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Saturday, November 30, 2013

Shit Happens

In those periods of discouragement and doubt, what most renews your courage and faith? (Serendipity Bible 10th Anniversary Edition, page 1354).

While we all need to be hopeful and to want and expect the best, a lifetime of experience guides me to one inescapable conclusion—despite the best that we and others can do, shit happens. In an unsentimental sense, that’s the reason for the vast and lucrative insurance industry—people are insuring against that day when shit happens. I personally believe that we have entered a litigious stage in American history because people want and have come to expect the reverse—unrelieved fields of cotton candy. Well friends, this is not the case—never has and never will be—and I frankly have sympathy for all those institutions in this environment that daily assume great risks performing humble service. Yesterday I took my spanking new car in for service—the fuel gauge was malfunctioning. When the staff took the car in back to explore the issue, they inadvertently hit an immovable object and damaged the side-panel of the car—requiring body work that will not be completed for several days. They apologetically gave me a rental car until the repairs are complete. Despite my best efforts I cannot seem to muster much steam and outrage about the damage. I know they obviously did not want this to happen, and all were presumably doing their best to serve me when it did. I can only conclude that in this world for whatever reason shit sometimes happens and we must (heaven giving us grace and a sense of irony) accept the fact.

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Friday, November 29, 2013

Unfortunate Reversals

The kind of universal love advocated by Christ tempers and stretches our hearts and minds to encompass a truly transcendent form of love. (Through the Year with Jimmy Carter, page 335).

It is often pointed out the God spelled backwards is dog. No doubt there are some dog lovers that hold their dog in greater esteem than God. Another reversal stems from 1 John 4:8 – Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love. The reversal transacted here is that as “God is love” likewise “love is God.” Many Christians wince at this latter construction essentially because we see love as sourced in God not man. That is, if no human existed (or any animal that loves) then we believe that the love of God would remain, as indeed God would remain. If “love is God” then I can construct an idol of love—call him “Bunny”. Now all types of love that can consume the human heart and mind can be projected upon and imbued within this idol. This perversion of divinity into whatever my mind and emotions can conjure up is repulsive to believers who sense an absolute and eternal nature in the Creator God. In fact, such human idolatry is the essential problem with all idol worship.

My challenge for us on this day after Thanksgiving is to set our thoughts on the source of life and be thankful for the divinity that abides outside and beyond ourselves and exceeding that which we can ever construct—to bow in worship to God not man.

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Thursday, November 28, 2013

Thank God for Comedians

This fulfills what is written in their Scriptures: 'They hated me without cause.' (John 15:25).

The flip side of self-righteousness is self-loathing. Though I have no degree in psychoanalysis, it is tempting to put the scribes and Pharisees that hated Jesus on a couch for I cannot help but see a great deal of unhappiness in their lives…unhappiness essentially with themselves. All human beings are vulnerable to feelings of inadequacy in many areas—“We may not be happy with the way we look, our talents, or our imperfections. We may compare ourselves with others instead of happily being the people we are intended to be” (Joyce Meyer, Power Thoughts Devotional, page 332). Because of our profound unhappiness, we put up a hypocritical front—and the sensing of this craven deceit only deepens our sense of self-loathing. Into this mix of self-loathing, Jesus walks in nonchalantly exposing all our sins; thus arousing intense resentment and hatred. Sometimes I find myself wishing that Christ could have been more of a comedian. One of those guys who have the talent of helping us laugh at our own foibles. Could not he then have “loosened up” rather than rigidifying the deeply unhappy? I don’t know. Perhaps they were too far gone and would simply have coldly replied to his best lines; “Did you say something?” Even so it’s a thought—and a reason on this Thanksgiving to be thankful for our abundant supply of comedians.

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Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Kathy and Me

When did you know that the person that you married was “the one”? What tipped you off? (Serendipity Bible 10th Anniversary Edition, page 1353).

I first met Kathy in Sunday school—the Good Shepard class. The class sat around a table and used the Upper Room as the source of our lessons. There was a discussion of each lesson led by a great facilitator and teacher, Mitch Marsh. The class discussions of a meditation could be extensive, with maybe only one or two meditations required to fill the hour. I got to know Kathy during these discussions. I saw here as bright, kind, compassionate, humble, and filled with self-awareness—she knew who she was and was aware of her determinant convictions. I can’t remember when I was not impressed by her. In other words, at the first class I was drawn to her and she later confided that she was drawn to me. She said she liked when our legs touched under the table. I, being dense, was not even aware of this at the time.

It is a great feeling when one feels a deep affinity with someone. The “family feeling” develops almost immediately and time seems not to matter—I have known you for an hour…or has it been forever? You are not outside the “family circle” but within it. All the rest, as the saying goes, is mere detail…the marriage day, for example, a stamp upon fait accompli.

My brother Bob and wife Linda (both ministers) led the wedding ceremony. Bob got a kick out of my interest when discussing the service when exactly I could kiss the bride. This too was merely a formality for the vitality of our love had already found expression many times.

Kathy passed away last November. During the memorial service I read the following poem:

Assurance of Authenticity

Kathy you made my days
By standing humble and true,
Your steady strength was incredible
Your major impact you.

I regret when I have reproached you
For finding me--as you would say--”sweet”,
For now I see what sweetness is
It is what all should be—

It is your hopeful smile,
Your winning generosity,
Your simple grasp of facts
Filled with humility.

It is your kind insistence
That no worthwhile effort is void;
It is your reliable innocence
Saving me from despair;
It is your steady focus when at work or play
Trusting that passion's disciplines
Will reap abundant things.

My dearest you have gifted me --when all is said and done --
With love's powerful insights,
With childlike faith,
The assurance of authenticity.

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Tuesday, November 26, 2013

The Ramifications of Abortion as Birth Control

Under what circumstances do you find it most difficult to talk about your faith? (Serendipity Bible 10th Anniversary Edition, page 1353).

I would like to distinguish between talk about what might be called the dogma of my faith and the ethical ramifications of my faith. It seems to me that it is inappropriate to talk about the dogma of my faith to a captive audience—say among coworkers at a place  of employment. If they were to show an interests in both of us sharing our faith privately together that is one thing, but to hold forth about religious dogma under captive conditions seems to me to be unethical and un-American as we believe in freedom of religion—I should not be subject to religious indoctrination against my will. What do I mean by this? Well, for example, I should not be asking a co-worker if Jesus is their Savior. Now this is quite unlike the ethical ramifications of my faith. For example, as my blog yesterday quoted Daniel telling Nebuchadnezzar “Renounce your sins by doing what is right, and your wickedness by being kind to the oppressed.” That is, Daniel is discussing public policy as it relates to the poor and those of low social status. In my opinion, this is not a matter of the religious indoctrination of  Nebuchadnezzar, but Daniel following through on the ethical ramifications of his faith. Therefore, at work I would feel constrained and withhold from saying that Jesus teaches that we are to love one another and be servants to one another. However I would feel totally justified in arguing against a company policy I think conflicts with those principles—say, if I perceive that our customer service policy has elements of arrogance in it.  Unlike Daniel, however, I would probably not say that it is a sin, but rather couch it in terms of being action contrary to our greater and long-term interests and stated mission.

It seems to me that this distinction is necessary; for freedom of religion is meaningless if we cannot live our faith as opposed to proselytizing it. That is why the abortion issue is so problematic for Americans. To be honest, I don’t know if the Bible specifically condemns abortion, but certainly the thrust of Scripture does not celebrate it as a form of birth control for the thrust of Scripture elevates the worth of individuals. Abortion as birth control allies with the saying “You make um, we scrape um.” It is essentially callously destroying an individual with low social status and power. It is difficult to meld this attitude with the thrust of my religion. Therefore, on this issue I disagree with my political party. It is not a matter of religious dogma and some petty quotation of some Scripture verse or other, but a matter of the ethical implications of the broad sweep and meaning of my religion.

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Sunday, November 24, 2013

On Representing Jesus

Nebuchadnezzar and Daniel

Therefore, Your Majesty, be pleased to accept my advice: Renounce your sins by doing what is right, and your wickedness by being kind to the oppressed. It may be that then your prosperity will continue.” (Daniel 4:27).

What warnings or encouragements would you need to hear from Jesus in order to go out and represent him? (Serendipity Bible 10th Anniversary Edition, page 1353).

I first look at this question from the point of view of going out to represent anyone at all. The most important question is “To what extend do you want me to represent you as a free agent? How much latitude do I have to explore issues by asking questions I think you might ask? Am I certain of your values and feel comfortable that I can live and affirm them? If action on my part is required that would bind you, do I have your complete understanding of this fact and have permission to make such decisions in your stead? Let us take a rather important matter as an example—going into the real estate market to explore a home and to actually execute a contract. Obviously my first assignment as your representative would be to get a complete understanding of all your preferences regarding where you would like to live and in what type of residence. I would also have to have a list of “deal killers”—a list of those things you simply would not accept under any circumstances. A list of “strong pluses” and priorities would also be helpful. Finally I would have to be assured of mutual trust, as indeed obviously you would need the same.

So before going out to represent Jesus, I would need to be familiar with his values as exemplified in his life and death. I would need to know if Jesus would be comfortable with my asking the following question—what would Jesus have me do, rather than what would Jesus do? For certainly there is no way that I can precisely fill Jesus’s sandals. I must be satisfied that he would allow and even make positive use of this obvious circumstance. In other words, my talents (not Jesus’s) are to be maximized in this representation—I am not to try to be a clone of Christ. I would need a list of those types of things Jesus would find flat-out unacceptable in my witness for him. I would also want a list of those things most critical that he would want me to strive for. In other words, I would need a good deal of help with priorities since the harvest field is way too expansive for any one individual. I suppose I would want marching orders much like he gave his apostles when he sent them out to represent him.

The primary warning I would expect from Jesus is that I must stay close to Scripture and the tone and tenor of his life’s work. This would involve not only individual Bible study, but also association with other Christians. I must be alert as to the tendency to substitute my will for his. I would need his encouragement because I dislike being smothered in contumely. I realize that followers of Jesus habitually expose the world’s sacred cows and taboos—one being its chronic refusal to acknowledge that it engages in any sort of oppression—“we’re always fair, always square” is the fiercely, sometimes lethally, defended motto. I would ask Jesus to give me what he had—the unflinching honesty of the prophets and the grace to accept that being smeared with contumely simply comes with the territory. I would also pray a prayer not unfamiliar to him—let me always accept that my mission is more important than my life.

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Saturday, November 23, 2013

Man as Actor

How might you still be spiritually “blind” or “dumb”? How can Jesus heal your sight and speech? (Serendipity Bible 10th Anniversary Edition, page 1352).

This question lies at the heart of the ills that afflict mankind—for these afflictions do not lie in material ingenuity (mankind has ingenuity aplenty to master any challenge in the material world) but the challenge is to master himself. In a breathtakingly sweeping way, man lacks self-knowledge and regularly overestimates his ability to know himself and the spiritual tone and tenor of reality. Forget sin if you choke on that word, consider man’s deeply flawed perception as that relates to the nature and importance of intangibles—of principles governing the spiritual as contrasted with the material world. While man accedes to the importance of truth, virtue, wisdom, love, honesty, faithfulness, humility, integrity, courage—he consistently assumes he knows what these concepts mean, while in fact he is projecting his own fears and prejudices—his tone and tenor—upon them. We make of these terms and concepts a Rorschach test. In other words, we in practice assume that these are not intangible realities at all, but rather are subjective extensions of man’s mind—that they are the result of man’s ingenuity rather than having an eternal source—that relativism rules in the end. Thus, an essential purpose of monotheism is to attest to the truth of these principles—their truth is so regardless of what we may say about them. In this sense, religion is estranged from language fabrications for believers insist that at the heart of the matter lays fact not subjectivity with its estrangement from objective Spirit. An eternal God is the initiator and creator and man the created receiver. When all is said and done, God is proactive and man reactive.

Jesus came to emphasize the importance of tone and tenor—of spiritual reality as received as opposed to the letter of the law—an insidious cop-out projection of man. Jesus gave us a tool to help redeem ourselves and the world. We are to tune ourselves to the chords of sevanthood—being servants of God first and man thereafter. Thus, in the image of God and all He stands for, man will make creativity an expression of servanthood, as likewise in the intangible realms.

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Friday, November 22, 2013

On Choosing a Fellow-Traveler

What kind of person would you want in your expedition party (to complement your weaknesses) the next time you embark on a great adventure? (Serendipity Bible, 10th Anniversary Edition, page 1352).

I see this question in several lights. Ideally, I would have with me someone who had gone on a similar adventure before so already would know the lay of the land. For example, if I were to have the opportunity to travel to China, it would be a great advantage to have with me someone who had made that journey several times before (perhaps even having lived there awhile). But even so, with so many things to see in China, it would be important that my fellow traveler have interests much like mine. I could, for example, play host to someone visiting Saint Petersburg and the Tampa Bay Area where I live. If someone were interested in hitting all the hot night spots, it would not be good for me to be their fellow adventurer. There are many others who would be much more versed in that area and more capable of showing them a good time. However, with my having gone many years to the University of South Florida and St Pete College, with the help of more knowledgeable people at these institutions, I could provide a unique and appreciative view of these universities and some of their programs. Likewise, if the visitor were a stranger to the Christian lifestyle, I would much enjoy introducing them to my church and some of its services, activities, and membership.

Given that mutual interest considerations are met, what I really would need as a fellow adventurer is someone who is a “can do” person, someone who is very practical and good at details and planning—being conversant in Chinese would also be a big help; someone who is realistic and one who could help make our adventure affordable. It would be hell on earth to go on an adventure allied with a big spender when the budget simply did not allow for excess. That could quickly turn a joyous occasion into one of dispute and feelings of deprivation. I could, for example, as a stranger visit Saint Petersburg and with very little money get a very good idea of the municipality and the life many residents see on a daily basis (with a little guidance from a sympathetic resident). And this would be one of my objectives in going to China—not to see how the few wealthy people lived years ago or to gush before natural wonders, but to see how most live and enrich their lives now on a daily basis. This to me represents the true adventure of China (or most any other country). These considerations constitute the wealth and natural wonders that most interest me.


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Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Was Jesus Gullible?

How have you learned the cost of following Jesus? Would you describe yourself as gullible or cynical? Why? (Serendipity Bible 10th Anniversary Edition, pages 1350-1).

We need to ask a frank and stark question with great implications for all Christians—Was Jesus gullible? (Gullible defined: Naive and easily deceived or tricked - "at that early age she had been gullible and in love"; Easily tricked because of being too trusting - "gullible tourists taken in by the shell game" WordWeb Pro).

Can you think of one instance in which Jesus was gullible or duped? I can think of none—not even by Satan or by Judas, or by those wanting to trick or entrap him in religious or political arguments. Jesus was cool and smart. Personally I have not begun to measure up to the standard set by Jesus. Too often I have naively believed in the malleability of clever, deceitful, and even rapacious men concurrently with the magical power of my own good intentions and winning powers of persuasion. I go into one end of a “love tunnel” as a Pollyanna and emerge on the other side cynical and angry. Have we ever given it a moment’s thought that to be thus gullible is downright unchristian and replete with pride?

I think if given a second chance the devil would tempt Jesus not with worldly power and prestige, but by appealing to Jesus's redemptive nature. “I will give you the power,” the devil would say, “to work magic with reprobates. And most especially with that particular man forever quoting scripture as his favorite con game to manipulate you like his very own puppet. I will give you the power to facilely win him over to salvation by your marvelous gentleness and good intentions and by your being agreeable and nice. In fact, my very power as the devil will be torpedoed by your callow, simplistic, simpleton smile.”

God deliver us from the temptations of such naiveté! This obviously is an indulgence in wishful thinking and self-pride. It sets us up for a fall into cynicism and disbelief. May we like Jesus have a clear perspective on the devil’s true intent and avoid this last insidious temptation with its appeal to delusional spiritual and redemptive power. May we, like Jesus, keep our attention fixed on heaven and thus keep clear of the world’s siren songs of sinful silliness.

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Infrastructure Is Everything and Is Not Built nor Maintained in a Day

What is the best excuse you’ve heard for not getting work done? (Serendipity Bible 10th Anniversary Edition, page 1350).

Far and away the best excuse I come up with is that what I have now is good enough. There’s no need to work now when I can just as well put off working and dealing with change. I work as an Application Support Specialist for the City of Saint Petersburg. Something that everyone in my position realizes is that software and hardware updates can require substantial planning, investment, and implemental effort—so why make these changes when what’s in use now is working almost perfectly fine? I know with my personal computer at home, I always put off buying a new computer as long as possible for I know that transferring files, setting up the new computer, trying to find drivers for older printers, cameras, etc. to work with the new system, and all such hardware and software matters mean that there is considerable drag to stay with the old system and not move forward. It is easy to rationalize that the negatives of change outweigh the positives. Besides, there’s a certain sedate rectitude about being conservative and not liberally rocking the boat.

America health care provision has been problematic particularly regarding coverage, funding, and population inclusiveness. But always the argument is: If it’s working well for so many, why change things? The negatives of change far outweigh the positives—for those voters like me lucky enough to have coverage. Thus it took many years for the unmet issues to be addressed. The list of such “inertia matters” is endless. How many people “just can’t wait” to put on a new roof, buy new tires, upgrade their house’s plumbing. The truth of the matter is that infrastructure often goes begging for this very reason. Grappling with such matters always entails work and investment, while everything, for the moment at least, seems to be working acceptably. In regards to personal health, I know I should get more exercise; but that’s something of a bother and requires more effort than sitting on the couch—my comfort zone.

We must come to grips with the fact that life is a never ending exercise in trial and error. Negative forces playing upon all systems from our bodies to the external world impinge upon us whether we like it or not. Tendencies for laziness—physical, intellectual, emotional, and spiritual—require constant wake up calls and inducements of positive action and commitment of resources. Conservation of excellence requires liberal investments of effort. Infrastructure is everything and is not built nor maintained in a day.

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Tuesday, November 19, 2013

The Sound and the Fury

What kind of storm do you think claims the most spiritual casualties?
a. intellectual doubts.
b. moral failures
c. relational conflicts
d. personal crises
e. creeping apathy

(Serendipity Bible 10th Anniversary Edition, page 1349).

I do not fear intellectual doubt as a spiritual hazard. The much more afflicting hazard is intellectual certitude combined with a sense of exclusivity and superiority.

Moral failures often bring to mind the debilitating and enslaving effects of addictions. A transient moral lapse quickly turns into a no-nonsense, ruthless physical dependency.

Relational conflicts can occur on many levels from two people, to societies, to countries at war. Conflict also courts an addictive character as we acquire euphoric zealousness from a sense of righteous certitude. Personal rectitude is seen to contrast with our adversary’s turpitude.

Personal crises often have a societal source. Roiling plates of massive social pain underlying widespread upheaval can play havoc on personal lives causing aberrational behavior and mental stress.

Creeping apathy is at root a defense mechanism. We quite intentionally and resolutely determine to fiddle while Rome burns—hoping against hope that discord and dysfunction will pass by and exempt our sanctuary of gadgets and toys.

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Sunday, November 17, 2013

Practical Application of Scripture

Philippians 4:6-9
New Living Translation (NLT)

Don’t worry about anything; instead, pray about everything. Tell God what you need, and thank him for all he has done. Then you will experience God’s peace, which exceeds anything we can understand. His peace will guard your hearts and minds as you live in Christ Jesus.

And now, dear brothers and sisters, one final thing. Fix your thoughts on what is true, and honorable, and right, and pure, and lovely, and admirable. Think about things that are excellent and worthy of praise. Keep putting into practice all you learned and received from me—everything you heard from me and saw me doing. Then the God of peace will be with you.

Romans 8:26
New Living Translation (NLT)

And the Holy Spirit helps us in our weakness. For example, we don’t know what God wants us to pray for. But the Holy Spirit prays for us with groanings that cannot be expressed in words.

Mark 12:28-34
New Living Translation (NLT)
The Most Important Commandment

One of the teachers of religious law was standing there listening to the debate. He realized that Jesus had answered well, so he asked, “Of all the commandments, which is the most important?”

Jesus replied, “The most important commandment is this: ‘Listen, O Israel! The Lord our God is the one and only Lord. And you must love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, all your mind, and all your strength.’ The second is equally important: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ No other commandment is greater than these.”

The teacher of religious law replied, “Well said, Teacher. You have spoken the truth by saying that there is only one God and no other. And I know it is important to love him with all my heart and all my understanding and all my strength, and to love my neighbor as myself. This is more important than to offer all of the burnt offerings and sacrifices required in the law.”

Realizing how much the man understood, Jesus said to him, “You are not far from the Kingdom of God.” And after that, no one dared to ask him any more questions.

THE world is too much with us; late and soon,
Getting and spending, we lay waste our powers:
Little we see in Nature that is ours….
(William Wordsworth)

After reviewing today’s scripture lessons, I feel some regret regarding the life I lead and the world I face. For example, take Saint Paul’s challenge for us: “Fix your thoughts on what is true, and honorable, and right, and pure, and lovely, and admirable. Think about things that are excellent and worthy of praise.” Looking over the discouraging news I see daily regarding fallen human nature; the material that too often stains the mind and demeans any positive aspects of humanity; the endless flooding of movie theaters with tributes to the gods of dysfunction and sensationalism; the daily load of fictional garbage dumped into my living room heralded as cool TV entertainment; a steady stream of cynical nonfiction without an ounce of uplift or inspiration: with all these I must wonder how it is even possible to believe in the good. I become conflicted and confused and don’t even know what to pray for other than in lofty superlatives and abstractions. It is at precisely this place that Jesus provides an anchor—“The Most Important Commandment.” We are to love the Lord our God (who is love), and we are to love our neighbors as ourselves—remembering the inclusive definition and specificity of action in the parable of the Good Samaritan. I will not think of myself as a prudish censor as I now resolve to be more considerate in what I consume—the images and words I ingest which inevitably on some level affect my perception.

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