Posts Tagged ‘righteousness’

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.

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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.

The Advantage of Panic

August 28, 2013

If a ruler’s anger rises against you, do not leave your post; calmness can lay great errors to rest.  Ecclesiastes 10:4.

 

In the last entry I discussed how easy it is to testify to foolishness.  The above verse came at the end of a four verse paragraph in the NIV, indicating to me it has something to do with not reacting to fools.  One of the great problems in the Bible’s construction is determining where a new subject ends or begins.  The Middle Eastern mind, while not exactly wired differently, definitely approached life and philosophy from a round about perspective.  It makes it hard to figure out when subjects change because the dude who codified the KJV into chapters and verses a couple of hundred years ago separated thoughts a few times by putting chapters in the middle of them.

In keeping with that thought our key verse above goes with chapter 9:17, 18 which says The quiet words of the wise are more to be heeded than the shouts of a ruler of fools.  Wisdom is better than weapons of war, but on sinner destroys much good.  Read in this context our key verse clicks into place like a key in a lock.

I own a book called “The Dark Teatime of the Soul” where a detective believes that everything in the universe is interconnected.  While this makes for some funny stuff like when a cat accidentally wandering into a time machine almost caused a worldwide catastrophe, it isn’t far from the truth.  The ripples of human interaction may not seem to go far but they always affect more than we see on the surface.  I learned years ago about the Eastern/Middle Eastern mindset and it’s affected the way I study.  One professor called it “Circular Logic” meaning everything taught came back around sooner or later.  We in the West use linear logic which takes a thought to a “logical” conclusion where it ends.  In other words, the alphabet starts with A and ends with Z in our minds.  While this might appear to make sense to our linear thinking, the fact is we start again with A the moment we finish with Z.  In music notation the names go from A to G then start over, which means if a scale starts with C it ends with B then the next higher note is C again.  Circular logic also ties a bunch of seemingly random things together to make a whole thought, or ties the tendrils of thought and related outcomes to the original in order to show how it works.

My professor friend claimed the Bible was written in the Eastern mindset where ideas in a subject or psalm fold back to touch and affect the main thought.  The chapter and verse method is great for memorization but it wreaks havoc on understanding the Bible itself.

Solomon grew up in and basically ruled this form of reasoning in his time therefore a verse like worrying about a ruler’s anger folds back and is expanded by one which calls some rulers fools.  The quiet words of the wise inspire calmness in the face of loud, boisterous or in-your-face shouts of a fool—who just might happen to be in charge.  Wisdom instructs us to not take too seriously the shouts of even a ruler of fools because these people are so stupid (as opposed to unintelligent?) they end up destroying themselves eventually.  We don’t have to react or worry because, while they might affect our lives in the interim, they are temporary and tend to blunder.

Unfortunately, a foolish ruler may be one of the few who doesn’t blunder into disaster but success.  This unfortunate success creates all sorts of policy problems because immediately he or she will begin to trumpet the foolhardiness as gospel and force everyone to worship it.  For years afterward the practices of a fool will be trumpeted as society’s gospel for business, religion or human interaction in one of its many forms.  While wisdom will question the validity of a problem like this, fools go along with it until the concept becomes ingrained in the collective consciousness as a thoughtless habit.

I’ve noticed the coolest head—meaning calmest and most rational—in the room usually affects it to one degree or another eventually.  I’ve also noticed that these people often become the target of the fools in charge and get imprisoned or killed first.  While Solomon’s point to remain at one’s post in the face of a ruler’s anger probably works on most occasions, there are times when it is wiser to just run.

We can’t stand still when violence against the innocent becomes the norm.  Someone has to stand up to the foolish and curb the results of the disaster they bring in their wake.  Yet I find it sickeningly fascinating that the violent always either go for the peaceful opposition or defenseless and weak first as if they deserve it.  So one who is given to wisdom will either stay at his or her post or resist from the shadows.

The advantage to reacting to a king’s anger and panicking, though, is we fit right in with the rest of the fools.

A Command To Live With Gusto

June 10, 2013

Whatever your hand finds to do, do it with all your might, for in the grave where you are going there is neither working nor planning nor knowledge nor wisdom.  Ecclesiastes 9:10.

I guess one could look at this sentence and see despair or bitterness but I see more an encouragement to live with all our might.  We have this life that is either given or just happened to us so what else is there to do?  Look at the previous verses where Solomon directs his readers again to eat, drink and enjoy their lives with their wives and children.  There seems to be a pattern here we miss much of the time.  Whether we miss it due to religious nonsense or misguided spiritual enthusiasm I’m not sure, what I do know is most religious people get their “religion” mixed up with living.  Instead of the religious convictions helping us live more fully we let it be a hindrance.

What did God make life for?  I mean what purpose does it serve?  What every creative being does: create and enjoy.  Look at the command He gave Adam and Eve, “Be fruitful and multiply, and replenish the earth.”  Does that sound like a restriction to you?  If the original directive poured out a life which was at its core is full of creative positive things, what are we doing with the gift Christ gave us at the cross?

Jesus came to redeem us.  The word redemption means to buy back or restore through payment what was sold.  Christ bought us back from something we sold ourselves into, slavery to death, which in His view wasn’t just physical but spiritual, social and mental.  God breathed into the clay and humans became a living being.  While I don’t claim to grasp the significance of that in its entirety, I do get that whatever we were before wasn’t equal to what we became.  God created life and pronounced it very good; anyone who condemns the human physicality outside of the sin destroying it misses the lesson of redemption.  Paul’s declaration that we will be raised with Christ’s new body gives us a clue as to what we can expect this redemption to look like.

Over the years I’ve often wondered what we are made of—the various parts of us.  The general explanation seems to be we are body, soul and spirit as if these three things are separate ingredients to life itself.  I’m no scientist nor am I a theologian so I know speaking my opinion probably means very little to those who read this blog, but I found this explanation which works for me and might for you as well.

“God is spirit, and His worshipers must worship in spirit and in truth.”  John 4:24Genesis 2:7 claims the LORD God formed the man from the dust of the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living being.  Now we have Ecclesiastes declaring that in the grave there is nothing for us but existence—if that.  If there is neither working nor planning nor knowledge nor wisdom in the grave, then what do we have?  One of my favorite questions to those who claim we are eternal beings is, “If that’s true, do you remember your existence before you were born, outside the body?”  Some scoff at me because immediately I’ve referenced a “heathen” idea but the question is valid in this context.  If our spirits are eternal, we should have memory of pre-existing the body.  Besides my uncle who believes, as many do, in reincarnation, none of my Christian friends have any memory of a past existence.

I believe the human spirit is eternal but we are like a computer chip or software which contains all the raw essence of being with no memory or storage to reference identity.  The physical brain makes up the up the “hard drive” of our being thus allowing us to find identity in our history—i.e. experiences through memory such as habits, relationships, education, etc., without which we are simply raw spirit/soul.  Knowledge is stored in the brain bringing a sense of connection to the world around us.  This is why when we see Alzheimer’s take over a person’s brain the memories become all jumbled up and the person’s access to their identity gets confused.  It’s also why we see mentally disabled people struggle to operate in the world around them with any sense of logical interplay.  Without memory or the synapse to connect those memories we are intelligent novices, babes without input or output; nothing but a dry sponge.

All that said, I don’t understand eternity or the afterlife.  As much as I’ve studied the subject over the years I still have questions—which some Christians would tell me I must just take the answers to on faith.  My problem with relegating everything I don’t understand to “faith” is our plausible deniability for the truth.  What we don’t understand or grasp must be dealt with honestly, not swept under the philosophical rug.  Take some time to listen to those who develop brain injuries or some other condition which affects their access to the brain’s memory centers and you’ll see what I mean.  Did these people lose their intelligence?  Dp they suddenly lack I.Q.?

You see the problem?  Simplistic answers don’t solve the riddle nor do they get us any close to understanding.  I will not accept any explanation without questions because I find wholesale acceptance foolish and counterproductive.  Something happens to us when our bodies deteriorate, something profound.  A spirit without its body loses access to memories of anything it (genderless on purpose) experienced on earth precisely because the combination of spirit and body create the living being.  So that relative or friend we lost to death can’t remember us without a renewed body, such as the one Jesus was raised with which carried the scars of the cross in it.  The scars remind us, which speaks of memory for eternity.

I won’t pretend to have answers I don’t.  I won’t tell you I understand death or the afterlife because I don’t.  What I will tell you is that God has it in hand and that the resurrection of Christ solved the problem of death and futility—both are a reality without Him.

Our lives are fleeting in the eternal scheme of things so we must take every opportunity to create a life worthy of being alive.  Though I love stories in the form of books, movies or TV, I find too often we live vicariously through these stories instead of creating our own.  If Jesus came to give an abundant life, numbing our minds by watching others live should be a crime.  I’m not against listening or telling stories as a shared experience but the lack of active participation in the story being written all around us.  What I am against is the mind numbing day to day drudgery which no one offsets with passionate pursuits.

If the condition of dementia, psychosis and brain damage give us a clear enough picture as to what it means to be a living being, then death of the body means death of identity, history and meaning.  What God promises to resurrect is identity and meaning washing away our sinful history and making all things new.  Will we remember the fact of our redemption?  Yes.  Does that mean we will remember our life on earth?  I don’t know.  But what I do know is that we have the opportunity to live to the full here—without reservation or hesitation.

Whatever we find we are able to do—or even impossible without extreme effort—we must do with gusto.  The Bible gives everyone the green light so go for it!

The Great Equalizer

May 4, 2013

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

So, what do we do with this fact?

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

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

In Search of Many Schemes…

August 25, 2012

So I turned my mind to understand, to investigate and to search out the wisdom and the scheme of things and to understand the stupidity of wickedness and the madness of folly.  Ecclesiastes 7:25.

 

To illustrate his point, Solomon uses the following analogy:  I find more bitter than death the woman who is a snare, whose heart is a trap and whose hands are chains.  The man who pleases God will escape her, but the sinner she will ensnare.  Before anyone gets all huffy about this “diatribe” to women, remember Proverbs 31 praised the woman of virtue.  Solomon collected the sayings in that book, which means he wasn’t against women in general, just bad girls.  If you want to compare the amount of times he spoke against women to men, the weight of evidence will be on the male side.

Then what’s he trying to say about women and men in this rather hard observation?

Well, for one thing he’s not saying women are bad in general.  So let’s ask a question:

 

Is the woman the trap or is the man’s desires for her the problem?

 

I say both.  James 1:14…but each one (man) is tempted when, by his own evil desire, he is dragged away and enticed.  Then after desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and sin, when it is full-grown, gives birth to death.

Our biggest “fail” as humans is our unwillingness to look our own desires full in the face.  Or, to be more precise, to look at ourselves in the mirror—literal or figurative—and see who we are without blinders, philters or anything which might hinder a true reading.  Solomon declares that women can snare, trap and chain a man, yet he also chides men for being fool enough to go looking for easy sex.  Oh, he doesn’t mention that word but it is implied.  Men act as their own worst enemy in a quest for sex without consequences.  I’ve know a few women who want this too, but women pursue sex for slightly different reasons than men as a general rule.  That’s not to say a woman can’t be narcissistic because everyone knows better than that; rather, their general goals make sex a means.

Earlier in this chapter we read: There is not a righteous man on earth who does what is right and never sins.  If this is true, then when Solomon says at the end of the chapter:  Adding one thing to another to discover the scheme of things—while I was searching but not finding—I found one upright man in a thousand, but not one upright woman among them all.  This only have I found:  God made mankind upright, but men have gone in search of many schemes.  Ecclesiastes 7:28, 29.

What we see here is a “connect the dots” kind of logic.  If there is not a righteous man on earth who does what is right and never sins, then even that one upright man in a thousand is in search of sex outside godliness.

Why is there not an upright woman with that upright man?

Because, though God made mankind upright, they have gone in search of many schemes.  We are the product of our own desires.  Our world’s condition is a direct result of mankind’s search for anything to quench the thirst for pleasure outside of God’s design.

I refuse to condemn any sinner for being such since I know I am one myself.  If everyone who claims Christ as their savior looks in His perfect mirror, they will know the truth and humbly accept they have no right or place to condemn anyone.  Wisdom is justified by her deeds.  A man who conforms to wisdom realizes his own weaknesses; a woman who does the same recognizes her own failures to hit the bulls eye.

The biggest fail in my view is the refusal to admit our own sinfulness.  For if we not only admit it but gladly point it out—not in general but in fact, we become a true light for grace, mercy, forgiveness and restoration.

For All have Sinned…

August 17, 2012

There is not a righteous man on earth who does what is right and never sins.  Ecclesiastes 7:20.

 

The rest of this chapter is tied together in an odd way so I will have to take a couple of posts just unravel it all in order to show how I believe it connects.

Like any good writer/philosopher Solomon gives his readers an emphatic statement he believes is fact then sets about supporting it.  In a seemingly non sequitur he immediately jumps into the human tendency to gossip about one another behind each other’s backs.  For the purpose of illustration he reveals the heart of the problem—i.e. that even “righteous” people have badmouthed someone so shouldn’t get their panties in a wad if someone does the same to them.

When I was a teen my younger brother tried to get me to ask girls out.  I was rather shy about it because I didn’t think I would be up to par.  In exasperation he’d exclaim that girls stink too.  While I could admit he was right, I still put women up on a pedestal of more than human—or better than me anyway.  I look back and smile because I understand what he said as fact, since now I know from experience that no one is above being human.

Silly as that might sound to some of you reading this (and me at this point in my life) pedestals seem to be as natural to us as eating.  For instance many of us put ourselves up on this pedestal thing every time we resent being gossiped about or put down to our faces.  Each of us must admit to our own nature just confess to being a failure at righteousness.  When we get all huffy or offended because someone took one of our idiosyncrasies to task in a conversation, we put ourselves up on a pedestal as above being gossiped or talked about in this manner.  It’s almost strange that few of us make the connection between our own tendency to talk about others in the same manner and what others do to us.

But Solomon doesn’t stop there.

In a truly fascinating way he brings it around to his own failure to understand wisdom and the scheme of things.

 

All this I tested by wisdom and I said, “I am determined to be wise”—but this was beyond me.  Whatever wisdom may be, it is far off and most profound—who can discover it?

 

What Solomon faced remains a problem for us today.  Wisdom, as I understand it, is the ability to use knowledge in a way that benefits.  Yet sometimes even this is beyond us, like we know something must be done but how to get there or where to start just doesn’t compute.  The more we learn, more we have to unlearn and readdress reality for the truths we place as all important in our ignorance often times equals childish reasoning when the light of knowledge dawns.

Another problem, however, is knowledge without wisdom is useless.  Trying to understand what we know and apply the right perspective to it without the Source of wisdom is simply futile.  The conclusions we draw from the perspective of no god or God, for instance, will color how we see the evidence.  Yet the issue of knowing what the actual facts are continues to haunt us where the five senses are limited to faith.  No matter what we say we know by faith, without firm evidence to support our belief we leap off the bridge of knowledge into the murky waters of guessing games.

Every righteous person alive sins…

If this last sentence isn’t true, then why do the scriptures claim all have sinned and fall short of the example and reputation of God?

So everyone needs correcting; everyone needs humility, since everyone sins and requires repentance.  To say otherwise is to refute scripture.  If scripture cannot be broken and where it speaks about the nature of humanity it does so authoritatively and decisively, then those who believe themselves to either be better than others or above reproach sin by default of their estimate of themselves.

All this contributes to our inability to grasp wisdom in its full capacity.  The inability to grasp wisdom in its capacity leaves us with gaps in our reasoning, which in turn results in bad choices.  Even the spiritual minded man is gonna’ struggle with this one for we are products of where we come from first and foremost.  Denial of who we were before we knew Christ only results in unwarranted spiritual arrogance which history demonstrates time and again how devastating that is.  All have sinned, therefore all are sinners.  If all are sinners saved by grace, no one has any advantage over anyone else.

Last point:  If Paul, at the end of his life, wrote, Not that I have already attained all this, or have already been made perfect…declaring his need to grow still further in the faith, then anyone who claims more than this man of God must be looked upon with skepticism at best and downright distrust at worst.

The Expectation Upset

July 12, 2012

In this meaningless life of mine I have seen both of these:  a righteous man perishing in his righteousness, and a wicked man living long in his wickedness.  Don’t be overrighteous, neither be overwise—why destroy yourself?  Do not be overwicked, and do not be a fool—why die before your time?  It is good to grasp the one and not let go of the other.  The man who fears God will avoid all extremes.  Ecclesiastes 7:15-18.

 

In Solomon’s time the “guru hermit” or holy man on the mountain was just beginning to become really popular—or may be it already was and we just don’t have records of it.  Whatever the case, purity of spirit and action has obsessed the human race for eons.  That need to be sinless (which means slightly different things in each culture) drives many to solve it by separating themselves out from the common rabble of humanity in order to seek oneness with God or holy living.

It doesn’t work very well, for almost without fail you can take the sinner out of the temptation but you will never by this means take the sin out of the sinner.  Yet we keep trying almost desperately to work the method just right—if we can just purify our thought patterns enough, or live in the right community of people, or meditate only on holy things, or make better laws…You get the idea.  Christianity took this idea and turned it into monasteries where men and women lived separately in order to quell the “sinful” urge to have sex or be tempted by the flesh.

I hate to repeat myself (I really do hate repeating myself but do it all the time) but it didn’t work very well.

Several years ago I heard about two monasteries—one for monks and one for nuns—a short distance apart where archeologists discovered a tunnel running from one to the other.  In a freakish revelation they found the bodies of aborted and birthed babies at the bottom of a well in the nunnery.  It turns out the monks and nuns were taking care of business while forbidding everybody else from following their own urges.  And it’s not that everyone is living a lie either, necessarily, rather the problem we face denying our own created reality turns our lives into one big long stressful failure to measure up.

Our created reality requires us to eat, sleep, cultivate our environment, develop personalities, establish character, grow hair in places we’d rather not, see color, taste food, have preferences which differ from others in our own family, be adventurous, be quiet, and I could go on.  Yet one of our worst faults is how we approach these subjects.  When we look at our sexuality as if it’s sin by default, resistance will be futile since we are built to reproduce.  Not only are we designed to reproduce but also to experience pleasure while doing it.  To use another example, food tastes good to us because we have taste buds.  We have taste buds because God designed us to enjoy food—or, if you prefer, evolution wanted us to survive so made food taste and smell good so we’d eat it.

Whatever the reason we do these things, they exist.  Considering them a product of sin only sets us up for sin since we not only have the urges for smell, sex, taste, touch, etc., but the capacity to enjoy them.  Our problems come from overindulgence.  Almost every time there is issues surrounding one of these pleasures cum necessities.  We don’t have to search far before we see narcissism in the background.  When pleasure gets misused, we tend to blame the pleasure over the person’s lust for it.

Drugs for numbing pain are good while healing; used as a form of recreation they become dangerous.  I don’t object to them being used as recreation because in and of themselves I see no problem with sitting back to enjoy a nice ride. But, when they are used as a means of escaping responsibility, dealing with our problems or daily lives, they are harmful.  Let’s be clear on something:  Objects are neither good or evil, happy or sad, useful or useless, until we apply some tangible goal to them.  The moral value of anything comes in how it’s used not in its existence.

Even circumstances hold only the value we give to them.  For instance, let’s say I lose my job due to the economy but it spurs me to start that business idea that’s been knocking around in my head for years.  If I look at the loss as something to grieve over (which it is a loss), then I may not do anything else.  But if I see it as an opportunity, then a world of possibilities open up.  I’m not suggesting that losing a job is good or something celebrate, rather often it’s our attitude about our abilities and lives which make the difference in how we respond.

Bringing more of my perspective to bear on this subject:  I believe the fall put a hole in our hearts and spirits we will forever be trying to fix.  Jesus gave us the fix, claiming (audaciously enough) that it was Him, but something went wrong.  I think Solomon answers our problem quite nicely when he writes:

 

This only have I found:  God made mankind upright, but men have gone in search of many schemes.  Ecclesiastes 7:29.

 

Humanity’s paranoia grows out of our separation from the head, which is Christ.  Of course many who don’t hold to Jesus as the Way, let alone God incarnate, object to my conclusion.  But that just illustrates this truth more poignantly.  We can’t deny the reality of what’s lacking in our own psyche when the entire human race is one big piece of evidence to prove it otherwise.  Even modern Christianity demonstrates it doesn’t believe its own teachings (remember the Golden Rule) by attempting to make laws for everyone based on tenets the others don’t agree with in the first place.  When we talk abortion, health, addictions, ethics, and a host of other topics, we have to be careful not to require Christ-like laws out of those around us who believe in something else.  The early church was comprised of a motley crew of slaves, poor, a few wealthy people and Jews.  Very, very few of them politically connected, and still less who were extremely wealthy.

The American view of truth is just that—the American view.  The Bible was written in an Eastern mindset, which means for us to grasp the truths in it we have to understand the culture, times, traditions, practices and other things before many of them will be clear.  Applying our own culture to an agricultural based society means we will definitely make some mistakes with our conclusions.  As another example, men or women who use their own POV to explain the opposite sex’s motives 9/10 get them wrong because we think differently about some stuff.  It isn’t that we are completely different in our needs, we just go about meeting them differently.  For instance (not to get sidetracked too much), men are emotional creatures and cry too, we just don’t do it for the exact same things all the time.  I have a friend whose son got married a few years back.  I knew how tied to his kids he is, so I teased him about the boy moving out and he told me to stop or he’d start weeping openly.  This is a man’s man.

No, we all have the same needs, it’s the customs and traditions we develop to meet them that are different.  Essentially, however, each of these customs and traditional guidelines or laws set up avenues to meet our needs as a society and protect the individual in some way.

In Christ the only way to holiness (a holistic lifestyle dedicated to God) comes through being attached to Him.  He’s the vine, we’re the branches.  We don’t bear fruit because we have the ability to do so but because we’re attached to the vine which gives its nutrients.  No one will become holy by separating themselves out from society.  What has a “wise man” (or woman) got to say about marriage if they’ve never been married?  Have you women who’ve raised children had friends who never had kids try to give you advice about them?  It’s annoying because they usually don’t have a realistic viewpoint let alone perspective.  No, true wisdom on any subject grows out of exposure to that subject in either personal experience or being involved in it through others.

Monastic living is religion in denial.  Denial of our reality is a setup for failure.  Failure brings despair and futility, along with anger, envy, depression, self-hate, and a host of other negatives.  The only way to find success in living good lives is to accept the evil in our natures while holding onto the good we find in Christ.  Yes, it makes us feel split in half, but the only way to heal a wound is to acknowledge we have one in first place.  Our souls/spirits are wounded by original sin and our own developed sense of it.  Keeping this truth in mind, while submitting the whole mess to Jesus to clean up, guarantees success.

For The man who fears God will avoid all extremes.  Or, as another version interprets it:  The man who fears God will hold onto them both.

Circling the Block

December 12, 2011

Whatever has already been, and what will be has been before; and God will call the past into account.

And I saw something else under the sun:  In the place of judgment—wickedness was there, in the place of justice—wickedness was there.

I thought in my heart, “God will bring to judgment both the righteous and the wicked, for there will be a time for every activity, a time for every deed.”  Ecclesiastes 3:15-17.

Let’s digest this together for a bit, what ya’ say?

Before we go on I need to declare my belief and faith in this book as intrinsically factual and true.  This is an important statement because what comes next flies in the face of convention.

When we say we need to take an account of some part of our lives, business (social, economic or religious practices) or possessions/wealth, it’s the same as saying “take stock of…” in another context.  To check the accounts of financial records simply means adding and subtracting the ebb and flow of it in order to see if they balance out on the side of profit or loss.  It’s not that deep of a concept, really.  The phrase “take stock of” just needs to be dissected minimally to see from where it originates:  The stock house or room.  To check the stock means (I’m really not trying to insult your intelligence here, just focusing on why we use these phrases) to count what’s available or lacking.

Ok, why was that word study important to our take on the judgment?

God will take the past into account, meaning weigh up the good with the bad, right?  So if this is true, then what has to happen for the “financial” (in the spiritual sense, of course) to be in the black or at least even?  I can answer this from two perspectives, I think, with ease, but first let’s work with Solomon’s question from his worldview.

Habits are behaviors or attitudes which come back around on either a regular basis or when a stimulus of some sort pushes a specific habit button.  What has been will be again.  Though Solomon is probably speaking about inventions, conventions and human relationships or accomplishments, his words can also apply to our deeds.  Why else would he include the subject of the judgment in a discussion of things going around in a circle (or cycling back around) to reinvention?  But what caught my attention was how he looked at the judgment, so let’s dwell on that, since we’ve already discussed the repetition of history.

In the Jewish economy the law provided forgiveness through sacrifice, yet it required restitution through either paying four times the amount stolen, a payment of some type to those wronged by rape, accidental death or debt, and, finally, death in extreme cases where premeditated murder or violent theft occurred.  But in every case, repentance did bring mercy from God; the debt to Him could be paid through sacrifice.  I don’t know what happened in Solomon’s case since we aren’t given anything past this book and the accounts of Kings and Chronicles, but the book seems to suggest something happened at the end of his life to turn him back to his God.  Oddly enough this works for me, given the copious examples in Scripture of some real scoundrels receiving mercy.  A man who lived most of his life in pursuit of pleasure and wealth found it all to be meaningless at the end of a race he won by all accounts and standards.

From the perspective of one whose life is now hidden with Christ in God, it seems to me to be easier to find grace in the sludge of human relationships—at least from the One who counts.  In this case we know a grace Solomon could only hope for but had no chance to see.  If I stand on my own in the judgment, my life is weighed by how my deeds balance out.  The bad thing is:  If I sinned even once in my life, the sin outweighs everything else good I did by God’s accounting, so I’m lost anyway; so one tiny sin or an excessive amount matters little when coming to the judgment.

Yet here’s where it really gets good:  if I’m like the thief on the cross, about to die for a life of crime and violence, and repent with a sincere heart, the blood of Jesus covers me like a white wedding garment and all my stinkiness is erased.   In other words, His good outweighs the world’s bad by the infinite power of the death and resurrection of Christ.  His good is weighed on the scales of the nature of His being, the Son of God; which makes Him God as well (see John 10:31-38).  The infinite nature of God outweighs by infinity the rebellion it takes to deny Him, which is the essence of all sin.

Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord prevails in the accounting.  Like a good friend of mine, Jerome says constantly, “When someone asks me how I made it into the kingdom, I’m gonna’ say,  ‘I don’t know.  I’m with Him!’”  then he’d point over his right shoulder to signify Jesus.  That’s all we get in the judgment; it’s the all or nothing clause; it’s a winner (Jesus) take all (anyone who submits to Him and all creation) situation.  Nothing can be added to Him and certainly nothing taken away.

But there is one final addendum to this subject I’ve just begun to understand.  The issue of the reward for the righteous never really made it on my radar until a few years ago when I read it again in the book of Revelation.  I’m not going to go into this in depth right now, but what came out of it and every other text which speaks of this subject is that our salvation is guaranteed by the blood of Christ.  The crown and rewards in the kingdom however are based on the trend of our life in His service.  If the good outweighs the bad, we receive a reward; if not, we squeak through the fire of His judgment saved, but with the sludge of sin burned away and all that remains of our entire lives is the foundation of Christ and the apostles (refer to 1 Corinthians 3 for Paul’s illustration).

I’m good with that, how about you?

Taking Out the Kinks

September 5, 2011

What is twisted cannot be straightened; what is lacking cannot be counted.  Ecclesiastes 1:15.

 

I couldn’t go on without addressing this statement a bit.

Solomon is speaking from a purely human perspective without including a miraculous God in the mix.  In construction I find the truth of this standpoint fairly regularly.  The moment you put a twist in copper pipe, for instance, the kink remains even if the twist is mostly straightened out.  No matter how one works on the bent pipe, it never comes right.  Because of what copper does (as well as most other metals) once it’s kinked the crease tends to leak eventually.  I’ve stuck rods down in the hole of the pipe trying to pry the kink up but nothing worked.  Eventually I just have to replace the kinked section.

Yet God isn’t limited by our deficiency.  What we lack in spiritual or miraculous power cannot be measured or counted for sure.  Yet God is infinite, we are so very finite.  Our imaginations can take in the possibility of life outside our physical world, but we can’t seem to design or create creatures that reflect these actual beings.  My point is:  our reality only includes the five senses or what we can “see”/know through equipments we conduct to detect that which is beyond our ability.

A person looking at creation through the eyes of a god-less perspective will be limited in their ability to see it.  No matter what the Bible describes as the whole picture, anyone who limits their scope to a purely physical reality will miss the greater spiritual truths waiting for those who connect with it.  The only way the greater picture is open to our viewpoint is through the crucified and risen Savior.  Jesus becomes a filter for our calloused spiritual eyes.  Solomon could only look forward to such a possibility, though he doesn’t mention it in this book, because such a truth had not occurred to anyone until Jesus came in the flesh.  We understand who Jesus is now because we can look back to His revelation but up to the time of His resurrection, no one would have considered such a possibility.

What is lacking cannot be counted

Though Solomon may not be making this point, the Spirit is through his words, I believe.  All Scripture is God breathed, which points us to something God would have us understand.  What Solomon’s despairing viewpoint educates us to is the hopeless redundancy of mankind’s life cycle without the atmosphere of Eden.  Nothing changes, even though we make progress in knowledge or technology, the character of mankind remains the same throughout these advances.  It’s no wonder the world fails to see Jesus as anything but spiritual teacher, guru or great example of human conduct, for they lack the spiritual insight to grasp Him in any other way.

Without God’s intervention, what is broken cannot be fixed; what is twisted cannot be straightened; what is lacking will never be known let alone counted.  For us to be whole beings, we must be directly connected to Him.