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Friday, February 27, 2015

The Wonder of It All

What exterior factors encourage you to praise God? What interior ones? (Serendipity Bible Fourth Edition, page 864).

It is my experience and opinion that God inspires us internally and applies us externally carefully accommodating our intended mission. Plan and execution meet as seldom occurs in a human affairs when eschewing the Creator dimension. I firmly believe that God calls us and plants us precisely and exactly in the right place to meet his calling.  Some would contest this by saying: "You have lived a privileged life;  no wonder you can say that. But if you had lived my life you would think the opposite."  I believe wholeheartedly that the concept of destiny is open to scandalous abuse wherein the most exploitative and cruel of people can claim divine right. Such arrogant use of the calling concept is disgusting and a perversion of all that is holy. It is evident that intended destiny can be short-circuited by errant free will. The constant task before us is to humbly petition divine direction in our lives and to have the courage, stamina and patience to meet it.

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Thursday, February 26, 2015

A Necessary Guarantor

Do you hold any real hope that love is stronger than bullets? (Serendipity Bible Fourth Edition, page 1080).

We must look squarely in the face the fact that bullets often fly out of love.  As a young boy in elementary school I had a friend whose father was paralyzed. He was paralyzed because he came to the rescue – perhaps with gun in hand – of a neighbor and was shot and made paraplegic himself.  Surely  such sacrifice made out of love must be honored. I am past 70 years old and still have not come to terms (like many before me) with an unqualified defense of pacifism. It seems to me obvious, for example, that the police power of the state must bear arms to protect justice on the local level. At a minimum, countervailing force of rough parity is essential to enforce justice--which is, after all, a facet of love. Public justice without muscle to back it up is delusional escapism. Pacifism can make sense in those circumstances wherein oppositional power can be trumped by a broader, higher power or by conscience. In cases in which such appeals are not possible, force – even deadly force – can paradoxically be an expression of love.

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Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Productive Happiness

How pervasive is the attitude, "Take life easy: eat, drink and be merry" in our society? How can this attitude affect your relationship with God (Serendipity Bible Fourth Edition, page 1446).

Our society is composed of millions of people of all ages and inclinations. In the past year, I took courses at two universities and found most students committed to earnestly working on and completing assignments (for which opportunity they paid considerable sums). This morning before daylight  I went to Walmart. Shelf stocking specialists were busy throughout the building and were in a joyful mood accomplishing essential tasks. Joseph and I had a brief chat.  I have found people most happy when working to realize the accomplishment of purpose. Vacations are necessary and good for the soul, but extended periods of disengagement soon get old and people yearn for some type of productive activity.  In fact, forced disengagement through insufficient lack of employment opportunities is an indicator that the society is not meeting the aggregate demand for directed purpose – an essential requirement for human happiness and perhaps in some ways more serious than the dearth of income (it being a spiritual rather than physical matter).

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Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Choose Your Ritual Well

Ritual has always been used in Jewish and Christian worship to "remember" God's acts.  What specific events do you recall in a given Sunday service? In church holiday? (Serendipity Bible Fourth Edition, page 810.)

Ritual is what you make of it.  Do you choose to remember inexorable failure or inexorable redemption?  Many have the daily ritual of going to work.  Unavoidably, one carries along the yesterdays of work.  Because of the processes of the human mind, one never begins a new day with a mental blank slate--the only question is how the present is affected by the past.  How will the past inform the rituals of today?  The Jewish faith remembers redemption (Passover) as does the Christian faith (Last Supper).  Both faiths carry a deeply positive message while not blinking at effort and pain--neither ritual was born in pollyannaish thinking but in hard-time realism.  Wishful thinking alone is decidedly perishable.

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Monday, February 23, 2015

A Parting Peace

What farewell blessing is most common in your family? Why do you like it? (Serendipity Bible Fourth Edition, page 225).

Whether ending a visit or saying goodbye on the phone, we always tell each other "love you." There is of course nothing unique or unusual about this closure. It simply says what we already know to be true and proven. And that's why it's special.

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Sunday, February 22, 2015

The Better Deal

If you could have traded fathers when you were a kid, whose dad would you have taken? Why? (Serendipity Bible Fourth Edition, page 1114).

Like most kids I would have preferred to have a man's man for a dad.  Perhaps a former NFL champion who was now president of some huge business empire--a man both famous and rich and could quaff down and hold a stiff hard shot of whisky--a man of big gestures.

What I got was a God's man – neither famous nor rich nor dominant nor domineering – a man the world could quickly adjudge "soft." It is an understatement to say that I got the better deal. My father was authentic, compassionate, steady, loving, loyal, reliable, and true--a man assiduous in little acts of kindness.  He is now the template I would most like to emulate in order to eschew spiritual emptiness and self-desecration.

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Saturday, February 21, 2015

Teetering on a Tightrope

Where you live, do you lock up at night? During the day? Your car, too? Is your property fenced in? Is that locked, too? What does that say about your need for, or lack of, security? (Serendipity Bible fourth edition, page 599).

You shall not steal. (Exodus 20:15 NIV)

We may presume that all Ten Commandments were given as the result of prior infractions.  That is, for example, theft existed long before the Ten Commandments were given.  In other words, theft is deeply ingrained in human nature and behavior.  (Indeed, there is no better source than the Bible to faithfully render human nature.) For some time now I have had a security system in my home.  Obviously, I have been storing up treasures not only in heaven. Nor is my human nature only manifested in my defense to thievery, search my heart and you will find thievery there as well.  I will admit a little here--I have known the cashier to overlook an item or two in my basket without my drawing attention to the error; when someone has done work for me, I have knowingly held back the full value of their labor; I have given way less to the church than the significant value it represents for me.  In short, I want a "good deal" even if that sometimes entails substantial thievery.  (In terms of taxes this sometimes means I resent them though inestimably blessed by the city, state, and nation in which I reside.)  I need the profound security that faithfulness to Ten Commandments honesty would establish.  It's just that sometimes I get to feeling poor, fear insecurity, and like a teetering man on a tightrope act in precisely the opposite way that I should. 

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Thursday, February 19, 2015

Vulnerability within a Caustic Environment

Can you imagine a crisis in which you would go "against the law" as Esther does, to find a solution? (Serendipity Bible Fourth Edition, page 689).

Jesus believed in brotherly love and was crucified--his kingdom was not of this world.  George Washington was a general and a Mason.  He was president of a new nation that embedded brotherly love within its governmental architecture through the Bill of Rights in concert with limited powers.  Sometimes Masonry is looked upon as a sinister threat due to its secretive nature.  I think to the contrary, it is secretive because given the world's ruling "law" and philosophy that "selfish ends justifies any means," it is sometimes wise to use stealth.  Faithful adherents to Masonry and brotherly love are exceptionally vulnerable.  Uniformly forthright efforts can be counterproductive within a hostile environment.  For this reason to embed love within the world's architecture sometimes requires the wisdom of serpents.

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Spoiling for a Fight

Do you like to argue, or do you avoid conflict? When was the last time you went against your natural tendency? (Serendipity Bible Fourth Edition, page 1088).

Jesus was a pacifist but by no means should this be taken to suggest that he did not enjoy and engage in conflict.  One cannot be a pacifist without enjoying conflict on many levels.  Both I and the Jehovah Witnesses have pacifist tendencies, but I have contended with them in our battle of ideas weekly for years.  So there must be some sense in which both of us enjoy conflict--perhaps it suggests to us that we are not wimps but have commitments from which we are not easily dissuaded--we are assured of our value and the value of our beliefs by being called to defend them.  It is said nowadays that Republicans are always spoiling for a fight, support a strong defense, and are not shy about saber rattling.  But by the very suggestion that there might be some daylight between their view and others, I am affirming not only them but the others who contend with them.  Thus we see that the reason conflict is so persistent in human nature is that we are affirmed by it and find assurance of meaning through conflict at many levels--and thereby mankind has enjoyed over the centuries not a little bloody fun.

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Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Wonderful Worry

Do you trust that God has a wonderful plan for your life? Or do you feel somewhat like Jeremiah--dubious and fearful? (Serendipity Bible Fourth Edition, page 1045).

My trust in God having a wonderful plan for my life can be dependent upon the tone of my current human relationships.  If I find myself spurned and under attack by a close friend, this can cause a measure of consternation and self-doubt.  My trust in my own ability to successfully help others can become adversely affected.  With encroaching self-doubt and shaken trust in the strength of my abilities, I can only question if my thoughts of God's wonderful plans for me are blindly fanciful. Again, this dubiousness occurs when under attack by a friend.  In the case of less than close relationships, attacks have no similar impact.

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Monday, February 16, 2015

Laodicea as My Archetype

I know your deeds [Laodicea], that you are neither cold nor hot. I wish you were either one or the other!  So, because you are lukewarm—neither hot nor cold—I am about to spit you out of my mouth. (Revelation 3:15-16 NIV).

Drifting –  lackadaisically going along with the current with no real effort whatever to steer the vessel or plot a better course: I must confess this has been pretty much my state over the past several weeks and I have grown to hate it.  Fortunately pastor David Miller presented a sermon Sunday that emphasized the importance of having one's hand upon the tiller resolutely translating ideas into action--otherwise even lofty ideas constitute little more than self-indulgent woolgathering adrift slothful meanderings. There is a sense in which we don't even know an idea until we have begun to implement it. For example, what is patience or what is courage without seizing opportunities to practice them?  Seek pointedly directed action today--whether it be a simple diet or a challenging budget.  Drifting without purpose or effective action will sooner or later wrap you in lethargy.

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Sunday, February 15, 2015

Man or Mirror?

Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world. (James 1:27 NIV)

As an American I face a major dilemma.  On the one hand I wish to be a perfect reflection of our culture when that comes to such matters as addressed in the Bill of Rights--values central to the core of my identity.  On the other hand our culture contains much that is polluting to the spirit and harmful to individuals and families. To simply mirror the entire culture – to be compliant and tolerant of anything and everything – is to sell out one's integrity and eviscerate passionate personal conviction.  We can spend an inordinate amount of time surveying our culture just to see what is "in" and "acceptable."  How often, for example, do I watch a news show less for the news than simply to find out what goes for acceptable and fashionable opinion to share comfortably on coffee breaks at the office.  My suggestion is that we find one inundating marketing message universally disseminated that we can disagree with just to make sure we have a soul left.  My beef, as readers of my blog are aware, is the saturation marketing of alcohol in attractive colors and containers designed and positioned in store aisles to attract even small children.  We are encouraged to think it unthinkable that any limits should be placed upon alcohol marketing. Such mindless tolerance makes a mockery of the freedom of speech.

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Saturday, February 14, 2015

A Stark Social Binary Code

Why is equality among believers important? In what areas is equality most important to you? (Serendipity Bible Fourth Edition, page 258).

Throughout history there seems to be little middle ground. One is either more equal than others or cannon fodder. A quick glance at American history makes this clear. Many great achievements including the transcontinental railroad  and the Hoover dam utilized a  significant cadre of cannon fodder. The entrepreneurs profited and the cannon fodder died--their plight really not significantly different from the abuses of slavery.

The only escape from this stark social binary code of abuse is essential human equality.  Religion alone doesn't cut it as rapacious tycoons can readily think of themselves as Christians with divine destinies.  Without ever-present essential human equality, life becomes a callus sporting spree.  When uncompromising human respect is enforced, there will always be an outcry from those who think life is a game in which all collateral cost is fully justified or can be ignored for the sake of devilish fun.

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Friday, February 13, 2015

Training the Brain to Heel

Take a sample cross section of 100 average Christian soldiers in the Lord's army. Would you place yourself in the top 30? Why or why not? What strength's would you need to develop to be among your King's mighty warriors? (Serendipity Bible Fourth Edition, page 582.)

The reptilian brain of domination cannot abide differences of opinion because they all could represent immediate physical threats. Jesus taught that we are to love our enemies. Similarly in the new order represented by the United States Constitution, freedom of thought and opinion is shielded against the ravages of reptilian brain force and domination. Thus with the Golden rule embedded within government and sanctioned by religion, there is a sense in which the present human brain is in some ways outpaced by its environment.

On my Christian journey, I have received valuable lessons in this regard. I know abiding friends who hold strikingly different opinions from me in politics or religion. But in all cases, because we like each other and genuinely respect each other, we indeed remain within a circle of cordial friendship and goodwill.  The reptilian brain hates this development and doesn't know how to handle it. In its view a difference of opinion is a major personal threat.  I need to constantly remind that part of my brain that I am living within a Golden rule environment underwritten by  a democratic government (with its secured rights) and sanctioned by my Heavenly Father.  The reptilian brain thus must be made to heel.  The more it learns to heel without staring me down, the more free I am to become a democrat and a Christian.

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Wednesday, February 11, 2015

Moving On With or Without You

When has a decision to trust God meant burning your bridges behind you? (Serendipity Bible Fourth Edition, page 509).

This invariably involves relationships in some way. To follow the will of God might mean jeopardizing a cherished relationship. This has recently been the case in my experience after a young friend of mine ran from the police. Speaking with him after his arrest, I asked him if I were riding down the road and saw a police car flashing its lights behind me signaling for me to pull over, what likely good could come out of my flooring the accelerator. Almost invariably something very bad would come out of my action. My friend had his legs bitten  in many places by a police dog.  The justice involving the entire circumstances of the arrest will be determined in court.  But after he bailed out of jail (in which funding I intentionally offered no assistance), I told him that I would not be seeing him for 30 days – a full month. Before this happened we had been seeing each other on a regular basis. But I felt the Lord's leading – whether anyone else in the world he knows considers it serious or not, I personally consider it a very serious matter to disobey the police and attention must be respectfully paid.  My action was taken regardless of whether or not this ended our relationship. (He called me today and we had a brief chat.  I am now confident and pleased to know that our friendship will survive.)

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Tuesday, February 10, 2015

The Self-Sufficiency Ambush

What was one circumstance that threaten to ambush you in your spiritual life? How did you deal with it? (Serendipity Bible Fourth Edition, page 1560).

I had an age old temptation; namely, if I followed the law and in this sense was a "good boy" I could be spiritually quite self-sufficient, thank you. This is essentially the temptation to not recognize my dependency upon God (or anyone else) and in its place to assume a quite self-sufficient and circumscribed state of individual "responsibility" and action.  This malady can most typically invade the psyche of the young and inexperienced who don't know their ass from a hole in the ground but are certain they do.

As to the question of how I dealt with it--the answer is I didn't. Quite to the contrary, the Maker and his world dealt with me.  One would have to be exceptionally dumb to avoid the obvious conclusion that individual self-sufficiency is largely a myth perpetrated by inexperience upon the most vulnerable and callow of fistulate egos.

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Monday, February 9, 2015

With A Friend Like That Who Needs Enemies

This morning I arrived at the college cafeteria early.  I saw a friend of many years with his back turned to me.  I approached him from behind and firmly grabbed his shoulder.  My intent was to surprise him, but as he was in a state of deep concentration the sudden grasp startled and frightened him.  How often in my life have I acted out of love and goodwill only to hurt those I would seek to affirm by my actions? Such occurrences point out the complexity that doing good can sometimes entail.  My prayer is that those I hurt when trying to help will recognize that I acted, however ineptly, out of love; and that God will somehow redeem my flawed efforts.

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Saturday, February 7, 2015

That Special Feeling

I have written elsewhere about the people paradox--we all want to  be equal, yet we all want to be special.  Equality is necessary for human affairs maintenance--like the socks we get at Christmas.  Yet we all want that special gift--something just for us.

I would like to focus on a particular danger of the drive to be special. That danger is that we become addicted to feeling special and seek shameful shortcuts and machinations to secure our special fix.  I call this in its most typical manifestation the "country club syndrome." We like to think of ourselves as among a select group of the chosen and hence more worthy than all others--a very heady feeling that can lead straight to addiction and some very ugly assumptions and consequent behavior.  We come to idolize ourselves. One of the central benefits of the informality and how-you-doing equality of American society is that we detest the holier-than-thou mentality however cloaked in wrappings of respectability.  Christ is our example--a man open to all.

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Friday, February 6, 2015

There Is No "Above It All"

Have you ever been slandered or falsely accused? Were you later vindicated? How so? (Serendipity Bible Fourth Edition,  page 407).

During my college years I have always preferred general studies over special studies. For example in getting the MBA, I highly resisted focusing on a specialty such as accounting, economics,or human resources.  I wanted to get a general feel for business rather becoming cloistered in an expertise. On the other hand in the study of literature, I came to greatly appreciate the insight that can be gained from an in-depth study of one author and close reading of a specific text.  The tendency to parse the world according to labels and feel vaguely superior to the other side – whether  specialist or generalist – simply misses the constituent requirements of knowledge and mental processing. In order to avoid intellectual blindness and keep up with developments, we must passionately maintain both generalist and specialist tendencies.  That sounds like a big order, but in fact is how intellectual pursuits actually work in practice.

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Thursday, February 5, 2015

A Good Lawyer

Have you experienced God as Judge or Avenger? How did this experience affect you? How do you square the pictures of God the loving parent with God the avenging judge?  (Serendipity Bible Fourth Edition, page 1052).

On I have been watching episodes of the 1960's TV series Perry Mason.  One major reason I like the program is the delight I receive in seeing Perry Mason as the unfailing avenger for justice.  Typically the murderer is arrogant, sublimely self-righteous, and complacently confident that they have committed the perfect crime--going to some lengths to implicate the vulnerable and innocent to boot.  The more flagrantly bad the villain, the more I enjoy seeing them meet justice.

I think God as avenger--though perhaps less suave than the renown  Perry Mason--brings delight to many souls as well.  It's the simple pleasure of seeing justice triumph and evil defeated.  Surely we must deeply respect the power and abiding nature of this ever-present literary theme.

So I can appreciate John's satisfaction in Revelation of seeing at the end time evil defeated and good rewarded.  Even so, I do not look upon the Lord's return with righteous petulance--nyah nyah, na nyah nyahing our fallen world.   I think we should see opportunity in the present fallen state and work to redeem it preparing a more friendly welcome for our Lord's return.

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Wednesday, February 4, 2015

You Don't Love Me

In the Beverly Hills Cop movie when apparently facing certain death at the hands of his arch enemy Victor Maitland, Axel Foley verbally challenges the proximate Maitland even at the moment Maitland's thugs are beating Axel up.  Maitland chillingly replies to Axel's verbal challenge: "Did you say something?"

I think this gets to the core of what someone means when they say "You don't love me."  They are saying "You won't be there for me...and more than that, you will turn a blind eye and deaf ear to me--you will actively exclude mental graphic imaging and thus prevent any emotive mirroring coincident with my suffering.

Therefore, it can be a matter of perception--as it certainly was not in the movie.  That is, for example, a youngster can feel that his Dad does not love him whereas his Dad is simply refusing to harmfully indulge his child--thus by love's discipline showing real love.  So even though we can readily identify mental indifference as the absence of love in theory, in practice the discernment of love's absence can be either egregiously obvious or remain a convoluted judgement call. 

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Tuesday, February 3, 2015

Daily Self-Addressed Question

What would you say is your guiding principle in decision-making everyday? (Serendipity Bible Fourth Edition, page 625).

My guiding principle is that priorities must be set. I determine the most important and helpful things to accomplish for facilitating the achievement of objectives.  This can run the gamut from tying my shoes or going fishing to paying bills or reading a book.  In the background lies the prayerful question: How can I make my life most count today? I am grateful for the slack – one might say the luxury – of usually having some latitude in determining my daily activities.

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Monday, February 2, 2015

The Necessity of Creative Prayer

Is your devotion to God leading you into any "showdowns"? What kind of "betting odds" are you facing? (Serendipity Bible Fourth Edition, page 512).

A chronically occurring Christian dilemma is the modulation of love's indulgence vs love's need for objective discernment.  At what point must one stop indulging a weakness of others and switch to a stern requirement of accountability.   Certainly life has its victims--it is not always kind in the cards it deals out--at the same time to feel sorry for someone to the point of selling out one's own sense of what is right and necessary is to replace compassion with blind indulgence.  I have found no blanket resolution for this dilemma. Heartfelt/exploratory prayer seeking guidance is regularly necessary.

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Sunday, February 1, 2015

Finding Your Rosetta Stone

How deeply do you hurt for unbelievers?  As much as Paul? (Serendipity Bible Fourth Edition, page 1577).

Humanity will not long abide the stresses of a chaotic and meaningless mental landscape.  It will latch upon an available Rosetta Stone to imbue, organized, and interpret torrential downpours of feelings and perceptions.  It  will turn to God or idols to attain some sense of stability. Lesser gods will comfort for a season, but will abandon their victims before the piercing  honesty of mortality's steady encroachment. "Whoever dies with the most toys wins" is a gung ho boast that disintegrates before curt retorts of finality's laughter. Only by seeking through faith eternity and its values is lasting equanimity won. 

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