No Matter What” Part of Wisdom

November 23, 2012

For there is a proper time and procedure for every matter, though a man’s misery weighs heavily upon him.  Ecclesiastes 8:6.

 

In the place misery and hardship hit us the hardest and longest is where wisdom’s rubber meets the road.  It’s easy to be “wise” when we live in isolation (wise man or woman on a mountain somewhere in the Himalayas) or life is going so good with no disasters in sight; it’s quite another when tragedy strikes.  Wisdom often isn’t necessarily a given for those who have life going their way, rather its biggest impact is for the time when everything seems to be against us and we’re floundering.

The above text speaks to a person who sticks with a king though the decisions this leader makes create a bad atmosphere or go against all wisdom.  While a person is going through heartache or misery, they still have to live and cope with the world as they find it.  Not every situation allows for either a quick solution or any kind of mutually beneficial resolution.  What we know in retrospect is not what we know without experience.  Even the idea that somehow we should be able to know what only the experience of the now will teach is a fool’s paradise.  Hindsight always plays “what if” no matter what the circumstances faced.  The guilt we all feel when we can’t control the outcome may be palpable and real, yet unrealistic in the grand scheme of things.

Solomon points out that a king’s word is supreme (see why in my previous post) so fighting such power does no good.  Timing based on wisdom becomes the key here to knowing when to act and when to wait.  Yet this isn’t as easy as it sounds.  In my own lifetime I’ve seen bad decisions bring profit, flying in the face of history and all conventional logic.  And, if the truth be known, it wasn’t the decisions themselves which brought the profit but the luck of the draw—that old time and chance philosophy.  The scariest part, of course, is that those involved in the bad decision(s) declare the outcome as justification for continued bad choices, again defying all commonsense.

Some decisions, unfortunately, take a generation or so to see any returns on the investment.  Like in the case of Hezekiah with the Babylonian envoys who came to the Jerusalem to understand why their clocks (sundials) went backwards (read this story in Isaiah 38, 39).  His decision to show off his wealth instead of declaring God’s bounty and grace resulted in his country being a target for the Babylonian armies a few generations later.  What’s so disheartening about this story is his attitude of “at least it won’t happen in my lifetime.”

With this idea firmly in mind, it’s no wonder we see some pretty bad behavior from his successor and son, Manasseh, who is reputed to be one of the most wicked kings in Jewish history.  (His story is remarkable in that later he repented and turned back to God who restored him to the throne.)

We humans love to kick the can of consequences down the road for our immediate gratification.  For instance, no one in their right mind would declare the cars of yesteryear clean burning and non-polluting, which simply means what we are not able to breath and makes us sick if we take in too much of it (carbon monoxide) can’t be good our world.  Yet we hear people arguing that it hasn’t really affected the atmosphere.  Now I’m not a doomsday prophet or anything of that sort, I just believe in commonsense.  If we can’t stand behind a vehicle and breathe normally without getting either nauseous or passing out, then having a 100,000,000 of these things our roads going 24/7 has to do something.  Not to mention all the fuel burning in our fireplaces or keeping our electricity on.

I’m not in any way defending or decrying global warming fanatics, what I am saying is we can’t abuse our world without consequences of some sort.  I don’t know what effect all this pollution has on our planet, but it can’t be good.  Denying the harm is both silly and dangerous.  It takes thoughtful people to invent things like this, granted, but it also takes thoughtful people to build devices and machinery which operate safely and with environmental wisdom.  The wind farms all over the place displace wildlife and hurt birds; coal has already shown its toxic side; solar is awesome but it takes acres and acres of panels to equal just a small portion of what coal and water dams do easily.

Fiscally our country is kicking the can down the road, which will create a huge disaster for our children or theirs.  You can’t overspend and over borrow then expect to get off with a free pass.  And by saying this I’m definitely not defending the Republican viewpoint of the world nor will I condemn it.  In this matter of spiritual truth their view is fairly immaterial.

Jesus said, “Wisdom is justified by her deeds.”  And His wisdom is being proved out in the real world constantly.  A man who loves will continue to do without or without the permission of his king, family, friends or any other entity which holds power over his life.  And make no mistake, other people hold power over us whether we admit it or not.  Anyone in business can tell you how hard it is to get a start up off the ground.  The sacrifices are tremendous, the advantages very few in the beginning, and the pay off costly even in the long run.  If no one comes to a market to buy, the market will cease to exist, thus proving we cannot survive without one another.

A king is simply a man trusted to rule over the people he serves.  That last word is vital to understanding the best way to see power of any sort:  those in charge do so to serve others not themselves.  Unfortunately, too often those in power either live to please themselves or believe in some god-awful philosophy or ethic which makes them force their “good” down the throats of all—much of the time at the pain of death or confiscation of the “opposition’s” property.

Daniel advised Nebuchadnezzar; Joseph served under Pharaoh; Esther became the wife of the king of Persia…Time and again wisdom has been served by those who would not back away from the unpleasant, though it cost them dearly.  Those mentioned here are but a fraction of the biblical heroes and heroines who served God despite all odds.  They influenced Hebrew history because they stuck with their place instead of running away from the awful circumstances they found themselves in.  The message here is clear:  We cannot desert our nation, work, family or friends just because we find sinners there.

We are the salt of the earth.  What does salt do?  It flavors and preserves.  Wars have been fought over rights to salt; whole nations have been destroyed by other nations coveting their salt sources.  Jesus used this parable as an illustration to tell us how valuable we are and to stress that we are the flavor of God in the world set not only to make it palatable but to preserve it.  If the world loses the flavor of His love (which is the essence of His holiness), it will be destroyed as too evil to exist.  I believe this truth is one of the reasons holding back the winds of strife right now.  Many Christians somehow have come to believe they must create heaven on earth through earthly government but the fact is our very lives are salt which preserve the people of earth’s life.

So do not be in a hurry to leave the presence of those on earth, for according to our Master we are the reason it hasn’t been destroyed.  Don’t be in a hurry to leave an unpleasant situation for God can use us anywhere.  Be a light in a dark place.  It’s a waste of time to turn on a light in a well lighted room.  It’s much better to shine where the light will do more good.

Don’t Be In Such A Hurry To Walk Away

November 5, 2012

Do not be in a hurry to leave the king’s presence.  Do not stand up for a bad cause, for he will do whatever he pleases.  Ecclesiastes 8:3.

Solomon warns us not to be in a hurry to leave the presence of a ruler for they do as they please.  There are good reasons for this:  1) who will influence them differently if all they have around them are “yes” men and women?  2) What if this particular ruler is different and truly needs our perspective to make a wise decision?   3)  What if the only voice of reason is yours?

We can’t guarantee our influence or the outcome, but if we quit the game, we lose by default.  If we continue playing the game, we might lose anyway but at least we put in our best effort.  I personally don’t want to live with the former as a memory over the latter because on my death bed I want to know I did my best to live for what I believed in.  We who follow Jesus know the Way to Life.  If we refuse to live in the world and participate as a part of its journey, we refuse to be the salt and light our Master told us we should be.  Our witness is not about preaching with words but living examples of righteousness, kindness and truth.

            Whoever obeys his command will come to no harm, and the wise heart will know the proper time and procedure.  For there is a proper time and procedure for every matter, though a man’s misery weighs heavily upon him.  Ecclesiastes 8:5, 6.

What does this say to you?

What it says to me is if we “leave the king’s presence” in a hurry due to our misery and dissatisfaction with the current trends, we lose whatever voice we might have had to turn the tide of authority to good.  Look at the stories of Daniel and Esther.  Daniel became a ruler in the kingdom of Babylon, first, then Persia.  Both nations were heathen, meaning Daniel probably dispensed with commands of a king he neither agreed with nor supported on specific issues.  Yet look at the results.  Esther became the wife of a man who worshiped violent, immoral and pretty much capricious gods, yet she saved her people by being a place she otherwise would have preferred not to be.

Where has God called you to be?  Remember the above examples from Scripture and settle your mind on being a light in a dark place.  If lights shine where there is already plenty of light, they get lost in the brightness.  But if a light is placed in a dark corner of the room, it dispels the dark—even if it’s just a little bit.

Both Sides of the Coin

February 27, 2012

Whoever loves money never has money enough; whoever loves wealth is never satisfied with his income.  This too is meaningless.

The sleep of a laborer is sweet, whether he eats little or much, but the abundance of the rich man permits him no sleep.  Ecclesiastes 5:10, 12.

From verse 8 on to the end of the chapter Solomon troubleshoots the issues surrounding poverty and wealth, exploring the outcomes within each.  His efforts are not to dis wealth, rather he simply points out the dichotomy of having it.

A person with their basic needs already met can sleep peacefully since he or she have very little to worry them or keep them up at night.  I’ve noticed those with power (a form of wealth) do almost anything to keep it.  Politicians make promises as part of the campaign they certainly know they won’t be able to keep, especially in a democracy where compromise and negotiation takes center stage.  This means they knowingly speak a lie when they claim to be able to change laws or rules of governing.  If they told the people they planned to fight for an ideal and win as much ground as possible for it, then that would be the truth.  If these people compromise while gaining key issues, they are using their resources of negotiation to win.

A person in lust with money (I’m not calling it “love” that would demean love) never has enough of it.  When these types of people get a bundle of it, they want more, though it does them no good except to know they have it.  I once heard a Wall St. investor say that making money was a way of keeping score; the interviewer sarcastically returned, “Sure, but what you can do with it isn’t lost on you either.”  There are no altruistic motives for lust.  Though the word “lust” has become synonymous with sex, it originally pointed to having a very strong desire to obtain something.

Like I said before, the laborer can be just as lustful as the wealthy person.  It comes down to the attitude with which they live.  If they believe the only way to be happy is with more, then they will strive till the kill themselves to obtain more.  The only cure for this mental condition is a change of heart, which as far as I know comes only through a crisis of some sort which shakes the current paradigm we work from to its foundations.  The only true solution to lust comes through Jesus.

Paul’s assertion that those eager to get rich fall into a trap and a snare should give everyone pause.  The rich are already supplied, it’s those who don’t have it that are eager to get it.  So claiming the wealthy are the only greedy bad guys out there ignores the problem on our end.  Jesus warned His disciples not to worry about anything and later Paul claimed he had learned the secret of being content with plenty or lack, whether well fed or hungry.  He also took it a step further and exhorted his readers do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and petition present your requests to God; and the God of peace will be with your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.

I consider the greatest wealth available to us to be peace of mind which leads us to be content with what we have at hand.  This kind of peace doesn’t exclude striving for better circumstances or working hard, instead it fuels our determination to be diligent.  At the same time we don’t do so out of anxiety or worry but because we care.

Here’s some facts/truth for us to remember:  We don’t bring anything into the world so taking anything with us is probably not on the negotiating table.  We might be born and end up with a life, but at the moment one out of one dies, so no one really has any advantage over another.  All the goods we seem to think we “own” were here long before any of us ever came on the scene.  The fruits, grains, nuts, animals, etc. were created before us as provision and our first father and mother rejected the One who created it.  Ever since the human race has been trying to reclaim or simply lay claim to what we did not create or work for to the point that we think being a god means we get to hoard everything we gain for ourselves without sharing it.

Ironic isn’t it that those who reject God for being a tyrant strive to be just like the image they have of him.  I doubt very many people will admit it but our take on God is colored by our own motives.  We are the ones who starve our enemies to hoard the wealth; we are the ones who rule with cruelty and selfish intent.  We continue to blame God for all the problems on earth but refuse to solve our own natures which cause nearly every single one of them.  It’s almost funny (if it weren’t so tragic) how we throw blame around like rocks shattering lives and breaking up even good things just to keep the spotlight off ourselves.  Unfortunately, the spotlight will become a reality for everyone—even those who were really good at hiding the truth.

The kings from our distant past who thought they could take their wealth into the afterlife are now on display, along with the wealth they stored, in a local museum or two.  Thieves looted almost every grave the Pharaohs built and ancient tombs around the world.  The penny should drop the moment I said that last sentence but I doubt it does for most.  These powerful characters hurt their own people to build magnificent tombs to transition them into whatever afterlife they considered to be waiting, but ended up being bones and leather.  All that stuff became priceless history for us but none of it transitioned into the afterlife with them.  Their hearse carried more wealth than most people will ever see in their lifetime and it sat in their graves rotting until treasure hunters looted it or archeologists found it.

This too is a grievous evil:  As a man comes, so he departs, and what does he gain, since he toils for the wind?  All his days he eats in darkness with great frustration, affliction and anger.  Ecclesiastes 5:16, 17.

Though I would wager most self-help gurus and NT Christians find these two verses to be wrong, I’d say they aren’t looking at the world through the right kind of lens.  Just because Jesus bought us hope through His death and resurrection doesn’t mean our lives have positive outcomes.  My dad suffered with a congenital nerve disorder all his life and it finally resulted in several heart attacks, four or five surgeries and health problems for the rest of his adult life.  Mom was one of the most godly people I’ve ever known yet she ended up not knowing herself or anyone else due to dementia brought on by Alzheimer’s.  The world will play the “cup half empty/half full” game with us but it feeds on darkness, frustration and anger just the same.  No amount of positive reasoning can make us accept the disasters which kill millions of people.  No amount of positive thinking can prevent genetic disorders or illnesses from hurting good people.  A woman I know whose life was an example to so many ended up with extensive cancer in both her breasts and a couple of other places.  She survived.  She didn’t “deserve” her illness or cure any more than you or I.

My point is a lot of our energy is spent on trying to solve the darkness surrounding and slowly encroaching on us.  Do what we might, we cannot deny the frustrations or anger life on earth inspires for it would be foolish to do so.

Life without hope is dark.

I am a follower of Jesus because, whatever He was—whether God’s Son or just a very sincerely good man, He spoke of living a life full of light.  His ideals have changed history.  Every freedom, privilege and right we enjoy in America today came because someone believed in the ideals Jesus preached.  The Golden Rule lived out in society produced change for millions.  Ecclesiastes might sound like a very negative book, but I disagree:  life without Jesus is hopeless.

A people without a vision perish.  Jesus gives us a vision of what life could be if we continue to live in the light.

Surprise! There’s Injustice and Inequality in the World…

February 20, 2012

If you see the poor oppressed in a district, and justice and rights denied, do not be surprised at such things; for one official is eyed by a higher one and over them both are others higher still.  The increase from the land is taken by all; the king himself profits from the fields.  Ecclesiastes 5:8, 9.

 

For the most part, I’m pretty disappointed in the human race—especially those who claim to be wise and in the “know”.  It seems very few people harbor any sense of realistic outlook on the world’s drama unfolding.  Living in Portland, constantly bombarded with social and environmental issues, I find some people care about these things to the exclusion of rational thinking.  Some get so concerned for the issue they fight for that their humanity becomes compromised.

Poverty is one of those issues.

It’s always frustrating to me when people act surprised by poverty.  In America we barely register the world’s definition of the word itself, as far as I’m concerned.  It’s not like there isn’t a cause for it.  Disaster, substance abuse, laziness, oppression, economic fluctuations, personal tragedy, etc. all contribute to the conditions of the poor.  Yet at least a few of the problems could be avoided if society cared more for people than they do about accomplishing great things for society or power mongering.  Of course, the US also knows poverty yet it’s an odd type of poverty.  Our poor have more goods than most poverty stricken people.  It’s hard to worry about a culture of poor people who can own a TV, car, iPods, get food stamps, shop for used clothing or whatever at discount places like Goodwill or Salvation Army, etc.  I don’t consider myself hard hearted towards them, rather I feel we have a whiner attitude which pervades a rather privileged culture.  To be blunt, while I acknowledge the under privileged and the children who go hungry in our country, we don’t have to with all the programs here.  The children who tend to go hungry here rarely do so because the programs to provide for them don’t exist.  It’s usually the fault of the parents who are strung out on drugs, alcohol or practice some form of abuse—neglect, physical or mental.

The wackiest problem we encounter as human societies is that of the hierarchy taking a lion’s share of the goods which come in from the “fields” where the food supply is grown.  I’ve dug ditches and must say that whatever the bosses say, those guys down doing the hard work deserve to be paid better than they are.  But it won’t ever happen.  Human nature being what it is those in charge believe in some odd sense they deserve a bigger cut of the profit than those actually doing the grunt work.  It’s a weird juxtaposition brought on by entitlement attitudes of the rich and educated.  Still, I get it, when a person owns a plot of land, the larger portion of the profit should go to them.  Otherwise they won’t have seed or enough income to maintain the property nor will they be able to weather disasters and market fluctuations.  That said, their workers must be paid a reasonable salary as well.

Yet the impoverished struggle with greed, envy, jealousy, lust and covetousness just as much as their rich counterparts.  Those who have money worry about losing it to some disaster or failure on their part; those without it worry about getting it.  Those impoverished or on the borderline of it lust after getting it.

I grew up in a lower middle class family.  This is not to say my folks weren’t educated, Mom went to college though Dad didn’t make it through third grade, still they were professional people after the style of the 50s and 60s.  Dad became a mechanic following a car accident which almost killed him, leaving one hip disjointed, two broken vertebrae, and crushing four disks.  I remember he could cut a car in half, weld a new half on and when he finished you wouldn’t know it had ever been damaged.  Mom turned out to be an exceptional nurse (this from those who worked with her), and I think she must have had a fairly intelligent mind because she could grasp abstracts pretty well.

In the fall of 1971 Dad almost died from three heart attacks while setting chokers and bundling logs.  We were a couple hours flight from Ketchikan, Alaska, so when this happened they had to first get a plane to pick him up, leaving Mom, my brother Tracy and I to worry.  I honestly don’t remember much about that day at all.  I can remember parts of scenes, but nothing much beyond snatches.  We moved to town, found an apartment in the least raunchy of the housing projects across from the ferry docks and Mom began hunting for a job.  Unfortunately for us Dad couldn’t get insurance because of a preexisting heart condition (which turned out to be something else entirely), so money was so tight we had to live on the last of his wages and severance pay from the logging camp.

I don’t remember the move to our new apartment; the next clear memory is going to school then a trip to the Post Office.  We heard from Dad somewhere in that timeframe and the lead doctor assured us he would recover if he took it easy and didn’t overstrain himself.  Turns out his heart was in perfect condition up to the heart attacks, but he had a rare condition known as Wolfgang-Parkinson-White Syndrome, a nerve disorder which caused fibrillation and dizziness.  He came home two (?) months later and would never be able to work again full time—or even part time for that matter.  Social Security kicked in as did the food stamps, without which we wouldn’t have made it.

Before Dad came back we boys needed new coats, since it was September or October when it all went down.  Mom prayed for exactly $60.00 to pay for new coats and the utilities, which were scheduled to be shut off, telling no one about our situation.  A little while later on one of our trips to the Post Office, she began to cry and hold up a letter, telling me to look inside it, and there was exactly $60.00.

I ended up going to a private Christian grade school and when I reached hi school, began working to pay for both Tracy’s and my school bills.  We didn’t know poverty on the level of people from second or third world countries, but it was pretty tight.  Mom attempted to get her RN when I was 14-16 years old, but her health gave out two months before she could finish school and she ended up getting a job at a college in Washington.  She couldn’t go back to nursing for several years because of the burnout.  The stress of Dad’s health and lack of resources caused her to become allergic to all sorts of things—even her own skin.

I am not one of those who will cite the “tragedies” in my past for sympathy; instead I want people to understand I get it.  I know what it means to go without to a point.  I didn’t even own a car until I was 27, and that was given to me by my brother.  And all this just to say, the conditions in America rival the middle class of most countries.

Yet this doesn’t detract from the problem of the rich abusing their power and taking a lion’s share of the wealth.  Everyone profits from the field and should be grateful for the people who do the back breaking work it takes to put that food on the table.  We should also be thankful for the people in the market who take care of our goods in a way which allows us to be free from diseases or bacteria.  God expects us to share the wealth and give to those who are underprivileged, while at the same time making sure we do our best to never enable those who refuse to work.

The wealthy who take advantage of the poor will pay the price eventually.  A person can’t abuse the system which brings them profit then expect that system to remain stable.  If we break the hand that feeds us, we can’t expect it to work for us until it heals.

A tough path to negotiate.

Approaching God

January 20, 2012

Guard your steps when you go to the house of God.  Go near to listen rather than to offer the sacrifice of fools, who do not know that they do wrong.

Do not be quick with your mouth, do not be hasty in your heart to utter anything before God.  God is in heaven and you are on earth, so let your words be few.  As a dream comes when there are man cares, so the speech of a fool when there are many words.  Ecclesiastes 5:1-3.

 

We humans talk too much.  I know plenty of people who talk wa-a-a-ay less than me, of course, because I’m a wordy fellow, yet I also know that when it comes to prayer silence is not as popular as pouring out our hearts.  This is pretty natural since we don’t dialogue with God very much at all.  Still, though we live in a new dispensation and paradigm, listening is always better than talking.

Confession time:

I talk to God all day long.  I’m always telling Him things I am thinking or discussing the next move at work.  I know it might sound silly to some of you, but I can’t stop the flow (at least at this stage) because words are how I connect.  Oddly enough, I know I listen—even through all the profuse one-sided conversations we seem to have.  How I know I listen is that when thoughts squeeze their way in between the cracks of my profundity, I stop to chew.

I have a long way to go before I’ll be able to use my ears and mouth in proportion.  Thank God for grace to grow!

Yet the point of Solomon’s exhortation isn’t lost even on a person like me.  The main issue is to gain an understanding God’s place in the universe as well as our hearts.  He’s big, bigger than anything or anyone, yet able to inhabit my heart.  The phenomenon of a God who holds all of creation in the palm of His hand being in my heart—or even interested in my life—is amazing enough.  Yet size only matters to those who use it as a means of power over others (or get their value from it.

We talk about God running and sustaining everything yet sometimes just don’t recognize what that means.  Sure He takes care of all the big stuff like planets, nation building and certain people’s careers, but these things are the more obvious things.  Where it really gets interesting for me is that each cell has a power pack inside it that scientists are still trying to unravel.  Why do these amazing organisms continue to operate sometimes long after their host dies?  What supplies them with the life force necessary to keep performing their function?

I believe God’s life force permeates everything and everyone.  This same power emanates from a being who is not only sentient but intimately personal.  He created one of the most person acts we humans experience then compared it to His own relationship with the Godhead and us.  I know a lot of people who are weird-ed out by God’s claim to be spiritually “sexual” with us, but their problem stems from their lack of understanding not the act itself.  Sex is intimacy not just pleasure; it’s pleasure not just intimacy.  The two go together on purpose for God illustrates through this one act what is in His heart for us.  Now we, on the other hand, have so many issues around sex and intimacy that some (probably many) experience real difficulty when this subject comes up.  The problem isn’t with God, it’s with us.

We pervert the works of God then blame Him for the outcomes.  We twist our natures around pleasure, power, wealth and selfish ambition then resent Him for being bigger than all of us.  All of us struggle to look at pretty much every faucet of life without the cataracts of sin.  It isn’t God’s fault that we’ve perverted intimacy into something narcissistic.  So why can’t we grasp His goals for personal contact with us?  Our twisted POV prevents us from being healthy enough to experience the fullness of God.

Can you picture God’s presence as both overwhelmingly awe-inspiring as well as pleasurable?  The orgasm becomes a mere simile for experiencing God.  The more I know God in His purity, and thus realize my own perversity, the more I know everything within His context is clean, clear, beyond my imagination to experience and full of deep spiritual meaning.  We must get beyond our perverted twists on God’s creation; for if we don’t, we end up with nothing more than Victorianism disguised as piety or going after something for merely the pleasure of it.  Human rules will never prevent the sinful nature from expressing itself nor will we ever find satisfaction in just pleasure.

Jesus changed all the rules of coming to God when He became human.  It’s weird that at first we’re told to be careful when we approach God, then have Him call us friends.  “I have called you friends…I no longer call you servants because a servant doesn’t know his master’s business.  Instead I have called you friends.”  Why?  Because He let us in on God’s mind and plans, that why!  He shared the heart of God rather than just the rules of a boss or king.  Jesus got intimate with humanity to demonstrate the desire of God’s heart—a reconciled friendship with us.

Why did He do this?  Because He wants to be intimate with us!  He shared His very soul in coming to earth by being born, living and breathing as a human.  He experienced everything a man can experience besides marriage.  That should tell us something about the nature of God in relation to humanity.  It should enlighten our dark understanding of the divine and set us on a course for greater pleasure in the presence of the Source of pleasure.  We use the word “joy” to replace happiness because we fear God isn’t concerned with our happiness; yet it was He who created our ability to be happy.  We wouldn’t know the word or emotion if He hadn’t invented it.  We need to get over our perverse self-denial so that we can practice it in the context of heaven’s gift in Christ.

Does it strike you as weird that God invented pleasure?  Then chew on this:  He created foods of all stripes then gave humans taste buds in order to enjoy them.  He created flowers, scented plants and animals then gave humans olfactory glands to appreciate them.  He created colors with so many hues we cannot invent enough combinations to encompass them all, then gave us eyes with brains encoded to be overwhelmed by a sunset or whatever.  He gave us a reproduction apparatus then made it a pleasure to procreate.  He gave us ears and made voices sing, birds warble, lions roar and mountains rumble.

Our God “dwells” in unapproachable light, yet loves us so much in a purely intimate way He sent His own to be one of us.  Yes, we need to be in awe.  Yes, we should be reverent.  Yes, we should be overwhelmed.  Yes we ought to seek intimacy and be pleasured by His presence.

That is just utterly amazing.

Two Are Better than One

January 10, 2012

Again I saw something meaningless under the sun:  There was a man all alone; he had neither son nor brother.  There was no end to his toil, yet his eyes were not content with his wealth.  “For whom am I toiling,” he asked, “and why am I depriving myself of enjoyment?”  This too is meaningless—a miserable business!

Two are better than one, because they have a good return for their work:  If one falls down, his friend can help him up.  But pity the man who falls and has no one to help him up!  Also, if two lie down together, they will keep warm.  But how can one keep warm alone?  Though one may be overpowered, two can defend themselves.  A cord of three strands is not quickly broken.  Ecclesiastes 4:7-10.

 

Living alone by having it thrust on us through circumstances versus choosing to be so are two different things.  Some choose it out of a desire for spiritual focus, some have problems being in close contact with other people, and others just because they don’t want to be bothered by anyone interfering with their routine.  .  To one degree or another, these choices are all based on narcissistic attitudes, if we take that word to mean what makes me feel good as opposed to being in community.  Others chose community in one form or another but ended up alone through the choices of someone else

The man in Solomon’s illustration works hard to gain wealth for himself thinking that he’ll be satisfied at the end of the day.  When he accomplishes his dream he’s left feeling empty because there’s no one to share it with and he’s alone.  Our resident wise man claims this is a case of chasing after the wind and totally void of anything meaningful.

Why?

For the simple reason that all of us need relationships in one form or another.

We were built, designed and set up for community.  The first thing God did was create a community of two.  It wasn’t an accident of evolution or a case of artistic flair but a programmed characteristic which defines the human psyche.  Those who think they can survive without community should just see the roster of counseling appointments treating the social networking woes of thousands of people.  It’s not hard to see how many of us get closed down because community hurts more often than it heals, but that further emphasizes our need for Jesus, in my estimation.

The teachings of Christ were not principally meant for political outcomes or religious piety but to restore relationships.  The song the angels sang at His birth wasn’t concerned about the latest doctrinal stance or treasure trove of things God required, instead their focus was, “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth, peace, good will to men…”  Good will is all about relationship building, which has something to do with the boundaries of love, though very little to do with the minutiae of human laws.  Because we can’t seem to conform to love, we make laws to regulate human behavior—a reason why the laws of most countries are becoming more and more complicated.

Fallen human nature angles for the loopholes on such a regular basis that we begin to think laws and punishment are the only way to curb it.  We’re dead wrong, of course, yet humanity as a whole steadfastly doesn’t want God completely in charge; tending instead to invest in anything but Him.  It’s a failed experiment, this endeavor to find self-actualization and godlike status without the Creator to guide us and temper our pride.  The most anyone can be like God is by imitation; other than that we have no option but entropy and death.

The first time I read this passage it validated marriage for me, since that’s where my focus was at the time.  As I’ve grown in my walk with God it now validates every aspect of human relationships.  We need family, friends and social circles to thrive.  As I said before, no business can succeed without a community to support them.  No painter, musician or actor can continue publishing their art, songs or stories if no one sees or listens to them.  So it validates our relationships in all their glory no matter what the ties that bind.

The world is violent place, pretending it’s not causes no end of heartache and trouble.  What’s the quote, “Evil men succeed when good men do nothing” or something to that effect.  We miss the point when we figure love should conquer all.  It does, but sometimes we have to use the stick of love instead of the helping hand.  There are people out there who are not damaged, abused or neglected but selfish to the core and uncaring about who they hurt as long as they get theirs.  Denying these people exist will only hurt all the more when they run us over.  Every macro culture and micro culture will contain a selection all types of people.  Hopefully, there are more of the type who construct and sustain than those who destroy or drain it.

My point being, no matter how we slice it, we still need to continue in community with one another.  All the wealth in the world and toys it brings will not replace solid loving relationships.  The man or woman who works hard and is successful will feel more so when there’s someone else to share it with and appreciate his or her efforts.  Loneliness sucks, folks.  In contrast, however, the person who cannot seem to get it off the ground no matter how hard they work will also feel better about life when they share it with someone who cares for them and for whom they care.