Posts Tagged ‘understanding God’

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.

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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.

Juxtaposed

April 3, 2014

James does a great job of presenting the contrast in wisdom:

Who is wise and has understanding among you? He should show his works by good conduct with wisdom’s gentleness. But if you have bitter envy and selfish ambition in your heart, don’t brag and deny the truth. Such wisdom does not come from above but is earthly, unspiritual, demonic. For where envy and selfish ambition exist, there is disorder and every kind of evil. But the wisdom from above is first pure, then peace-loving, gentle, compliant, full of mercy and good fruits, without favoritism and hypocrisy. And the fruit of righteousness is sown in peace by those who cultivate peace. (James 3:13-18 HCSB)

The key phrase is But if you have bitter envy and selfish ambition in your heart…for it spells out what is going on behind the scenes of the play we write for public consumption. Notice the principle characteristics of heavenly wisdom tie in nicely with Paul’s fruit of the Spirit in Galatians 5:22, 23. Human wisdom hates hypocrisy when it’s made public and someone else but practices it without batting an eye when the spotlight is diverted. Those exposed as acting (which is what hypocrisy means) in public displays of righteousness while being somewhat or wholly other than in private are crucified on the cross of public opinion and scorned. Unfortunately, many doing the crucifying and scorning hide similar or even worse attributes behind their stage curtains and backdrops. Which means they are using the misfortune of someone else to divert attention away from themselves.
The believer lives out in the open for the most part. Oh, we shouldn’t trust just any person off the street with our hearts or inner struggles since the world has a tendency to turn on anyone who displays weakness. Jesus declared, “By their fruit you will know them.” If we display the characteristics of the world’s desire for blood when dealing with sinners, then we are no different. It’s no wonder so many people become bitter about the message of the gospel when its self-proclaimed practitioners fail to show the key ingredients grace and mercy.
Yet here’s the kicker: What do we expect out of sinners? What do we expect out of even those sinners washed in the blood and saved by grace?
Our expectations set us up for disappointment when applied to fallible, fallen and recovering sinners, even those saved by grace. What we believe should almost always stand juxtaposed with what is. Again, what we believe ought to be the norm often flies in the face of what exists and has never changed since the beginning of the world.
Those who follow my blog might remember the entry from Ecclesiastes where Solomon declared, Don’t be excessively righteous, and don’t be overly wise. Why should you destroy yourself? Don’t be excessively wicked, and don’t be foolish. Why should you die before your time? It is good that you grasp the one and do not let the other slip from your hand. For the one who fears God will end up with both of them. (Ecclesiastes 7:16-18 HCSB) What else can this mean except that we should acknowledge both traits reside in us–albeit not peacefully. Paul claimed the two natures were at war with one another (see Romans 7:22, 23). If this is the state of every follower of the Way, then who has any advantage over anyone else? And if the Word of God declares all sold under sin and no one righteous without the blood of Jesus, who has the right to condemn anyone else?
This being the case does this mean we throw in the towel and give up trying to change ourselves or the world for the better? No. Yet neither does it mean we expect the impossible. Where sin affects the reasoning power the perspective skews to a lesser or greater degree. It’s impossible this side of glorification to find an un-skewed POV anywhere on the planet because everyone’s affected–or infected might be a better term. The moment someone begins their advice to me or anyone else within my hearing with words like “If the world or church would just…” I realize I’m listening to either a power-monger or an idealist.
According to the gospel, in order to get rid of oppression we must get rid of sin; to get rid of sin we must purify the human race. How do we purge the sin out of a race of practicing sinners? What sin goes first? Who’s sin gets targeted as the worst of offenses?
Again, to get rid of lying, cheating, murder, sexual deviancy, abuse, or any other evil infecting the human race to its ruin we don’t get rid of the people, ideology, or make stricter laws governing behavior but focus on the core cause of these. Behavior grows out of the thought life and inner reality a person is either educated to or chooses to believe. Culture is just a name we put on a lifestyle/modus operandi for a group of people who live in a region. They (and we in our own) develop beliefs, ethics and social structures based on the most powerful and, thus, influential voices among them.
Understandably we don’t think of the historical development of our culture because it happens so gradually the changes appears natural–or as naturally as those in control of an area present it. I’m not being cynical merely as realistic as I know how to be in order to point out what makes things “right” or “wrong” in a given context. I am amazed how little we notice the reasons for the changes made in society. For instance, why do women wear burkas in certain Middle East cultures? We could say it’s because they come from Muslim backgrounds and that’s what that religion/culture does, but that would be inaccurate since some Muslims don’t make their women wear it.
So what would be the reason behind a burka or dress style in any given culture? Many different factors could contribute to a current style or pattern. The climate, religious affiliation, family ties, government structure, and a host of other factors contribute to said culture. Now take into consideration the fact that those in power are just as often capricious, willful, self-absorbed, conceited, highly opinionated and, in some cases, ignorant in a cosmopolitan world sense, as they are just, well informed and open to diversity and you have the makings for oppression and ignorance being dictated to the ruled. What if one of the early advocates of the burka realized that his wives didn’t get noticed and stolen as often? Quite understandably that leader would be anxious to protect his “property”, posterity and sexual outlet. Look at the reasons why the ultraconservative leaders of the Islam object to an uncovered woman and you’ll see lust at the bottom. Just like blaming the woman for the gender of the child, the determination of which has been proven beyond a doubt to reside in the male sperm, blaming lust on a them removes responsibility for a man’s behavior or choices and puts it on others.
American Christianity is no different since there are sects who declare “modesty” is the best prevention of lust. If I, as a man, don’t have a problem with lust, a woman should be able to go naked in front of me and cause no alarm. But men lust after women with clothes on so it’s a no go situation and completely not the woman’s fault. I’ve seen women dress conservatively and still get lustful looks from men. So blaming others for my internal attitudes, once I have the reasoning power to choose what I will believe, is a lie.
Still, the burka could have started out as a way for women to protect their skin from the harsh desert sun. The poetry of ancient Arabic cultures speak of the milky tint of a woman’s skin as desirable so it would follow that the early Bedouin women would probably have begun wearing a scarf to cover all but their eyes in order to preserve their skin. It’s not that farfetched to reason some of the attitudes about women began quite innocently only to develop into laws of decency much later.
Just take a moment to think of habits, family traditions or accepted norms within the society or subculture in which we were raised. The reasons might not have meaning or any good purpose other than preference behind them. Which, in hindsight, almost takes the joy out of some of our most cherished traditions, making them seem shallow in light of how seriously we hold to them now as the “right way” in contrast to others. In this context our vehement defense of our methodology or tradition as “just the way it’s done” is defensible only as it pertains to a harmless practice of preferences but really contains no moral authority over those who live differently. Yet we will defend the imposition of our ethic, social structure or religious belief to the death and often decide to go to war with those who believe a diametrically opposed viewpoint as means of conforming the world to our preferences.
Comfort has a lot to do with our actions. We have no way of knowing if the person doing the dictating might be mentally disabled, the child of violence or sexual abuse, or a lack of education resulting in holding onto superstitious beliefs based on a hallucination or drug induced vision. How do we know? The aristocracy of Europe were, for the most part, the only ones educated to read and write, yet look at the atrocities and oppression they brought about.
In the church I come from the “prophet” was hit in the face by a rock when she was young which left her sick for a long time. During the 1840s she had visions which might or might not have been really from God but since the evidence of her past points to brain damage it’s more likely these were brought on by a damaged frontal lobe. I honestly don’t know at this point, neither will I argue for or against her visions because my point is we give trust to the outspoken far too easily.
The moment someone declares a revelation from God I start looking for the motivation behind it. What’s in it for them? Prestige? Power? Pleasure? Redemption? Hope? There’s an old saying which goes something like this, “When a preacher shakes your hand keep the other hand on your wallet.”
You see, humans don’t do anything from uncomplicated motives. Even the best of us, if we’re willing to delve into our psyche, make our choices out of a mixed bag of motives or reasons. Even if no hidden agenda can be discovered, the reasons we choose to go with one option over another grows out of a history of choices, biases, teaching and socioeconomic pressures.
The only thing to rescue us from bent choices is heavenly wisdom. Of course receiving daily doses of it and immersing ourselves in the source manual doesn’t guarantee we will be wise for that takes submission–coming under the mission of–to Christ and what He stands for. We can be defeated before we are even out of the starting gate by latching onto meanings without fact checking or testing the spirit with which we came to our conclusion.
Pure wisdom from heaven filters through human minds which are full of distorted images and misdirected truths to be interpreted by our biases. Denying the possibility is unwise; denying it happens with all of us is downright foolhardy, a lie we first tell ourselves then foist on others. If you don’t believe me, just count not only the number of denominations within the supposedly “unified” church of Christ but all the world religions and try to find some unifying factor. The only common thread will far too often be a complicated reasoning based on obscure motives. Almost always people accept or reject a “truth” based on their bias of the moment. The few who actually do their homework might escape it but usually default to whatever thought process fits their current comfort zone.
A believer who values truth above everything else will admit the biases and prejudices which run him or her. The only people I trust to give me good advice are the ones who I know recognize their own faults and are in the process of taking steps to grow away from them. Anyone who displays the pride of comparison or condescension not only loses my respect (for the their opinion not as a person) but my trust. When I see someone abusing the authority which God established (again, not specifically for them but the benefit of all) that person will lose both my respect for their authority and counsel.
The servant of Christ is a purveyor of peace and gentleness. One who preaches purity or any other truth without these traits has the form of godliness but without the power of the Spirit.

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.

Destiny Looks A Lot Like…

February 11, 2014

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

Let me expand on that statement a bit.

From the perspective of the gospel I know I am a sinner saved by grace right? I have past sins which destroyed relationships, hurt my forward movement, affect the now, and might affect the future. Just because this is true does not mean I cannot move in the direction I choose or continue to pursue life, love and happiness. Wisdom declares time and consideration a person’s friend.

A person who advises anyone from a fear of failure, a critical spirit, condescension, or some form of repressive behavior will hold a slant on life which cannot be completely trusted. This doesn’t mean we can’t listen to their advice or mine nuggets of experiential wisdom from what they say. For if we pay attention, discernment will guide us to take in what is helpful and reject what is harmful. Wisdom looks not only at the losses which might occur from a choice but also weighs the benefits and assesses the risks of success.

On the other hand, focusing on the positive truth to the exclusion of the negative truth is a mistake. We cannot grow if we refuse to deal with how our mistakes and failures affect us or what we can learn from them. Some people who want us only to look at our successes when telling our story; but a life is also defined by loss and failure in many ways because what we do in response to those two things defines who we are and will become.

In other words, our “destiny” looks a lot like the potential held in our personalities, abilities and goals. Now if we choose to include Christ into that mix, then we add onto our “destiny” constant refinement to the aforementioned characteristics. The more I know about the “who” of me the better decisions I will make spiritually, physically, socially and in every other way I relate to the world. Yet knowledge in and of itself without wisdom lacks the ability to squeeze the potential out of these raw “talents”.

A perspective which conforms to reality also recognizes the variables in life and the opportunities vary for everyone depending on their environment, culture, education, family dynamic and personality. Solomon deals with this concept beautifully:

Again I saw under the sun that the race is not to the swift, or the battle to the strong, or bread to the wise, or riches to the discerning, or favor to the skillful; rather, time and chance happen to all of them. For man certainly does not know his time: like fish caught in a cruel net or like birds caught in a trap, so people are trapped in an evil time as it suddenly falls on them. (Ecclesiastes 9:11, 12 HCSB)

So we see his teaching about doing our best with all our might and investment is tempered with a reality on the other side of his argument for industry and happiness.

Look at what the editor/commentators say about Solomon:

In addition to the Teacher being a wise man, he constantly taught the people knowledge; he weighed, explored, and arranged many proverbs. The Teacher sought to find delightful sayings and write words of truth accurately. (Ecclesiastes 12:9, 10 HCSB)

He searched out wisdom not only for the pleasure of it but also without regard to the source. If you read the beginning in the book of Proverbs, you’ll see Solomon’s approach was collecting from many different sources not just his own religion. Now read his story to see what happened to him in the final tally. It wasn’t his search of wisdom which sidetracked him. Knowledge alone did no good. Some theologians have taken Ecclesiastes to be his swan song or evidence of repentance. I’m not going to argue for or against that conclusion because I find of a lack of evidence either way too problematic to conclude anything about him. What I will say is that nothing is guaranteed.

Solomon held the highest position a person can have yet squandered it for the purpose of treaties in the form of wives from other nations and cultural diversity within his own uniquely fixed part of the world. The compromises he made to accommodate his foreign wives by building temples and shrines for them in which to worship stole his heart away from the very God who blessed him with such a position in the first place. His ecumenical stance wasn’t necessarily wrong as a diplomacy method but it was for the unique place he inhabited as God’s ambassador in the world.

We all compromise to one degree or another with the world around us–it’s not only how we continue to function but a must for navigating the confusion we call “life”. There are, however, a few compromises none of us can afford. One is what Solomon got caught up in–not only allowing for & tolerating other religions in the world around him but letting them build shrines and temples where only his faith belonged. And I’m not talking about just the physical buildings because eventually he began to take part in the ceremonies and rites of these other religions. His reasoning probably started out as research, then fascination, and ended with buying into them.

I’m open to America’s diversity, where every religion, creed, ethic and opinion should be respected and left alone. What I’m not open to is anything but the one I have chosen to rule my life being present in the inner sanctum of my heart. That said, I have compromised the vision for my life by allowing others to persuade me to theirs. Not that this is wrong if I find I want a version of what they offer, but it is if I know in my heart their vision or goals for me don’t fit who I am or what I want for my now or future.

For some time now I’ve realized I made decisions based on the fears and desires of those of my inner circle for my life which were wrong for my own goals. The end results have been devastating for I now have a big hole to dig out of without much help from those who influenced me. Don’t get me wrong, the decision to compromise was mine alone but when we attempt to put a square peg into round hole by clipping the corners it still leaves gaps. The gaps are glaringly apparent so that even those who helped us “round off” the edges of our square look helplessly on the mess with chagrin. That is, of course, unless the round hole is big enough to accommodate the square’s corners, then clipping isn’t necessary but the gaps remain.

To be fair it goes the other way as well. A circle might fit into a square more comfortably than the other way around but there will always be gaps.
In Solomon’s case it wasn’t even a question of fitting in but a full blown apostasy on his part. Taking the very blessing God gave him he used it to extract God from his life. He reformed his allegiance to include other gods and paid the price. This book might be his way of saying “don’t do what I did” but none of the records which speak of his life say he turned back to God. Solomon squandered his calling in favor of the temporary and paid the price.

After years of searching out what it means to have a “calling” as Christian I’ve come to the conclusion the mystery is all man made. What we term as a “calling” caries connotations of specific personal or career choices we must make and if we don’t make them, we have failed God. Which, in the end, just becomes another way to sin and feel defeated. Instead of thinking of a career or personal map the writers of the Bible put our calling in the form of an ethic for life.

Yes Paul makes a distinction by saying some are called to be apostles, teachers, pastors, etc., but these weren’t career choices rather he saw them as gifts with which to serve others. Not all the apostles were missionaries like him, in fact some rarely travelled at all. Not all the teachers were paid staff or supported by the church; not all of the elders were pastors. We serve a function within the place we find ourselves not as a career but it must grow out of who we are.

I am a musician. I love touring, traveling, playing and singing live, the whole recording process and I could go on. I don’t like dealing with paper work or office management stuff. I’m pretty good at the big picture and methods by which the day to day stuff can be done efficiently yet not the one to accomplish it with the same efficiency. Artists in general, by nature, are distracted people. They live in a world of ideas, ideals, pictures, language, thought and reaction to the immediate and grande world around them.

I’ve listened to the more organized people in my world tell me how to get the chaos of my filing system under control. I’m now laughing–not in derision but sympathy for them. Telling someone like me to be organized like an accountant or office manager is like telling an office manager or said accountant to write a song or paint a picture like the improve artist. Sure there are overlaps but this isn’t the time to discuss them. We are speaking of contrasting reality here not just what is possible for these poler opposites. There will always be combinations of traits just as there will always be a myriad of ways to live. What I’m saying is we wouldn’t have an Einstein if he weren’t distracted by math and obsessed with the abstract. The guy sometimes went out of the house without pants but that’s part of his charm not a detriment to his intelligence.

What all this comes down to is value. Utilitarian thinking is healthy only in so far as it applies to the purpose of an object, project or person in a job situation. When it begins to be the sole reason we do or value anything and anyone its own purpose gets thwarted and perverted. An artist who can’t be bothered to tie his or her shoes but creates incredibly beautiful art of one kind or another gives humanity part of its characteristic diversity. I would also say part of the charm of humanity’s collective personality grows out of the quirks, idiosyncrasies, perceived weaknesses, not just its gifts or functions.

The next time you look at a tree think of it in a collective form–as a bio-mechanical machine first, then as a beautiful work of art. See the grass as a safeguard against erosion as well as a waving sea of green beneath which life happens as much as it does above. Solomon’s perspective in Ecclesiastes isn’t negative but an acknowledgement of both sides. In theology understanding a book takes seeing it from the perspective of the author (if that info is available), the era or time it was written, and who the audience is expected to be. The other factor theologians look for is repetitious phrases or words. Once we understand the context within these parameters we can begin interpreting the actual message.

The most repeated phrase besides everything is futile is a variation of I know that there is nothing better for them than to rejoice and enjoy the good life. (Ecclesiastes 3:12 HCSB). While I haven’t counted the times he says this, I do know he says it quite a bit. Recognizing that we can expect bad stuff to happen prepares us to deal with whatever comes, right? Taking the time to enjoy life come what may in whatever way we can makes more sense when we know it is made up of both.

Our happiness, in other words, should never be dependent on the times we live in, the family or community we find ourselves born into, or the specific situation we face at any given time. We can still smell the flowers in our sadness, still love the people we value and definitely give whatever we find to do everything we have in us.

Blew My Mind

January 27, 2014

Great article:

http://viralchrist.com/spiritual-growth/love/1559-qlover-or-prostitute-the-question-that-changed-my-life

 

Reminder

January 16, 2014

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

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

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

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

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

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

Privilege brings on a certain perspective to all we do.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Do you see the problem here?

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

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

How does this affect our view of God then?

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Banish the Thought, But…

January 7, 2014

 

Einstein's equation

Einstein’s equation

 

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

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

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

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

Yes.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

The Sweet and the Savory

January 1, 2014

 

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

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

Many days of darkness.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.