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Thursday, December 31, 2015

My New Year’s Wish for All

What are you like when just awakened? (Serendipity Bible Fourth Edition, page 1308).

For a few moments I am disoriented and grasp for clues as to where I am and, in a sense, just who I am.  It’s a fleeting moment of apprehension sometimes felt when watching cable news. Happy New Year everyone.  I wish you a year of enablement in which you feel strongly oriented and anchored.

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Not Imprisoned by Age

As a child, what was one lesson you were taught by an adult for which you are most grateful today? (Serendipity Bible Fourth Edition, page 280). 

Her name was Mrs. Woods. Her age was elderly. Her home was modest frame, but in the back and side yards chickens roamed free. Most important of all, in the winter she had a fireplace in which glowing logs crackled and coruscated flame. I was moving from childhood to teenager. I would eagerly go visit her after school. She told me stories as we toasted by the fireplace – fascinating stories of her childhood when growing up in the South.  She had fun telling me stories, I could tell. I could also tell she liked me as much as I liked her. What did she teach me? The sweetness of affection not imprisoned by age.

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Wednesday, December 30, 2015

This Side of Paradise

How helpful is it for you to hear the stories of the way God has worked in the lives of other Christians? Why? (Serendipity Bible Fourth Edition, page 1350).

What does great literature and Sunday school class have in common?  The answer: both deal with imperfect people and intimations of redemption.  The key fact revealed in both–we very much live in the real world and not some plastic, antiseptic paradise of perfection.  We are surrounded by broken dreams, broken hearts, broken lives, broken people.  Rebirth involves the pain of rebirth.  Redemption is never without some prior rendering of suffering.  This is not a bleak observation.  Quite to the contrary–we can only effectively deal with life as it is once we have a cache of experience honestly and humbly examined. This leads (when not short-circuited by resentment) to contrition and a state of mind that induces nascent intimations of a better way–a path however arduous to heaven.

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Tuesday, December 29, 2015

Precluding Violence

When have you taken a stand against violence and why? (Serendipity Bible Fourth Edition, page 514).

Taking a stand against violence is much like taking a stand against water falling–once a set of conditions are met, water will by force fall as by force violence will occur.  To stop violence we must preclude the conditions of violence.  These conditions can include the human heart (which Jesus addressed) and it can include external factors–like the violence arising from self-defense.

All violence has structural roots, whether within the brain or within the environment.  The key objective is to encourage, design, and implement structures that will preclude violence.  Perceptually, this means seeing oneself as included rather than excluded.  Perceived isolation is the root of all violence as the American Revolution demonstrates.

Thus, like it or not, we must all become inclusively-driven structural engineers. This is a fundamental ethical requirement and the essential precondition of peace at any level.

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Sunday, December 27, 2015

Bridging the Gap

How does the Lord communicate with you: Are his plans for you always clear? Sometimes clear or never clear? What role does Scripture play? What about advice, hunches, prayer, circumstances? (Serendipity Bible Fourth Edition, page 1045).

Daniel replied, “No wise man, enchanter, magician or diviner can explain to the king the mystery he has asked about, but there is a God in heaven who reveals mysteries. (Daniel 2:27-28).

The primary avenue of communication is through hunches or intuition. This type of communication need not be subtle, but can be very clear and concise and call for immediate action. It can occur over “small matters” or very consequential and complicated matters that require great effort, risk, and resources. Discernment honed by experience is needed to distinguish a significant divine hunch from slothful enticements. The key question: is greed involved? Greed always wants excessive return with little or no effort.  Divine hunches always require sweat – for the light of inspiration is intense and the labor arduous.  Those with a godlike self-concept will say “You don’t need God for any of this–human inspiration is quite self-sufficient.” Believers, on the other hand, are honest when they say with conviction“We alone would never have thought of this.”

Prayer is instrumental in that it lays bare purpose. Scripture is directive and informs the proper tone for doing God’s work (the litmus test of helpfulness). Advice from humble believers is best humbly accepted. Circumstances always raise the question: Is this action affirmative, truly helpful, and redemptive?

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Saturday, December 26, 2015

Ethical Asphyxiation

Did you ever tell a big lie as a child? Were you caught? What happened? (Serendipity Bible Fourth Edition, page 623).

When I told my big lie I was not exactly a child but a teenager. Several friends and I had traveled about 30 miles to a remote lake. We enjoyed waterskiing and fishing, and once in a while staying in a cabin nearby. On this particular outing, I developed an infection on my right forearm which resembled a large pimple. I took to messing with it – squeezing it and the like. Soon the infection got much worse and it became necessary for someone to take me back to town to see a doctor for diagnosis and antibiotics. The doctor looked at me sternly and asked “Have you been picking at this?”  I shook my head and bleated an uncertain “No...” The doctor eyed me with disapproval clearly acknowledging that he detected a blatant lie.  Now when I see a person too fragile to tell the truth, I remember this and feel sorry for them and their tortured self-concept.

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Friday, December 25, 2015

Give Me That Old Time Religion

Christmas Eve Connie and I attended the Christmas service held on the Westminster Suncoast retirement campus. There were over 100 people in attendance.  The Christmas story was interspersed with carol singing led by the choir.  Chaplain Stephen gave a brief but characteristically trenchant sermon.  We closed with communion and with each individual holding a lighted candle and singing together “Silent Night”.  As I looked at the flickering little flame on the candle I held, the flame seemed so fragile and vulnerable.  Earlier in the day a friend and I were discussing those who drive cars that vibrate deep bass and that blast out all in the neighborhood.  Such drivers seem to be saying “I am going to play my music and I don’t give a rat’s ass whether it irritates you or not.”  Sometimes I think Christians witnessing for Christ need a thick-skinned and brash audacity–“I am going to live according to the way of Christ...tough shit if you don’t like it.”  Certainly Jesus was not crucified for being a timid and fragile flame.

Connie and I sat next to each other and held hands during some of the service.  Sitting there, I sketched out in my mind how all during my life I have been surrounded and buttressed by believers–often receiving their nurturing love and goodwill.  The priceless value of belief and faith swept over me along with deep appreciation for Jesus and his long line of dedicated followers.

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Wednesday, December 23, 2015

The Persistence of Rural Memory

As a kid, what stories did your mom or dad tell you over and over about when they were growing up? (Serendipity Bible Fourth Edition, page 347).

I can’t remember a single story my father told me about growing up in Holt and nearby Tuscaloosa, Alabama.

My mother lived on a farm in Jasper, Arkansas until moving to Florida at about the age of 12. She told us of those early years in rural Arkansas. One story described a time of terror.  The children had to cross over a river to get to school. They rode in a small boat to do so. One day when they were in the middle of the river, the young man who regularly guided the girls across released a heretofore hidden black eastern racer to thrash and slither about the boat–as any energetic snake would do.  A more tranquil memory was when she and her younger sister Virgie used to play house on a big smooth rock shaded by trees. This was at the edge of the field where Ollie and Tom Peake (their parents) were working. The girls younger brother Monroe was conscripted as the “child” on which to lavish directives.

There is a commonality in my remembrance of the past and that of my mother’s.  Our most vivid imagery of growing up years is reserved for rural (as contrasted to urban) areas.

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Tuesday, December 22, 2015

Beneficently Directed

Give an example of how you are postponing an immediate good for a greater, future gain? Does society encourage “delayed gratification”? (Serendipity Bible Fourth edition, page 774).

My greatest example would be where I am living now in a retirement community. This lifestyle was only possible if I delayed retirement until age 70, which I did. I have been here less than a year and already find that the sacrifice (such as it was – I loved my job) was well worth it.  Currently I must watch my discretionary spending to avoid future shortfalls, yet the incentives for financial stability far outweigh any negative cast of sacrifice.  The nation in which I live – more conservative than some regarding retirement benefits – provides the incentive for work and thrift. Even though it induces a greater measure of financial discipline, this is in my opinion beneficial for the financial realm becomes a ready living metaphor for the benefits of discipline in general. As Benjamin Franklin said “a penny saved is a penny earned” or as we must now say “20 bucks saved is 20 bucks earned” and accretion rather than depletion is the name of the game.

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Monday, December 21, 2015

Glory, Glory, Hallelujah

Is it fair to describe any nation’s history as if God was in the business of punishing them for sin? Is this how we see God and history today? Why or why not? (Serendipity Bible Fourth Edition, page 547).

If one listens to “The Battle Hymn of the Republic” it is clear that at least in the view of the fervent North, God’s wrath was punishing the South for the sin of slavery. I am not a historian, but I can conjecture that there are many alternative explanations of why a society based on slavery would fail – this list could include economic, cultural, social, political, ideological, historic, demographic, geographic, and even diverse psychological factors. It doesn’t seem very helpful analytically speaking to wrap the whole thing in a cauldron of sin and retribution. Yet I think it is clear we cannot understand the Civil War apart from its religious and moral context and the perceived manifest destiny of human liberty.

I like to think of a culture much as a growing plant susceptible to a whole host of potentially lethal threats. I live in Florida and have seen ravaged orange groves. It is clear that constant effort is required for healthy cultivation of an orange crop. But sometimes even despite one’s best efforts the grove can be hit by negative forces in which effective action to control or eliminate the threat is not currently possible. In such cases it does not seem helpful to load upon the farmer insinuations of guilt and shame rather than compassion for the ever-present human condition of widespread vulnerabilities.

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Sunday, December 20, 2015

Burgeoning Meaning

But Ruth replied, “Don’t urge me to leave you or to turn back from you. Where you go I will go, and where you stay I will stay. Your people will be my people and your God my God.  Where you die I will die, and there I will be buried. May the Lord deal with me, be it ever so severely, if even death separates you and me.”  When Naomi realized that Ruth was determined to go with her, she stopped urging her. (Ruth 1:16-18).

Today I heard the above words from the pulpit.  But this is not the first time I’ve heard them.  The first was when I was about 10 years old.  Mother had joined other women in the study of the book of Ruth.  Afterwards, I asked her about the study and mother replied with an explanation that included this quotation – “Where you go I will go, and where you stay I will stay.  Your people will be my people and your God my God.”  She spoke the words with a solemnity and awe befitting an absolute declaration of loyalty and devotion.  It is noteworthy mother had left her home in Jacksonville, FL to marry an itinerate Methodist pastor, my father.  For a typically diffident women, this was perforce a natural and irresistible Stanislavski moment.

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Friday, December 18, 2015

Common Ground

Why is equality among believers important? In what areas is equality most important to you? What does equality imply today: Uniformity? Fairness? “Special case” treatment under the law? What will you do to bring more equality to your work or home situation? (Serendipity Bible Fourth Edition, page 258).

One of the most powerful concepts in society is the concept of equality. Just the other day I heard a renown professor of Stetson University give a lecture on Constitutional Law. It goes without saying that he and I were nowhere equal in terms of legal savvy. It would be a joke to claim otherwise. On the other hand, Professor Michael Allen was a charming and informal sort of guy who did not take himself too seriously but willingly poked fun at himself now and then during the lecture. In subtext I think he was telling us something very important.  Judgments of law even at the highest levels are made by very human persons who are influenced by predominant opinion, precedents, prejudices, and the time and place of writing (including extant and contemporary resources).  In other words Prof. Allen told us that law interpretation is very much a human enterprise and thus there is a real sense in which our equality as persons on a species level far outstrips differences in specialized knowledge.

This is the heart of political equality.  It underwrites the idea that ballots should be open to all and not the sole privilege of some specialized classes (which, of course, would always include us good old boys but never those ignorant inferior oafs whose opinion is substandard – solid proof of which is they don’t agree with us).

Equality is important among believes because all must subjugate themselves to the Heavenly Father. That is, humility is the sine qua non of belief.

In the workplace the style of supervision can participate in the informality shown by Prof. Allen. The good boss telegraphs to all his subordinates that in all things that really matter apart from unique job responsibilities, he is entirely equal to everyone else and shares human equality with all.

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Thursday, December 17, 2015

Steel Gray

What color would you use to describe your past week? Why? (Serendipity Bible Fourth Edition, page 1718).

This week began with my visiting an emergency room because of an excruciating pain towards the back of my torso. This same week also saw the return of my friend Connie to surgery to remove an implant put in place following a breast mastectomy. The reason she returned was because of severe infection around the implant. This puts her back to “square 1" regarding in-place drainage tubes and the like. All this reminds me that life can have a steel gray character in which facts are insurmountable and not subject to elimination by any type of wishful thinking. During such times it is especially important to receive and be appreciative of all acts of kindness.

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Wednesday, December 16, 2015

Rebellion at Home

As a teenager, over what issues would you rebel against your parents: Curfew? Car? Phone? Dates? Church? Money? How long did your rebellion last? When did you grow out of it? (Or did you ever?) (Serendipity Bible Fourth Edition, page 947).

I only felt a strong sense of rebellion once, and I can see a distinct snapshot in my mind of where we were. It was in Bowling Green, Fl in about 1961. Migrant farm workers were having a tough time. One evening Daddy and I were standing in front of my bedroom door which led into the living room. Mother was there also. I challenged my father to do something meaningful about the plight of the farm workers. I felt that he was being too careful not to offend church contributors.  Of course, I have since made many compromises which make the perceived reluctance of my father appear the reticence of a saint.

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Tuesday, December 15, 2015

Loved vs Snagged

How is the Lord’s authority in your life different from...other masters? (Is God less demanding, or more so? Less forgiving, or more so?) (Serendipity Bible Fourth Edition, page 1232).

God yearns to hug me in love; other masters seek to snag me in exploitation. Thus God’s directives while demanding are liberating, while other masters under the pretense of pleasure are enslaving.

Yesterday I found myself in the emergency room at St. Anthony’s Hospital, St. Petersburg, FL. I had excruciating pain in the vicinity of my left kidney. Of course I received excellent care at the facility including a complete blood panel analysis as well as a CAT scan of my back, pelvis and abdominal areas.

I was especially struck while in the emergency waiting room by the importance of family and other caregivers. Connie was with me. Several complete strangers (also patients) were unspeakably kind to us. Two young women came in and sprinkled greeting cards on the floor. They were individuals, not a part of an organization. In each card individually signed was a lovely handwritten statement that we are each special. Each included a five dollar gift card.  In our various states of pain, fatigue, and disarray, we were definitely not the beautiful people; we were not the jet set. We were just plain folks (not looking our best) and the ties of family and friends and kind strangers were priceless and yielded great consolation. I saw the liberating stability of love and kindness during a time of upheaval. Humans thrive best in hands of love, not snagged in greedy webs of exploitation.

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Sunday, December 13, 2015

Inventory of Dreams

On a scale of 1 (a nightmare) to 10 (sweet dreams), what rating would you give your life lately? (Serendipity Bible Fourth Edition, page 98).

To answer this question a list of factors would be helpful.  Here’s that list.
  • Questions as to physical health.
  • Questions as to emotional health.
  • Questions as to spiritual health.
  • Questions as to objective factors regarding basic needed resources – food, clothing, shelter.
  • Questions as to the extent of perceived security and absence from fear.
  • Questions as to a broader study of fear and anxiety. What level are these factors and why?
  • Questions as to a broader study of hope and optimism. What level are these factors and why?
  • Questions as to the health of personal relationships. 
  • Questions as to the perception of one's place in the world – do you feel at home in the world (or do you feel alienated)?
  • Questions as to the attitude towards one’s own mortality and that of loved ones.
  • Questions regarding the state of forgiveness – do you forgive and feel forgiven?
  • Questions regarding the state of love – do you love and feel loved?
  • Questions regarding outflanked reciprocity – do you feel abundantly blessed?
  • Questions regarding intellectual health – are you eager to grow intellectually and to learn?
  • Questions as to one’s special calling – do you feel that you have a calling or talent that is being effectively used?
  • Questions regarding activity level – do you generally stay active (or do you often find yourself bored?)
  • Questions regarding happiness – are you happy?  What makes you happy? What makes you unhappy?
  • Do you think of yourself as being part of a family at home or in the broader community?
  • If you could do one thing to improve your life, what would that be?
  • If you could do one thing to improve the life of others, what would that be?
  • Are you interested in the common good? Are you willing to invest in the common good?

Looking over all these questions, on a scale of 1 (a nightmare) to 10 (sweet dreams); I come in at about a 7 because many of my answers out of stubborn perversity (I have tons of “if’s, and’s, but’s) end with an ellipsis.

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Saturday, December 12, 2015

Fizzle, Fizzle, Little Star

Have you ever sung a solo? Is it harder to sing in front of a group of people or speak to them? Why? (Serendipity Bible Fourth Edition, page 863).

This would be a tremendously interesting question to ask to someone “ambidextrous” in both singing and speaking well. In this sense I will never know the answer to this question because I croak more than sing and the pain on the faces of the listeners is immediate and obvious when I discordantly thrash out a tune. I can get a little sense of this question by imagining the difference between giving a three-minute speech and singing “Row, Row, Row your Boat.”  Assuming sadism has nothing to do with it, I suppose that it would be more fun to sing words already set and familiar to all rather than to give a five-minute speech, especially one on a difficult or obtuse topic.

I once did sing a solo and even played a simple musical instrument that I strummed. It was in 1956 when I was in grammar school. I sang “Silent Night” before an evening Christmas assembly of students and parents. Let’s just say a star was not born that night and, fortunately, I was of the age in which callow imperfection comes across as kind of cute.

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Thursday, December 10, 2015

Wisdom’s Timeline

In what areas would you like more wisdom? How can you get it? (Serendipity Bible Fourth Edition, page 486).

I am reminded of Tolstoy’s story “How Much Land Does a Man Need.” This story tells of a man who was promised all the land that he could circumference on foot in one day. The man was unwise because he kept walking further and further for more and more land and the day closed before he could return to the starting point – therefore, obtaining no land at all except for the 6 feet of land that formed his grave because of his death due to overexertion at the end.

He was unwise in that he started out without dedicating himself to the answer to a simple question: what is the most efficient and effective action I can perform to include the most fertile land? Without raising this question, his task was open-ended and invited greed. In short, he should have circumferenced himself before circumferencing the land.

So then this is the most fundamental aspect of wisdom – wisdom is that which dynamically does the most efficient and effective thing.  No matter what field we are discussing in which we want more wisdom, the initial step must always be to outflank greed with a self-discipline that allows discernment of the most efficient and effective outcome in an iterative and progressive way.  That is, if the man in Tolstoy’s story had sprained his ankle at the outset, his initial plan would need to be revised and reframed with the question: What is the most efficient and effective thing I can do now?  We are left with the need for wisdom characterized by disciplined flexibility that conforms to the realistic challenges that confront us over time.

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Wednesday, December 9, 2015

Why I Wait Patiently for Christ’s Return

I am patient for Christ’s return for I generally am skeptical about the unadulterated promises of utopias.  Some look back of the Garden of Eden with great nostalgia–not me. There were new babies born this very day.  Do I wish for them the curse of a future without temptations, mistakes, serendipity rebounds from disasters, and the need for concerted effort to overcome seemingly insurmountable and hopeless challenges–do I wish for them the curse of perfect circumstances and a pristine environment in which the tempering stresses of growth are not encountered?  I think most honest folks will consent without reservation to the proposition that limitations, errors in judgment, lack of 20/20 foresight, and imperfect communication are the stuff not of final failure, but of eventual  excellence.  This is not a call to sit on our duffs and wait for perfection.  Quite to the contrary.  We will attain perfection only through the hard work and the hard lessons of imperfection.  This applies to every generation and is the principal source of its challenges, creativity, and accomplishments.

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Tuesday, December 8, 2015

The Wow of Honesty

Search me, God, and know my heart;
test me and know my anxious thoughts.
See if there is any offensive way in me,
and lead me in the way everlasting.
(Psalm 139:23-24 NIV)

Why does [David] ask God to search his thoughts? How does he show an awareness of his own limitations (vv. 23-24)? (Serendipity Bible Fourth Edition, page 865).

One of today’s key psychological points of view is that we can be in a state of profound denial.  We have repressed a fact or truth to such an extent that it submerges even below our own consciousness.  I have personally experienced this and was only freed from it by a mental breakdown.  My condition had many facets, but let me detail just one of them.  I had for years SECRETLY wanted to be president.  I would have been mortified if anyone knew my secret.  Then came my mental breakdown and I told everyone who would listen that I was in the immediate future going to be president.  When I recovered from my breakdown, I found that I WAS STILL ACCEPTED AND LOVED by those who knew my now disclosed secret.  I even found that I was loved for having a worthy if quixotic dream.  This heretofore secret was only one contributor to my chronic anxiety and many others were addressed as well during my breakdown.  Since then, I have been enabled to be more truthful with myself and others.

Even so, David’s petition to God allows for a thorough examination by God of all conscious and unconscious matters and motives.  This humility before God is no doubt a key reason David was a man after God’s own heart.  We know that God himself is humble because only a humble being could possess his multifaceted and coruscating creativity.

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Monday, December 7, 2015


When you really get angry, does it show in your face, arms, legs or body? How so? Demonstrate. (Serendipity Bible Fourth Edition, page 1149).

I morph into an aggressive and assertive individual.  My body tenses and my face scrunches up into a hardened chisel. Rapid-fire vociferousness sprays forth.  This always precedes from a great sense of personal rectitude concurrent with unquestioned judgment as to the perfidy of others.  Seldom will I get truly angry at inert matter.  It almost always involves the perception of gross injustice perpetrated by other humans.

Many express dissatisfaction with Barack Obama’s reaction in the face of terrorism.  This negative assessment is attributed to many factors, but I think the core desire of the masses is to see their president with a chiseled faced scrunched up in outrage and anger. They want a conduit on the national level for their own feelings of outrage--they want a hotheaded president.  President Obama is a cool operator with his eye always on the end game (for example, greater and more direct involvement of Muslim countries in chastening religious extremism).  It is my belief that we are better off with a cool head than a hothead.      

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Saturday, December 5, 2015

The Pathway of Courageous Persistence

With what formulas for dealing with stress were you raised? “Forget it”? “Pray about it”? “Sleep on it”? (Serendipity Bible Fourth Edition, page 762).

I was taught by example to maintain a prayerful attitude, to keep on working, and to sustain focus on ultimate goals. Many of us are under stress at this time. We have anxieties brought about by a complex of matters including social and political conflict.  A prayerful attitude is important because it keeps our minds humble and open to insight, inspiration, and leadings of the Spirit. Working and keeping active prevents self-destructive paralysis and ennui. Focus on ultimate goals lifts our sights and validates our efforts with meaning and purpose – we work for the attainment of freedom, justice, peace, individual respect, freedom from fear, healthy stability within families, and the disciplines of love. This triangulation of attitude and effort constitutes a sturdy, true, and proven route to victorious living.

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Friday, December 4, 2015

The Many Mansions of Belief

How do you explain your way to an unbeliever? With whom will you share this good news today? (Serendipity Bible Fourth Edition, page 185).

Religion is just one aspect of belief that extends to many other areas as well. And we are frequently confronted with the question “How do we share our belief regarding any number of matters with those who do not believe?”  Our first recourse is frequently to “reason together.” We look for rational arguments to help the unbeliever understand why we believe. In our own minds our belief is totally rational, and we have no clue as to why others do not readily understand. We are mystified when confronted by the unbelief of others regarding something so clearly (in our own minds) is worthy of belief.

As incredible as it seems we can use power plays to instill belief as if that were anyway at all appropriate.  We may use force or say that a certain celebrity or person or group of authority shares our belief. This may well introduce a measure of acquiescence, but does not touch the central core matter of an inclination to disbelieve.

Finally we frequently design an “incentive package” to encourage belief. We offer candy, in one form or another, to get others to believe. They may (because of these inducements) board the gravy train, but we are delusional to fancy that this touches the long-term matter of belief.

Presently, belief is a difficult conundrum to understand or control. I come from a Christian tradition which says that belief is a gift of God bestowed by grace. In other words, all approaches fall short – reason, power, any number of enticements or incentives.  We must be content with appreciating that the underpinnings of belief are unfathomable and that we, with limited insight, must muddle through the many mansions of external beliefs.

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Wednesday, December 2, 2015

Keeping Our Eyes on the Ball

Proverbs 3:6 New International Version (NIV)

in all your ways submit to him,
and he will make your paths straight [will direct your paths.]

So much of life simply comes down to where we focus our interest.  The focus can be broad or narrow (just so it is steady and a genuine focus).  It has been my experience that empathy with its byproduct compassion can overload us and we become nonfunctional.  The pendulum then sweeps from too much compassion to too little.  The secret is to allow God to direct our steps (in other words, to direct our focus--our available resources) to meet his will.  It helps no one to become a scatterbrain. We must learn prayerfully to keep our eyes on the ball.

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