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Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Little Acts of Random Kindness (Structured)

Location. Location. Location.

Usually I can be tightfisted when it comes to giving money to those who approach me for it on the street. Typically, I avoid eye contact and deny that I have any money to give away. Today when someone asked for money I relented and got on board with his request almost immediately.

I was headed to a job assignment and decided to stop in Walgreen's to pick up a can or two of Arizona tea. My favorite is Sweet Southern tea, which I drink if I must drive on long trips. But today I visualized the colorful can of diet peach tea—by drinking it I would avoid the sugar.

When I parked and started in a man approached and said something about Arizona tea and wanting a quarter. I thought for a moment he had said “I know you are going to get some Arizona tea and I would like a quarter to get some.” I was taken aback and asked him to repeat what he had said. This time it was clear that he had said nothing about what I intended, but only that he would like some Arizona tea for himself and a friend sitting nearby. I told him what I initially thought he had said (he laughed at the idea of him being a psychic), that I was just that minute headed in to get some tea, and that I would be glad to get him some too if he would go in with me to get it. When at the drink cooler I got two diet peach teas. He reached in and got a Sweet Southern tea can and inquired if he could get two. I said “sure” completely on board with helping the man and his friend in this small way.

I am, of course, discussing very small change here, but I think it is worthwhile studying the occasion since it elicited very unusual behavior from me. In the first place, the man appeared neat and clean. He did not look or smell like someone just out to get money for alcoholic beverages and was willing to say anything—no matter how disingenuous— to get it. He approached in a forthright manner. Second of all, he mentioned a can of Arizona tea—raising a clearly defined image in my mind of something directly motivating my behavior at that very instant. Next, his request was modest. I did not have to decide whether to buy a case of tea, merely a can or two. Thus, the decision did not require any “weighing of the matter” in terms of what I could afford. Too, he was graciously willing to go along with my terms in realizing his wishes—to go in with me to fetch can(s) of Arizona tea. Finally, and this may have had some subtle influence—I intended to pay by credit card, not needing to fork over immediate cash or rummage around for it. I came away feeling content with what transpired and did not feel in any way put-upon or exploited. I had made momentary contact (identified) with a stranger experiencing a shared need and common objective and took practical steps to meet them thereby increasing my own sense of self-worth. In in some ways I think this ARK points to the underlying structure of many of them.

So much of God's purpose for us is revealed through Location. Location. Location. The other day I mentioned to my son that sometimes I'm not sure of God's will for me. He looked down and pointed to my shoes. After a moment I looked up to him puzzled. He said if you want to know what God's purpose for you is, look where you're planted. 

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Sunday, October 28, 2012

The Humility of God

Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love (1 John 4:8).

They came to Capernaum. When he was in the house, he asked them, “What were you arguing about on the road?” But they kept quiet because on the way they had argued about who was the greatest.

Sitting down, Jesus called the Twelve and said, “If anyone wants to be first, he must be the very last, and the servant of all.” (Mark 9: 33-35).

I imagined myself on a hillside looking up to the heavens past parting sunlit clouds and talking with God. I told God I had a few questions and he agreed to answer them.

First I ask, “God are you more powerful than me?” He answered, “Don't be silly. Of course I am more powerful than you or any mortal for I am omnipotent.”

Then I ask, “God are you wiser than me?” He answered, “Don't be silly. Of course I'm wiser than you or any mortal for I am omniscient.”

Next I ask, “God are you in more places than me?” He answered, “You are so silly. Of course I'm in more places than you or any mortal for I am omnipresent.

Finally, I asked, “God are you better than me?” Dark clouds rolled in overhead and there were deafening claps of thunder. Greatly exercised God answered; “Do you not know that God is love and love always esteems others more highly than self? Have you not read that I sent Jesus to earth as a suffering servant? There he opposed self-righteousness wherever he found it, and was crucified because others thought they were better than my only son. How long will humanity not see that humility is the keystone of all virtue and self-righteousness is the source of all sin? How long will my children preoccupy themselves with who among them is greater? The drive for status and the illusion of superiority all come from the devil and are replete with cruelty and hatred. After a long moment the dark clouds dissipated and God looked down at me and gently asked; “Do you have other questions?” I answered, “No God I don't. I am now content to live with the knowledge already given to all and made plain in the Scriptures.

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Saturday, October 27, 2012

Peace for the Inquiring Mind

For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways,”
declares the Lord. “As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts” (Isaiah 55:8-9 NIV).

[Jesus said,] “The wind blows wherever it pleases. You hear its sound, but you cannot tell where it comes from or where it is going. So it is with everyone born of the Spirit” (John 3:8 NIV).

Great peace comes for the inquiring mind when it fully appreciates that the ways of God will always be mysterious to man. While God in one sense has let us know fully what is expected of us on earth (the Fruit of the Spirit as manifested in Christ Jesus), in another sense his ways are utterly mysterious and it is pointless—even dangerous for mental health—to strive to piece together every cause and effect of his actions on earth. The task for us is not to understand God's ways but to concentrate on God's will for our lives—to bloom where we are planted. Our prayer should always be for the Lord to spare us from intellectual arrogance and to grant us instead humility in performing our tasks on earth.

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Friday, October 26, 2012

The Difference Between Denial and Blessed Assurance

The key difference between denial and blessed assurance is that in the former instance out of fear facts are avoided or denied while in the latter case facts are fully recognized and appreciated yet faith supplants all doubt and there is complete openness to the efforts of God and man to correct the issue. From this point of view, there are no miracles for every redeeming development is fully expected and in a sense becomes inevitable. This has nothing to do with the power of the mind over body for the circle of contributors can involve many (including nonbelievers) with all human efforts being reinforced by the suffusing yet transcendent power of God. Thus, whether involving the healing of a loved one or the healing of a nation, the spiritual dimension is an indispensable and indelible element potently enacting positive change.

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Thursday, October 25, 2012

The Threat Before Us

Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You give a tenth of your spices—mint, dill and cummin. But you have neglected the more important matters of the law—justice, mercy and faithfulness. You should have practiced the latter, without neglecting the former. You blind guides! You strain out a gnat but swallow a camel” (Matthew 23:23-24)

I am certain that my fellow Americans expect that on my induction into the Presidency I will address them with a candor and a decision which the present situation of our people impel. This is preeminently the time to speak the truth, the whole truth, frankly and boldly. Nor need we shrink from honestly facing conditions in our country today. This great Nation will endure as it has endured, will revive and will prosper. So, first of all, let me assert my firm belief that the only thing we have to fear is fear itself—nameless, unreasoning, unjustified terror which paralyzes needed efforts to convert retreat into advance. In every dark hour of our national life a leadership of frankness and vigor has met with that understanding and support of the people themselves which is essential to victory. I am convinced that you will again give that support to leadership in these critical days. (FDR’s First Inaugural Address).

It is again preeminently a time to speak the truth. America's great enemy today is once again fear and the chronic state of denial (and escapism) which it imposes. My readers appreciate that I have a religious bent. It is my firm conviction that the ultimate source of this fear, this denial of the truth, is the dark whisperings of the devil himself (the master of deceit and falsehood). He tells us we don't want to know the truth, that we can't handle it. That we don't have enough faith and that our faith anyway is groundless. He tells us “we don't want to go there.” I say flat-out “to hell with the devil.” It is high time we confront the devil and passionately tell him to his face that he's an abject liar and that we are on to his game-plan with its aim to destroy us.

Once, with God's help, the devil flees from us the first thing we must accept as truth is that our present system can be incredibly cruel, especially to the working poor. Without a living wage and without health benefits, we patronizingly tell them (many of whom work two jobs) to just work harder and go to night school and become a wealthy brain surgeon. We ration our health care in this way and when challenged we point to the failings of other systems rather than addressing the failings of our own. Sometimes only the remark of Christ adequately describes us--”we stain on a gnat but swallow a camel.”

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Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Opportunities as Acts of God

No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord (Romans 8:37-39 NIV).

How might recalling the acts of God in your past give you courage to face the present and future? (Serendipity Bible 10th Anniversary Edition, page 1019).

Unquestionably one of the greatest advantages of advancing in years is that one can gain perspective over the blessings of God in one's life. The remarkable thing is that the most dicey points of decision and experience one has encountered reveal most about God's unfathomable love. The underlying purpose of events which is somewhat obscure during their enactment becomes increasingly clearer. The metaphor obtains of the gnarled tree we love to ponder that has gained through years of sometimes adverse conditions a beauty more striking than can be gained through growth in completely ideal greenhouse conditions. We identify strongly with the tree for it embodies our own conviction that challenging times imbue a strength of character and a perspective unreachable in any other way. It is God's way to provide opportunities for growth though process not magic. This is a principal difference between God as I have come to know him and a childlike belief in Santa Claus.

In the following video clip from Evan Almighty the viewer of the movie knows that the waiter in white shirt represents God himself.

God: Let me ask you something... If some one prays for patience, you think God gives them patience? Or does he give them the opportunity to be patient? If he prayed for courage, does God gives them courage? Or does he give them opportunities to be courageous? If someone prayed for the family to be closer, you think God zaps them with warm fuzzy feelings? Or does he give them opportunities to love each other?

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Tuesday, October 23, 2012

What God Has Done for Me

How would you explain to a non-Christian what God has done for you? (Serendipity Bible 10th Anniversary Edition, page 1019).

In answering this question, the first thing to mention is that my perspectives upon all things religious have been heavily influenced by Jesus Christ. Jesus showed clearly the practical implications of worshiping a loving God. Perhaps the first lesson to absorb is that living for God means that one's life will be filled with opposition and conflict since sin is fixed within the texture of life.

Anyone who attempts to follow their best lights and live a righteous life will unavoidably come to have a profoundly different perspective than one based upon the prevalent passions of the world. When we pray that God's kingdom come on earth as it is in heaven, we thereby are enlisting in warfare. And what are the enemies of God? They include selfishness, self-righteousness, cruelty, falsehood, lust, idol worship, greed, hypocrisy, callousness, hubris, and spiritual blindness—all the things that Jesus railed against and eventually got him crucified. To be a Christian is to find oneself upon the firing line and to be deeply counter-cultural in decisive ways.

If one were to find themselves comfortable and content and in large agreement with the status quo, then they can be assured they have been co-opted by a sinful world. If they find themselves closely identifying with the powers that be on earth, then they are not identifying with the heavenly powers. For life as we know it is deeply different from the way God would have it. What Jesus taught is that other-worldly values and concepts have their direct claim on practical, everyday existence. Another way of putting it is that Godly abstractions [the fruit of the Spirit] are to be transformationally applied to the concrete factors of life here and now. And this is not merely private and personal, but replete with social implications. One of the key things that got Jesus crucified was not a reclusive, private, ascetic bent; but his critique of the powerful and influential and his overturning the tables that represented business-as-usual.

So worshiping God with a Christian spirit clearly has immediate, practical implications. But it also endows us with a long-term perspective giving life meaning and purpose. It gives us, within the whirly burly of life, a compass yielding strength, endurance, certitude, and peace that transcends understanding. It yields spiritual harmony amidst incredible turmoil and strife. It yields, in a phrase, an inner quietness, a “blessed assurance.” Our touchstone is the Holy Spirit that guides us in disciplines of love. All other laws—rules and regs—pale in comparison.

The worship of God also gives us a servant's heart. We are to humbly love and serve God and man. Confidence in God is markedly different from “standing tall.” It is, rather, standing unflinchingly humble and true. It is to be blessed by the grace of God.

Finally, God's love gives us freedom. The security of God's love frees us—as it freed Jesus—from the incessant search for human endorsement and approval. Of course, Jesus had his disciples and one especially that he loved. In this sense, I guess we can say that he needed and enjoyed human friendship. But he was willing to face the fact that even his closest friends would abandon him upon his arrest by authorities. He understood well the frailties of the human frame, but rested secure in the love of his Heavenly Father. Even death could not separate him from the love of God.

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Monday, October 22, 2012

The Little Matter of Intuition

Alexander Graham Bell Using Telephone

If God needed to gain your attention today, where would you place yourself on a scale of 1 (deaf) to 5 (all ears)...(Serendipity Bible 10th Anniversary Edition, page 1018).

Whoever can be trusted with very little can also be trusted with much, and whoever is dishonest with very little will also be dishonest with much” (Luke 16:10 TNIV).

I would ask for a moment that we try to put ourselves in God's place years ago when his people were in slavery in Egypt. He needed a servant who could be trusted to obey His directives not only in leading the deliverance of his people, but to guide them though formative years in the desert in which God's instructions and laws needed to be disseminated and established. In short, the immediate task for God was to find a faithful servant who could (would) hear his voice and obey it.

Let us put this challenge in today's terms. Say we had a critical mission that had to rely upon a piece of communication equipment. Surely we would not wait until the critical event to test the reliance of our equipment, but would do so before hand with communication of apparently trivial information in trivial and non-critical times. In inventing the first practical telephone Alexander Graham Bell did not wait for an emergency to test his equipment but said simply “Watson, come here! I want to see you!”

I would like to speculate that this is the place of intuition in our lives. It is God testing the reliability of his servant in which the faithful completion of apparently trivial matters indicates whether his instrument is flawed by denial and dishonesty. So the next time you are ordering a sandwich at Subway, if you feel led (with a strange conviction out of all proportion to the occasion) to add a little onion, my advice is that you faithfully follow your intuition. Whether you are trusted with much may well hang in the balance.

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Saturday, October 20, 2012

A Cascade of Suffering

God you suffered
    in creating all things.
Jesus you suffered
    in saving mankind.
Holy Spirit you suffered
    in bringing help and comfort.
Daddy you suffered
    in standing humble and true.
Mama you suffered
    in blessing all you met.
Bobby you suffered
    in answering leadership's call.
Kathy you suffered
    in marrying hapless Wayne.
Wayne you suffered
    in being immeasurably blessed.

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Friday, October 19, 2012

A Plea for Christian Grace

It is with reluctance that I ask my conservative Christian friends to assess if some cruelty might be found in their concern for the spiritual state of others. Surely it is kinder to assume that others too during their lives have sought guidance from a divinely inspired conscience and have relied in critical moments upon Christ's grace and power than to assume an unrelieved pattern of irresponsibility. As liberalism can be patronizing, so can conservatism. The parable of Jesus about the ever-present proclivity to find fault in others while being oblivious to one's own is one of the profoundest observations ever made about human perception. Facilitative compassion and a prayerful attitude are impossible without self-directed humility only possible under the tutorship of God.

            The Lord's Prayer

            Our Father who art in heaven,
            hallowed be thy name.
           Thy kingdom come.
           Thy will be done
           on earth as it is in heaven.
           Give us this day our daily bread,
           and forgive us our trespasses,
           as we forgive those who trespass against us,
           and lead us not into temptation,
           but deliver us from evil.
           For thine is the kingdom,
           and the power, and the glory,
           for ever and ever.

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Gun Ownership as a Vehicle of Expression

Fundamental to dealing with the gun issue is coming to terms with the symbolic nature of weapons. Weapons serve to augment human power and telegraph to others that “I'm not a pushover....I'm not someone to be toyed with.” The intended audience for this message is in no way limited only to those who represent an impending physical threat. Whether in the home or workplace weapon ownership and participating in the practice of hunting serve to solidify in the mind of others (and those who seek it as a form of self-expression) that here is a person that does not tolerate nonsense. Therefore, in the case of a father with children in the home, there can be a dampening effect on the children's expression of disrespect or insubordination when it dawns upon them that their dad is not vulnerable or weak, but is a sure-footed, gun-toting hombre. Likewise at work, a supervisor with pictures of hunting exploits on his desk telegraphs a similar message. We have seen political figures use a hunting reputation to suggest (however nonsensical it may be) that they do not stand for nonsense.

In America we view self-expression and self-defense as natural rights bestowed by God, not government. Thus, no one is entitled to stand between me and my God-given right to bear arms. A sane approach to gun ownership in a crowded society will come only when self-expression as a dimension of gun ownership is directly addressed. Since guns are a vehicle for self-expression with implications far beyond the actual realized use of deadly force, successful and effective gun control will come only when the powerful, symbolic nature of gun ownership is explicitly explored.

I have a mentally challenged friend who lives independently but is monitored and assisted by case workers. Over the years time and again he has wanted to own a gun to realize the benefits of a no-nonsense “don't tread on me” persona. With reluctance, his case workers have allowed him to own swords and stun guns, but are adamant in their opposition to gun ownership. The obvious reason is that they sense that situations might arise where he would not be able to coolly and rationally handle deadly force of such decisive magnitude. I identify with my friend in many ways and refuse for similar reasons to keep a loaded gun in the top drawer of my bedroom. I can readily visualize scenarios where I would not handle such power well. In many ways, this is like a nation with vast military power. It sometimes proves impossible to differentiate a reasoned policy of self-defense from the urgent drive for self-expression. Certainly in these matters we can never stray too far from a realistic view of human nature with its subliminal imperatives of fear and passion. The God-given rights to self-defense and self-expression are not, should not, and cannot be unlimited.

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Wednesday, October 17, 2012

50th High School Reunion

Peace River at Bowling Green, FL

In a message dated 10/15/2012 9:35:58 A.M. Eastern Daylight Time, JOHNWAYNECLARK writes:
Wayne, sorry you couldn't make it [to the 50th Hardee High School reunion Oct 13, 2012] were missed...jwc

Thanks John Wayne,

I know my fellow classmates put a lot of hard work into the reunion, and I only found out I could not attend at the last moment. I have lived several places in Florida, but for me home will always be Bowling Green and my school experience best recollected at Hardee High. I have had countless blessings over my lifetime but surely one of the greatest was the privilege of becoming of age within a place where respect was mutually shared and love was practical and real. Now I am at last coming to realize (upon seeing how it is for many not so fortunate) how God blessed me upon the threshold of adulthood. When I think of those bright, sunlit days graced by the ancient winding flow of Peace River inviting adventure, I rail with Shakespeare when he found that too often "simple truth [is] miscalled simplicity."

Well, we're not done yet so still need to apply lessons garnered in our formative years--such as "always do your best, that's all that you can do."

I look forward to joining our entire class for our 100th reunion on the far banks of the Jordan. Perhaps then when all is clear we will come to discover that the highest rated saints among us in '62 were the most mischievous "Charlie Browns" of our class—but then again, perhaps we knew it all along.

Wayne Standifer

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Tuesday, October 16, 2012

When Panic Sets In

Have you ever misplaced something only to discover it “right under your noise”? What and where was it? Why did you fail to see it right away? (Serendipity Bible 10th Anniversary Edition, pp 1017-8).

The item I am most likely to misplace is my glasses. I have several set locations I usually place them upon removing them—either on the dresser top or on my desk. Lord help me if I ever put them somewhere else where I do not habitually place them. I will look for them in the usual locations, and when not there panic sets in. I know only too well that I can (when it is time to go to work) spend valuable minutes looking for them with the desperate thought that I may not find them at all. I am then way out of my comfort zone.

This is an example of how comfort zones based upon habitual behavior normally assist us, yet can be limiting. The obvious benefits of habitual behavior can carry with it the downside risk that possible better options remain forever unexplored. I am an inveterate “homebody”. I love where I live and venture out elsewhere only after struggling with this tendency towards comfortable inertia. But like our visit last week in the mountains of Georgia, it can be deeply restorative of spirit to venture out every now and then and get fresh perspectives. My prayer today is that I learn to panic less when I sense the boat I'm on is pushing off shore—may I then have the presence of mind to replace the familiar comforts of habit with abiding faith.

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Monday, October 15, 2012

The Grace of a Servant

A close-up of the background
figure in Michelangelo's
Isaiah fresco

The Servant of the Lord

Here is my servant, whom I uphold,
my chosen one in whom I delight;
I will put my Spirit on him,
and he will bring justice to the nations.
He will not shout or cry out,
or raise his voice in the streets.
A bruised reed he will not break,
and a smoldering wick he will not snuff out.
In faithfulness he will bring forth justice;
he will not falter or be discouraged
till he establishes justice on earth.
In his teaching the islands will put their hope”
(Isaiah 42:1-4 NIV).

It is evident that only a servant can be a savior for the essential ingredient in both is humility. And, in the unrelieved landscape of selfishness and prejudice that can afflict humanity, the grace of humility is the only balm. As Saint Paul said, such a conclusion is utter foolishness to those infatuated with earthly power, but becomes abundantly obvious to those seeking enlightenment, divine redemption, and practical good. With the flourishing of democracy (and demise of regnant rule by a few) a way is open for servanthood to be broadly based providing significant roles of responsibility for everyone, even making service an instituted commodity. Lurking in the shadows to poison this well of promise is our long-identified enemy—hubris. When it commandeers democracy, the grotesqueness of results can easily equal if not exceed other social/political arrangements. It brings to mind the Scripture (which applies equally to persons and nations):

When an impure spirit comes out of a person, it goes through arid places seeking rest and does not find it. Then it says, ‘I will return to the house I left.’ When it arrives, it finds the house swept clean and put in order. Then it goes and takes seven other spirits more wicked than itself, and they go in and live there. And the final condition of that person is worse than the first” (Luke 11:24-26 NIV).

The challenge as always is to influence human perception opening it to the vistas of divine will. The crucifixion of Jesus makes it for all time clear that this is not an easy task. Nevertheless up to this point there has proven to be no substitute for amazing grace implemented by the disciplines of sacrificial love. (Is there—can there—be any other ethical way to transform a person's or nation's perception of preferred governing principles?) The hope is that—for individuals and nations—the destructive passions of the human mind can be subdued before time runs out.

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Sunday, October 14, 2012

Our Trip to Georgia

Last Wednesday Kathy and I took a trip to see my brother Bob and his wife Linda in Cleveland, Georgia. This is in a mountainous area of north Georgia. For today's blog I would like to share some pictures taken
 on our visit.

Bob, Kathy, Linda
In front of Nora Mill Granary
Sautee-Nacoochee Valley - Near Helen, GA
We bought some stone ground grits to bring back to Florida

Wayne and Kathy at Brasstown Bald Mountain.  It is the highest natural point in the state of Georgia, USA.  The mountain is part of the Blue Ridge Mountains (part of the Appalachian Mountains), and within the borders of the Blue Ridge Ranger District of the Chattahoochee National Forest.

Another view from Brasstown Bald

Anna Ruby Falls: Curtis Creek is on the left and York Creek is on the right
Anna Ruby Falls is part of the Chattahoochee National Forest. Falls near Helen, GA.

Anna Ruby Falls

Trees growing among rocks
near the trail going up to Anna Ruby Falls

Bob and Linda's home - where we stayed

Linda's "Pottage"
(where Linda makes pottery next to their house)

Below are video clips of Brasstown Bald Mountain and Anna Ruby Falls. The Falls clip gives a good idea of the sound the stream's rapids make as you walk the half-mile along side them up to the Falls. (Both clips found on YouTube and are created by others.)  

Brasstown Bald Mountain

Anna Ruby Falls

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Friday, October 12, 2012

Unfettered Salvation

In reply Jesus declared, “I tell you the truth, no one can see the kingdom of God unless he is born again (John 3:3).

Jesus said to the woman, “Your faith has saved you; go in peace.” (Luke 7:50 NIV).

Go,” said Jesus [to the blind man], “your faith has healed you”.... (Mark 10:52 NIV).

Salvation need not arise from abject spasms of guilt and groveling self-abasement. Self-flagellation is not a requirement of salvation. Rather, love for God is unfailingly characterized by deep assurance and joyful enlightenment.

Christians In Philippines Self-Flagellate In Bloody Holy Week Ritual

Shiite Muslim festival of Ashura

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Thursday, October 11, 2012

Above and Beyond

Who are today's Pharisees and Sadducees? (Serendipity New Testament 10th Anniversary Edition, page 47).

I do not answer this question as a Bible scholar who knows a great deal about the beliefs of the Pharisees and Sadducees. Over the years, however, I have come to have opinions about what aspects of human nature they represent in the New Testament:

  • A strong tendency to be self-righteous and judgmental (seeing themselves as immune from the foibles inherent in others)
  • A myopic certitude about what is right and sacrosanct
  • A self-centered confidence that they have earned and are thus entitled to their favored position in the social structure (and an equal conviction that others unlike them are not)
  • Being hurtful rather than helpful despite their confidence that they are 100% helpful
  • A settled sense that they are better than others
  • Narrow sympathies and neatly contained responsibilities—in the story of the Good Samaritan they “passed by” on the other side of the road
  • Ruthless and showing a willingness to bend the truth to get their way
  • Lack of self-knowledge (clueless about their own tendency to have blind spots or any understanding of the harm they may do to others)
  • A sense that they are not here to serve others, but quite rightly others are here to serve them
  • Possessors of prestige and status that decisively differentiate them from the hoi polloi
  • A firm belief that “cream rises to the top”
  • A strong proclivity for being misanthropic and cynical about the goodness of others
  • Always willing to blame others and never themselves
  • Not much of a sense of humor unless deeply self-serving

In our advanced technological society it is evident that, with the improvements in human nature over the intervening years since Biblical times, none of the traits of the Pharisees and Sadducees are extant today.

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Wednesday, October 10, 2012

The Power and Safety of Identity

Overwhelmingly, the power of Jesus in history is that humans identify with him. We know all too well how it is to be filled with good intentions only to have others construe them as the reverse. We can readily identify with the pain this cost him mentally and physically.

If you want to have real power and influence over others, just have them strongly identify with you. There is great safety here, as a helpless baby is made safe by the immensely powerful identity of the parent with the child. A tremendous amount of human behavior can be attributed to the desire and effort to have others identify with us (for, again, that's where safety lies).

The current iPhone 5 craze comes to mind. We want to identify with what is cool, the latest and the greatest. The ultimate thing sought is for people to identify with us. We want to be safely desirable. Those in possession of the device share a common secured and shared identity.

Ideologies strongly embody the power of identity. One reason we react so adversely to those who would challenge our accepted ideologies is the sense of security and safety that comes from sharing a common identity. There is a saying “Not seeing the forest for the trees.” Much more typical is the case of “Not seeing the trees for the forest.” We latch on to the safety of group-think and easily disregard multiple realities that would discount it.

I have heard the universal church of Christ criticized as a type of club. In many ways it is. The common thread is a strongly reinforced and shared social identity. One significant attempt of the mega-church is to make Christ socially cool.

If you ever doubt the strength of identity, consider that our pets have protection from being eaten primarily because we strongly identify with them. The basic drive of vegetarianism is identity with animals. Thus, meat eaters quite consciously scrupulously avoid encountering anything—including facts of treatment or slaughter—that would serve to strengthen identity with the suffering animals.

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Tuesday, October 9, 2012

God – Down the Corridors of Time

Where do you see God at work in your history? In your own life?....(Serendipity Bible 10th Anniversary Edition, page 1016).

When I look to find God at work in my life or anywhere else in human history, I look principally for 1) grace and guidance in perception and 2) the disciplines of love as they bear upon action. In terms of perception, it is a downright miracle how unconscious blindness suddenly can be replaced by insight. In terms of action, I am much less concerned with a bundle of sure-fire answers as with the fruit of the Spirit as they bear upon action over time. [The fruit of the Spirit “is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law” (Galatians 5:22-23 NIV).] The disciplines of love deriving from this fruit include:

  • Humility before the facts (respect for “what is so regardless of what we may say about it”)
  • Acceptance especially of the ownership of problems (as it relates to others this is exemplified by the Good Samaritan)
  • Freedom from idol worship (including the worship of high-flying ideologies) and freedom from loss of discernment and self-control
  • Seeing possibilities even in abject difficulties
  • Use of the right and proper tools so as to minimize or avoid harm
  • A long-term perspective (a belief in eternal verities even though stated primarily in abstract terms, and with this perspective a measure of patience)
  • Acceptance of limits in order to achieve workable arrangements (needed to cope with the volatility of human nature)
  • Goodwill (the willingness to believe others are guided by their best lights and thus must be given due respect)—as Jesus said: “But I tell you that anyone who is angry with his brother will be subject to judgment. Again, anyone who says to his brother, 'Raca,' is answerable to the Sanhedrin. But anyone who says, 'You fool!' will be in danger of the fire of hell” (Matthew 5:22 NIV)]
  • A good measure of empathy even for one's enemies
  • The courage and faith to endure controversy (seeing it as inevitable due to the multiplicity of viewpoints and interests)
  • Resilience [“Love never gives up, never loses faith, is always hopeful, and endures through every circumstance” (1 Corinthians 13:7 NIV)].

The disciplines of love constitute the most effective arsenal of values to employ when confronted with life's mysteries and uncertainties. These values I hold derive directly from the Word and Love of God.

So on contemplation I can see that God is at work in my life and history, but not in mine only but within the family of man and nations during the most productive, creative, and effective periods.

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