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Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Put Me on Trial, Cross-examine Me


A psalm of David (Psalm 26:1-4 NLT)

Declare me innocent, O Lord,
for I have acted with integrity;
I have trusted in the Lord without wavering.
Put me on trial, Lord, and cross-examine me.
Test my motives and my heart.
For I am always aware of your unfailing love,
and I have lived according to your truth.

I cannot help but have second thoughts about King David, about anyone who could challenge God to put them on trial and cross-examine them in order to endorse their unqualified certitude of perfection: “for I have acted with integrity; I have trusted in the Lord without wavering.... I am always aware of your unfailing love / and I have lived according to your truth.” These are pretty strong self-assessments to come from any mortal. Maybe it's an attitude that typically comes with strong, confident leaders. (We joke about the egos in Washington.) I cannot but come to the conclusion that danger lurks with such thoughts, such absolute testimonials of righteousness. It suggest to me a limited understanding of the complexities and challenges inherent in living ethical lives. It would tend to make ethical living formulaic which by its nature it can never be. The impossible task would be to contrive formulas absolute in their application. This impossibly is simply another way of saying that wider human judgment must always grace our actions. Hanging judges yearn for black and white certitude while heaven calls for justice mixed with mercy. Thus, even heaven acknowledges extenuating circumstances whose inclusion are necessary to calibrate reality—to arrive at fairness with a reliable sense of truth imbued with human experience and hope.

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Monday, December 30, 2013

Fear Does Funny Things to Some People

for the great day of their wrath has come, and who is able to stand?" (Revelation 6:17).

Below are excerpts from the lyrics to the O'Jays hit “For the Love of Money.” In the lyrics I've taken the liberty of using the word processor's search and replace to replace all instances of the word “money” and the word “love” with the word “fear”. Read it through with this revision and ask yourself if you have seen or experienced any of this.

For the fear of fear
People will steal from their mother
For the fear of fear
People will rob their own brother
For the fear of fear
People can't even walk the street
Because they never know who in the world they're gonna beat...

For the fear of fear
People will lie, Lord, they will cheat
For the fear of fear
People don't care who they hurt or beat
For the fear of fear
A woman will sell her precious body....

I know fear is the root of all evil
Do funny things to some people
Give me a nickel, brother can you spare a dime
Fear can drive some people out of their minds

How many things have I heard you say
Lay down, lay down, a woman will lay down
For the fear of fear
All for the fear of fear
Don't let, don't let, don't let fear rule you
For the fear of fear
Fear can change people sometimes
Don't let, don't let, don't let fear fool you
Fear can fool people sometimes
People! Don't let fear, don't let fear change you,
it will keep on changing, changing up your mind.

Fear is the root cause of much hurtfulness and unkindness. Those who do not know love (say as a child) fear existence itself—they feel no acceptance thus no security. The book of Revelation has a Rorschach test quality bringing out the worst of best in people depending on whether they emphasize the horsemen or the New Jerusalem—the God of wrath (and General Jesus with rolling tanks) or the God of Love (and Jesus as we know him from the Gospels). Those with unresolved and unmet pain and fear emphasize wrath, the others though grace emphasize love: ‘He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death’ or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.” (Revelation 21:4).

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Sunday, December 29, 2013

Fond Memories of Receiving Discipline

As a child, what kind of worker were you? How often did your parents have to yell to get you to work? (Serendipity Bible 10th Anniversary Edition, page 1373).

All Hands Working

One of my fondest memories is of my father’s discipline. Being a man filled with the fruit of the Spirit, he handled discipline with measured discernment and great self-control. When we lived in Oviedo we had many oak trees in the front yard. It was our boys’ duty to help rake the leaves. We all three (Daddy, Bobby, and me) would set out on a Saturday afternoon and begin the chore. The interest in leave-raking for me (at about 8 years) did not last all that long, and I would soon find myself pivoting on the rake handle looking fondly down the road. At this point Daddy would always look at me and  say with a wink and a little mischief in his voice “I think that rake handle hurts your hands.” With this playful remark he accomplished several things. In tone he was telling me that he loved me completely. He simultaneously was in effect asking me if I was a wimp, and if I did not cotton to that idea then he was making the alternative clear, get on task. God, I loved that man.

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Saturday, December 28, 2013

Name Calling Elevated to a High Art

Today I must warn myself again against labeling people and putting them in little boxes—seeing them in one-dimension only. I just returned from SUBWAY, having gotten my daily tuna sandwich. I got into a discussion with the manager (who I see daily) and he expressed some interest in other job opportunities. My first response was that I knew of a national company in the restaurant business nearby which ran food service at the university. He said, “Thanks, I might check that out.” Yet I could tell by the tone of his voice that I had hurt him deeply. I apologized for pigeonholing him. He then said he had coached and that he would love to have a coaching career.

The Jehovah Witness have a saying: “We are united but not uniformed.” I wish that could be said of all humanity—we are united but not uniformed—we do not engage in the practice of emasculating either ourselves or others. What unites us is the sea of possibility that each and every one entails. We desperately need to pray that we not enslave ourselves or others with crippling labels. Until we stop it, we will all be caricatures of our true selves. The problem is that label making gives us an immense sense of control and security. God knock these phony props out from under us. Amen.

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Friday, December 27, 2013

Avoidable Noise and Interference

I have speculated concerning divine telemetry as that relates to man and other animals. I have also speculated that ethyl alcohol interferes with this telemetry not only immediately but persistently because of permanent structural impairments within the brain. I have further speculated that subtle but profound impact upon human perception project into human actions and that by extension this interference causes widespread social dysfunctions. My purpose here to illustrate the key impact this can have upon human life and happiness. One need only look to the key decisions that occur in human affairs in which divine inspiration is essential. One such decision is the choice of a mate. It is my belief that matches are made in heaven—that literally God intends that couples match according to his plan. The immense importance of reproduction and child rearing as well as the social impact of family within the larger society make this a high priority item for our Heavenly Father. Man is made aware of the correct choice through divine guidance that is reliant upon precise brain functioning. An impaired brain results in bad choices and unhappiness. It thereby influences the larger society and countless details within it. Only by realizing the widespread impact of the institution of the family in human affairs can we begin to appreciate the immense tragedy of alcohol consumption.

Now some will counter that the Son of God’s first miracle (performed at a wedding celebration) was to turn water into wine and that thereby God forever underwrote alcohol consumption. I cannot explain this and respond to it in the only way I can. The question for me is not “What would Jesus do?” but rather “What would Jesus have me do?” The answer to the latter question is absolute and demands total abstinence.

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Wednesday, December 25, 2013

Change Agent

Proverbs 8:35 (NLT)
For whoever finds me [Wisdom] finds life and receives favor from the LORD.

Develop your faith in the area of God’s favor; live expecting it all the time. Pray for favor. Trust God to open the right doors and to close the wrong ones. Ask the Lord for “divine connections” and friendships that are right for you. Confess that you have favor with God and He gives you favor with humankind. (Power Thoughts Devotional by Joyce Meyer, page 360).

When we review the comments of Joyce Meyer above our first reaction might be to wince at an egregiously crass posture of materialistic, prosperity religion. God will grant me the “right connections” and I will become rich, powerful, and famous. Well the quick antidote to this trend of thought is that the very Son of God was tormented by critics and detractors and was eventually crucified—these were the plush doors God opened for his Son some 2000 years ago.

Yet, I find Joyce Meyer’s thought very appealing and essentially correct. I think it is highly probable that significant achievers even when nonbelievers have an attitude and approach that in substance amount to Joyce’s synopsis—“Trust God to open the right doors and to close the wrong ones. Ask the Lord for ‘divine connections’ and friendship that are right for you.” I think successful people tend to behave in this way attributing it to faith (believers) or a transformative momentum (nonbelievers).

Now let’s look at the final statement in the quote of Joyce Meyer: “Confess that you have favor with God and He gives you favor with humankind.” This asserts that the favor of God will give you favor with humankind—it does not say with this swath of humanity but not the other—it says flat-out humankind. We must understand that Jesus did not nor does not meet this standard. He is still widely rejected by men; which is another way of saying that human perception sometimes has proven impervious to his proffered salvation. Yet we have the hope of his return when perceptions will be amenable to God’s light and love. Then, indeed, we will say with Isaiah (60:2-3 NLT):

Darkness as black as night covers all the nations of the earth,
but the glory of the Lord rises and appears over you.
All nations will come to your light;
mighty kings will come to see your radiance.

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Christmas Day Meditation

My pastor gave the homily at the Christmas Eve service at First United Methodist Church, Saint Petersburg. Sometimes you simply must acknowledge the excellent workmanship of another. Pastor David Miller speaks without notes—often quoting Scripture and relating complex narratives with dates and unusual names. And he does all this with the simple grace of a master. Tonight (and he is certainly no slave to “three points”) his message had three elements:

  1. How God works—God works through the unusual and unexpected.
  2. God guides those who seek him (one notable way by Scripture).
  3. Belief and worship must be accompanied by application (for if Christmas is not applied within life, it is over December 26th).

We celebrated communion tonight and closed with a candle-lighting service. I got to thinking, for those outside Christianity “looking in”, the religion must seem strange indeed. Christians worship someone born in a stable among cattle and bedded in a “container...from which cattle or horses feed” WordWeb Pro's definition of “manger”). Then we have communion in which we symbolically imbibe the body and blood of the one who was crucified by the law-abiding and upstanding people of the land and these selfsame good people found the one we worship detestable and worse than a criminal. And somehow despite all this following him we fancy that we can bring light to the world. What the dickens? And the coup de grace is that our Savior tells us to expect similar persecution if we seek simple kindness. Go figure!

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Monday, December 23, 2013

Reeds Swayed by the Wind

John the Baptist

Then Christ will make his home in your hearts as you trust in him. Your roots will grow down into God’s love and keep you strong. And may you have the power to understand, as all God’s people should, how wide, how long, how high, and how deep his love is. May you experience the love of Christ, though it is too great to understand fully. Then you will be made complete with all the fullness of life and power that comes from God. (Ephesians 3:17-19 NLT)

After John’s disciples left, Jesus began talking about him to the crowds. “What kind of man did you go into the wilderness to see? Was he a weak reed, swayed by every breath of wind? (Luke 7:24 NLT).

When it comes right down to it, whose opinion do you care about more—God’s or people’s? How does that show? (Serendipity Bible 10th Anniversary Edition, page 1372).

An essential resource garnered though faith is power—the power to stand firm in whirlwinds of opinions. Controversy is certainly not unique to our time, but all sorts of communication now keep diverse and conflicting opinion forever swirling about us. None of us can afford to be “a weak reed, swayed by every breath of wind.” If we were such a reed, we would continually be in turmoil regarding our identity—in the last analysis we would have no personal identity, no personal integrity.

So then, we must decide what will be our firm foundation. It involves a process through which we determine what is negotiable and what isn’t. If everything is negotiable, then we are without conviction. If nothing is negotiable, we become mendacious and cruel. So the question is on what can we build conviction? Mankind has occasionally sought salvation in some sort of ideology—some “ism” –that which is the “in thing” and “cool” in one epoch quickly dissipates in another. This is where the love of God comes in; for it is truly foundational, not superstructural. When you consider all other alternatives, what merits this essential strength? Though the love of God is basic and determinant, it is by nature spirit. Thus it bestows great freedom. In a real sense spirit is comparable to tone. That is, what you say is less important than the tone (spirit) in which you express it. For example, “Have a great day” can range in meaning bestowed by tone (or spirit) from “I wish you well” to “Go to Hell.” Thus we see in many ways meaning derives not from tangibles but from intangibles.

Sooner or later the world will come around to belief in the bedrock fundamental of God’s love. The reason is that through trial and error all else will end in failure and despair and a nagging angst—for true human freedom is only possible through the spirit of love. The major difference between believers and nonbelievers is the gulf that divides ultimate belief in transient expendables from ultimate belief in eternal nonexpendables.

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The Arrogance of Wealth

If Jesus were to visit your church, where would he begin “turning over tables”? What about in your life? (Serendipity Bible 10th Anniversary Edition, page 1372).

About two months ago I got a new car, a Mazda CX9. It has all kinds of neat features: navigation, satellite radio, blind spot indicators, leather seats, blue tooth phone connection, and rearview camera and sensors; in other words in many ways it’s the cat’s whiskers. The other day I sensed a very unchristian feeling arise within me when I saw someone driving an old clunker. I felt smugly superior. Surely Jesus would have overturned a table or two right then and there. For certainly one of the greatest motivators of worldly man is to achieve smug superiority based on wealth and fancy toys alone. Wealth is irrelevant to Godliness and is ironically one of the greatest hindrances to achieving it; as Jesus said: “I'll say it again--it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter the Kingdom of God!" (Matthew19:24 NLT).

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Sunday, December 22, 2013

Healing in his Wings

Healing the Blind Man
by Edy Legrand

But for you who fear my name, the Sun of Righteousness will rise with healing in his wings. And you will go free, leaping with joy like calves let out to pasture. (Malachi 4:2 NLT).

If Jesus said, “What do you want me to do for you?” how would you answer? (Serendipity Bible 10th Anniversary Edition, page 1370).

If anyone has read my blogs a bit, the answer to this question must be obvious. I would ask that he heal my sightlessnesses. I would like to see those things lying before me tall as a ten foot fact to which I am oblivious. When I was an undergraduate in college, I went home for a visit. One evening I went down the street into the home of one of my parents' neighbors. I remember holding forth as only a sophomore can on the rectitude of the South’s civil rights record. Not long after that, my eyes were opened and I regretted what I had said. Younger as a teenager at church, I made a joke about mongolism. If this weren’t reprehensible enough, a boy in the group present had a brother with the condition. Much of Jesus’s passion came from his freedom to view clearly the facts. He saw beneath the status quo blindness of those around him and challenged the meanness of society hidden beneath the trappings of rectitude. That is, his perception of truth included everyday factual truth. I would ask Jesus to help me see.

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Saturday, December 21, 2013

Blips of Transient Pessimism

Which came first—a text affirming eternal life or the intimations of it? Many religions affirm eternal life in one way or another, so I take this as rather clear indication that it is common for mankind to actually feel intimations of it—for if man’s experience did not jive with his religion, in the end religion would give way to experience. In other words, say someone writes that God is Hate and backs it up from quoting scripture verses here and there indicating a cruel and hateful God; would I change my belief that God is Love?—Not a bit, for my experience over time is that God is Love. Another way of seeing this is to envision a graph of my experience. Inevitably there will periods of doubt and dismay, but the trend line is unmistakably clear—my faith continues to have solid growth. Therefore it is always dangerous to extrapolate from a blip of transient pessimism.

I especially appreciated today's reading in Jimmy Carter’s Through the Year with Jimmy Carter (page 356). In it he describes the endurance of Jim Stockdale while a captive in Vietnam. Some prisoners survived, others did not. “[Those] men would build up expectations for a prompt release—before Christmas or before Easter or before some other date—and every time those days came and went without bringing freedom, they despaired. The dreary cycle made them increasing despondent until finally they gave up and died.

Jim considered this imprisonment to be long-term and yet retained undeviating confidence in himself, his nation, and his faith. He avoided repeated heartbreak.” He avoided, in other words, “transient optimism”.

I think most of us appreciate the necessity of a long-term perspective for survival and eventual victory, and we find it deeply reassuring when we find it in ourselves or others.

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Friday, December 20, 2013

The Stool of Initial Recourse

Life can be confounding requiring a reliable coping mechanism. I have found over the years that the Stool of Initial Recourse enhances focus with clarity and conciseness. The stool is comprised of three legs constructed of three brief sentences:
1. It Is What It Is.
2. Just Deal with It.
3. Call for Backup.

Leg one beckons acceptance of the situation; leg two beckons the assumption of ownership; and leg three reminds us that we are not alone.

Acceptance of the situation is the key first step to arriving at realism and objective analysis. That is, the preconceptions surrounding the situation are taken to be less important than what is actually there—thus traversing dangerous sloughs of fantasy and denial. Ownership of the situation is important for it enlists personal responsibility and initiative. Finally, the recognition that we are not alone opens up vistas of resources and accelerates beyond the Lone Ranger mentality—seldom the most effective or efficient way forward.

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Wednesday, December 18, 2013

The Highest Compliment I've Ever Received

Bertram is Trapped
All's Well that Ends Well

That’s what my heavenly Father will do to you if you refuse to forgive your brothers and sisters from your heart” (Matthew 18:35 NLT). For parable underpinning this verse see Matthew 18:23-34. (Click here)

How can we forgive, yet not encourage irresponsibility? (Serendipity Bible 10th Anniversary Edition, page 1367).

Today I received the highest compliment I’ve ever received. Amy (my co-worker for about 9 years) was printing out past due notices from the accounting system that handles all charges for the City’s recreation programs. She archly asked me wouldn’t I like to have her job sending out such notices. I replied, “Not at Christmastime—I wouldn’t want to be a Grinch.” Joe (sitting nearby) said ‘We should make Wayne manager of all Collections.” Whereupon Amy emphatically ejaculated , “Wayne is the LAST person you would want in charge of collections!” I replied, “Amy that was the highest compliment I’ve ever received.”…..and I meant it.

Why did her comment please me so? Because it’s proof that others perceive I have a forgiving heart. My natural inclination regarding a past due account would be something like this: “Well I know they had good intentions and fully intended to pay unless hit by hell or high-water—and hell AND high-water are precisely what hit them from the side. I know they will pay eventually. Let’s give them some more time. They really needed to have their children in our program.” In short, when I consider the big picture I give everyone a FICO score of 850. (And everyone knows today without a good credit score you might as well be dead.)

But the Serendipity Bible question for today asks an important question, “How can we forgive, yet not encourage irresponsibility?” Well, as for the past due account, we might ask for a partial payment schedule. But of course this question exceeds money matters.

Forgiveness cannot be the foolish addiction of silly wimps. God asks that we have a repentant heart—and something of this quality is important in human affairs as well. Certainly a jury of one’s peers can be greatly influenced by an obviously genuine expression of repentance. Repentance means that one has a deep appreciation for the extent of the infraction and the awesome seriousness of trust violations.

Trust defined: Have confidence or faith in; "We can trust in God" (WordWeb Pro).

assured reliance on the character, ability, strength, or truth of someone or something: one in which confidence is placed (Merriam-Webster).

When we place trust in others, and when that trust in unwarranted, we as trust givers are indicted as well as the perpetrator. Our judgment, even our character, can be called into question. Thus, when I violate a trust, there is not only an immediate failure to perform; there is an active assault upon the character of another. There is a sense in which betrayal of trust rises to the level of criminality unless redeemed by palpable and unavoidable impinging contingencies.

Yet, even so, as for me personally, I will typically risk getting burned. But once burned, I will insist on genuine repentance. Which concept, by the way, was the lynchpin for my idiosyncratic reading of Shakespeare’s All’s Well that End’s Well.

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Tuesday, December 17, 2013

No Stopping Us Now

What childlike quality do you need to recapture? Why? (Serendipity Bible 10th Anniversary Edition, page 1366).

The adult brain weighted down with chronically low lying clouds is severely constrained perceptually. My father once told this story in a Christmas sermon. During the preceding week, he had to visit a doctor’s office. A large, decorated and lighted Christmas tree stood in one corner of the waiting room. Adults sat about absent mindedly thumbing through magazines or staring blankly before them resigned to the usual wait in a doctor’s office. The waiting room entrance door opened and a mother and her little boy stepped in. The boy walked forward then caught a glimpse of the tree and suddenly froze transfixed before it. With wide eyes he exclaimed “Wow!’” When daddy told the story he repeated the exclamation recapturing the utter astonishment and wonderment of the child, “Wow!!” “Wow!!.

Isn’t this what we sorely miss from our childhood? Try to think back upon Christmas morning as a seven year old child. You enter the living room in the early morning with the tree sparkling with tensile, ornaments, and lights, the aroma of pine, and the imminent mystery of wrapped presents laid out before you—some just for you.

Sometimes I think if we adults could just recapture this fresh wonderment and forgo the jaded boredom anesthetizing us, we then could see the multitude of genuine marvels that gift and surround us. With fresh clarity we would be enabled to unwrap hidden mysteries and greatly expand our understanding and knowledge of all things. Imagine having the innocent wonderment of a child coincident with the objective realism of an adult. There would be no stopping us now.

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Grounded and Free

Which freedoms do you enjoy most as a Christian? (Serendipity Bible 10th Anniversary Edition, page 1365).

Unquestionably a great benefit that Christianity has bestowed on civilization is the distinction between the spirit of the law and the letter of the law. The spirit of the law is based on principles all deriving from love as Jesus revealed it. With a bedrock of spiritual principles that are non-negotiable, EVERYTHING ELSE IS. In fact, Christianity comprehends the basic irony of life that established laws created to affirm compassionate principles under one set of conditions can in a different set of conditions thoroughly undercut them. A simple example—I say to my young child “Never leave the yard without asking!” The next day when we are together at home alone, I fall from a ladder and am knocked unconscious. Certainly the Christian thing for my child to do is not obey the rule to stay in the yard, but rather go to our neighbor’s house to seek help. It is to be hoped that I have taught my child to be proactively compassionate, not just fearfully obedient.

This simple idea has tremendous implications that extend way beyond “religious” matters. For example, in America a strong behavioral determinate is the practicality of an action to arrive at beneficial results (pragmatism). The traditional ways of doing things may cease being effective (perhaps due to the law of diminishing returns). Thus, with little chagrin we dump established behaviors for more effective ones.

Underlying a spiritual—not just a strictly pro forma—viewpoint is a focus on facts. We care less about what is said to work, and more on what works. This focus on actual results underlies much that has improved our world.

Now one might ask, is this really all due to Christianity? Of course not! Even animals as obtuse as humans can learn from experience. The final importance of Christianity is not the introduction of flexibility of approach but the loadstone of faith in love. Thus resolutely grounded, we can move forward into the future with flexibility and new ways of thinking. While ideologies are expendable, conviction never is. Only in this stance are we free to flourish and move forward.

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