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Friday, October 31, 2014

Timing and Truth

Are you more likely to "speak the truth" or "in love"  try to keep the peace at any price? To achieve a balance, what do you need to learn? (Serendipity Bible  Fourth Edition, page 1628).

Mark 9:33-35 (NIV).

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

Sitting down, Jesus called the Twelve and said, “Anyone who wants to be first must be the very last, and the servant of all.”

I am fascinated by the rule of 10 – it takes 10 years to fully master any complex art or skill. It is interesting that Jesus did not begin his ministry until age 33 or thereabouts. In my view the principal reason for this seeming delay is his gaining mastery of a particular skill of leadership, namely timing.  In the quote from Mark above, note that Jesus did not pounce on his disciples while on the road, but waited until an appropriate moment to broach the subject.  Speaking the truth, therefore, is an art that must be mastered.  Not only is timing essential, but is it is essential as well to differentiate attributions of motive from fact.  We can often attribute motives without sufficient inquiry and be very wrong in that attribution.  Here again, one can all too easily become the proverbial brash bull in a china shop.

I would like to give a very personal illustration of the importance of timing. Mark Stroemach was my supervisor at work.  Occasionally he would have to reprimand me. He always without exception chose to do so in private. No doubt, he had a great urge to reprimand me at once, getting it immediately off his chest. But he realized that the most effective method  that would best avoid interjecting  resentment and malice would be to do so in private.  It is palpably apparent that mastering timing is essential in effective truth telling. The major challenge is to find an appropriate moment without rationalizing delay into bland indifference or succumbing to rank mediocrity.

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Thursday, October 30, 2014

Long and Winding Roads

Are you living up to the "calling you have received"...? In your work? Your home?  Your relationships?  Why or why not? (Serendipity Bible Fourth Edition, page  1627).

Ephesians 4:1 New International Version (NIV).

As a prisoner for the Lord, then, I urge you to live a life worthy of the calling you have received.

Today I write at 3:50 PM. I have been scurrying like a lizard about St. Petersburg today filling one calling after another. So I am not in the mood right now to give a hedged and uncertain answer. I have my feet up and am relaxing a spell before heading out on another mission. My Sunday school teacher at Trinity Methodist used to tell the class to "bloom where we're planted."  I really think I'm doing my best most of the time while still holding fast to the doctrine that none of this earns righteousness or is a guarantor of it. The Lord knows my heart and I leave it up to him to assess the value of anything that I do and to determine any admixture of unholy pride.

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Wednesday, October 29, 2014

The Essential Component of Righteousness

How do you picture God? (Serendipity Bible Fourth Edition, page 1627).

The quintessential attribute of righteousness is honesty. The Trinity is righteous because it equates with honesty in its purest and most unadulterated form.  Many things can be simulated, but honesty is not one of them. It stands alone; it quite rightly is the key attribute of man's greatest deity and is Holy Love's essential component.

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Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Bible Criticism as a Sport

Women should remain silent in the churches. They are not allowed to speak, but must be in submission, as the law says. If they want to inquire about something, they should ask their own husbands at home; for it is disgraceful for a woman to speak in the church. (1 Corinthians 14:34-35).

Stop drinking only water, and use a little wine.... (1 Timothy 5:23).

In what sense can we say that the Bible is inerrant?    Bible criticism has a defense  and an offense. When we say the Bible is inerrant, this is a statement from the defense. When we say that the Bible is full of life, wisdom, and truth; we speak from the offense.  The more I hear Bible defense, the more my anxiety is aroused.  The more I participate in Bible offense, the more my faith is strengthened. It is for this reason I seldom engage in defense of the Bible rather than joining in a strong offense.

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Monday, October 27, 2014

A Bon Voyage to Sports

What is your favorite team sport? (Serendipity Bible Fourth Edition, page 1627).

I never have cared much for sports, watching it if at all during championship playoffs due primarily to social pressure. The focus in football is undeniably on competition.  True there is teamwork and lots of it. But the most visual and audible thing is the crunch of competition.  I find cooperation much preferable and more congenial than competition. I understand on a macro economic level that competition is good. But creativity does not principally arise from it but from the cooperation of co-workers.  Cooperation is the real force behind productivity. I did try to watch the World Series last night, but quickly became disgusted with the open sewer of alcohol's hypocritical paid propaganda and shut the whole thing off. I am through with having TV's sewage sloshing around my living room.

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Sunday, October 26, 2014

Hope as a Function of Retrospection

Most often we think of hope in terms of visualizing and anticipating a promising and happy future. Today I heard a true story of a man unjustly imprisoned. He had been in prison for 10 years and decided to commit suicide using a plastic bag twisted up into a rope. On the very day he planned to do this, he fell asleep and dreamed of his happy childhood. He could see himself playing in the ocean while a beautiful woman stood on the beach. The woman was his mother. He awoke with renewed hope, and did indeed eventually regain his freedom. This is a striking story for it underlines an important and oft overlooked source of hope. It can be derived not only from dreams about the future, but from riches of the past in which we were given nurture and love. Today let us pause and think of past riches and how blessed we have been on our journey finding renewed hope there.

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Saturday, October 25, 2014

For Those Who Can Trust No One

If a person knew only rejection and pain in their relationships, how can this person come to understand the love of God in a personal way? (Serendipity Bible Fourth Edition, page 1627).

This of course would be a very challenging thing to realize. I think we simply do the best we can to show this person acceptance and support and strive to create a reciprocal loving relationship. Often we have to admit, however, that our best is not good enough. But we must not give in to discouragement and despair. We must understand that God calls us to be faithful even if not always successful. We should strive to be a true friend and if rejected accept it in sadness.  Certainly we can point out that God's love for individuals is completely reliable and not subject to the perfidy sometimes found in human relationships. That is, though my friend cannot trust me, he can trust God – as indeed all of us must depend upon now and then.

Following poem from Time and The Kite by Andy Hines:

Where Were You When I Needed You?

Where were you when I needed you,
When all was going dim;
When trouble like a rising tide
Was making my life grim?

When all around was going down,
And nothing seemed to stand,
Then I reached out to feel your touch
And you withdrew your hand.

And yet I know you are my friend
And I a friend to you,
And when I search inside myself
I’ve done the same thing, too.

So when you rise in righteous wrath
For one who turned away,
Remember that in humankind
It happens every day.

And when your friend needs help the most
Be steady and be there,
And when your time of testing comes
There may be one who cares.

But still your friends may disappear
And you may stand alone,
Remember then behind the scene
God watches o’er His own.

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Friday, October 24, 2014

Circus McGurkis

How can you live out your freedom in Christ, and still please him with your sacrificial obedience? (Serendipity Bible Fourth Edition, page 1622).

It is true that a Christian has a wide spectrum of freedoms. It is also true that the perception of a Christian is filtered through the prism of the disciplines of God's love. That is, unlimited freedom is disciplined into channels of love as set forth by the ministry of Christ and by the leadings of the Holy Spirit. Therefore a Christian's actions are not spastically free, but perhaps in many ways more restricted and honed than the libertine excesses offered by other gods.  The paradox is that the disciplines of love yield greater power and freedom than the oversold addictions touted by other deities as surefire avenues of escape from mortal limitations.

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Thursday, October 23, 2014

Rawhide Gospel

How do you feel  and react when others cut in on you while driving, shopping, speaking, etc.? (Serendipity Bible Fourth Edition, page 1622).

I have learned in life that one needs to develop a tough skin.  This is essential  to avoid constant internal turmoil, guilt trips, and endless internal bickering about what should have been done or could have been done or should not have been done.  I have come to rely upon the Holy Spirit. If the Holy Spirit leads me to perform a certain action, then I have confidence in what I do and people who seek to embroil me in self-doubt are wasting their time. If I have one criticism about Christians it is that they are too thin-skinned and quake at the thought of being criticized or embroiled in conflict.  Jesus for the most part maintained equanimity within the circle of his disciples, but as soon as he stepped out to meet the self-centered world conflict ensued. Let us be honest and true to the word of God and let chips fly where they may.

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Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Life's Relentless Sausage Grinder

On a scale of 1 to 10, what number would show up on your "faith meter" for this past week? Where do you need to have more faith in your life? (Serendipity Bible Fourth Edition, page 1620).

On an individual basis I have been very copacetic this past week. I am retired and in many ways content. However, I have dear ones in my life that have been ground pretty fine this past week by life's relentless sausage grinder.  Stresses--they are aplenty taking a toll physically and mentally. My prayer for my friends is a simple one: "Lord be with my friends today and teach us all to believe without reservation that the forces of love and life are stronger and more durable than the forces of entropy and death. Father, confirm our belief. We look steadily to you and your love. Grant us your peace; and even though it's impossible for us to understand it now, may we sometime in the future look back on this time of stress and pain as a positive time proving that the most distressing problems are mere ciphers when compared to the light and love of your Kingdom (imminent both now and forever and shining in your grace). Amen."

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Tuesday, October 21, 2014

When Christians Bite Green Persimmons

What kinds of legalism do Christians fall prey to? How is your faith liberating you from the spiritual bondage?  (Serendipity Bible Fourth Edition,  page 1620).

Matthew 22:36-40 New International Version (NIV).

“Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?”

Jesus replied: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.”

Every passage of Scripture is found within the broader context of the Bible. Taking the Bible as a whole we come down to the basic thrust of the matter epitomized in Jesus's articulation of the great commandment and its ancillary. This places primacy on love of God and love of neighbor.  When Christians run into difficulty is when they isolate several passages of Scripture and remove it from the broader context and spirit of the Gospels. Almost in every case the result is not an inclusiveness based upon love, but an exclusiveness based upon disqualifying technicalities. There is an undertow present that tends to form an exclusive club based upon a handful of strained interpretations that redounds with multiple backflips of rationalizations.  It is apparent in Jesus's daily ministry characterized as it was by simple openness and inclusiveness that a restraining order based upon technical machinations of often obscure passages is basically invalid.  As oft bears repeating: Only God knows with complete assurance the human heart.  The church's mission is to bring life and redemption to our world, not judgment enshrouded beneath white sheets of sanctimony.

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Monday, October 20, 2014

Take Three

What three facts about Jesus are especially significant to you in your life? Why are these facts so important? (Serendipity Bible Fourth Edition, page 1711).

  1. Jesus gives my life purpose here and now.
  2. Jesus gives me confidence that the disciplines of love will prevail.
  3. Jesus gives my life value not subject to devaluation.
  • Regarding the first: life without meaning is hollow and mundane.
  • Regarding the second: life without rock-solid hope is filled with dismay.
  • Regarding the third: my imperfections do not disqualify me from service.

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Sunday, October 19, 2014

No Minor Chord

Someone has said, "All it takes for evil to prevail is for a few good men to do nothing." What is one thing you could do this week to help keep this truism from becoming a reality where you live and work? (Serendipity Bible Fourth Edition, pages 1708-9).

Who sets the tone in a room? Sometimes it is assumed that the formal leader sets the tone. This is sometimes true, but informal leaders can commandeer the tone prevailing. That was the great Threat posed by Jesus Christ. He was an informal leader that threatened the smooth uniformity of dominant authority. That was the real reason he was crucified. If he had been inconsequential (a loner in a closet), it would have been irrelevant whatever he said. But since his message could fuel insurrection, he had to be eliminated. What was essentially at stake was the prevailing tone within society. Would officially endorsed injustices, unrighteousness, and standing definitions of success remain the prevailing code of behavior? Or would a new tone that valued the Beatitudes become prevalent? Let us be discerning in the tone we choose to embody and affirm for its impact can be far reaching.

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Friday, October 17, 2014

Just Chilling...That's Cool

Have you ever strayed from your faith in Christ? What happened? (Serendipity Bible fourth edition, page 1618).

I have not strayed from the faith, but I have strayed from the church in my young adulthood. I think that such temporary parting of the ways is understandable and can be expected in the development into full adulthood. The reason--the young adult wishes to know the extent to which his beliefs are merely based upon traditional habit rather from conviction and belief. Take for example several doctrines of the church: the virgin birth and life everlasting. Both of these are in the Apostles' Creed recited frequently in church. A young adult may decide that he needs to pray about these things for a while in order to retain integrity. Therefore it is quite understandable that there is a time of separation in which things are sorted out and more fully explored. So as it developed in my mid-college years, there was a spell in which I did not attend church. I know this sounds absolutely crazy but in a sense I felt that the Lord was leading me to do this. It was essential that I understand that my beliefs were not left-overs from prior generations but were living traditions of faith in my own life. Consequently, I think Christian parents need not be overly concerned if their young adults have a period of independence from the church. This can be preliminary to a refreshed and profoundly adamant faith.

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Thursday, October 16, 2014

Profile of Leadership

If you were searching for a new pastor or new small group leaders, what leadership profile (modeled by Paul) would you look for? How do you fit that profile? (Serendipity Bible Fourth Edition, page 1616).

2 Timothy 4:1-5 (excerpts) Paul advising Timothy 

I give you this charge: Preach the word; be prepared in season and out of season; correct, rebuke and encourage—with great patience and careful instruction....keep your head in all situations, endure hardship, do the work of an evangelist, discharge all the duties of your ministry.

There is no question that Paul might not fare well as a leader in a buttoned-down environment. I can think of some environments in which he would be a very unhappy camper--environments in which it is fancied that conformity is more important than leadership.  Paul's advice to Timothy is very telling about Paul's viewpoint regarding leadership. It is to be solid, yet evangelically proactive. It calls for great patience and keeping one's head, while placing rebuke and correction on a par with encouragement.  Would a search committee examining candidates really favor someone willing to proactively rebuke and correct them--to criticize them and their group?  Let's try it out for size right here and now – "Search committee, I think the furniture in this room stinks; and besides that Mr. Chairman I don't like your tie!"  Maybe this isn't exactly what Paul is talking about, but it does illustrate the point that few people actively seek to be rebuked and corrected.

In this matter I think of the research that has found that it takes at least three positives to overcome one negative. That is, one negative comment is only balanced by at least three or more positive words of encouragement. Taking all of Paul's writings together, my impression is that he more than meets this threshold.

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Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Which Is of Greater Importance: Compassion or Competition?

Misunderstanding gentleness and compassion as negative traits was a real problem in Corinth. How is that same problem true in your community? In your church? (Serendipity Bible Fourth Edition, page 1616).

Hebrews 12:1 New International Version (NIV).

Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith.

Mark 9:33-35 (NIV).

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

Sitting down, Jesus called the Twelve and said, “Anyone who wants to be first must be the very last, and the servant of all.”

In America we highly value competition in our sports, in our economics, in educational achievement, in virtually all aspects of life.  Some would flat-out argue that you cannot have a compassionate economic system without a significant measure of competition disciplining and restraining economic aggregates.  It is also held that competition is good for creativity. Yet, research has shown this is not the case and that cooperation is more valuable for releasing creativity than competition.  Surely one thing is clear, even with competition complete domination spoils the game for everybody. So if we should ask--"Which is greater: compassion or domination?--the answer would be much easier to come by--domination is exceedingly acerbic to the human soul and consequently to society.  Thus, in religion we say that even God shuns domination by giving man choice and free will. There's a sense in which God could not be righteous if he eviscerated the choice of man making ethics meaningless.

Once Jesus' disciples were arguing about which of them would be greatest. Jesus sternly rebuked them saying that not power and prestige but service must prevail for abundant life. An allied necessity--creativity--will derive from teamwork and service; the main competition always being the forces of light vis-à-vis the forces of darkness both within and without the heart of man.

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Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Parental Gifts

What is one way your parents sacrificed for you? How did you feel about that unselfish sacrifice then? Now? (Serendipity Bible Fourth Edition, page 1615).

The sacrifice that my parents made brought benefits not only to me but to others as well. Both my parents had a great sense of self-control arising from their love of individuals. I never once heard either of my parents criticize anyone even during intimate family circle times such as at the breakfast table or the dinner table.  The way I received benefits from this love was that never in my life did my parents raise their voice in anger at me (or anyone else).  There is no question in my mind but that this was a special attribute of my parents and I would not have fared so well in other environments.  I accepted their patience, love, and self-control as normal at the time. Now, however, based upon my own behavior I see how exceptional it was.

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Monday, October 13, 2014

Witness Consternation

In your witness, where are you caught  "between a rock and a hard place"? (Serendipity Bible Fourth Edition, page 1614).

Perhaps you will be able to identify with me in this perplexing situation. Let us say I am in a public area and see an individual in a wheelchair who seems to be struggling somewhat in making his way forward. Immediately I become perplexed.  Do I offer assistance or not? For all I know the individual may be very independent-minded and consider any such offers as patronizing. If upon offering assistance the person initially refuses it, are they just being polite or do they genuinely wish that I not help? Therefore should I ask "Are you sure that you don't want a hand here?" or just hurry on my way flushed with self-blame for asking in the first place? This is just an example of where exquisite discernment is required in Christian witness. (Just think of the myriad such challenges facing a special ed teacher daily.) So an essential requirement of being an effective Christian witness depends not only upon strong conviction but upon considered circumspection as well. The key to the whole matter is to offer up to God our hearts for his examination. Are our hearts filled with the egotistical pride of an offensive "do-gooder" or are our motives derived from a reliable empathy coupled with deep respect for the Golden Rule.

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Sunday, October 12, 2014

Why Humility Is a Major Strength

Both Jesus' and Paul's gentleness was misunderstood as weakness. How has that resulted in blessing? (Serendipity Bible Fourth Edition, page 1614).

Matthew 5:5 New Living Translation (NLT)

God blesses those who are humble,
   for they will inherit the whole earth.

Realists always win in the end. The humble are the only true realists for they fully appreciate the severely circumscribed nature of man's control.  The humble have given up the illusion of being always right, of being always in control. They have accepted the realities and exigencies of the spiritual and physical worlds. This does not mean that they are absent dreams – even big dreams. But they acknowledge the realization of those dreams requires multiple intercessory developments of which they are not and cannot be the source. Thus the strength of character they possess is grounded in the acceptance of the immensely mysterious, unknown, and unknowable. Strongly allied with humility is gratitude for the meek realize that no accomplishment comes without blessings way beyond the origination of any one group or individual.  Jesus in the Beatitudes asserts that the humble will win in the long run. It is entirely feasible, however, that the humble--within amenable environments--can win in the short run as well.

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Saturday, October 11, 2014

A Spiritual Twist

What springs to mind when you hear the word "Satan"? (Serendipity Bible Fourth edition, page 1613).

Satan offers humanity escape from a gnawing sense that life is passing us by. It's interesting that the Trinity offers us a solution to the same psychological angst, but the Trinity's solution comprehends the realities of the physical and spiritual worlds. To put it bluntly, Satan promises mankind escape from pain, but delivers its opposite instead--painful slavery; whereas the Trinity shows us the path of the cross while paradoxically leading us to peace and joy. The truth, once again, is imbued with irony.

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The Principled Limit of Freedom

When is it right to show "tough love" by demanding that someone change? What risks does this involve? (Serendipity Bible Fourth Edition, page 1613).

In a society there is one rule of thumb regarding when "tough love" must be shown–when someone's behavior is hurting others. The history of rail regulation illustrates this.  In the late nineteenth century statistics were indicating that callus railroad operations were hurting many thousands of railroad workers.

The following is from The Scientific American; June 6, 1896; page 359.
  • Compulsory Introduction of Coupling Devices.  Sixteen thousand railroad employees were killed in the discharge of their duties in the seven years from 1888 to 1894.  The awful record of the killed and injured seems incredible.  During those seven years the exact figures are 16,257 killed and 172,180 crippled, maimed and injured.  Few battles in history show so ghastly a fatality.
  • This slaughter of American workmen is about ended, says the Evening Telegram.  A national law, the expression of the Congress of the United States, has called a halt to the heartlessness or heedlessness of railroad companies, and it has been decreed that an army of men shall no longer be offered up as an annual sacrifice to corporate greed.
The railroad industry no doubt was deeply offended and saw this as an issue of freedom to run their businesses as they saw fit. Opposition to reform is typically couched in terms of economics and free enterprise. Isn't freedom what America is all about? Well, no it's not.  We are free so long as our actions do not amount to hurtful criminal behavior. Were there risks involved enacting reform? Powerful interests were in opposition to any change, and it seems that it is reflexively easy to paint needed reform as un-American. Yet, the American ethos of respect for individuals in the end was more important than excursions in selfish freedom that hurt the lives of others.

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Thursday, October 9, 2014

Your Life Is About More than Hemorrhoids

And earth and heav'n be one. (From last stanza of hymn "This Is My Father's World.").

One very important service Jesus provided for us was to present a realized combination of divinity and humanity. I think one of the greatest obstacles man has to face is understanding the reality and ready feasibility of spiritual principles. We become beset and beleaguered by human imperfections – hemorrhoids, if you will. Somehow we feel deeply unworthy to attain any significant thing or masterful principle. This is a gross injustice to the nature of man who is made in God's image. So on those days when we feel that we cannot attain any meaningful thing because of pesky hemorrhoids, remember that our Savior, who exemplified and embodied the principles and spirit of heaven, was also fully human and an earthly carrier of all that entails.

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Wednesday, October 8, 2014

Shameless Philanthropy

What will you work on this week that demonstrates your interest in building others up? (Serendipity Bible Fourth edition, page 1613).

So even if I boast somewhat freely about the authority the Lord gave us for building you up rather than tearing you down, I will not be ashamed of it. (2 Corinthians 10:8 NIV).

The quintessential task of a teacher is to build others up – to empower them. This is as well the fundamental  task of social responsibility. God has blessed us with abilities and capacities to do this very thing, and we should not be ashamed of our mission or ambition to do so.  To empower others is a dramatically different ambition than to try to prove your own goodness and worth by blandishing others--an attempt basically to weaken others and make them dependent upon you. To genuinely empower others is philanthropic; yet coincidentally profoundly self-affirming. That surely is as God intended.

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Tuesday, October 7, 2014

Winsome Self-Assessments

Do you see it as a strength or weakness when a person admits his or her limitations? Why? (Serendipity Bible Fourth Edition, page 1613).

I see this as a continuum with those who adamantly refuse to admit any limitations on one extreme and those who constantly lament their limitations on the other. So we have two extremes--stiff-necked arrogance opposite doormat victimization. Clearly neither is what we want. Ideally, a person should be able to gracefully admit their strengths as well as fess up to their weaknesses. If they can't carry a musical note in a bucket, freely admit it.  But freely admit as well they are good at math.  In short, show balance and a healthy humility in refreshingly candid self-assessments.

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Monday, October 6, 2014

Authority as an Implement

Is "authority"  more of a positive or a negative word to you? How so? Why is that? (Serendipity Bible Fourth Edition, page 1612).

In my view, authority is merely a necessary organizational tool to help us effectively work and create. And as I have mentioned before, tools are simply that – in a sense they are neutral in attribute. It is the way in which authority is designed and wielded that makes it good or bad.  Therefore, authority per se has no attitudinal element for me.  My attitude comes into play only when I perceive authority's specific nature and the manner in which it is being used (or not used should it be abdicated).  Now in an imperfect world such as we have it is important to have checks on authority; for there can be an inclination, like with the Caesars, to declare oneself a god. Thus even in a family where parents are in command of their children, there are limits to parental actions imposed by the state. And the state if well-designed is equipped with checks upon and within governmental authority.  In the private creative sector, there are checks as well.  Thus, I do not flinch at the concept of authority for it is merely a tool. Yet, for sure, I celebrate when authority is shaped and underwritten by the disciplines of love.

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