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Friday, August 30, 2013

The Grand Adventure that Is Christianity

John Wesley

Do all the good you can. By all the means you can. In all the ways you can. In all the places you can. At all the times you can. To all the people you can. As long as ever you can.
~~ John Wesley

The Sovereign Lord is my strength;
he makes my feet like the feet of a deer,
he enables me to tread on the heights.
(Habakkuk 3:19 NIV)

Give me a clear image of the extraordinary life you want for me, perhaps full of unexpected adventures. Let me stretch my heart and love more people, making my life more full of kindness and grace. In Jesus name I pray. Amen. (Through the Year with Jimmy Carter, page 244).

I would like to take a few moments this evening to address one of the sometimes overlooked aspects of Christian life – Christian witness as the pathway to grand adventure. Christians believe that they are to be a witness for Jesus 24/7. This sets the stage for there never being a dull moment. Christians are always on call. The result is a life filled with grand adventure in which our God is never too small nor our jobs never too small nor large. I’m well aware of the saying that there are no small matters. That is, we should never discount any opportunity no matter how small in our judgment (certainly not in God’s). On the other hand, we must never underestimate or undervalue the influence we can have. We must never discount the present and dream only of some remote future period of relevancy and usefulness. The time is always now; the place is always here; the means are always in our grasp; people are never outside the reach of our influence; the task is not done until God calls us home. Christianity imbues life with vitality and purpose—we are never without a circle of influence in which God would have us blossom. If we feel we are in a barren place devoid of critical, impending opportunities; then we are the dejected dupes of the devil rather than being the agile servants of God.

If I could give a quick example I would refer again to The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn when Huck questioned if he should oppose the accepted and “politically correct” social Goliath of slavery and help Jim escape from its grasp. Certainly, isolated and insignificant as Huck was—a mere ragamuffin adrift on the vast Mississippi—this should have been on all accounts a moment of abject surrender and helpless dejection. Rather, Huck saw it correctly as a watershed moment for ethical decisiveness in which all the weight of his apparent insignificance did not mattered one whit. Rather than self-defacement and debasement, he undertook a grand adventure deriving from awareness of and sensitivity to a sacred inner moral compass steady-bearing upon friendship and sturdy love.

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The Practical Effects of Ultimate Commitment

Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.
(John 15:13 NIV).

This is the highest kind of love, a self-giving love for others above one’s own self-interest. Jesus demonstrated it to an ultimate degree at Calvary, and we should get ready to follow in his steps. (Through the Year with Jimmy Carter, page 243).

Self-preservation is a strong drive in most all of us until the very end when suffering lethal affliction or unbearable pain we prefer death. But up until that point most of us are fighters for the continuance of our lives. Thus we come to John 15:13; in view of our commitment and drive for self-preservation, it shows special if not rare love when we are willing to give up our lives for our friends. The archetypal visual epitomizing this is the mother cradling her child against impending threats—“Kill me” the visual says, “just let my child live on.”

Thus we see that for ultimate commitment a greater love is essential. Intellectual and legal commitment are simply not enough, there must be the total commitment that comes with emotional and spiritual commitment—a commitment so ingrained that it reacts reflexively for the welfare of others in all matters great and small. Jesus said, “By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another” (John 13:35 NIV). That is, the peculiar nature of love manifests itself in multiple practical effects this side of the final act of literally dying for another. These practical effects can span a wide spectrum from heart-felt sympathy to civil respect to tough love. All such manifestations encompass the paradox that the greatest self-love in factual truth must evidence unqualified love for others. This paradox lies at the core of Christian grace and is made evident in good works deriving from carefully cultivated instincts and the empowering support of the Godhead.

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Thursday, August 29, 2013

My Moon River

Peace River at Bowling Green, Florida

What popular song typifies your teenage years? What memory does your favorite song bring to mind? (Serendipity Bible 10th Anniversary Edition, page 1305).

The memory is very clear and distinct. I was in the cafeteria at the University of South Florida in the early 1960s. There was a jukebox there and it was playing Moon River with Perry Como. It is sweet to recall my mood at the time. It was a time of looking back over the sustaining years now fast receding of living with my parents in Bowling Green, Florida and with Peace River flowing quietly nearby. This dark, ancient meandering river was an anchor for me as I grew up through the teen years. But now as a young man at the University of South Florida there was a sense of uncertainty about the days ahead. There was a touch of foreboding combined with a sweet anticipation. I knew as with all human beings there would be challenges and pain lying in wait ahead. Yet I felt chosen by God for some task not yet fully known. Perhaps when I heard Moon River that day there was a fond wish to dreamily escape it all; to transcend the past, present, and future and exquisitely dart away as a bright yellow butterfly hovering eternally in the sun along the banks of Peace River.

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Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Holy Tentativeness

But when Jesus turned and looked at his disciples, he rebuked Peter. “Get behind me, Satan!” he said. “You do not have in mind the concerns of God, but merely human concerns.” (Mark 8:33 NIV).

When the devil tests Jesus (Matthew 4:1-11), he uses very human concerns in his appeal to Him. Satan would tempt with food; pride—holier than thou "above it all" conceit; power including the powers of hierarchal status, wealth, and political power (all appealing to the human desire to be situated in rarefied control). 

I thought of these Scriptures today when a friend of mine at work was made aware that a significant promotion may be opening for her. She evaluated her strengths and weaknesses and realized that the job would provide significant opportunity and challenges. But in the end she said that she did not want her will to be done in this matter, but God’s will to be done.

I find such an approach and attitude very attractive in a person. What it means is that – bottom-line – personal ambition will not overrule all else in her life. She will be flexible and will remain open to the possibility that what looks tempting may or may not be best. She will rely on the will and workings of God to sort out the preferable course. Contrast this with a person dead-set on achieving his sternly compelling ambitions to the nth degree—displaying an attitude that he knows better than everyone else what is best, including God. There are no unknown’s or unknowable’s. His best interest and that of others is patently obvious and carries before it a broad swath of foregone certitude.

A moment’s reflection makes clear where love lives and were hatred lurks. No doubt there are organizational cultures that fight to fill their ranks with the lean and hungry, each member thoroughly consumed by rapacious ambition. It should surprise no one when such organizations run afoul of the law (by hurting others) and suffer all the tawdry consequences of ethical bankruptcy. It is dependable and true that where there is a good measure of reality there is also a good measure holy tentativeness allowing latitude for the will and workings of God.

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Sunday, August 25, 2013

The Relationship of Creativity to Faith, Hope, Love

7 Habits of Highly Effective People (Stephen Covey) – Summary of Habit 2: Begin With the End in Mind. Principle: Mental creation precedes physical creation. All things are created twice. We create them first in our minds, and then we work to bring them into physical existence. By taking control of our own first creation, we can write or re-write our own scripts, thus taking some control and responsibility for the outcome. (

And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love. (1 Corinthians 13:13).

Creativity and hope are closely aligned. Whenever we move to seek the solution to any type of riddle, there is an immediate hope that creativity will produce practical results. However as with sex, we anticipate immediate reinforcement followed by consummation. Which comes first, creativity or hope?—is a riddle in itself. How do we differentiate the drive of hope and the drive for creativity? They join together and share a unitary spark deriving from intimate congruence.

Love and faith are likewise closely related to hope and creativity. God is Love. God is Creator. Creativity calls forth love and love calls forth creativity. Faith is the assurance that all this has ultimate overriding purpose. We sense that creativity, hope, and love are weighty and great matters that have inherent worthiness bestowed by purpose.

Finally as the second principle suggests, mental creation precedes physical creation and has implications for improvisation within the present. That is, we craft the present with an eye to the future.  As Pastor David mentioned in today’s sermon*, Martin Luther King, Jr. had a dream, he did not have a detailed step by step plan to arrive in the Promised Land. The Promised Land will not be schematized by one individual or a few but the contributing improvisation of many over time. For one man alone to actualize a dream robs others of responsibility and is anyway flat-out impossible as dreams have an essential communal nature in formation and realization. That is why dream attribution is mainly a matter of convenience. The distribution of wealth as if dreams were solely individualistic in nature is basically fraudulent. That is why love (from which generosity in attribution flows) is greater than faith and hope.

* Pastor David's message today:

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Saturday, August 24, 2013

When the Time Has Come

In your own words, defined the difference between being content and being complacent. Are you doing all you can do to fulfill the call of God in your life? (Strength for Every Moment by TJ Jakes, page 11).

It was a close place. I took it up, and held it in my hand. I was a trembling, because I'd got to decide, forever, betwixt two things, and I knowed it [whether within socially accepted and “religiously correct” practice to betray Jim and leave him in slavery or rescue him]. I studied a minute, sort of holding my breath, and then says to myself:"All right, then, I'll go to hell"- and tore it up.

It was awful thoughts, and awful words, but they was said. And I let them stay said; and never thought no more about reforming. I shoved the whole thing out of my head; and said I would take up wickedness again, which was in my line, being brung up to it, and the other warn't. And for a starter, I would go to work and steal Jim out of slavery again; and if I could think up anything worse, I would do that, too; because as long as I was in, and in for good, I might as well go the whole hog.” (The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn (Chapter 31) by Mark Twain).

Today thoughts turn to the March on Washington 50 years ago and the oratory of Martin Luther King Jr. His words chisel forever withstanding even in the winds of time the quintessential purpose of America: to be judged by the content of character, not the color of skin or any other secondary matter.

I think Martin Luther King despite the strife in which he found himself was in his soul content – he was assuredly fulfilling the call of God in his life. Yet, obviously he was not complacent. Complacency at its core is escapism. For example, I ignore watching what I eat because I do not face the reality of the physical consequences of eating junk food. But perhaps more typical is the escapism that blocks off the pain of others. Thus in some Third World countries, for example, we have palatial mansions situated in the midst of abject poverty. How do we account for the complacency that allows for total obliviousness to the pain of others – including perhaps most strikingly, the pain of children. Why over millennia has this become ingrained in human behavior?

Somewhere and somehow we seem to have learned that personal well-being is crucial for survival even at the expense of the well-being of others. There are cases in fact when we must admit this approach is necessary. At some advanced point, I should not enter a burning house to save even crying and terrified children. Yet we somehow have allowed these extreme cases (and extreme cases make for bad law) to become deeply influential in our routine thought patterns – even in matters to which they do not even remotely apply. Even the very reverse is in fact most often true; if we do not take into account the welfare of others our own welfare and that of our children are doomed. I think the next great advance socially in American society will come from tackling the issue of wealth distribution – how its immediate sources are frequently removed from its eventual distribution. Yet because of Dr. Martin Luther King, the Civil Rights Movement, and 50 years of progress on this front; I feel hopeful and confident that when the time has come America will address and solve this issue.

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Thursday, August 22, 2013

Darkest Before the Dawn

It’s always darkest before the dawn” – to what would that saying refer to in your life these days? (Serendipity Bible 10th Anniversary Edition, page 1305).

I think parents #1 responsibility next to making their child knowing they’re loved is teaching them everybody is equal and everybody needs a friend / I believe I’d broke one of mine’s arms if they ever made fun or wasn’t nice to everybody. (Beth Standifer Murray, August 19, 2013).

In public life I think this phrase applies—“it’s always darkest before the dawn”—whenever complexity abounds and a resolution promising greater simplicity and clarity is in the wings. I think a new paradigm, a new understanding, a new perception, regarding what must be done in terms of wealth distribution and democratization of an essential sense of self-worth and profound encouragement will appear surfacing into awareness provided we in America do not lose our souls and stop loving and respecting one another. I’ve said it before and I will say it again, respect for the individual and love for the individual is at the core of America’s democracy. So long as that persists hope springs eternal. The battle is won, victory is declared, it is only a matter of time before eventual objective materialization of laws already implanted within the depths of the subconscious, the soul of man, and the heart of God.

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Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Power Worship?

What symbols of power do we worship in our culture? How so? (Serendipity Bible 10th Anniversary Edition, page 1304).

I think it is way too easy to find “power worship” visualized as abeyance shown the national strength of America—perhaps epitomized in its military strength. In a sense if we find national strength the ultimate power idol of America, we have overlooked the all-important intervening steps. For power worship begins on a much more humble level. It begins in the way we approach authority that impinges upon our lives daily. My challenge is that we look at those who have power over us in our immediate environment throughout the day. Are we attributing to these figures a wisdom and rectitude that surpasses human capability? In our relationship with power do we mentally quail before it intellectually and ethically? For it is in our daily lives that the paradigm is established for our habitual and typical stance in relation to power. Therefore I urge everyone when dealing with those of power not to be like cowering dogs turning their tails beneath their legs – keep those tails up and wagging at all times expressing a deep awareness of essential equality. Worship only the one true God and stop making idols of your fellow human beings. I would also urge that we not seek to project national power with a subconscious desire that our nation be worshipped by anyone. Such yearning for a national demigod would be a fundamental betrayal of America’s core democratic values.

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Monday, August 19, 2013

Hunter or the Hunted

When this past year have you felt like the hunter? The hunted? (Serendipity Bible 10th Anniversary Edition, page 1303).

Fundamentally, I wish to avoid pain and seek pleasure. In broad strokes this can be seen as striving after opportunities and avoiding feelings of victimization. Over my lifetime opportunities have included ways and means to fulfill curiosity; seeking and increasing skill and knowledge; the search for tangible resources and assets; striving for soulmates (this may or may not include sexual relationships—to include, for example, friendships); opportunities to fulfill basic needs including health, food, clothing, and shelter as well as opportunities to experience beauty, joy, harmony, peace, fun, excitement, and yes even in a somber way the experience of significant sadness. Likewise, one can be hunted for mutually positive outcomes. For example, when I find a soulmate who is likewise hunting for a soulmate great happiness can result. My parents made it very clear to me that before I was born they were hunting for someone like me to enter their lives.

Obviously one event can have multiple dimensions. For example, when I attended the university I was looking not only for knowledge, but for possible soulmates as well. Likewise, multiple roles are often experienced at once. A student may feel like the hunter while taking a standardized achievement test—with great opportunities waiting in the wings. However the same student can be forgiven for feeling the hunted as super critical final arbiters of knowledge are poised in the wings eager to expose his every weakness and failure. The same mixed feelings can accompany filling out a job application or during the progress of a job interview.

Jesus came to seek and to save the lost—a hunter role. He sought for and established friendships and chose disciples. Yet it is equally clear that he was the hunted—not only by those seeking salvation but by those seeking to destroy him.

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Sunday, August 18, 2013

Hounded by the Fundamental Attribution Error


In social psychology, the fundamental attribution error (also known as correspondence bias or attribution effect) describes the tendency to over-value dispositional or personality-based explanations for the observed behaviors of others while under-valuing situational explanations for those behaviors. The fundamental attribution error is most visible when people explain the behavior of others. It does not explain interpretations of one's own behavior—where situational factors are often taken into consideration. This discrepancy is called the actor–observer bias.

As a simple example, if Alice saw Bob trip over a rock and fall, Alice might consider Bob to be clumsy or careless (dispositional). If Alice later tripped over the same rock herself, she would be more likely to blame the placement of the rock (situational).

The term was coined by Lee Ross[1] some years after a now-classic experiment by Edward E. Jones and Victor Harris (1967).[2] Ross argued in a popular paper that the fundamental attribution error forms the conceptual bedrock for the field of social psychology. Wikipedia cited here:

This weekend called to mind again the fundamental attribution error. I am particularly susceptible to this error and wonder to what extent it is prevalent among others. In my home Saturday I bumped against a vase and it fell to the floor and broke. A friend of mine was in the house at the time. It amazed me the ease with which I was able to forgive myself for the incident—viewing it as an innocent accident. Yet I know without question if my friend had broken the vase, I would have smouldered and accused him reflexively under my breath of being clumsy and careless. I might have pitched a long narrative about what a valuable keepsake it was.

Sunday I was taking a young friend of mine home after church. He is at the age where he could drive my car, but I drove it today. In front of his house I turned the corner quickly with too wide a sweep and ran up against the curb right where a storm drain was situated. It seriously punctured the sidewall of my right front tire and the tire blew immediately. Once again I can only imagine the instant fury and long-lived anger that would have seized my soul if my young friend had been driving: “Young people are so reckless!” I could have said. On the other hand, I was remarkably fast in forgiving myself. In fact I don’t think I was mad at myself at all, not even for a moment. I did use a vernacular phrase I sometimes use when I don’t want to blame myself: “Shit happens.” In other words, I quickly excused both matters mentioned as innocent occurrences rather than attributing them to some nefarious character flaw as I would have with others.

It gets me to thinking that it is little wonder that mankind has such problems with war and other acts of malevolence. It is miraculously easy to forgive ourselves of any turpitude while layering it thickly upon others.

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Saturday, August 17, 2013

Misconstrued Causes and Hurtful Results

Cosmic Trinity ~ Divine Star©2012
Michael C. Turner ~ Galactic Visions Space Art

The War on Poverty diagnosed the root cause of a multiplicity of problems as poverty. Send people a welfare check to supplement their income and the pursuit of happiness for all will be won. It was a noble idea but basically wrong. The root cause of our chronic problems is essentially psychological. The spider web that entraps millions is not poverty but the inability to answer a few key questions: Does anyone really need or want me? Is there any purposeful role that I can play? We all (even the most well-heeled and complacent of us) are called by God to make sure the answers to these questions are positive. There is frankly a religious aspect to these questions. The need is great for an overarching purpose that dignifies all activity no matter how humble. (And considering that just our galaxy (one of 200 billion) may have 400 billion stars, all human activity can be viewed as humble.) Beyond that, however, is the very practical need for work and activities that supplement and reinforce the essential initial religious dimension. It is necessary that all programs in this regard be genuinely helpful—not merely attempts to assuage our consciences or massage our egos.

(My thanks to Angelo Lundy for help with this blog).

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Friday, August 16, 2013

Nothing New Under the Sun

What has been will be again,
what has been done will be done again;
there is nothing new under the sun.
[Ecclesiastes 1:9 (NIV)]

There is no such thing as a new idea. It is impossible. We simply take a lot of old ideas and put them into a sort of mental kaleidoscope. We give them a turn and they make new and curious combinations. We keep on turning and making new combinations indefinitely; but they are the same old pieces of colored glass that have been in use through all the ages.
Mark Twain, a Biography

True, there is nothing new under the sun—the 92 naturally occurring essential elements have existed since the creation of the world. Thus we can say that nothing is ever invented from scratch (even beyond essential elements we find subatomic particles). However, it is yet undeniable that innovations of profound importance in fact do occur. I suppose the simplest way of looking at this is to view a new-born baby as simply a combination of tired old essential elements—there is nothing new under the sun. However, surely the unique combination of genes (the one and only) is in some sense entirely new. The potential that the child represents will make possible some new innovation that would have been impossible without her.

Frankly the adage that “there's nothing new under the sun” troubles me somewhat....much as the adage “the poor are always with us.” Again, the question is “so what?” Do the adages imply that we are to make no attempt to alleviate suffering and want through arduous effort or not to lean heavily upon divine inspiration to improve management techniques or innovate coping mechanisms upon planet earth?

Mark Twain moves on from the world of physical elements into the world of ideas, and he says “There is no such thing as a new idea.” As with turning a kaleidoscope, we simply churn old ideas about and come up with new and curious combinations. But all arise from the same old pieces of colored glass that have been around through all the ages.

I like to consider the Bible and search through it for pieces of colored glass. We begin with TRUST between God and humans. But then arises TEMPTATION and BETRAYAL and EVIL. Thus, very early on we appreciate the flawed nature of man—man resides in a state of IMPERFECTION and must strive to overcome his imperfections through looking beyond himself to GOD. (The imperfections are aptly summarized in the Seven Deadly SINS while in contrast perfection is summarized in the Fruit of the SPIRIT). Much of the Old Testament deals with the imperfection of man and the churning sea of complications that result. We learn that man foolishly seeks to ESCAPE from his weaknesses rather than dealing with them. He seeks to escape through IDOL WORSHIP. The abject failure of these idols to stand the test of time brings us to MONOTHEISM—belief in the one true God. The ascendency of GOD is complimented by the BROTHERHOOD OF MAN. We are to regard, respect, and treat our neighbor as we would ourselves.

Since man is flawed we must rely on DIVINE GRACE to endow us with GENEROSITY and LOVE. Because of the flawed nature of man and limited resources, we find that LOVE often calls for SACRIFICE at the expense of self-interest as egocentrically defined. That is, EGOCENTRISM is often the foil of love. Thus, the relationship of the INDIVIDUAL and SOCIETY can present persistent CONFLICTS OF INTEREST.

Governments in the Bible include TRIBES, KINGDOMS, and the EQUALITY found in the church of Christ. The latter outside the Bible bleeds over into FORMS OF GOVERNMENT in which equality is a bedrock belief. Nevertheless, equality can be refracted in unfortunate ways. Basically we confront the challenge presented by the difference between the “LETTER OF THE LAW” and the “SPIRIT OF THE LAW.” Often strict adherence to the letter of the law can gut the spirit of the law. In other words, a dogma that glitters as gold on paper can when implemented result in the IRONY that one ends up harvesting what one most wanted to avoid. That is, we encounter the PARADOX OF UNINTENDED CONSEQUENCES.

The Bible often speaks of God’s FORGIVENESS and our need to express the same towards others (as explicitly stated in the Lord’s Prayer).

The Bible makes clear that there are ETERNAL VERITIES that embody MEANING and PURPOSE. These long term values need to be present and regnant even the SHORT TERM. In the Bible there is much UNBELIEF and the absence of FAITH. Yet these conditions can be REDEEMED though the acts of God and our REPENTANCE. ETERNAL LIFE thus begins in the present and extends forever into the long, long-term.

The singular value of the Bible is that it lays bare the colored rocks of the ages that warn, enlighten, and inspire. It is my belief that most every form of human behavior can be clarified with study of the Bible. We ignore or “outgrow” it at our great peril.

We must never seek to supplant the Bible with the myopic “pursuit of happiness.” All we need remember is that every tragedy ever inflicted by man upon man (even oneself) has ironically been perpetrated through the pursuit of happiness—the veritable Venus flytrap of human affairs that constantly entices and persistently destroys.  By far the majority of those who sadly sit in prisons (made of stone and steel or of the mind) got there through the relentless pursuit of happiness.

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Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Was Papa Wrong?

Papa Hemingway
Where are you crying out, but unheeded? What then do you say? Feel? Act? (Serendipity Bible, 10th Anniversary Edition, page 1303).

For a great while I have cried out against alcohol. I think it has profound effects upon the human brain of which were are unaware or only dimly so. I think the brain has telemetric capacity that is critical for human survival and which capacity is damaged by alcohol. Man is arrogant in the extreme to assume that all thoughts originate within the confines of his skull.

My warnings regarding alcohol even to my friends go unheeded and dismissed. Unfortunately I live in a society that irresponsibly allows alcohol to be marketed and promoted without any significant restrictions whatever. We think based upon our decisions that it is more detrimental for a child to have chain smokers for parents rather than drunks. This is so sad and absurd as not to deserve comment.

Creativity is essential for human survival. It is my firm belief that alcohol impairs the creative function. People will say that noted writers have been drunkards. Let’s not assume that we can always accurately discern messages from divinity and automatically assume that that which pleases our prejudices, cynicism, and passions is always best for us.

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Tuesday, August 13, 2013

How You Doing?

I lift up my eyes to the mountains—
where does my help come from?
My help comes from the Lord,
the Maker of heaven and earth.
He will not let your foot slip—
he who watches over you will not slumber;
indeed, he who watches over Israel
will neither slumber nor sleep.
The Lord watches over you—
the Lord is your shade at your right hand;
the sun will not harm you by day,
nor the moon by night.
The Lord will keep you from all harm—
he will watch over your life;
the Lord will watch over your coming and going
both now and forevermore.
(Psalm 121 (NIV)

It’s been a “long time, no hear” from your friend. What’s the first thing you ask your friend? The second? (Serendipity Bible 10th Anniversary Edition, page 1303).

My chief concern would be with my friend’s mental, emotional, and spiritual condition. I might first ask, “How’s your health?” He would probably assume that I was referring to his physical condition and would have a comment or two regarding that. So I would drill a little further and ask “Are you finding daily sources of strength?” Here I am really searching for his ability to cope with whatever comes and his arsenal of spiritual resources—is he able to find sources of courage, joy, and hope, perhaps a good measure of happiness? Next I would inquire about his special interest—such as family or creative endeavors. Finally, considering what is appropriate, I would offer a few words of encouragement based upon his comments ranging from “Don’t give up” and “Keep strong in the Lord” to “Knowing you, I knew you would be fine.”

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Sunday, August 11, 2013

The Wesleyan Quadrilateral

For a brief background and review of the Wesleyan Quadrilateral see:

Pastor Dawn Worden, in her sermon today, mentioned the Wesleyan Quadrilateral as a fertile background for mutual conversations regarding the nature of God and the spiritual life. This concept helps us map out and share how we came to a spiritual awareness and our understanding of God—through Scripture, experience, tradition, and reason.

My own religious experience involves all four aspects. From my earliest days I have been introduced to Scripture from direct reading of it, through Sunday school lessons, through sermons, from all types of works of art. Likewise, from my earliest days I have considered it normal for people (including me) to have direct and powerful spiritual experiences—often with a surface component of “unreason.” As a participant of Christian culture in the church and elsewhere, I have learned of the various celebrations within the faith. I have also become accustomed to a culture of discourse and understanding that is greatly influenced by Scripture, experience, tradition, and reason. Finally, reason (and pragmatism and “common sense”) within the Methodist church has provided a check on craziness—a check on the tendency to gut the truth of the Bible on the altar of legalism, a discordant travesty in which the “letter” of the faith emasculates its essential Spirit.

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Saturday, August 10, 2013

The Responsibility Is Yours

The Parable of the Ten Virgins
(Matthew 25:1-13 NIV) 

At that time the kingdom of heaven will be like ten virgins who took their lamps and went out to meet the bridegroom. Five of them were foolish and five were wise. The foolish ones took their lamps but did not take any oil with them. The wise ones, however, took oil in jars along with their lamps. The bridegroom was a long time in coming, and they all became drowsy and fell asleep. 

At midnight the cry rang out: ‘Here’s the bridegroom! Come out to meet him!’

Then all the virgins woke up and trimmed their lamps. The foolish ones said to the wise, ‘Give us some of your oil; our lamps are going out.’ 

“‘No,’ they replied, ‘there may not be enough for both us and you. Instead, go to those who sell oil and buy some for yourselves.’ 

But while they were on their way to buy the oil, the bridegroom arrived. The virgins who were ready went in with him to the wedding banquet. And the door was shut. 

Later the others also came. ‘Lord, Lord,’ they said, ‘open the door for us!’ 

But he replied, ‘Truly I tell you, I don’t know you.’

 Therefore keep watch, because you do not know the day or the hour."

While this parable speaks of the coming of the Lord, I think it makes key points applicable in more mundane matters. There is no doubt that sometimes we can be too hard on ourselves. But there undeniably are times when it is possible for us to be too easy on ourselves. Let us say that I have been without a job for an extended period. After repeated attempts to find employment without success I apply at Walmart. They interview me and agree to hire me. All I must do is attend a training session the next day and bring along my birth certificate and Social Security card. In preparation I buy khaki pants and a navy blue shirt as they stipulated. However, when I show up the next day I bring neither my birth certificate nor my Social Security card. I guess I’m kind of hoping that they will make an exception in my case and hire me anyway. (What I’m really asking of them is to set aside all requirements established by their human resources department and legal department—and these expectations of mine are to be met even before I’m hired.)

As easily predictable, they refuse to hire me. Now what self-talk should I engage in? Should I say that I must not be hard on myself or feel down because negativity is of the devil? God would surely always want me to think highly of myself. Well, yes and no. When David sinned and later wrote Psalm 51 he was hard on himself—very hard. (“For I know my transgressions, and my sin is always before me.”) Yet in the Psalm he writes: “Restore to me the joy of your salvation, and grant me a willing spirit, to sustain me.” I think it is not too strong to say that God wanted David to fully appreciate the depth of his sin and vow never to repeat it. After this recognition, He wished David to proceed positively and accomplish much. The key point is this: every time we do something irresponsible and feel bad about it, we must not blame the devil or others for making us feel bad; we must instead assume responsibility ourselves and dedicate ourselves never to repeat it. If the devil had a part to play it was in our initial irresponsibility, not in our eventual regret. The devil I’m convinced would have us view ourselves as victims and become angry and blame others for the consequences of our own shortcomings. God would have us accept responsibility and move forward.

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Friday, August 9, 2013

Here Comes the Judge

How would you judge yourself based on God’s standard regarding pride, cruelty or selfishness? Would your friends and others agree? Would you want to be held accountable for this? (Serendipity Bible 10th Anniversary Edition, page 1300).

In every case, the judge must be impartial…. If there is any reason that the judge might not be able to be impartial, such as the judge is a friend of one of the parties, the judge must withdraw from the case. That is called a recusal. (Source)

Many will say to Me in that day, ‘Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in Your name, cast out demons in Your name, and done many wonders in Your name?’ And then I will declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from Me, you who practice lawlessness!’ (Matthew 7:22-3).

I am very reluctant to let others drive my car or ride my bike. My thinking is this; if I should damage either one I will be rather quick to forgive myself. However if someone else should damage my car or bike I will likely become angry and unforgiving.

The essential problem in giving answer to today’s questions lies in the challenge of self-judgment. I know that my ability to rationalize anything at all on the road to looking good in my own eyes is almost total. In a real sense I am flat-out incapable of judging myself. I must therefore recuse myself from self-judgment as it is impossible to be objective about my own behavior. I am, to put it mildly, an interested party.

However, neither must I be willing to accept the judgment of others as absolute. For by now I am well aware that other people can have motives (based on friendship or antagonism) that cloud their judgment of me – for either good or bad. While I appreciate compliments and am always glad to hear them, I must always remember that only God knows the heart making self-congratulatory pride on this earth a little premature. I’ve had people ask me if I think I’m going to heaven when I die. Of course the answer is always a thundering affirmative. I’m less anxious to hear God’s judgment on the matter.

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Wednesday, August 7, 2013

Detestable to God

The Dorian Gray Complex
by Nosafehavenr
(Proverbs 6:16-19 NIV)

There are six things the Lord hates,
seven that are detestable to him:
haughty eyes,
a lying tongue,
hands that shed innocent blood,
a heart that devises wicked schemes,
feet that are quick to rush into evil,
a false witness who pours out lies,
and a person who stirs up conflict in the community.

Proverbs informs us that a person who stirs up conflict in the community is detestable to God. I am well aware that we often limit “community” to “the church.” But it also has wider application. Let us think of some troublemakers of note: Jesus was – his crucifixion was testimony to that, and more recently we have Gandhi and Martin Luther King – all can be seen as having stirred up conflict for a good cause. Yet I would like to make a distinction between calls to conscience and calls to conflict. I think in the heart of all three mentioned was goodwill and love of enemy. In fact, they probably would be reluctant to call their opposition “the enemy”– but rather their real enemy was aspects of human nature that even they were vulnerable to (could be tempted by). The common denominator between the three examples was a determination not to return evil for evil but rather to return in its place forgiveness and love—freeing from hatred even those filled with it. If the opposition had shown forgiveness and love there would have been no need for violent conflict in the public square. Those who were responsible for stirring up conflict were those out to harm rather than to heal. The key thing done by these peacemakers was to throw light on existing abuse. Since hatred cannot abide light, controversy is inevitable....but the sources of light are neither the source nor cause of the conflict.

I think we have all witnessed people at one time or another who were not happy unless a war was going on. Their primary objective seemed to be to lift up, ignite, and inflame passions for its own sake as sort of a sensational indulgence – much like a troubled youth instigating a dogfight. I think it’s safe to say if we could get a close-up of such an instigator’s face, there would be a perverse delight arising from destructive hatred present–a meanness expressed with a luridly gleeful anticipation of bloodletting—in its finality a worship of death's disintegration itself. This I think is what is detestable to God.

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