Sunday, July 23, 2017

What are your best Features?


Have you ever actively considered what your best facial features are?  Could you maybe name them for someone else?  What do you suppose others – especially strangers – would say are the most pleasing aspects of your looks?
The skin care company DOVE conducted a campaign some time ago, along these very lines:  They found that many of us – particularly women – tend to be critical of how we look.  We minimize what might be our best features, and we focus instead on what we view as “imperfections”.
This disparaging view of our appearance “impacts everything”, a participant noted.  It affects our jobs, our relationships, and our overall sense of well-being.  When we focus primarily on our “imperfections” or “flaws”, we tend to overlook or minimize the objectively pleasing aspects of our looks, and we are less happy than we might otherwise be.
How could Dove help women – and men, too – feel better about their looks?  How might they help people see the Beauty in their faces, and encourage them toward acknowledgment and gratitude for their truly attractive features?
           The answer was to have a Sketch artists draw the face of each person, first from
           their own descriptions, and then from descriptions of others in the exercise who had 
           just met them.  The differences in the sketches were poignant:  The ones drawn 
           based on what others saw in each participant were much more pleasing than the 
          ones drawn from self-description, and each of the subjects was moved to appreciate 
          his or her own natural beauty in a whole new way, seeing themselves through the 
          eyes of others.

Sunday, October 16, 2016

The HEART of Christianity


"The giving of the white stone with the new name is the communication of what God thinks about the man to the man. It is the divine judgment, the solemn holy doom of the righteous man, the “Come, thou blessed,” spoken to the individual…. The true name is one which expresses the character, the nature, the meaning of the person who bears it. It is the man’s own symbol—his soul’s picture, in a word—the sign which belongs to him and to no one else. Who can give a man this, his own name? God alone. For no one but God sees what the man is..."


"It is only when the man has become his name that God gives him the stone with the name upon it, for then first can he understand what his name signifies. It is the blossom, the perfection, the completeness, that determines the name: and God foresees that from the first because He made it so: but the tree of the soul, before its blossom comes, cannot understand what blossom it is to bear and could not know what the word meant, which, in representing its own unarrived completeness, named itself. Such a name cannot be given until the man is the name. God’s name for a man must be the expression of His own idea of the man, that being whom He had in His thought when he began to make the child, and whom He kept in His thought through the long process of creation that went to realize the idea. To tell the name is to seal the success—to say 'In thee also I am well pleased.' ”



"The name is one 'which no man knoweth saving he that receiveth it.' Not only then has each man his individual relation to God, but each man has his peculiar relation to God. He is to God a peculiar being, made after his own fashion, and that of no one else. Hence he can worship God as no man else can worship Him."



-- George MacDonald



THIS is the central Theme of the Christian Gospel!  The whole point of all the theology, all the worship and faithful practice, is that we – God’s masterpieces – become what He intends to make of us, all for His own glory.




Wednesday, July 20, 2016

Prayers Satan LOVES


"It is, no doubt, impossible to prevent his praying for his mother, but we have means of rendering the prayers innocuous. Make sure that they are always very ‘spiritual’, that he is always concerned with the state of her soul and never with her rheumatism. Two advantages will follow. In the first place, his attention will be kept on what he regards as her sins, by which, with a little guidance from you, he can be induced to mean any of her actions which are inconvenient or irritating to himself. Thus you can keep rubbing the wounds of the day a little sorer even while he is on his knees; the operation is not at all difficult and you will find it very entertaining. In the second place, since his ideas about her soul will be very crude and often erroneous, he will, in some degree, be praying for an imaginary person, and it will be your task to make that imaginary person daily less and less like the real mother—the sharp-tongued old lady at the breakfast table. In time, you may get the cleavage so wide that no thought or feeling from his prayers for the imagined mother will ever flow over into his treatment of the real one. I have had patients of my own so well in hand that they could be turned at a moment’s notice from impassioned prayer for a wife’s or son’s ‘soul’ to beating or insulting the real wife or son without a qualm."    

-- from "The Screwtape Letters" by C.S. Lewis

Monday, May 11, 2015

2 kinds of Kindness

We often hear about what are commonly called "random acts of kindness", small things people do, spontaneously, for another person, just to show Kindness. These are terrific, of course, and often very heart-warming; YouTube is full of videos showing these kinds of Kind actions...

Kindness is, probably, most often thought of in "pro-active" terms:  We determine to BE kind, to INITIATE Kindness, through actions or words; but there is another kind of Kindness, too, that may be just as important:  RESPONSIVE Kindness.

How We Respond
The Scriptures tell us that Kindness is a fundamental component of godly LOVE, and that we're to not only demonstrate Kindness but to also respond to others with Kindness: 

Romans 12:14
Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse them.
 
Luke 6:27-28
But I say to you who hear, Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you.
 
Matthew 5:39-42
But I say to you, Do not resist the one who is evil. But if anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also. And if anyone would sue you and take your tunic, let him have your cloak as well. And if anyone forces you to go one mile, go with him two miles. Give to the one who begs from you, and do not refuse the one who would borrow from you.

Of course, it's not always about responding in Kindness to BAD things; perhaps we might focus more on responding with Kindness to the needs, wants, wishes, thoughts, feelings and desires of those around us, as a way of showing (and living) true, from-the-heart, biblical LOVE...

Here are some examples of RESPONSIVE Kindness, to spark our imagination:

1.  A homeless person asks for help...
          Respond with money, or food, or at least a kind word
2.  An elderly person boards your train...
          Respond by offering your seat
3.  A child clamors to tell her story to you...
          Respond with your undivided, loving Attention
4.  A friend breaks down as he shares his hurt...
          Respond with gestures of Empathy and Compassion
5.  Your spouse expresses Frustration or Disappointment...
          Respond with Patience and Listening skills... work together toward Resolution
6.  Someone prepares a nice meal for you...
          Respond with sincere expressions of Gratitude and Appreciation
7.  Your child is trying hard to do better...
          Respond by giving him/her words of Encouragement, perhaps
          even a Reward of some sort

Of course, one's Heart and Mind probably have to be ready, at all times, to respond with Kindness when the opportunities come; but of course that's just the kind of Metamorphosis (Romans 12:2) that Sanctification is all about, right?



Friday, April 03, 2015

The Blood of Easter

Easter has been a big part of my life ever since I was a little boy, coming from a Christian family and regularly attending church for most of 5 decades.  Ironically, I don't think I was ever truly a Believer until I converted from Atheism to Christianity when I was 29, but that's another story...

One question that has always perplexed me has to do with a fundamental component of orthodox Christian theology:


Why was a BLOOD sacrifice necessary to assuage God's wrath?  Seems kind of barbaric, crude, and gruesome, doesn't it?  Think about it:  This was God (who is, in every way, FAR far superior to Mankind, as for example, Man is to ants) saying to humans, "I'm mad at you.  So take that lamb over there and slit its throat... Let its warm blood spurt all over the place, especially all over that rugged stone altar I instructed you to build... I want to see blood everywhere... Then fling the animal's slaughtered carcass on top of the altar and burn the entire mess.  Then I'll be satisfied."

There's no escaping the outright Gore that is integral to the Christian Gospel (you've seen "Passion of the Christ", right?), but I would expect that the far less modern, agrarian and desert cultures of the Old Testament (and right up to the 18th century, for much of the West) were much more comfortable with those types of scenarios than we might be...

Indeed, some Christian thinkers see the direct reflection of a deeply organic aspect of Christianity in the very flesh and blood of humans and animals, along with the earth and plants and flowers and trees, and the oceans and streams...   So it should come as no surprise, really, that the heart of the Gospel has, well, BLOOD in it.

Another clue comes right out of Leviticus 17, where God twice tells Moses, "The Life of the Creature is in its Blood."  In order to get the Life out of the lamb, its blood had to be poured out.  So it is the giving up of a Life, by bleeding to death, that God wanted.  But why?  Why does DEATH, in this context, "satisfy" God, or provide atonement for us??

And then today it hit me:  Because we can't do it ourselves.

Here, then, is a better version of the thought experiment, above:
"Look, I made you out of dirt and I put my LIFE into you and made you a Soul.  But you've taken your Being and abused and desecrated it, making it a thing ugly and defiled.  You've essentially ruined it.  Give it back to me.  It's mine."

But giving our (literal) lives back to God would, of course, mean Death.  Extinction.  The formal Obliteration of the original point of Creation at all:  God reflecting Love back to Himself via the Free Will choices of sentient Human Beings.

So God's unfolding Plan was that a sacrificial Life -- lambs and goats, in Moses' time, and the Lamb, once and for all, for the world, forever, in Jesus -- would satisfy God's demand.  He would accept that as a substitute.  That Life, coming out of that Blood, would atone for us.  It would be a Life given up as a substitute for our own.

That's what Good Friday is about.

But there's more:  Down into DEATH, to satisfy God's just demands.  And then UP into LIFE again, so that a NEW KIND of Life could be worked out inside us.  Life out of death, and yes, covered with Blood, but utterly saturated with Love.

That's what Easter is about.

Monday, September 02, 2013

Whose Life is it, anyway?

“If the first and lowest operation of pain shatters the illusion that all is well, the second shatters the illusion that what we have, whether good or bad in itself, is our own and enough for us.  Everyone has noticed how hard it is to turn our thoughts to God when everything is going well with us.   We ‘have all we want’ is a terrible saying when ‘all’ does not include God.  We find God an interruption.  As St Augustine says somewhere, ‘God wants to give us something, but cannot, because our hands are full – there’s nowhere for Him to put it.’  Or as a friend of mine said, ‘We regard God as an airman regards his parachute;  it’s there for emergencies but he hopes he’ll never have to use it.’  Now God, who has made us, knows what we are and that our happiness lies in Him.  Yet we will not seek it in Him as long as He leaves us any other resort where it can even plausibly be looked for.  While what we call ‘our own life’ remains agreeable we will not surrender it to Him.  What then can God do in our interests but make ‘our own life’ less agreeable to us, and take away the plausible source of false happiness? 

It is just here, where God’s providence seems at first to be most cruel, that the Divine humility, the stooping down from the Highest, most deserves praise.  We are perplexed to see misfortune falling upon decent, inoffensive, worthy people – on capable, hard-working mothers of families or diligent, thrifty little tradespeople, on those who have worked so hard, and so honestly, for their modest stock of happiness and now seem to be entering on the enjoyment of it with the fullest right.”
...

“Let me implore the reader to try to believe, if only for the moment, that God, who made these deserving people, may really be right when He thinks that their modest prosperity and the happiness of their children are not enough to make them blessed:  that all this must fall from them in the end, and that if they have not learned to know Him they will be wretched.  And therefore He troubles them, warning them in advance of an insufficiency that one day they will have to discover.  The life to themselves and their families stands between them and the recognition of their need; He makes that life less sweet to them. 

I call this a Divine humility because it is a poor thing to strike our colours to God when the ship is going down under us; a poor thing to come to Him as a last resort, to offer up ‘our own’ when it is no longer worth keeping.  If God were proud He would hardly have us on such terms:  but He is not proud, He stoops to conquer, He will have us even though we have shown that we prefer everything else to Him, and come to Him because there is ‘nothing better’ now to be had.  The same humility is shown by all those Divine appeals to our fears which trouble high-minded readers of Scripture.  It is hardly complimentary to God that we should choose Him as an alternative to Hell:  yet even this He accepts.  The creature’s illusion of self-sufficiency must, for the creature’s sake, be shattered; and by trouble or fear of trouble on earth, by crude fear of the eternal flames, God shatters it ‘unmindful of His glory’s diminution’.”

C.S. Lewis, from "The Problem of Pain", pp. 94-95

Friday, August 16, 2013

Love's Pre-Requisite

I have been thinking for a good while now that a deep and thorough understanding of "True Love" is the starting point for a biblical, Christian approach to the subject of Marriage.

But it dawned on me this morning that Understanding is perhaps not the starting point; I think I'm realizing today that True Love has what might be called a "pre-requisite" condition of the heart, along these lines:

It all begins with BROKEN-NESS: When our spirits are crushed, when our comfort is taken away, when our own Guilt is bearing down on us, and when we reach a point where we feel completely wretched and ruined and desperate, then and only then is the Heart pliable enough to be shaped and the Mind open enough to receive the wisdom and guidance that we have been missing (or have shunned)...

Broken-ness creates a void at the center of the soul which, then, HUMILITY can rush in to fill: Humility is not a "low self-image" or "tearing oneself down"; Humility is a proper, balanced attitude, a view of oneself that includes a profound sense of gratitude, and selflessness, and a deep desire to honor others, always remembering one's own broken-ness.

From this vantage point, now, the next stage is FORGIVENESS: Because one is always and forever painfully aware of one's own desperate Broken-ness -- an on-going condition that will only be remedied when our Sanctification is made complete by God Himself -- and as a result of a heart condition grounded in Humility, it becomes far more easy to Forgive the broken-ness and pride and sinfulness of other people. Who are we to hold others' sins and faults and failures against them when we ourselves continue to struggle with our own vast Broken-ness? A heart that continually wants to side-step Humility to assert itself, and to condemn others for their failures, is the very face of Broken-ness itself.

May God have mercy on us, we so quickly and so easily forget our own wretched state and we refuse others the mercy and grace and healing that other Broken hearts need, and which God has so graciously given to us, and which is ours to give, freely, to others...

Here are some things to read and ponder:


On Broken-ness
The Prodigal Son
(I love verse 17: "When he came to his senses..." Yes!)

The Graveyard Scene
(Scrooge is broken after having been shown a true picture of himself)

On Forgiveness
The Unmerciful Servant
The Elder son: Too Proud to Forgive


So let's get on our knees today and ask God to start fresh with us by Breaking our hearts, so that we can be filled once again with Humility, so that we can truly Forgive, so that we can then, from THAT state, be focused on TRUE LOVE.


Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Thomas: Disciple and Skeptic

Dictionary.com defines "Skeptic" like this:
"A person who questions the validity or authenticity of something purporting to be factual."

It also lists a bit of etymology on that word:


Origin:  1565–75: 
  Late Latin "scepticus" = thoughtful, inquiring
  Greek "skeptikós",  equivalent to "sképt" ( "esthai" ) = to consider, examine
     -- akin to "skopeîn" =  to look; to see ( "-scope" ) + ( "-ikos" ) or ( "-ic" )

Despite the "doubting Thomas" nickname he is so often known by, Thomas is, I think, the most inspiring figure of the 12 disciples of Jesus.  Consider these thoughts about "Didymus" ("the Twin", probably of Mathew):

-- He doesn't say much in the Gospels, perhaps because he is constantly and deeply pondering what is being said and done around him; perhaps he is waiting to see what develops further...

-- He is not the one impulsively jumping out of boats, or brashly declaring love for and loyalty to Jesus (only to deny Him later), or grabbing swords and swinging them around...

-- He is that "quiet one in the shadows"...  Knowing what he was thinking, I can imagine Jesus many times glancing over at Thomas and smiling to Himself...

-- Immediately after the Resurrection, he wasn't among the others who cowered in a private room "for fear of the Jews", perhaps because, in solitude, he needed to "process" (perhaps in great turmoil of mind and soul) what had just happened...

-- His 3 primary speeches in the Gospels are these:

    -- A quiet exhortation to "go and die" with Jesus in Judea (where they knew the Jews
        were anxious to capture and kill Jesus) -- John 11:16

    -- An honest inquiry into what "way" Jesus was talking about and how, then,
        to go "with" Him on that "way" -- John 14:5

    -- An insistence that the Resurrection claim be supported by thoroughly
        convincing evidence, and his reaction when a loving and compassionate
        risen Christ gives him that evidence -- John 20:25

It's clear that Thomas was someone who questioned things and examined the reasons behind them, but that did not make him a "doubter"; keep in mind, he was purposely and specifically hand-selected by Jesus Himself to be one of the 12!  Jesus, of course, knew Thomas' mind and heart and personality type completely and yet added him as a chosen Disciple. 

It can be assumed, then, that his inclusion in that intimate, inner circle was for some perfectly good reason.  I do not believe it was so that "doubters can see that their doubting is okay", but so that the Church can see and understand that Faith is never "blind".

More specifically, I believe Thomas "stuck to it" throughout the process, following Jesus and being known as one of His disciples, because it was Jesus HIMSELF that Thomas found so profoundly compelling, so irresistable, so Real.

In Jesus, Thomas saw more than a "movement", even more than just a Face and a Name, a Body and a Voice; I think Thomas was wise enough, and perhaps the first, to see GOD in Jesus, and he followed willingly to understand the mystery of what he was witnessing.  Following, but not foolishly.

Thomas was not a "doubter"; he was a thinker, a questioner, a Skeptic.
And, in the end, a Believer.