Posts Tagged ‘grace’

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 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

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

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

It hasn’t.

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

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

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

I don’t.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Banish the Thought, But…

January 7, 2014

 

Einstein's equation

Einstein’s equation

 

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

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

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

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

Yes.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

No Holds Barred

December 26, 2013

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

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

Turn On The Power

December 23, 2013

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

A Time and Place

November 21, 2013

If a man is lazy, the rafters sag; if his friends are idle, the house leaks.

A feast is made for laughter, and wine makes life merry, but money is the answer for everything.  Ecclesiastes 10: 18, 19.

 

Every time I read a passage of Scripture in recent years I question my first take on it.  I don’t trust my judgment on most first reactions which is why it takes me so long to make decisions sometimes.  Scripture especially gives me pause; meaning I don’t trust my grasp of the subject or my immediate understanding of the words.

While I get verse 18 readily enough, verse 19 leaves me a little baffled.  It’s that Eastern mindset/philosophical style which trips me up and holds the world at bay for a minute or hours and days, months and years.

Anyone with half a brain will get that laziness produces faulty function in possessions.  The roof is there to keep the sun, wind and rain out and the people protected for a time.  For thousands of year the roof was made of mud and reeds/straw, which must be renewed every so often to ensure it works properly.  Constant vigilance is needed to keep the roofing material from sagging or leaking during wet weather, which just means laziness as factor guarantees bad function.

So I get the first phrase quite easily, since Solomon just got through with making a point that a land is blessed only when its princes eat a proper time—for strength and not for drunkenness.  I understand what a feast is for—i.e. laughter and being merry—but not how money ties in as the answer for everything.  Oh, I understand the acerbic (almost) caustic sarcasm in that last assertion as truth, but I don’t get how it’s tied into this subject.

In that frame of mind I have to chew on this until something clears.

Unless…Solomon is saying feasting might make life happy for a time but it’s money that provides the feast.  Without the means to supply the feast the merry-making won’t happen.  Lazy people look for money at the end of rainbows instead of the ethic of daily work.  In order for them to get to the merry-making they need money but refuse to do the work necessary to provide it.  If the rulers of a country are unwilling to put in the work it takes to provide their own feast(s), they will tax their fellow countrymen into poverty to get the means to sustain their lavish lifestyle.  Such a method can go on for a time but eventually the country will begin to “sag” financially because no one can afford to bolster up the economy.

Money (I wanted to say “Monet” for some reason) is also the answer to a lazy person’s desires as well as to anyone who lives responsibly.  Oddly enough, though the former will do very little to collect the desired income to fund his/her workless ethic, without said income the roof sags and fields go unplanted.  Laziness produces a form of negotiation we don’t see in the industrious people.  For example, anyone doing their best to avoid work will work hard to manipulate everyone around them into doing all the jobs they loath.  They also tend to see others as a means to an end, believing themselves to be either above such things or incapable.  The latter sound humble but really they are unwilling to get their hands dirty.  The industrious people, on the other hand, will work along side anyone they seek to inspire.  You won’t see them afraid to get their hands dirty at all.

Yet I don’t believe God is just the god of industry because feasts are used in the Bible constantly to show His provision and goodwill.  Some of the more work-oriented people among us believe God is more like them whereas the get-happy-oriented folks disagree and shout joyfully He is more like them.

I believe He’s both.

I generally use the NIV for my texts.  The Amplified Version treats verse 19 like this [Instead of repairing the breaches, the officials] make a feast for laughter, serve wine to cheer life, and [depend on tax] money to answer for all of it.  Whereas the Contemporary English Bible sticks closer to the NIV and my point Eating and drinking make you feel happy, and money can buy everything you need.

The problem with parceling out verses is that we take them out of the subject from whence they came (like my Shakespearian usage here?) because they don’t fit linearly into our style of reasoning.  Whew!  That was a long sentence but it had to be said because it’s definitely something I believe strongly.

I’m more inclined to go with the Amplified’s contextual interpretation, even though the brackets usually mean added words for clarity.  My reasoning goes like this:  Every government official I’ve ever dealt with or heard about through the news tends to view more tax money as the answer to the problems they face instead of frugal use of what they already receive.  In this context we see misuse of those funds for the pleasure of the officials rather than governing the country.

I’m going to simplify this for myself and hopefully anyone reading the blog:  Laziness by its very nature is neglectful of what is vital.  For the sake of pleasure, the necessities of life are ignored just so that all the fun can go on.  Solomon made his case earlier about everything having a time which means he’s continuing that theme here.  There is a time to dance and celebrate but not everyday.  There is a time to feast and get a good buzz on but not when justice or the house is sagging.  We must be aware of our immediate world for the sake of not only function but down time.  What I mean is we can’t really rest with a quiet mind if we know things haven’t been done up to snuff.

At the same time, even the Law designates breaks starting weekly with the seventh day off and ending in several feasts per year which act as vacations within a holy context.  I believe we can learn something from the Mosaic Law in this regard.  Since most people who practice legalism seem to find the law so attractive as proof of their specific slant on life, it would stand to reason that these same people would find these truths as well.  But they don’t.  Instead they focus on nothing but the performance of rituals with almost a determined blind eye for the things of grace, mercy and justice found there as well.  The legalistic approach then sets off reactions in some of their more sensitive members and these people become what I’m going to call legalistic for grace.  The hardliners of the Law become the permissive “liberals” of the message of Christ.  Boundaries almost become taboo while remaining important in some ephemeral state.  And while it appears these people are on opposite sides, they accomplish the same thing:  namely defeating the whole life God designed and intended for us.  Unfortunately for the grace side they become “legalistic” about grace—or their reactive interpretation of it.

To me both the legalistic or grace-only approach amount to the same thing.  Both sides are lazy and refuse to do the work at building and maintaining their spiritual house as they should.  One thing I’ve definitely learned from construction is that the structural work has to be done right for the finish to function properly.  To build a house using only the functionality as a guideline rules out the aesthetic appreciation God designed in us as well.  Gravitating toward utilitarianism might be natural for some but it’s definitely dysfunctional in the long run for God not only made a world to sustain life He made it beautiful and pleasing as well.  A house needs walls to hold up the roof, but the paint can be colorful and the trim unnecessarily creative because God designed us with this option.  Those who live devoid of artistic input or surroundings rob themselves of the complete experience God desires for them.  Those who live only for the art will suffer unnecessarily because God desires for them to be safe and live within boundaries which offer a defined place.  Both are necessary for us to function at capacity.

The Law commands a time for rest, contemplation, celebration and feasting/fasting.  When we get out of balance we tend to gravitate to one side of the equation or the other.  God desires us to recognize we need both.

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.

Apparently, Solomon Never Heard of the Saftey Board

September 30, 2013

Whoever digs a pit may fall into it; whoever breaks through a wall may be bitten by a snake.  Whoever quarries stone may be injured by them; whoever splits logs may be endangered by them.  If the ax is dull and its edge unsharpened, more strength is needed but skill will bring success.  If a snake bits before it is charmed, there is no profit for the charmer.  Ecclesiastes 10:8-12.

 

If we know it can happen, does it mean it will?  If we know there is danger, is the effort and work worth it?  If the worst befalls us, was the attempt at success worth our time?

These questions naturally follow the straight from the hip observations on reality in our text above.  Solomon doesn’t mention fear in his declarations but I think he implies an underlying awareness that fear of action could stop forward movement just as much as no fear mentality produces erratic outcomes.  The lack of fear doesn’t indicate courage; experiencing fear doesn’t suggest a lack of it.  Fear can be a good sign of a healthy awareness that a risk exists not merely a sign of weakness.  Wise people heed their fears as warnings to be cautious rather than abstain.  Only a “sluggard” declines to work because  there’s a lion in the street!

On some level all of these type things could happen in a day.  I’ve had days on the job where even when I did my best to be cautious and careful I couldn’t stop hurting myself—for whatever reason.  But here’s the principle behind Solomon’s POV:  the dull ax still works though may be not as quickly as a sharp one.  The skill needed with a dull blade is a little higher than with a sharp one.  I know, I’ve chopped enough wood and small trees to recognize the difference.  Wisdom, however, teaches us that a wise person takes care of his/her tools so unless we lack a wet-stone, we should take care of the ax.

The other example is the snake charmer being bitten.  Notice the previous snake reference about a snake behind a wall was there unbeknownst to the man doing the demolition.  A person unprepared for a hidden snake can’t really be blamed for the crisis.  A snake charmer, however, is supposed to work the charm and prevent such an occurrence.  This suggests to me that wisdom can’t know everything nor can it be prepared in every situation.  The big difference then is what can and cannot be known.  At the same time when we know what to do but fail or refuse to do it we cannot blame the “snake” for its response in the consequences.

Solomon is building his case up for doing what we have in front of us begun earlier in the book.  No one is off the hook.  Those who refuse to take action when they should are called fools—meaning in this context silly and irresponsible.  Yet with this demand for action and proactive effort any guarantee of a great outcome or successful life is completely denied us.  The volatility of life receives homage as much as wisdom, action and God.  Life remains unpredictable, get used to it and get over it.  On the other hand, those who take action when they shouldn’t are also called fools.  A person who doesn’t think out the path he/she is on is not wise.  Wisdom takes time to plan, focus and consider; fools refuse to do the work it takes to be successful.

The big problem isn’t the pit, snake or quarried stone it’s the lack of wisdom applied to the job at hand.  An awareness that any of these disasters could happen could either freeze me up in paranoia or add caution to my efforts.  Care in not only how the finished product looks but for my body which performs the task seems to be path of wisdom to me.

Growing up in a church where knowledge was almost equal to God—or at the very least, God’s crowning requirement for getting close to Him—I feared making a mistake in my theology so much that it froze me in areas where I saw discrepancies and confused conclusions.  What I mean is there were several areas where the Bible wasn’t clear yet my church emphatically claimed an interpretation as fact and I didn’t know what to conclude.  I eventually realized theology as the study of God left many mysteries to be solved and most we never would be able to due to a lack of information.

Peter’s second book, for example, spoke of Paul’s deep understanding of the mysteries of God but also concluded these very things would be hard for us to grasp without a spiritual foundation.  The Spirit guides us into all truth; the Christian world bases its conclusion on what feels right.  The Christian church is divided into factions over seemingly important doctrinal differences which really have nothing to do with the character and work of Jesus.  I’ve come to this conclusion after many years of study and watching the nature of people in groups such as denominations:  We have to live and let live on certain aspects of belief.

Years ago as I read the book of 1 Corinthians specifically 15:29 where Paul argues for the resurrection by using a practice of being baptized for the dead as an act of futility if Christ hasn’t been raised.  At first I just passed over the verse as a confusing issue and something of an anomaly, then it hit me like thunder:  Paul wasn’t arguing for or against being baptized for the dead!

I chewed on this idea for some time—probably close to a year or more until I came to an answer that seems to work.  No where in Scripture commands us to be baptized for those who have died nor does it even say it’s possible to save someone who has already passed on.  Yet Paul doesn’t argue for or against it, so does that mean he supports it?

Not necessarily.  Elsewhere he attempts to tell a church that what we do in this life must be the rule by which we are judged at the Bema Seat.  We get one chance to find Christ then we face the judgment.  Also Hebrews 9:27 seems to say we don’t get another chance once we die—Just as people are destined to die once, and after that to face judgment—which has been used by evangelists to mean we get one chance at salvation and then no more.  However, if we take this passage and connect to the one 1 Corinthians 15:29, the picture changes.  In fact it might paint a very confused picture unless we follow the thought through.

Since I don’t understand either the judgment or salvation completely, having barely scratched the surface, I find certain conclusions to be ill advised and stemming from a desperate need to feel safe.  The Bible seems to say all those millions of people who have never heard the name of Jesus will be lost if we take just the Hebrews text as our guide; whereas Paul’s allusion to those who attempt through baptism by substitution is not an issue gives hope for the unsaved dead.

What to conclude?

Nothing.

Leave it alone and stop worrying about it for there is no way to conclude anything on such flimsy evidence.  What I have found, however, is that God is wa-a-a-a-a-a-a-ay more open to interpretation than I was taught to believe.  If Paul didn’t see fit in his argument for the resurrection to correct the believers at Corinth on this matter, then who am I to justify or argue against it?  It appears to me there were lots of practices in the early church the disciples didn’t fight and only a few they adamantly stood against.  I think liberality in matters of practice should be respected as long as the basic mores of our faith create the foundation.

So does the risk of falling into the pit we dig or the danger of being bitten by a snake or harmed by a stone we cut mean we shouldn’t do these things?  Not at all.  Solomon is just pointing out that every activity whether good or bad comes with a risk that’s all.  Assessing the risk and taking steps to ensure a healthy outcome grows out of wisdom.  For me this means theologically and spiritually—the two are not the same.

Theology is man’s attempt to understand God; spirituality is submitting to the connection whether we understand it or not.  When we quote the verse claiming God’s thoughts are higher than our thoughts, His ways higher than our ways, do we really believe it?

I’ll tell you right up front I don’t get God very well.  I don’t know why all the evil on earth happens the way it does.  I don’t know why some guys get the girl and others don’t.  I don’t know why some girls win the pageant and others don’t.  Why does God allow suffering?  I don’t know for sure.  I have a working theory that seems to explain it but really I don’t know for certain if my conclusion is correct.  Why?  Because I see how my grasp of the world around me has changed through experiencing it.  Or, as Paul put it in 1 Corinthians 13  For now we see only a reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face.  Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known.

What I know now of the world and its workings is much different than what I knew even ten years ago.  What I grasp about myself is in constant flux because I’m growing to know and in that growth I’m attempting to understand.

I’ve broken through the walls inside myself only to find a snake waiting to bite me.  Fortunately, I know the healer who crushed the snake’s head with His heel.  I’ve dug pits intending them for good purposes only to fallen into them where I needed help to get out—in fact I’m in one right now.  Everything spiritually I can do to prepare myself seems to bear no fruit I can see at times and discouragement sets in; and I don’t see it until much later when I look back.  The point for me is:  I can’t see it all so I just keep moving forward in faith, for what else is there unless I give up and die?

My life is a testimony, if you could follow it, of a provisional merciful God.  So I will continue to demo the walls, cut the stones, charm the snakes, split the logs and dig the ditches without paranoia and letting fear counsel my knowledge so I practice wisdom.

Whew!  Do I have a long way to go!