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Sunday, June 30, 2013

Communion Table Redux

What is your favorite anti-war slogan: (a) “Peace is disarming”? (b) “Arms are for hugging, not war”? (c) “One nuclear bomb could ruin your whole day”? (d) “Make love not war”? (e) “Beat your plowshares into swords/and your pruning hooks into spears. Let the weakling say, ‘I am strong!’” [Joel 3:1] (f) Other? (Serendipity Bible 10th Anniversary Edition, page 1063).

Peace is difficult to discuss because it is filled with paradox. For example, choice (e) above is arguably the surest path to peace – peace through strength. I have engaged in this approach recently myself when I acquired a security system for my home. I considered the anxiety and stress and near despair that I would experience if I returned home from work and found my house had been plundered of everything even appliances. I could imagine myself trying to recover and trying to feel once more good about my neighborhood. To avoid this nightmare, I decided it was irresponsible not to get a security system.

But I also strongly identify with those who plead “Give peace a chance.” In my opinion we don’t follow this approach often enough. I sometimes feel that humanity broadly is very analogous to the home environment in which a parent yearns to simply say to the children: “You must resolve this without fighting or you’ll all be punished severely.” I know this is kind of an Alice in Wonderland thought, but wouldn’t it be interesting to see what would occur in terms of individual and organizational behavior if some powerful perhaps extraterrestrial third-party simply laid down the law that war would henceforth be absolutely prohibited. All disputes must be resolved in some other way. Fresh thinking and creativity would arise to meet the challenge. But, knowing what I do about human behavior, I would have to advise that powerful third-party to have plenty of jail space available for those violating their prohibition.

The best answer to all this is simply if all would agree to abide by the disarming sentiment expressed here: “Okay now, let’s all get along.” The problem is that this expression too often has no mutual motive force behind it with ownership shared by all. With this challenge in mind, I envision a homely visual in which commonality is achieved. My favorite anti-war slogan is: “LET’S ORDER OUT FOR PIZZA!” In my view, if there could be a cozy kitchen table for all to gather round regularly to share pizza in community and celebration, great things would happen. All we have to do is to spell out how this image of principle translates when extensively applied within human affairs. Human experience is deeply exasperating because this vision discounts the impact of two troubling eventualities—some would not be at the table out of recalcitrant choice and others due to exclusion and neglect.

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What social statement are you making with the clothes you wear: (a) Out of it? (b) In charge? (c) Dressed to kill? If the clothes you have on were all made of burlap, how would you feel? (Serendipity Bible 10th anniversary edition, page 1260).

Why is it that we are all quick to deny that social pressure has much to do with our choices – which choices we like to believe are almost entirely our own and were substantially, if not entirely, a matter of our own free will and choice initiative to make? Quite to the contrary, the fact of the matter is that we are all creatures who more often than not abjectly yield to social pressure. Sometimes our motives are altruistic – we don’t want to hurt anyone’s feelings. But an equally strong and perhaps more decisive motive is that we do not wish to hurt ourselves.

When discussing my religion I can often take a high and mighty tone. The fact of the matter is that when I was a youth the church was an extremely important social institution in the community and that it behooved me to assume the demeanor of Christian behavior whether or not it arose from deep religious belief and conviction. As a believer today, I find myself in a situation quite different from when a youth. Now to affirm that I am a Christian in polite discourse outside the church is seen as a serious faux pas. It is exasperatingly affirmed by nonbelievers that religion is entirely a private matter. Thus, nonbelievers get absolute sway in the matter – complete silence required of believers while they on their part exercise unrestrained freedom to chatter on endlessly in a secular fashion. In other words, nonbelievers can enforce their secular religion by simply disallowing anyone else to express their earnest convictions in the matter. Total enforced silence regarding religion in normal discourse is simply another way materialism engages in proselytization. For many believers the drift away from faith approaches a national crisis. But as polite protocol now stands, it resembles very much finding ourselves in a burning building yet finding it ironclad taboo even to broach the matter of smoke’s steady insinuation.

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Saturday, June 29, 2013

No Superman

What weather conditions (hot and humid, cold and windy, storm brewing) might depict the week you just had? What weather forecast might fit the week ahead? (Serendipity Bible 10th Anniversary Edition, page 1259).

When I was a young man in federal prison during the late 1960s, I subscribed to the Christian Science Monitor. The paper came in the mail every weekday and was at the time printed on a somewhat smaller size paper than the usual daily paper. Without a plethora of ads, it was also greatly reduced in thickness. I distinctly remember sitting on my bunk one day, looking at the paper spread out before me, and seeing amidst the newsprint a striking drawing in black ink of a small boat completely surrounded by terrible storm tossed seas. A young man stood in the bow of the boat leaning forward and facing directly into the dark swirling clouds that confronted him. I deeply wanted to be this young man who remained focused, steady, and unfazed amidst surrounding chaos.

That was years ago and I now have ample evidence that I am not nor ever have been a person impervious to tumultuous surroundings. I am deeply influence by what goes on around me and the emotional and intellectual climate that fluctuates from day-to-day, week-to-week, month-to-month, year-to-year. I have done stupid things, things that I regret. I have gotten swept up in the moment and joined in gang bangs of one type or another when rightly I should have been absent. I have signed on to actions that in retrospect were based on arrogance and a lust not to be abandoned by trundling bandwagons of cool. The inescapable conclusion—I am not above the fray; far from it, blood covers my hands.

This is why human experience is unavoidably an admixture of pain, suffering, and regret. In addition to elements of goodness and light, we are not perfect and our sophomoric desire and demeanor calculated to be otherwise does not make it so.

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Friday, June 28, 2013

The Generosity of Trees

What do you like best about trees: Climbing? Swinging? Shade? Lumber? Fruit? Birds? What is your favorite tree? (Serendipity Bible 10th Anniversary Edition, page 1257).

One of the starkest scenes I can imagine is if in all climes the world over the landscape should lie barren of trees. The Beatles had a song “Can You Imagine?” Can anyone of us imagine how depressing it would be to be devoid of the softening yet noble effect of trees? From our earliest days we can remember playing within the shade of.....lying among the leaves of.....running our hands along the bark of.....the luxurious and generous sustenance of trees. They were a fact to be dealt with, accepted, and enjoyed. Going into a grove of trees is a trek imbued with mystery. One of my brother’s earliest memories is being carried on the shoulders of our dad towards evening down a sidewalk canopied with low hanging limbs. Hoot owls perched in the trees would haunt the evening with their sound which served to enshroud the walk with a sense of wonder and danger. Sometimes I think dad would add to the foreboding by letting out a little hoot of his own. One of my earliest memories is a row of Australian palms that lined a ditch near our home in Okeechobee. On some exceptional evenings, small black bats would dart among the trees. Once, perhaps because of a crippling injury, dad was able to hold a quiescent bat in his hands as I focused intently on the membrane forming its wings. Later in Oviedo, I watched in silence as a butterfly emerge from a chrysalis that was attached to the bark of a tree. Later as teens, we boys enjoyed swinging from a long rope tied to a high limb and dropping into the water at the bend of a river. And down the river a ways, a felled tree, half-submerged, rested with several turtles basking in the sun along its length. My wife Kathy used to enjoy photographing trees that had built up over time what can only be called character. Trees are very kind to us. They adorn stark structures erected by man with nature's camouflage that would otherwise reveal unrelieved utility.

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Thursday, June 27, 2013

To Kathy on Your 53rd Birthday

Kathy today I ordered a tombstone —
My name is inscribed with yours
Awaiting only the death date.

Last year at this time
We celebrated your 52nd birthday;
Neither of us knew or suspected
This year I would be alone.

I wrote our epitaph in a moment
But found no desire to change it
Paying tribute as it does
To our favorite hymn
Holy, Holy, Holy:


And on the stone a common phrase

Our stone quarried in North Carolina
Is Monarch Pink signifying
We were not always dust and ashes
But had our day of vitality as well.
And on the stone is etched a dove with rose in beak
And Jesus, the Good Shepherd, with staff and lamb.

The only thing missing now
Is my dust, my ashes.

Sketch by Walt Davis, Stokes Monuments (Orlando)

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Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Security / Insecurity Aplenty

What makes you feel secure: (a) Job? (b) Home? (c) Pension? (d) Spouse or friends? (e) Health? (f) Other? What would you rely on if these were taken away? (Serendipity Bible 10th Anniversary Edition, page 1256).

We can think of specific examples wherein a change is bound to make us feel more secure. If a hurricane is headed directly for the Tampa Bay area, it is a no-brainer that a change in the storm's path away from threatening me would make for feelings of greater security. Likewise, if I lost my job this afternoon, I would feel much less secure financially; or if I were to learn from the doctor today that I have cancer, a major foundation of day-to-day feelings of security would be seriously fractured.

The question “what makes for feelings of security?” becomes more interesting if we turn away from crisis situations where the answer is obvious and turn to sources of less dramatic stress. If we focus on the home, it is clear that the most disruptive of all factors that undermine feelings of security there is a perception that one is not loved within the family unit. On a society level, the institution of government is key. Due to the inherent police power of the state, a state within which individual rights are not guaranteed is deeply unsettling; as well as a perception that the state does not respect and hold sacred the elemental integrity of other institutions including church, family, the press, and creative enterprise. Each of these institutions have a unique role to play and it must be a matter of certitude among the people that the basis of mutual respect is founded upon principle established by providence itself. As in everything this certitude does not obviate discussion and debate as to how best to implement principle while balancing rights and responsibilities among all. For example, regulation of the creative sector can be defended in terms of the common good when enterprise seeks to usurp the regulative role of the state.

The greatest source of anxiety in a society results when there is a prevalent feeling that we are on the wrong track—a track that will eventually lead to disaster. Never will all have the same perspective, but if a sizable minority feels this way, then intransigence will begin to appear on many fronts.

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Sunday, June 23, 2013

The Yes Man Addiction

Have your own desires ever been self-destructive? Any addictive behaviors, substances or relationships? How did you treat those who tried to help you? What saved you from completely destroying yourself with these “hand-made idols”? (Serendipity Bible 10th Anniversary Edition, page 1256).

But if serving the LORD seems undesirable to you, then choose for yourselves this day whom you will serve, whether the gods your ancestors served beyond the Euphrates, or the gods of the Amorites, in whose land you are living. But as for me and my household, we will serve the LORD."
(Joshua 24:15 NIV).

Am I now trying to win the approval of human beings, or of God? Or am I trying to please people? If I were still trying to please people, I would not be a servant of Christ. (Galatians 1:10).

Those who trust in God are “meek and humble.” Jesus modeled meekness and humility, not by submitting to authority or domination of others, but through his humble service to God. Meekness doesn’t mean we let everybody beat on us or that we don’t struggle for success in achieving important goals. It means that we should have the courage to look within ourselves and ask, “How have I measured up to the standards of my Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ? How does my life look from his perspective? What is the degree of my success? Christ certainly was rebuffed by many people, but he reached out to the most unsavory of all the people he could possibly find in the Holy Land – the worst ones. Quite often the people we considered the most antagonistic or the most rejected might be the ones who are most uncertain and hungry for an element of Christian love. The simple things prove to be a learning process for us as Christians. We should emulate Christ by embracing courage and strength, but with an absence of pride. (NIV Lessons from Life Bible: Personal Reflections with Jimmy Carter, page 1082)

Unquestionably the greatest temptation – the greatest idol – in my life has been the desire (even the lust) for people to love and like me. Many times I have striven to perform the role of reconciler out of a desire to be liked by people on both sides of an issue rather than out of some vaulted desire for peace. The simple unadulterated truth of the matter is that conflict is an inherent aspect of life and cannot be avoided in any case (whether one grovels as a spineless wonder or not). We may look askance at Paul’s declaration that he does not seek to please people....but Christ. But really as human beings we are way out there in the blue where the counsel of our conscience requires obedience even in the absence of definitive proof, consensus, or endorsement by popular vote. Thus as Jimmy Carter counsels we need to embrace courage and strength, but with an absence of pride. Or as Martin Luther said in effect if not verbatim: "Here I stand. I can do no other". Sometime or other in some way or other, we must be honest with ourselves and others in stating and living flat-out what we truly believe. It would be a major tragedy to live out our lives and go to the grave in craven cowardice.

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Friday, June 21, 2013

The Opiate of the Wealthy

Do you think the rich have more problems being Christians than the poor? How? (Serendipity Bible 10th Anniversary Edition, page 1255).

Since I am not poor, the question becomes: Do I have more problems being a Christian than the poor? How? It is often charged that religion serves as an escape (an opiate) for the poor. The truth of the matter is that religion is a reliable escape for the well off. For in religion we can find endorsement of the status quo in the distribution of wealth: “The reason I am financially comfortable is that God chose to bless me. He chose not to bless the poor. Praise be to the unsurpassed wisdom of God!” In short, that I am better off than some is due to a high and mighty exercise of God’s will. Thus, I can safely put the suffering of others out of my mind—or throw a crumb to them and feel very self-righteous about it. God’s will becomes not an eternal cry for compassion, but a haughty call to self-righteousness. This demarcation that the wealthy make between themselves and the poor can be quite intentional: “We’ll circle our wagons and have a high old time while the world suffers.” After all, responsibility (dare not call it callousness or sinfulness) begins a home. This perversion of religion into a self-serving escape into gleeful rides of self-indulgence and cruelty becomes the signal temptation of the wealthy.

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Thursday, June 20, 2013

Now Is the Time

Do you or your church try to live off your history or reputation in any way? How so? (Serendipity Bible 10th Anniversary Edition, page 1255).

One key lesson taught in Christianity is that we are to be witnesses for Christ…..daily. In effect, we picture Christ asking “But what have you done for me lately?” One of the strongest witnesses for Christ I’ve ever met is Marvin Sweat, a 92 year old retired Methodist pastor. His accolades for past service could fill up a wall. Yet he never seems to encounter anyone without silently asking God, “How can I serve Jesus and this person (at whatever stage of the person’s life) at this very moment….at this present opportunity….right now?” In other words, though he has a reputation garnered over many years of service, he never yearns for a “free ride” based upon it (in fact, he deeply discounts it), and rather considers it something that pales in importance to being a faithful witness during each newly presented opportunity.

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Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Questioning Authority

Gov. Chris Christie grilled by New Jersey kindergarten students

One day as Jesus was teaching the people in the temple courts and proclaiming the good news, the chief priests and the teachers of the law, together with the elders, came up to him. “Tell us by what authority you are doing these things,” they said. “Who gave you this authority?”

He replied, “I will also ask you a question. Tell me: John’s baptism—was it from heaven, or of human origin?”

They discussed it among themselves and said, “If we say, ‘From heaven,’ he will ask, ‘Why didn’t you believe him?’ But if we say, ‘Of human origin,’ all the people will stone us, because they are persuaded that John was a prophet.”

So they answered, “We don’t know where it was from.”

Jesus said, “Neither will I tell you by what authority I am doing these things.” (Luke 20:1-8 NIV).

Authority hates “loose cannon” questions. An English professor gives an impassioned interpretation of “Sailing to Byzantium” citing many sources of scholarly criticism to back it up. Yet, a first-year mediocre student in the back row blows the entire effect with a question straight out of left-field based upon his experiences in a small backwater town. You don’t have to have advanced degrees to ask questions difficult to answer, or to ask for justification difficult to come by. In fact, even two-year-olds are pretty good at it.

Authority conceived as some sort of unassailable absolute power is greatly undermined by free speech—as all dictatorships are well aware. When people are empowered by free speech, profound implications automatically accrue. One being that authority in a democracy can chronically assume a defensive posture in response to finding itself under constant questioning. Authority, thus regularly subjected to widespread inquisition, is susceptible to appearing downright weak, vain, and even stupid. This is true not only in the political world, but affects all venues—including that of work, church, school, and even the family. If it weren’t for free speech, many more would yield to the drive to achieve authority status; but seeing the hazards of it, many prefer to be like sheep well hidden beneath the radar.

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The Transience of Dreams

We are such stuff
As dreams are made on, and our little life
Is rounded with a sleep.” 
William Shakespeare, The Tempest

Take a Chance

We cannot understand the work of God. There's a vast array of knowledge that we'll never absorb in our short lifetime. The writer of Ecclesiastes advises us to “sow your seed in the morning” (verse 6). But we can't keep waiting and waiting until the temperature and moisture are exactly right or the weather report is favorable. In other words, we build our lives as best we can in the midst of uncertainties and unknowable facts. We know that we are inadequate. We know that we are sinful. We know that we will fail. We know that we will lose loved ones. We know that some of our ambitions will never be realized. If we wait for the perfect time in our lives, for exactly the right moment before we act, we will never act. God knows our lives. He knows the opportunities we have to live out our faith. He knows which opportunities we take and which we reject or postpone. Christ wants us to be bold, to reach out and to take a chance in an uncertain world. Take a chance. (NIV Lessons from Life Bible: Personal Reflections with Jimmy Carter, page 763).

This morning I rose early for devotionals around 3:30. After devotions I fell asleep sitting upright in a chair. I had an usually interesting dream in which a young man around twelve or so gave me two words. One word would initiate hearing voices in one's head and another word would turn the facility off. The words were rather simple. I tried them out and both worked perfectly. Naturally I was interested in retaining these words and I had the young man repeat them several times. In the dream I tried to write them down on a piece of paper. When I awoke I immediately tried to recall the words, but they had instantly vanished from memory. The transience of dreams is sometimes a relief, but now and then is regrettable.

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Monday, June 17, 2013

Sunday Lessons

The first thing I must share is a story in today’s devotional by Jimmy Carter. He tells a story that I think has wide application and is definitely something we need to hear when tolerance is just another name for “I don’t give a damn!” Here’s the story.

A small company was contemplating a new health-insurance plan. Everyone in the company supported it, except one man, named Rudolph. This was a problem because everybody needed to accept the plan for it to move forward. So every company employee wrote a message to Rudolph asking him to change his mind. He refused. Then they invited a special salesman to come and explain the benefits to Rudolph, but still Rudolph said no. Finally his boss called him in and said, “Either you approve the plan or your job is terminated.” Immediately Rudolph agreed. Later, when asked what changed his mind, he replied, “Well, the boss was the first one to explain it to me clearly.”

(Through the Year with Jimmy Carter, page 168).

In Sunday school today Kunta Kinte Luellan celebrated the blessings that daily fill his life. He exhorted us to have patience and count our blessings. This trenchant challenge by Kunta brings home the central point that by fixating too narrowly on a goal—(an anticipated outcome currently presumed to eventuate in a blessing) and thus holding in abeyance any and all other blessings—robs us of serendipitous developments born of a receptive spirit within a multifarious universe. In this sense open-ended creativity proves to be essential for a happy, abundant, and blessed life.

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Sunday, June 16, 2013

Tolerated Terrorism

Many countries strictly curtail cigarette advertising, including the United States.

In April 1970, Congress passed the Public Health Cigarette Smoking Act banning the advertising of cigarettes on television and radio starting on 2 January 1971. The Virginia Slims brand was the last commercial shown, with "a 60-second revue from flapper to Female Lib", shown at 11:59 p.m. on 1 January during a break on The Tonight Show. Smokeless tobacco ads, on the other hand, remained on the air until a ban took effect on 28 August 1986. Recently, even further restrictions took effect under the newly enacted Family Smoking Prevention and Tobacco Control Act. Effective 22 June 2010, the new regulations prohibit tobacco companies from sponsoring sports, music, and other cultural events. Also, tobacco companies can no longer display their logos or advertise their products on T-shirts, hats, or other apparel. Eventually, the law is planned to require almost all tobacco advertisements to consist of black text on a white background, but the constitutionality of that requirement has come under scrutiny.

In the terrorist attacks on 9/11 almost 3,000 people died. Would anyone care to guess the deaths and mayhem that alcohol causes yearly? I suppose that since this evil is not as sensational as 9/11, we discount it—a very sobering thought, a decision model based upon sensationalism. My question is a simple one, when will America come to its senses and ban alcohol advertisements? Why has it not done so as in the case of tobacco? Ask yourself, as a child would you rather have a chain smoker for a father or a drunk? Are we blind or simply extensively compromised and satiated by the best indoctrination money can buy?

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Saturday, June 15, 2013

Cherished Memories

What is your earliest memory of Mom or Dad helping you master some activity? (Serendipity Bible 10th Anniversary Edition, page 1254).

The memories are two. I remember the tenderness of being taught how to tie my shoes at one time or other by either mama or daddy. The other was when I was in a lower grade in elementary school and was learning how to spell words. I had to come up with my own ideas as to what I wanted to spell. With mom and dad’s help, we came up with “bicycle” and “banana”. Mama and daddy gave me the correct spelling and helped me learn them. I can distinctly remember rehearsing the spelling at the morning breakfast table before going to school. My older brother, Bobby, was duly impressed. The cameo of my family gathered in loving affirmation is still a very powerful asset more than 60 years later.

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Friday, June 14, 2013

Will and Compliance

Were you more compliant or strong-willed as a child? How are your children like you? (Serendipity Bible 10th Anniversary Edition, page 1254).

Last night Kunte and I saw a premiere of the new Superman movie, “Man of Steel”. The movie made some strong parallels between Jesus and Superman: for example, both were saviors of the world, both were in some sense alien as compared to regular men, both had to suffer, and both despite their efforts to accomplish good for mankind and be man’s best friend were roundly distrusted and even thought by some to be dangerous enemies. If you were to ask regarding Jesus and Superman whether they were compliant or strong-willed, I think for both you would have to answer both. They were compliant in their sensitivity and even tentativeness—in their profound humility; yet none had stronger wills than they when it came to doing their fathers’ will. Both could stand and stand with great resolve despite the dangers presented in the midst of conflict. What I am saying in the end is that compliance and being strong-willed are not mutually exclusive. A compliance born even from the Beatitudes can stand up under immense pressures with triangular integrity. And fortunately for the welfare of mankind, most everyone can identify in their heart of hearts with this sometimes poignant paradox of love.

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Thursday, June 13, 2013

Hostility So Great

The days of punishment are coming,
the days of reckoning are at hand.
Let Israel know this.
Because your sins are so many
and your hostility so great,
the prophet is considered a fool,
the inspired man a maniac. (Hosea 9:7 NIV).

Do not be deceived: God cannot be mocked. A man reaps what he sows. Whoever sows to please their flesh, from the flesh will reap destruction; whoever sows to please the Spirit, from the Spirit will reap eternal life. (Galatians 6:7-8 NIV).

I will have to share with you the honest truth. Sometimes I feel that the blessed days of America are being replaced by a cursed nightmare in which we reap the consequences of bald materialism. Now we look to things, drugs, and alcohol to uplift our spirits rather than to humbly seek the face of God. Somehow we see this as sophisticated realism rather than the deadly addiction to escapism it actually represents. We in fact have in practice embraced the conviction of our one-time adversary Karl Marx that religion is the opiate of the people. The irony of this reversal in perspective is so great as to indicate a certain lunacy on our part. We have reduced religion to just another marketplace commodity that we cavalierly take or leave. We completely ignore the long painful history of the consequences of spiritual apostasy and in our phony sophistication assume that we are above all that—past all that—with our modern brave new world of gadgetry and our fevered cacophony of hype. I will be the first to admit that as regards religion there is, as Jesus himself found, much to criticize and reject—Christian terrorists can and do sometimes fill pulpits and pews. But let us not throw out the baby with the bath—abandoning the spiritual reality of Jesus and substituting in its place glittering but tawdry substitutes. When we judge ourselves and thus self-justify whatever we do, we clinch a certain destiny and strike foreboding chords of doom.

Music video: Joyful, joyful we adore thee.wmv

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Wednesday, June 12, 2013

A Cut Above

Israel cries out to me,
O our God, we acknowledge you!”
But Israel has rejected what is good;
an enemy will pursue him. (Hosea 8:2-3)

Despite professions of loyalty to God, are you “rejecting what is good” with (a) Spouse? (b) Family? (c) Business? (d) Money? (e) Leisure? How might errors in these areas lead to addiction or idolatry? (Serendipity Bible 10th Anniversary Edition, page 1250).

The failings and frailties that marked the personality and character of Hitler should be very instructive for us. When stripped of all the hoopla, Hitler was a man who had an inveterate belief that he was a cut above all the rest of mankind. Those he gathered around him as chums had the same passionate conviction – the same passionate affliction.

I have heard tell (even today) that there are those among us with this same affliction. Since it arises from human nature, the disease is no doubt not a respecter of person or class. Yet, today’s discussion centered on the privileged – the movers and shakers within a community. It was averred, unbelievably, that there are those who rise to the top not from any blessings they have bestowed upon humanity, but from a merciless drive to express their impelling conviction that they represent supreme superiority over the “run-of-the-mill” productions of childbirth. It represents exceptionalism perverted by arrogance, avarice, and lust for power—but even more basically, by the urgent need to win at all cost, whether deviously or by shamelessly displayed treachery—thus proving to themselves and, in their belief, to others that their conviction of superiority is well-founded and rises to the level of validated truth—a vindication born of vindictiveness.

Being a long ways from hobnobbing with the powerful, I cannot attest to the truth of this observation. But if there is any truth to it, it is certainly a chilling thought that such freak shows of nature actually exist.

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Tuesday, June 11, 2013

RX for Recovery

When caught red-handed, what is your favorite defense plea: (a) Guilty, with an excuse? (b) Guilty, with no excuse? (c) Run from your accuser? (d) Pin the blame elsewhere? (e) Obscure the issue with irrelevancies? (f) Other? Cite a case in point. (Serendipity Bible 10th Anniversary Edition, page 1249).

What we must come to understand flat-out is that mankind has never gotten it right. In the United States today 20% of the people own 85% of the wealth and 80% of the people own 15% of the wealth. This is an egregious situation and cannot be considered fair or right. Yet like other societies we obsequiously worship “ism’s” rather than remain open-minded under the Lordship of God and humbly seek fairness and justice.

Yet after this long night of darkness even in America we obscure the issue with irrelevancies. We mystify and glorify entrepreneurship and impoverish those who make through their labor entrepreneurship possible. What would I do about it? That is the question that must confront each one of us who would see the end of humanity’s long night of injustice. We must pray for courage and boldness in confronting this issue.

First off, we must put entrepreneurship in its place. It is an essential talent and gift, but it is no more essential than many other talents and gifts that underwrite any healthy society. The entrepreneur who brings pork bellies to market is unquestionably more valuable than a Beethoven..... Really? The man who conceived the idea of fast food should be a billionaire while those who do the work that realize the dream should receive poverty wages..... Really? We have to take a long and hard look at presumed entitlements.

One reason no one wants to tackle this problem is its immense complexity. Every case is different. Laws related to the distribution of wealth it is thought would require millions of pages of regulations covering each and every possible case and scenario. None of us want to proceed down such a bureaucratic and legalistic nightmare implemented by an intrusive and (because of the complexity of the task) an inescapably dumb governmental bureaucracy. There would need to be a classification system covering each and every job in America and a listing of what is presumed to be the fair wage for that job – and to hell with any subtle distinctions, market realities, intangibles, or the cantankerous continuum from mediocre to stellar performance. Deliver us from such regulatory enslavement!

So we must face the simple fact that determining what is fair on a micro level is an impossible task. Yet on a macro level the current distribution of wealth in America is clearly unfair. Taxation (really a method of payback) of the wealthy is the most direct route to the redistribution of wealth. Yet, wealth so confiscated cannot be redistributed by welfare payments for this would not provide incentives for work and creativity but rather instill dependency and slothfulness and redound with a sense of entitlement as harmful as that currently presumed by some of the wealthy. It seems to me that an effective means of redistribution would entail investments in societal infrastructure including health services and education (to include higher education and research) as well as the public goods infrastructure. Thus, for example, though I am a minimum wage worker at a fast food restaurant without benefits from my employer, I yet would receive from other sources health benefits and affordable educational opportunities and enjoy the use of first class public goods.

America has nibbled at this idea. It is my belief that this is doable on a much larger scale. (Yes, I do look forward to everyone who wants to getting a higher education!!!) With a wider distribution of wealth, the level of economic activity of our land will greatly increase. The solution to unfair (and perhaps in some sense unavoidable) aggregations of wealth can thus be attained.

Let us in conclusion return to Beethoven. Nature is unfair. It endowed Beethoven with musical talent that only a few ever have. Yet, his music—as a public good—enriches us all though cascades of majesty and beauty. That is what I would like to see in America—a scintillating fountain of public goods cascading the creations of diverse and widespread talents and abilities within and among all members of the American Family—and by extension—even the Family of Man. We can be the City on the Hill, we can indeed be the Last Best Hope for mankind. But we must extricate ourselves from our current mental imprisonments and pyrrhic defenses. We must, in the end, raise our sights from the current morass and humble ourselves in petition and prayer before Almighty God.

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Monday, June 10, 2013

Moral and Spiritual Decline

What causes moral or spiritual decline in individuals and in society? What knowledge or understanding is crucial in this regard...? (Serendipity Bible 10th Anniversary Edition, page 1246).

To answer this question I will list five contributors to moral and spiritual decline. They do no appear in any sort of hierarchy, but comprise a circle of enslavement. I will begin with home and family. When the home becomes primarily a hotel rather than a sanctuary of nurture, acceptance, love, disciple, and trust; the seeds of broader moral decline are sown. The nurseries of hope and faith which are essential requisites for positive practical action are abandoned. A second factor is when focus is fixated exclusively on the short-term, and eternal verities lose all intrinsic value and clout for the citizenry. A third factor is when focus centers on the self, and a sea-change occurs whereby a strong sense of broader communal responsibility is lost. A forth factor is when people live in fear of taboos. Truth and honesty are avoided and the lurid and profane are substituted for truth. “Small talk” abounds and there is avoidance of significant conversation. A fifth factor (again this listing is not intended to be in any sort of hierarchy) is when the state becomes the plaything of the powerful, rich, and privileged. The serious matters of social and economic justice go begging while politics becomes a sensational inbred juvenile sport. These five factors signal that urgent danger exist for societal viability.

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Sunday, June 9, 2013

Animal Instinct – Fear

In the past week or so I have warned of the danger of forgetting our frame is that of a mammalian animal. Tonight I wish to discuss the emotion of fear and how that often impacts upon our lives. In our assessment of others, fear can play a predominant role. The emotion of fear strongly colors our evaluation and judgment. I remember well some years ago when I would have a group of young boys over to my house. They sometimes would be running about in all rooms at once. (I was never a strong disciplinarian.) Sometimes after their visit, I might find something missing. I would immediately jump to the conclusion that they had stolen it (for theft was something I subliminally feared). Without fail, a day or two later I would find the missing item just where I had left it (but had forgotten where).

This taught me a very powerful lesson. Be very wary anytime I jump to a conclusion especially when it is based upon the primal emotion of fear. Fear often results in a stigma that presumes guilt with little or no objective foundation whatever.

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Saturday, June 8, 2013

Lord of the Flies

Last week Senator Saxby Chambliss pointed out that hormones can have an impact upon human behavior (as if we were animals). He was roundly criticized by people of all political persuasions. This is the appalling state we have come to. “Political Correctness” that assumes we are gods has such a stranglehold on public affairs that the patently obvious cannot be mentioned without a firestorm of criticism and ridicule. I would like to offer Senator Chambliss a little consolation in the form of excepts from today's daily devotions. It is dedicated as well to all those who value truth above idealistic escapism, fantasy, and lies.

For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future” (Jeremiah 29:11 NIV).

Association with Jesus puts us in the company of healing, enlightenment, and unanticipated joys. But it also puts us in the place of betrayal, humiliation, and crucifixion. We must, if we are faithful to the Christian way, accept the one as readily as the other. (A Year with Jesus, Eugene Peterson, page 168).

We tend to think as we depart from the teachings of Christ, it affects only us. But Paul reminds us that we are part of a community and that everything we do affects someone else.... (Through the Year with Jimmy Carter, page 159).

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Friday, June 7, 2013

An Excuse to Pay Even More (or Much Less)

Matthew 20:1-16 (New International Version) 
The Parable of the Workers in the Vineyard 

For the kingdom of heaven is like a landowner who went out early in the morning to hire workers for his vineyard. He agreed to pay them a denarius [the usual daily wage of a day laborer] for the day and sent them into his vineyard. 

About nine in the morning he went out and saw others standing in the marketplace doing nothing. He told them, ‘You also go and work in my vineyard, and I will pay you whatever is right.’ So they went. 

He went out again about noon and about three in the afternoon and did the same thing. About five in the afternoon he went out and found still others standing around. He asked them, ‘Why have you been standing here all day long doing nothing?’ 

“‘Because no one has hired us,’ they answered. 

He said to them, ‘You also go and work in my vineyard.’ 

When evening came, the owner of the vineyard said to his foreman, ‘Call the workers and pay them their wages, beginning with the last ones hired and going on to the first.’ 

The workers who were hired about five in the afternoon came and each received a denarius. So when those came who were hired first, they expected to receive more. But each one of them also received a denarius. When they received it, they began to grumble against the landowner. ‘These who were hired last worked only one hour,’ they said, ‘and you have made them equal to us who have borne the burden of the work and the heat of the day.’ 

But he answered one of them, ‘I am not being unfair to you, friend. Didn’t you agree to work for a denarius? Take your pay and go. I want to give the one who was hired last the same as I gave you. Don’t I have the right to do what I want with my own money? Or are you envious because I am generous?’ 

So the last will be first, and the first will be last.”

During evil days of the past, the Bible was quoted in defense of slavery. Now the Bible can be used to endorse all kinds of economic evil and injustice. Take for example the scripture quoted above. With sufficient avarice and greed, an unscrupulous businessman could justify paying unjust wages to his employees. “Don’t complain about poor wages,” he might say, “the Bible clearly states that I can be as arbitrary and capricious in how I compensate workers as I want to be." Of course, the point of the passage is just the opposite—the kingdom of heaven is unaccountably generous and merciful. In the kingdom of heaven the file clerk makes more than the CEO.

Sometimes a Christian witness can bring home the central message of the Gospel with great clarity. My friend Marvin Sweat is such a man. Marvin is unfailingly as kind and generous in spirit to any stranger he meets on the street as he is to me. Praise God!!!

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