Archive for the ‘Reason’ Category

January 19, 2015

The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth. (John 1:14 NIV)

The implication of the word “became”, of course, is that The Word was something other than flesh from the beginning. Jesus later declared to Nicodemus God was spirit, which follows that Jesus was spirit before the incarnation.

Just so we’re clear about history and the legends of human religions, incarnated gods were not all that unique as a teaching. Every major religion has its incarnated god who does something special to reveal the Creator’s will. Oddly enough, the god incarnated usually justifies the doctrinal stance, lifestyle or specific practices of the said religious future.

What does this say of Christianity?

Christian thought grows out of the teachings of the apostles who distilled the message they claimed to have learned from their teacher, Jesus of Nazareth. Apparently the writing of the four gospels (or more, if we include The Gospel of Thomas and other apocryphal writings) spoke of a need at the time for four different styled versions similar in content. Two thousand years later we find ourselves attempting to make sense of the original intent which distance and opinion have twisted or obscured to a greater or lesser degree.

The first thing to attack for detractors of Christian teaching is the incarnation of the deified Jesus, called the “Anointed One” to set Him apart as the Messiah Savior. It stands to reason those who object to this basic tenet taught first by the gospels and subsequently the Epistles would cast doubt on it vehemently. It’s the easiest target to doubt. The moment, however, one recognizes the apparent dichotomy or outright fantastical nature of the gospels’ claims a reaction sets in which defines what the person does next.

Stop right here to reflect how we react to doubt about our favorite teacher.

The first reaction to objections for anyone who believes whole heartedly is defensiveness. We humans cast about ourselves like cornered animals desperately looking for an answer or anything that will shut up those telling or yelling at us about what they consider to be myth–at best–and outright manipulative lies–at worst. How to justify such a belief in a fantastic story such as Jesus’ birth, ministry, death, resurrection, and ascension in an age of science turns many into blubbering defeated believers or hard headed ignorant champions–neither of which is helpful.

I do not see why we beat each other up so much about an issue which at this time in history is pretty much moot. All the evidence doesn’t point away from or to a god or our God creating. Creation just is; we just exist; everything was made by some power more vast than we can imagine and probably more simple than our imaginations allow for at any given argument.

We know light travels at 186k+ miles per second, which then signifies for the creationists a real conundrum when we see exploding stars so far away their light is only now just reaching our best telescopes. I don’t know how far away they are and I’m not gonna’ argue the point except to say our ignorance keeps us looking like fools whenever we make assertions about the age of the universe. We don’t have the biblical authority to draw conclusions about timelines and limits because what we call the Bible is written without a timeline in mind. I mean, just look at the story of David in 1 & 2 Samuel. The incidents skip back and forth along the timeline depending on what the author’s point is. Genesis gives a symbolic/metaphorical timeframe in the seven days of creation because before the sun’s creation God created light. Days on earth can only be measured by its rotation around the sun. Therefore the first two days of creation were not earth days by our measure but something wholly other, which suggests (and I believe demands) we understand creation differently than tradition would dictate.

Atheists claiming conclusive proof there is no god or the Judeo-Christian God specifically have the burden of proof to present. If our God is spirit, then their assertions must first rule out the spiritual dimension before they can conclude anything for certain. I don’t say they are foolish for being atheists, merely their choice is not a fact set in stone but an interpretation of the facts already known. It’s easier not to believe in anything–ok, may be not socially–than deal with all the myriad claims of gods and goddesses running amok in history and human idealism. I don’t blame agnostics or atheists for their stance since I share their disillusionment and doubt since most religions misrepresent their doctrine of peace with genocide or war.

The stakes in this game we call life are not only high but vital to how we conduct ourselves during our time on earth. Belief in anything defines and directs not only our outlook but the interaction we have with other human beings. I’ve noticed on nearly every occasion I interact with other people about strongly held beliefs that each one looks on everybody else in the conversation with either outright disdain, sympathy, condescension, or worst of all pity. Each one of these responses grow out of an opinion based on a strongly held belief in one’s own view of reality–or it’s counterpart insecurity. Each perspective of reality, however, might be (and is to my grasp of reality) debatable. Since strong debate has already occurred in history to the point of killing millions of people over it, I would say we’ve about exhausted our arguments and methods of convincing others.

The best argument for Christ has to be the way it changes the believer.

And when I say “has to be” I’m not asserting that it is the best argument for a given debate but the only one capable of demonstrating the truth of what is taught in any debate. Unfortunately, with over 1 billion fragmented believers fractured even further into a combination of large to small denominations we have a credibility problem. The loudest voices rule the public discourse as a general rule. It makes no difference whether or not these people shouting down the opposition come from a knowledgable point of reference or not since what they do sets the stage for the observer.

On several occasions I have spoken to street preachers running the gamut of emotional pleas with their mostly reluctant, bemused, amused, or offended audience. The general consensus from all of them is that they are called to preach to save the unchurched/unbeliever from hell. Now while I can’t dispute their claim to their particular calling, my understanding of Jesus’ teachings lead me to believe shouting out to strangers about love while speaking of punishment for refusing Him is about as effective as telling a stranger’s child you love them while abusing them in some way. Both are manipulative and harmful, belying the very love we claim to support.

And it may be I’m wrong, that the God I serve believes in bringing in the lost by hook or by crook; scaring the hell out of them or throwing them into the darkness to suffer.

From the teachings and stories of how Jesus interacted with acknowledged sinners I don’t think “scare them into heaven” is the gospel’s message though. A city on a hill just shines it doesn’t attack other cities, the jungles or wild places around it. It offers safe haven to citizen and traveler alike with a loving acceptance–albeit disengaged–of its detractors and its supporters. It witnesses to its characteristics by lighting up the darkness–not for the purpose of contrasting itself to the darkness (which happens by default) but to see clearly. Those who don’t want to see clearly will leave the city or try to destroy its light. Those who ache to understand defend it by becoming part of it, adding and increasing the reach of their own light.

How does all this rhetoric relate to the incarnated Jesus?

The greatest miracle Jesus ever performed was life transformation. Those who focus on healing miss the point. Those who decry the world’s sin miss the point. Those who attempt to shout down the opposition miss the point. Anyone who declares the gospel as a means to world domination or wealth have missed the point. The message of the gospel can be summed up very simply: If we love God through Jesus, we will value not only ourselves but the people around us more. The value we place will not be merely utilitarian but wholesale care for the inner and outer person. We will be changed from demanding our own way to finding ways to lift our lives out of the the traps, holes we or others dig for the purpose of setting artificial limits. The teachings of Jesus tell us we will learn to live to the greatest possible limit of our beings. We will not attempt to change the world through means historically proven to fail human progress. We will not ever disparage truth for past held opinions or limited perspectives, but will embrace it fully.

Advertisements

Gospel of John 2–The Word

December 15, 2014

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning. Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made. In him was life, and that life was the light of all mankind. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it. (John 1:1-5 NIV)

Unpacking a passage like this might seem like it takes some thought, I guess, yet this one is pretty simple to think through.

First, the repeated word is “Word” so we have to try make sense of that for a moment. If we take just that sentence by itself, we wouldn’t know who or what “Word” signifies. Just because the translators capitalized it doesn’t mean the original did. So to understand what the author is trying to say we have to know the context.

Taking this in the context just of the whole Scriptures Christian generally accept, Word could signify God speaking a word of power–like in magic where the wizard or sorcerer has a word that unleashes magic. And quite frankly without the rest of the passage that’s exactly what it sounds like John is presenting to us.

The next sentence (and verse), however, dispels any notion of a magical word of power. On the contrary John identifies the “Word” as a “He” not an it. This changes things quite drastically because now we have to look at the previous sentence in the context of a being with a sentient identity. The Word is a He, a person or being, a “who” not a “what” and that being was around in the beginning with God and was God. If He was with God in the beginning and the God we believe in is eternal, then the Word is eternal as well.

The third sentence takes this thought a step further: The Word is a He and created all things, with emphasis on the fact that nothing that exists came to be without Him. What we are presented with is a being of immense power, immortality and deity.

So we know a few things about Him now: He’s God, eternal, the Creator, and hangs out with God. That last one could be confusing since the text claims the Word Himself is God, which not only suggests but implies there is another being with that title hanging out in the universe.

Now we know the who, but the “what” is still coming.

Since the Word created all things, it stands to reason then that in Him is life. To put it another way this guy holds life in Himself, the bare essence of it, the source of it, and is the dispenser of it to all living things. John uses light as an example of what this means because light reveals things hidden in darkness. When it shines into a dark place it dispels and moves back sightlessness, showing what was unseen. One small candle reveals much about a room. Oh it might not take it over or completely dispel the gloom but the outlines of every object in the room is clearly seen because of it. Darkness has no power in the presence of light.

The Word then is the source of revelation. Anyone who understands truth is affected and touched by the light. A darkened understanding grows out of a place where there is no light. God spoke “Let there be light” and there was light. A word from God turns on the lamp of the universe; John is claiming the One who did the former turns on the lamp of the heart.

Which one is more difficult?

The heart, for it has a choice about receiving it.

The problem is no one can resist the will of God once He’s set the word in motion–spoken it. The light will rule everything, like a flow of lava coming down the mountain inexorable and steady, or the sun which shines whether or not we are turned towards it. Even the dark side of a planet or moon is affected by the rays of the sun… Planets or beings far away from our solar system will be affected by the light of it regardless. However, the light from God’s Word will either rule a heart or destroy it.

Does that last sound cruel and tyrannical?

Here’s the truth as I see it: Darkness allows the overgrowth of fungi, mold, mildew and a host of other unhealthy things on this planet the heat and light of the sun keeps in check. Without the Light of Life to infuse health to the heart and mind a human being will become destructive, self-absorbed (disregarding anyone else), use to excess, or hoard the gifts and resources God created to the hurt of not only him or herself but others. In other words they refuse to live in the light where it will limit the more negative side effects of the sinful nature because they prefer the autonomy of darkness. Since the light is life–hence the “name” “Light of Life”–those who refuse the light will get darkness, the end result of which is death. No life on earth survives without the light of the sun; no life survives in spirit without the Light of Life.

If I read the article right, geneticists have found the DNA lifespan switch. From what can be known about it they say the average switch is set to approximately seventy years. At this point not a lot is known about how to turn it off or on without unhealthy side effects–who wants to survive to a hundred and twenty with arthritis or some other painful condition? But the fact that there’s a switch at all leaves a question hanging in the air: Why this time limit?

As believers in the Judeo-Christian Scripture and God we accept ipso facto that there is a Creator who thoughtfully designed all that is so that nothing we see or know can be an accident of evolution. Yet if our conclusion from the factoids we know and the Bible we read is erroneous, then what does it say about nature’s evolution of the time switch? What would be the survival or purpose in the evolution of such a switch in our species specifically? The God of Judeo-Christian values limited our lifespan in order to limit out ability to do evil, if such was our desire. What would nature’s purpose be?

I have no idea except that everything in nature has a similar switch which ends one thing in order to bring life to another.

In our belief system, however, life is like turning on a light switch. The moment we are conceived the switch is turned on and goes off when we die. Yet in this passage the context uses the word “life” a different way than mere existence. So what does that mean exactly to us?

More thought is needed, methinks…John must expect to explain what he means by this later. I think for now he’s just trying to peak our interest like any good author.

Candid Cross Talk

May 17, 2014

Brothers, consider your calling: Not many are wise from a human perspective, not many powerful, not many of noble birth. Instead, God has chosen what is foolish in the world to shame the wise, and God has chosen what is weak in the world to shame the strong. God has chosen what is insignificant and despised in the world — what is viewed as nothing — to bring to nothing what is viewed as something, so that no one can boast in His presence. (1 Corinthians 1:26-29 HCSB)

So much has been and is being said about the Bible that I worry anything I add to the discussion won’t really be worth the time. A pastor friend of mine sent me a video of a guy making fun of the American Christian argument for marriage. The lyric could be summed up as “I want a marriage like they had in the Bible…” sung with one voice doing all the key parts of a quartet. While I thought it was funny, the significance of his argument came through loud and clear: Christian will find it difficult to prove the American version of marriage from the Bible. Now while the dude got one fact wrong (Jehu had Jezebel thrown off the balcony not Ahab) his point is well stated and poignant.
The Christian conundrum is pretty hard to argue if in fact we try to debate on commonwealth–or may be cosmopolitan–terms. The Middle Eastern–and especially ancient ME–view of life is a mystery to most of us and quite foreign to modern thought. Unfortunately, the entire Bible is written from this perspective. Yet it shouldn’t be. Most contemporary Christians accept at face value much of what they read in the Bible and as sacrosanct truth to be adhered to without question. I don’t think it’s that simple. For us to understand what is being said we need some idea of what the connotation is of any conversation, right? I mean, if I come into the middle of a conversation without knowing the topic first and begin giving advice it might by some miracle of chance be right on but is more likely to hold no resemblance to reason or intelligent input. Too often we don’t listen before we speak to our shame. We Christians may not like the questions the world throws at us to answer but we must deal with them intelligently and with some sense of humility. I believe our job is to take the principle mores of the Bible not the ethnic or cultural customs of the era as such.

The freakish nature of our world is that we all think we have something to say in the oddest places. I’ve given advice to people without considering all the factors involved and later wondered why they even took it to heart. There’s a particular arrogance which comes with any strongly held viewpoint, at least in the human experience. I listen to some Christian apologists and marvel how easily they criticize those who think outside our box. It’s as if we believe (and far too many of us do) everyone should see our God as THE truth of the universe without question just because we do. At the same time I look at the other extreme and wonder what’s all that different besides holding a different opinion about what’s true, since many of them approach it the exact same way they criticize theists for doing.

Paul’s assertion about the believers in Corinth being the rejects of their society could be seen several ways but the one I prefer, because to me it makes the most practical sense, is he wanted to make the point of how far the gospel brought them. The message of Jesus ennobles, educates, calms, expands the mind and heart of any who accept it. If it doesn’t do any of these things for a person’s outlook, the understanding of the good news has gotten skewed by the world’s vision somehow. Anyone who becomes closed minded or emotionally distant–or any number of things which supplant the fruits of the Spirit–misses the point of Jesus mission. One simply cannot mix the world’s vision of the cross and Jesus as the Christ with what He claimed is His stated mission and expect to get a clear vision of the gospel message. Religiosity presents the same problem.

Now what does all this have to do with the wisdom of the cross?

The cross reversed the winning logic. It simply changed the parameters by which we, as Christ’s followers, understand how the war against evil/sin is fought in the world. The war is for hearts not countries, lands or power. The cross was God’s ace in the hole, His secret weapon upon which we are to pattern our lives. The power of Christ goes to the crux of the problem; the hub of reason’s source; the center of the issue to completely adjust one’s thinking about who we are and where we stand in relation to Him, first, then the rest of mankind. When we grasp the significance of “turn the other cheek” for example, we don’t become the world’s whipping posts but strong-minded followers of the way of love. Evil cannot conquer the heart which has been bought by the love demonstrated on the cross.

Fanaticism and paranoia, as well as a host of other problems the world experiences, melt down in the presence of the white hot heat of Christ’s love through the Holy Spirit. The contrast between religiosity and the gospel grows more pronounced every step for the gospel brings freedom not only from sin but to think. The very notion that heavenly wisdom closes down the mind is antithetical to the message of Christ. Jesus quotes the book of Proverbs often in this teaching, which shows He honors knowledge and wisdom, both of which promote understanding and learning.

A Christ-follower never forces the gospel on others. No where in the NT will we read the disciples forcing through social, political or the threat of war anyone to accept Jesus as the Way. It is simply not to be found in the message anywhere. Has it been done in His name? Absolutely. Have those doing so used Scripture to justify their efforts? Without a doubt. But the Christian’s command structure doesn’t justify such methods. We are to be children of peace, our weapons the methods of the cross. The apostles preached without requirement or coercion.

The message of Jesus Christ crucified is death to the preservation of the world’s ideal of self and resurrection to God’s new creation. The death we die is spiritual first before the physical means anything at all. God spoke the original universe we know into existence from nothing as far as we understand it. Nothing into something means there were no raw ingredients hanging around to make it. Thus the message of the cross is in the very make up of the universe itself.

The essence of Paul’s message above is simple: God takes that which isn’t and makes something. It’s far too easy to brag about human accomplishment when all the ingredients are there to make something a success–like the cross. A famous musician can draw attention to issues he or she cares about whereas us “unknowns” struggle to get our neighbors to care about what we believe is vital. Yet God chooses to use us to affect the world.

The math of heaven becomes evident when we think about the apostles’ standing in the world they inhabited. These were obscure men in an obscure and mostly despised country occupied by a nation which looked on them with disdain. Their teacher and mentor was an unknown rabbi from a small village on the outskirts of the Jewish territory. His influence only went so far as the borders of Israel’s economy and He died as scapegoat of the political elite. His views were exceptionally Jewish, defiant only in their simplicity, and focused on grace, mercy, love and justice. At the time of Jesus’ existence other teachers were far more influential, well known and effective than He could ever think of being.

Yet these powerless men changed the world as we know it and set in motion a Way of life which stood in contrast to the norms of every society of that era and since. Think about recent famous Christian apologists and teachers. Who taught them? Who brought them to the place where they could speak with such passion, depth and insight into the spiritual? Do you see what is wrong with our take on what makes a person special? The man or woman who taught Charles Spurgeon shares in his success and reach. The man or woman who influenced Billy Graham shares in his successes in God’s view because it isn’t about the fame or influence but the heart. The man who mentored Dwight L. Moody shares in his disciple’s later success by God’s estimate of things. Humans, of course, don’t remember his name but God does.

I lived in South Africa for only 3 1/2 years. In that time I met some of the most beautiful people who would influence my life ever after. Two women touched me in profound ways for which I am forever grateful. One was Mrs. Rice (at least I think that was her name) who saw in me potential for great things as well as warning me to be faithful to the greatness God placed in me for His work. She wasn’t speaking of fame or fortune but influence.

The other was a motherly woman who spoke into my life only twice. The first time is just an image of a home open to all the kids on the street where she reigned as queen of love and acceptance. She reminded me so much of my own momma that I began to call her that–which is probably why I don’t remember her real name. Once, at a retreat set in the YFC campgrounds outside Johannesburg, we got into a deep conversation about beliefs. I think it was the next day when she spoke to me again. I had been sharing my views from the denomination I grew up in most enthusiastically the day before and she looked troubled when we parted. I thought it was just because I had been so profound that she was doubting her own position. But nope! She came to me and asked permission to speak into my life. Her words struck me like hammer blows, “Please don’t take my word for this, Jonathan, but go pray about it and if I’m wrong, I will be happy. But I think you have a lot of denominational pride.”

She went on to say a few more things but that message (not the exact words since it has been nearly 30 years) stuck and shook me up. That night I agonized over this issue because my denomination dominated my life. The next morning the truth stood out crystal clear: yes, I did. I went back to her and confessed it. To my recollection she didn’t look triumphant or pleased with herself, instead she smiled and said something to the effect of, “God wants us to be His alone and free.” Much more was said most of which I probably internalized and forgot the exact words, but I lived the message after that.

Human institutions while necessary for organization and concerted effort are not as important to God as they become to us. Of course He will use them but only when it will affect the heart neither He is limited to or by them. Paul’s declaration of God’s desire to use the despised, rejected, obscure and un-noteworthy of humanity to accomplish the message of the gospel just reinforces the miracle. The doctrinal emphasis most of us get caught up in misses the point of the gospel as far as I’m concerned. The message of the entire Bible is meant to correct our treatment of others and reconnect us to God versus give us a performance based life. Love is the foundation which secures the rest of our choices, attitudes and behaviors to Christ, the corner stone.

The cross is not a symbol of cool example of martyrdom but a demonstration of sacrifice for others those who follow Christ are emulate in the way they treat others. It states emphatically our lives belong to love first–or Love, as another name for God. Love as an emotion is not god but God is love, and I would dare to postulate that one of His names is Love. I can’t emphasize enough how the cross changes the way we think, reason, and live. Sacrificial love is not about dying physically as much as it is about dying to our ties to human attitudes and methods.

Next blog entry I would like to take on the wisdom of the cross by using the Sermon on the Mount, for I believe Jesus explained it best.

The Wisdom of “Christ Crucified”

April 24, 2014

...But we preach Christ crucified, a stumbling block to the Jews and foolishness to the Gentiles. (1 Corinthians 1:23 HCSB)

So…am I missing something? Christ crucified is evidence of God’s wisdom? Ummmm…how? Why?

What wins a war the best: conventional weapons or great tactics?

That’s the problem with questions like this because they seem to be asking something with an obvious answer–or at least obvious choices. I hate surveys which have no option for “other” because I’m at the mercy of the questioner. And if I have to answer the question with one of the two options given, the survey is skewed away from who I am to whatever the surveyors prefer or know about. It also depends on who is asking the questions since all of them (the questions) could slant a certain way.

Now while I don’t object to this as a freedom and privilege of the free, I do strenuously deny the results mean anything as far as proving the point those writing the survey wish to make. Which is exactly what the human race has done with God’s Word. We come at it with our own agenda, naturally, then to prove our interpretation we create artificial conundrums (as if the world doesn’t have enough already) to show how our grasp of God works best. So the above question is a good one but irrelevant to God since He works outside of our scope of possibilities. Where we only see two choices He sees a myriad–and may be endless–possibilities.

Just so you know, I am not saying “we” in order to disguise an implied “you” here. I catch myself doing this constantly and to date I really don’t think there’s anyway of stopping those tendencies. I can limit the mistakes I make when I become aware of them by getting to the root of my reasoning, but I don’t think there is anyway to totally prevent mistaken ideas from occurring since my own filter is faulty too.

God defeated the opposition and is in the process of winning the war against sin through the most unconventional means: the cross. The unconsidered option became the method of choice over all the other “tried and true” agreed upon options out there. The Jews expected (and in some cases still expect) the messiah to wage a conventional war mixed with Mosaic miracles against their enemies in order to establish their supremacy in the world. The cross turns this–and any other convention man offers as established methodology–on its ear, declaring the losing side as the winner and apparent winning side as losers.

How can this be?

Look, I’m just a human so my grasp of the eternal is spotty at best, but I believe the reason God used such a method is so that no human could declare themselves the source of His success. In other words the method establishes the war as a spiritual one with a spiritual outcome. To win the war in the spirit realm we must fight against the “flesh,” which can be summed up as the efforts of humanity to right itself with the spiritual on their own.

Unfortunately, some biblical scholars have misinterpreted the word Paul uses (flesh) to mean the physical reality and human body but this poses dichotomy for them. God created the physical right? Therefore it follows that if He established what we know as the physical realm and called it good, then calling it sinful is…? Do you see the problem here? God doesn’t create active sin just the default option for it. So if God is the source of salvation and nothing humans do affects the bottom line, then His use of the very method with which humans tried to defeat Him would make sense. Paul’s argument against the “flesh” speaks to the human spirit racked by sinful tendencies not the physical body itself. If he includes the body itself, then he does so not as a state of origin but as a vessel of memory for the works of sin. So our physical selves are infected with the virus of sin–or, better yet, the intoxicating nature of a drug we began taking in Eden. For sin is a self-induced addiction we introduced into our nature through choice not a disease we caught by exposure, therefore it can’t be a virus it has to be a spiritual substance we binge on in order to get a godlike high.

Human leaders with spiritual education crucified the Savior of the world. They took the spiritual representative of heaven and tortured, mocked, lied about, then killed Him. Whether they recognized Him as God”s messenger or not the NT doesn’t really clarify, although it does say the Jewish leaders understood and could not refute the miracles as supernatural in origin. The NT even intimates these same leaders knew the resurrection happened but paid off the witnesses to lie about the fact.

What was so important that these supposedly spiritual men would betray an innocent Man to His death?

For some it would have been protecting their power while many others held a fixed idea of God which Jesus refuted and demonstrated to be wrong by His unique interpretation. Those with political motives might also have some fairly religious motives as well for the human psyche is complex. The leaders with fixed ideas of spiritual truth would have rejected Jesus’ demonstrated power to interpret their traditions and laws as having an evil source instead of originating in heaven. We’ve already discussed what fixed thinking does to one’s ability to assimilate new information as truth. From what I’ve witnessed in the world of beliefs it isn’t too farfetched to believe that the leaders who called for the death of Jesus were sincere in their perspective of God. Jesus, while not being the outright antithesis of this viewpoint, dispelled the illusory traditions built up around the law, prophets and historical legends taught every Sabbath. Yet we don’t see or hear of Jesus bucking the system out of a rebel attitude. His appears to prefer revelation over dissent.

I believe the war zone isn’t a physical battlefield but a spiritual one for dominion of the mind. So the cross is about winning the heart and mind to God first, which, if my history and understanding of this is correct, changes everything else to follow. The wisdom of this approach stands diametrically opposed to the methods of all humanity. No culture, however, has every been assimilated or won over through the force of arms or idealistic laws of behavior. Instead it’s the conversion of the desires of the heart.

It seems God fights for what matters most. Possessions, resources, respect of the community and a host of other things we value don’t matter as much as how a person thinks. The heart of the person dictates the actions; convert that to love and you have a whole different expectation for the outcome.

When the U.S. invaded Iraq we thought the liberation from tyranny would be enough to win the hearts and minds of the local population. To date we have lost the war for their loyalty due to bungling the personal part of the equation. While we beat the crap out of Saddam we neglected to respect both the culture and feelings of the populace. We changed tactics in Afghanistan too late to make a difference and now wallow in a riptide of political intrigue followed hard by complicated loyalties we never took the time to fathom.

God decided to take on the human mind. The instructions for His methods are pretty simple but sometimes get buried in human hyperactive need to control or earn salvation. Of course the problem, as I stated above, is our odd twist on the message of the Bible. We exclude one book or chapter as irrelevant while over emphasizing another. We do this in every area of our lives as well. The method of the gospel can be summed up when Jesus told the woman at the well in Samaria: God’s goal is to convert us to worship Him in spirit and truth.

The wisdom of the world bases its reasoning on the stronger argument, the stronger army, the stronger political or religious party. The wisdom of the cross, while not exactly ignoring all of these others as possibilities, bases its reasoning on the winning of hearts and minds. As I–and others smarter than me–have said many times before: if we want to change our behavior, we must first change the way we think.

The Contrast

March 26, 2014

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

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

So what has God made look foolish?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And Jesus is enough, right?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Fooled By Appearance

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

What is behind the mask is always more important.

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

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

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

Jonny’s Proverbs #1

January 28, 2014

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

The End of the Matter

January 27, 2014

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What to do?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The fruit of the Spirit is?

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

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

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

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

Absolute Futility? Really?

January 22, 2014

image

 

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

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

It hasn’t.

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

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

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

I don’t.

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

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

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

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

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

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

image

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

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

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

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.