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Thursday, April 30, 2015

Will the Anchors Hold?

Paul found that intense pressures led him to depend on God all the more (v. 9). How do you respond to intense pressures? Do they deepen your walk with God or drive you away from him? (Serendipity Bible Fourth Edition, page 1606).

Indeed, we felt we had received the sentence of death. But this happened that we might not rely on ourselves but on God, who raises the dead. (2 Corinthians 1:9).

Jonathan Swift once remarked, "Most of us have just enough religion to make us hate, but not enough to make us love." (From A Year with Jesus by Eugene Peterson, page 119).

America has two related bedrock anchors – belief in God ("in God we trust") and belief in brotherhood (equality encapsulated within the Bill of Rights and the Golden rule).  No one can fully understand the formation and evolution of America without understanding these underlying anchors. There has always been contrapuntal voices of cynicism – but these voices have always been proven wrong in the end as faith and brotherhood prevailed.

We are now in a time of severe testing as the next great dawning in understanding envelops us.  This relates directly to social and economic justice on an ever broadening scale.  We do not and will not give up our reliance on capitalism and its many benefits; but, even so, our present calling is to calibrate it more fully to align with our bedrock ethical values.  Intense pressures will escalate in the days ahead and present many challenges and, sometimes, periods of doubt. But we must ask the fundamental question – will these pressures cause us to let go of the anchors that have held us through war and peace and given us hope through the stresses of rending storms?

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Wednesday, April 29, 2015

Transcending "Perception Bias"

In your planning, are you near-sighted or far-sighted? Telescopic or microscopic?  When have you failed to see what lay ahead because you kept looking down? (Serendipity Bible Fourth Edition, page 975).

The human dilemma often revolves around issues of perspective – do we take a wide view or a narrow view; do we take a long view or a short view?  The profound and momentous implications of "perception bias" drives any realistic nation to its knees in prayer with a sometimes desperate placing of ultimate trust in God.  The recent news from Baltimore provides our latest example of this dilemma. Urgency tends to draw down focus and make it narrow and short. However, issues often have structural and systemic implications that require wide views and long perspectives. Thus at the present juncture conscientious Americans are driven to prayer for divine guidance in calibrating perspectives such that we can identify the wisest and most charitable direction forward.

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Monday, April 27, 2015

Essential Underdogs

When have you rooted for the "underdog"? (Serendipity Bible Fourth Edition,  page 323).

I  root for the underdog on occasions when I agree with the underdog on essential matters. That is, I may disagree with the underdog on many secondary issues, but the underlying issue that the underdog senses  – even if he does not identify it with absolute precision – causes me to root for him. I can easily think of an example. The current distribution of wealth in America is unfair to many wealth producers. Now there are a multitude of possible facets to this problem – allowing for many spokesmen "underdogs" with idiosyncratic solutions – many of which I disagree with. Yet I still identify with these underdogs because they have felt something I have felt, and have sincerely expressed their troubling sense of needed attention to our shared ethical failure to achieve economic fairness.

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Sunday, April 26, 2015

Hats Off to Barack Obama

What authority figures do you still trust completely? Which do you distrust? Why? (Serendipity Bible  Fourth Edition, page 1403).

My favorite authority figure is Barack Obama. As president he has been given every opportunity to become mentally unbalanced if not downright insane. He has been the object of unrelenting torrents of hatred and vilification. Through it all he has remained the steady, sane, honorable, and, most admirable of all, a genuinely kind man.  I distrust all those who beneath a millimeter of skin are as mean as sin.

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Saturday, April 25, 2015

What Do You Want?

If Jesus ask you, "What do you want me to do for you?" What would you say? (Serendipity Bible Fourth Edition, page 1401). 

In all this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while you may have had to suffer grief in all kinds of trials. (1 Peter 1:6).

The short answer for me would be the same as I would have for everyone else – "Lord, may I be happy." Now of course realism dictates that this will not be unrelieved happiness and joy--no frozen smiles, please.  There inevitably will be times that I feel low, even dejected. But I would ask that these periods be of short duration and placed within the broader context of God's love, purpose, and multiple blessings--not the least of which is Jesus  himself.

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Thursday, April 23, 2015

Say What?

Why is one's speech so important in marriage? In counseling? In civil justice? In peacemaking? In befriending. (Serendipity Bible Forth Edition,  page 889).

Words spring from our basic motivators – our feelings and yearnings. They can be either a faithful reflection of those feelings and yearnings; or, contrarily, words can more or less camouflage and hide our true intent. This ability to camouflage pits short-term against long-term; for in the short term we may deceive, but in the longer term it becomes increasingly difficult to deceive because our actions speak louder than words and the maintenance and control of camouflage elements eventually exceed human capacity.  In marriage, counseling, civil justice, peacemaking, and befriending; sensitivity to tone and meaning are heightened due to language's heightened functioning during these times as  a symbolic indicator of underlying attitude--perceived as bimodal – either goodwill (friend) or ill will (foe).  Proverbs aptly reminds us of the underlying relevance of the timeline: Truthful lips endure forever, but a lying tongue last only a moment (12:19).

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Wednesday, April 22, 2015

The Complex Pallet of Human Existence

Why is it important to have special holidays or holy days to remember God's intervention? (Serendipity Bible Fourth Edition, page 292). 

To a nonbeliever the meaning of Christmas and Easter is secular and perhaps related mainly to merchandising. It can also represent the weakness of believers and their tendencies towards escapism in which they create a Creator and fancy a Redeemer. Beneath these views of nonbelievers are the materialistic sourcing of all nature and the rending of spirituality from human life.  To a believer, on the other hand, such acerbic views are nonrational and derive from elemental idiosyncratic emotions grounded within a petulant insistence upon self-sufficiency; these viewpoints ignore the timeline of eternity and represent a callow and shallow assessment of actual human existence. 

Albert Einstein made an important and sobering observation: Feeling and longing are the motive forces behind all human endeavor and human creations (Albert Einstein).

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Monday, April 20, 2015

Brass Tacks

When have you felt exiled? How do you pray when faint from exhaustion? (Serendipity Bible Fourth Edition, page 795).

How many of us know the desperation and fear that flails above a 3 mile chasm or the chaos and cruelty that drove us there?

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Sunday, April 19, 2015

Bon Mot Justice

Do you get your best zingers by thinking quickly on your feet, or by composing your words on paper? (Serendipity Bible Fourth Edition, page 654).

I think one always does better when prepared in a general way sometime in advance. I say "general way" because it is clear that over preparation can ruin free-flowing, extemporaneous discourse–at least for those of us without a photographic memory and who find ourselves in a frozen state of panic trying to remember exactly what we had prepared in advance.  For me the most fortuitous occasions occur when a subject I have written about – that is, one to which I have given some prior thought – becomes the serendipitous topic of conversation in a group discussion.

Now "zingers" per se depends upon the degrees of freedom one feels in a particular situation--however appropriate or inappropriate.  I remember one time I appeared in a Tampa courtroom for arraignment after an arrest for trespassing. I was in a mentally unbalanced state at the time, but this was not readily apparent. Feeling abundantly free I conveyed a fair number of zingers to the judge – he was definitely not amused; it took two weeks to get out of jail.

Yet the heart and soul of zingers is spiritual freedom. Thus, a youngster may be very subdued and shy in public, but full of zingers at home where they are intellectually free. The reason we enjoy appropriate zingers so much is they symbolize the great wit inherent in spiritual freedom; dazzling in its resourcefulness, creativity, and unpredictability.

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Saturday, April 18, 2015

Dignity and Honor as a Strategic Defense

Matthew 5:38-45  (NIV)

Eye for Eye
“You have heard that it was said, ‘Eye for eye, and tooth for tooth.’ But I tell you, do not resist an evil person. If anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to them the other cheek also. And if anyone wants to sue you and take your shirt, hand over your coat as well. If anyone forces you to go one mile, go with them two miles. Give to the one who asks you, and do not turn away from the one who wants to borrow from you.

Love for Enemies
“You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you,  that you may be children of your Father in heaven.

Romans 13:7 (NIV)

Give to everyone what you owe them: If you owe taxes, pay taxes; if revenue, then revenue; if respect, then respect; if honor, then honor.

Today I met with my good friend Negille for weekly Bible study. Negille is a Jehovah Witness–a group of believers I much admire for their courage in evangelism. For a moment put yourself in their shoes. You regularly are going "cold" to the homes (the castles) of complete strangers to discuss religion – a sometimes tempestuous minefield of powerful emotions.  Today Negille discussed a concept and approach to evangelism that I think is fascinating and powerful and has wide application in human relationships. That concept is absorption.

What Jesus essentially advises above is for us to react to hostility in an absorptive manner. Absorption is quite different from a purposeless and passive "limp wash rag" response. Absorption is proactive and requires a steel backbone. It seeks to be steady-- helpful rather than hurtful to the belligerent party. It recognizes the honor and respect due them as human beings and creations of God (while incidentally recognizing one's own high calling).  Therefore it seeks to be redemptive in its effect.  Now I'm fully aware that those hostile to Jehovah Witnesses will claim that this is pure manipulation--and was perhaps even manipulative on the part of Jesus.  Certainly it is something done purposefully and by design.  Yet, absorbing hostility rather than a tit-for-tat, eye for eye cage match is inherently righteous since the motivation is to help rather than hurt, and ultimately serves to empower others with dignity and honor.

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Friday, April 17, 2015

The Implications of the Pacifism of Jesus

Jesus went to the cross rather than taking up arms against his enemies. True, he chased the money changers out of the temple; true he said I have come to bring a sword dividing even family members from each other. But surely the weight of his teachings including the Beatitudes and such passages as turning the other cheek indicate that he was at heart a pacifist. His kingdom was not of this world.

Now this can put Christians in a fine kettle of fish. What if for example you are in this world as a Christian policeman or in the military. If you are to be a follower of Christ you cannot possibly be in a good number of essential occupations. A Christian certainly cannot be the President of the United States for that office must stand ready to employ military intervention as is clearly seen from the days of George Washington.

These considerations make it tempting to deny that Jesus was what he was – a pacifist. We stew, sputter, and rationalize but with little satisfying effect.

There is only one escape from this dilemma. We must ask in seeking guidance for our behavior not "What would Jesus do?" But "What would Jesus have me do?"  If I wish to heal as a doctor, I complete years of study and internship; I do not without this preparation simply enunciate to the ill "Believe in me and you shall be healed."  A doctor must come to realize that he is not the Son of God, but a humble servant of Christ--the implication, in this case, being years of onerous study.  Just so, a police officer concerned with justice must protect the innocent (as Christians must do) with preparation and tools of this world in this kingdom here and now, not simply affirm "peace, be still." (It goes without saying that we would expect a far different approach from a Christian policeman than from a Nazi SS trooper.) 

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Thursday, April 16, 2015

Practical & Sacred Interference

What kind of lists do you depend on (grocery, telephone, Christmas, "to do," etc.) to keep your life organized and efficient? (Serendipity Bible Fourth Edition, page 563).

Over the years working with users I have created various databases. One trait seems to be in evidence during this exercise – people generally want more detailed information than they can realistically maintain. In other words, there seems to be a slippery slope going from needed information to secondary "nice to know" but nonessential information.

Today I purchased a small $20 vacuum cleaner that came with a registration form. The form in length is printed on legal size paper and contains scores of "nice to know" marketing related questions in fine print. Needless to say I took one look at the form and tossed it in the trash. To carefully fill out the form, I would require payment of at least $10. In short, the list of questions reflect management's comprehensive perspective, but not the perspective of the one who must supply the information. Thus, despite good intentions, management obtained no information rather than some essential information due to negligence of the Golden rule and realistic expectations.

In my own lists, I find it much easier to put down a set of priorities than to keep them. In fact, though I faithfully refer to my list of priorities daily, the Holy Spirit will not infrequently overrule them and send me out to follow its own urgent agenda. So on a daily basis, I conclude that in the end it is preferable to give up set plans for spiritual imperatives--however stressful and upsetting this can be to one's need for ordered efficiency.

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Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Inexplicable Attraction

What trip in your life took you the furthest from home in terms of miles traveled or time away? What unforgettable event on the trip was captured for all time in your notebook or photo album? (Serendipity Bible Fourth Edition, page 266). 
My longest trip was from Tampa Florida to Lincoln Nebraska about the year 1965. It occurred in the winter. Our college student group traveled by train. I was looking forward to seeing snow for the first time, but saw only a few flakes when we changed trains in St. Louis. The transfer train was much older than the one on which we started our trip--everything about it looked old beginning with its brown exterior and domed top. Forever etched in my memory is a seemingly trivial thing.  Upon boarding the train I sat down and looked up towards the ceiling of the train. It was dusk at the time and the ceiling lights were on. The passenger car had chandeliers attached to the ceiling directly above the aisle. The lights were curved like the bottom of a Jell-O mold and emitted uneven yellow light with varying lapses into dimness followed by surges of brightness.  This trip was crammed with many sights and activities, and I find it odd that my brain should have locked upon this particular graphic above all others.

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Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Our Friends in Wolf's Clothing

It would build up the faith of your small group and your descendents for them to hear the stages of your journey. Why not recount your faith story for their benefit this week? With whom will you begin?(Serendipity Bible Fourth Edition, page 267).

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

Stories of faith often begin with adversity. When one thinks of it, there would be little need for faith if we lived charmed lives in which everything was always hunky-dory and unrelievedly rosy. This is similar to hope. In my study of math, I would feel no need for hope if every time I picked up my pencil I immediately came up with the right answer. Hope comes into play when I often meet with failure in my initial approaches to the problem, and I therefore summon hope in order to proceed. It's pretty much the same with love. If I never felt the sting of rejection or the discouragement that accompanies being the recipient of bitter enmity, I would cherish the love I now encounter half as much. Thus, as we go through our day let us remember that the failures, false starts, and challenges presented to us can in fact be our friends highlighting for us the priceless value of faith, hope, and love.

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Monday, April 13, 2015

Looking Ahead or Behind?

If you could live in any other period of history, when would you choose? Why then? (Serendipity Bible Forth Edition, page 346).

A pessimist tends to believe in the "good old days." An optimist tends to believe in the future. So the above question can be a test as to your real inclinations. I am a firm believer in the view that major social advances are usually technologically driven. The quality of life today is greatly enhanced by the technologies of medicine, communication, sanitation, transportation, mechanical engineering, and the like. Since I am an optimist I would very much like to take a glance at the world 500 years from today. I'm sure there would be some marvels from today's point of view, though probably largely taken for granted at the time. The future generation will ask "Ho-hum, what's next?" Technology always has momentous implications for societal institutions, even accepted ethical practices. Yes, it would be fascinating to get a glimpse in the future 500 years from today.

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Sunday, April 12, 2015

Sure-Fire Fomenter of Revolution

If some bully were to come to where you live and ruin three resources you use in making a living, what three would they be? (Serendipity Bible Fourth Edition, page 357). 

Well I'm retired now, so I don't need to "make a living." However there are three things that are essential for my enjoying daily life as I have come to know it. These are: my daily devotional material, the Scriptures, and writing tools comprised in main of computer resources. 50 years ago I had writing skills, but had no clue as to how the future would incorporate tools that effectively upended the onerous obstacles of composition familiar to all antiquated souls, including the numbing chores of "typesetting", information search, and maintenance of correct spelling. I often think the surest way to foment full-fledged revolution today would be to play the bully and take away computers replacing them by fiat with typewriters and tomes of reference books.

My devotional material and the Scriptures are essential to anchor my daily life and provide reference points both near and long-term. Near-term I need faithful indicators of ambience; long-term I need stable directional focus. The short-term benefit obtained is the recognition of spiritual chords and meanings, especially alerts as to discordant ones; the long-term benefit is surefootedness in penultimate purpose.

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Friday, April 10, 2015

And How Are You Today?

What is man, according to the pessimist? The optimist? Sinner? Sufferer? Which are you today? (Serendipity Bible Fourth Edition, page 749).
  • Pessimist: Human affairs are not all that good now and will surely get worse.
  • Optimist: Human affairs are not all that bad now and will surely improve.
  • Sinner: I am far from perfect, but that does not automatically make me either a pessimist or an optimist.
  • Sufferer: I am in pain now, but from this alone you cannot tell if I find redemptive purpose and challenge in the midst of pain.
Today I am most certainly a sinner as is indicated by my being inured to much of the world's suffering. I am an optimist because I believe the Creator inspires mankind to entirely practical wonderment opening doors of helpful discovery.

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Thursday, April 9, 2015

Setting Prisoners Free

If you could ask "one thing" of the Lord, and have it granted, what would it be? Why don't you ask? (Serendipity Bible Fourth Edition, page 764).
I would very simply ask that everyone on earth without exception be happy; for if they were happy they would have a sense of being blessed more than they deserve. From this stance they would show forth gratitude coincident with a positive passion – including offering generously their creative resources and talents. I stipulate "without exception" for some would surely contest that there are those who deserve to be unhappy. That may be true, for example I may hear today from my doctor that I have terminal cancer. Yet, I would still pray that I be happy for that will shield me from bitterness and fear, and fill me with inexplicable joy and gratitude. As true love drives out fear and parsimonious bitterness, so does genuine happiness.  I am glad that Jesus's preeminent sermon was the Beatitudes for indeed such is the kingdom of heaven.

Last night I attended a meeting at which there was given a lecture on the criminal mind. There are at least three key elements to this mentality: a feeling of victimization, a desire for the "quick and easy", and a "go for it" rationalization that obviates conscience. It strikes me at once that the preeminent characteristic absent from the criminal mind is true peace and happiness and in its stead an underlying bitterness that rationalizes breaking the law. Instilling happiness from this point of view would indeed induce a new perception and thereby truly set prisoners free.
 [Ref: Inside the Criminal Mind. Stanton E. Samenow, 1984, 2004, 2014]

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Wednesday, April 8, 2015

The Precursor of Value

Why is humility a prerequisite for asking God to grant a request? How do humility and weakness differ? (Serendipity Bible Fourth Edition, page 864). 

Humility is the ability to objectively accept one's own limitations. Due to the complexity of the world and the unfathomable depths of creativity and inspiration, every single human being has plenty of reason to be humble – to recognize the limited nature of their capacities within the overall patterns of life. Humility is a simple recognition of reality--a major survival advantage involving practical allowances for the elemental social and spiritual nature of the human enterprise.  Humility is based on the recognition that "There is no such thing as a 'self-made' man or woman. We are made up of thousands of others" (John Mason).  As  D. L. Moody observed  "God sends no one away except those who are full of themselves." (Quotes from Be Yourself by J. Mason). Humility is the faithful precursor for contributions of lasting value.

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Tuesday, April 7, 2015

Harmful Noise in the Decision Process

What evil or inhumane situation in the world especially galls you? What might God be calling you to do about that? (Serendipity Bible Fourth Edition, page 379). 

A great drag on human creativity and discovery has been the practice of looking first at sex as the defining element of discernment. For example, we look at a coffee cup. The question is raised, what color is this cup? It is utterly absurd but true that the focus has too often been on the sex of the evaluator rather than the color of the vessel.  Sad to say, some people are found to be unworthy of drawing conclusions based purely upon their sexual identity. This prejudice hobbles the crowning attribute of humanity – its intellectual capacity – with a non sequitur absurdity held tenaciously with utmost certitude.  The negative impact of this bonehead practice is no doubt tragically immeasurable.

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Monday, April 6, 2015

The Cost of Easter

Yesterday was Easter Sunday – also communion Sunday in Methodist churches, it being the first Sunday of the month. During communion it affected me deeply to realize that not even God Almighty could orchestrate a free lunch. The reconciliation of humanity to the Deity required pain and suffering – even Christ's death.  So while in the dawn of Easter's happiness we exult the triumphal  forces of light, we must also remember that good things always have a cost--however craftily hidden.

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Friday, April 3, 2015

Getting It Right for Reconciliation

In what relationship do you need to make plans for reconciliation? How can you go about this? (Serendipity Bible Fourth Edition, page 89).

Reconciliation will not happen unless both parties are willing to transcend their comfort zones.  Mutual vulnerability and unconventional insight into a panoply of strengths and weaknesses  is necessary to effectively level the playing field--a precondition of sincere reconciliation.  A key requirement is to find a venue for reconciliation that is the antithesis of clinical formality.  The venue should have all the precise "right touches" that would impress an accomplished interior designer, making sure every participant feels right at home with ease, acceptance, and creativity.   

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Wednesday, April 1, 2015

The Behavior of a Cornered Animal

Get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of malice. Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you. (Ephesians 4:31-32 NIV)

"Bitterness, rage, anger, every form of malice"--picture a cornered animal in an eternal act of aggression...lashing out in fierce vindictiveness.   This is what Christ came to free us from. By reading Scripture we condition our minds for kindness, compassion, and forgiveness. That is really what Christianity is all about--deliverance and redemption from the hell of psychological entrapment.

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