Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Thoughts on the "Occupy" Rioting


Riding the crest of broad news coverage lately has been this "movement"
known as "Occupy Wall Street", which is supposed to be some kind of
"people's action" against so-called "corporate greed", "wealth-hoarding",
and a number of other populist themes and ideals. But just as
the real aims, goals, and message of this "movement" are ambiguous,
murky, muddled, and fuzzy, I thought I'd post my own jumble of disconnected
thoughts on what this "movement" is... er... *Seems* to be... I guess?
Sort of? Maybe? Not sure...

One thing's for sure: It ain't no Tea Party

From the very start, this "movement" has been a rag-tag band of squatters,
who have taken over a park in New York near Wall Street and who have
decided to LIVE there, for the time being; reports are that sanitary conditions
are geting worse by the day, with participants urinating in the streets and
strewing their garbage in every direction. In addition, there are fights
and scuffles with local police on a daily basis, vandalism, public nudity,
even -- by some reports -- pot smoking and other drug use going on...
There is even a YouTube video showing a sympathetic Democratic congressman
who came down to speak to some of the rabble, but who was used, instead, as
the centerpiece of a mock-theatre skit intended to show how "ineffectual"
the government is; the congressman never got to speak and wandered away...

This weird, filthy, combative, drug-using mob-mixture has been joined by
all types of anarchists, Union thugs, scoff-laws and other crack-pots for
a street-festival style, political "mardis-gras" of sorts, but the MESSAGE,
if there is one, seems to be nearly impossible to pin down...

Contrast this to the Tea Party:
It's public gatherings have been almost universally calm, clean, peaceful,
and orderly, events which you could easily see your elderly loved ones
participating in and enjoying without fearing for their safety... The message
of the Tea Party has been CLEAR and CONCISE from the beginning; a quick Google search shows that from chapter to chapter, state to state, and from one Tea Party organization to another, the fundamental principles and themes of this movement have been, and are consistent; the Lists vary slightly, but they are all in agreement with these Core Values:
    Free Enterprise beats Socialism
    Government must be limited
    Government spending must be frugal
    The Constitution is our supreme guide

I actually agree with SOME of what OWS is supposedly about

To the extent that this quirky OWS "movement" -- and anyone else from the Left --
proclaims that the "Wealthy" ought to "pay their fair share", I completely AGREE
with them; everyone -- rich, poor, and everyone else -- should pay what they
OUGHT to pay (in Taxes), and nobody should have the benefit of Loopholes,
special Tax shelters, or any other mechanism that provides advantages that only
some people get to enjoy...

I also AGREE that the Federal Reserve is a HUGE part of the problem in this
country, and that it ought to be completely dismantled and gotten rid of;
control of the money supply, and the standard on which it is valued (the Gold
Standard), should be the domain of elected Government, not some non-elected,
above-the-law "private club" whose hidden ways-and-means (including heavy
international involvement) affect the financial health and well-being of
virtually all American citizens...

I also AGREE that it's just shameful that a few Executives
at the top levels of most of the world's wealthiest corporations enjoy
ridiculously LAVISH life-styles, funded by corporate profits, while the
"worker bees" of that organization have to struggle to make ends meet, worry
constantly about lay-offs (especially in this dismal economy), and know that
in any case, only a very few will EVER make it to the upper echelons in the organization:
There are only so many keys to the executive restrooms to go around, and
besides, who would want to tee off at the Country Club with
a RECEPTIONIST, anyway?? (Please note the Sarcasm in that last sentence).

The problem is, WHAT TO DO about it... The GUB-ment is absolutely the LAST entity
who should get their incompetent and money-wasting claws into the mix;
and you can't LEGISLATE Morality (as some on the Right have learned over the
years), forcing the Board of Directors at "Corporation X" to push more of the
Profits back down into the company... So what can be done, so that "Susie-Q
Employee" can enjoy more of the rewards that she helped create, by working hard
and doing her job well?? I honestly don't have an answer for that...

But only a Fool believes that if the Wealthy -- and Corporations -- were just
TAXED more, then more Americans could enjoy a higher standard of living via
Government programs. It's axiomatic that the more money the government takes in,
the more it spends, and usually in Deficit mode; so "Tax the Rich" won't have
any noticeable impact whatsoever on the general health, wealth and prosperity
of the OWS mob...

The Bad is drowning out the Good

Unfortunately, any GOOD that might be included in whatever one can make out as
the primary message of this so-called "movement" (which, not surprisingly, has
gone global by now) is being out-shouted by all the BAD associated with it:
The shouting and uproar is from those who've identified themselves as
Anarchists, and Socialists, and Free Loaders; many have been outspoken and
unabashed in their support of the classic Liberal
"Cradle-to-Grave-Government-Dependency" model,
demanding more Big Government spending (without, apparently, a single thought
about the 800-pound gorilla issue, the 14 trillion dollar National Debt);
add to this the disgusting and dangerous public behavior (urination, fights,
drug use, trash everywhere, smashed windows, etc. etc.) and the sum total
is that this so-called "movement" lost any serious consideration before
it was even off the launch pad...

It is, to put it simply, a Riot that will eventually have to be put down with,
probably, military intervention.
    "The public is a ferocious beast; one must either chain it up
    or flee from it." -- Voltaire

    "A mob has many heads but no brains" -- Thomas Fuller

    "Nothing is so contemptible as the sentiments of a mob" -- Seneca
    "It is proof of a bad cause when it is applauded by a mob" -- Seneca


Thursday, September 29, 2011

Love is like a Pitching Machine

If you have ever had children and you live in Suburbia, you have probably
been exposed to youth Baseball, played by thousands of youngsters in ball
parks all over the country. A central object at baseball practice (and in
games, until the kids are old enough for real pitching) is the good ol'
Pitching Machine.

It's a pretty simple device, really: A large, rubber
wheel spins constantly, and a short section
of plastic tubing "feeds" baseballs
onto the wheel at just the right speed
and angle (and the wheel can be angled
up or down, left and right), in order to deliver
"perfect pitches" to the small Batter at the plate...
Electricity feeds the rubber wheel, keeping it in constant motion,
whether the coach is putting baseballs (from the bucket nearby) onto the wheel
or not; in this sense, the wheel is continuously ready, willing and able
to serve up pitches because it is always in motion; it never stops.

Well, True Love is an Attitude that is just like that: If LOVE is
in our hearts, if it is always already in motion, if we are continuously
ready to act on its momentum, then when opportunities to demonstrate
LOVE (in hundreds of ways that show Grace and Compassion and Kindness and
Courtesy and Respect and Deference and Generosity and Caring), we won't have to
"switch it on" or suddenly "change tracks in our mind" to now "focus" on
Loving someone; we will be already moving in that direction, indeed,
"primed" for whatever opportunities to practice and demonstrate True Love may
present themselves, all around us, every day...

And the more we practice our "swing", well, the greater our chances are for
hitting those home runs, or at least advancing the runner -- our Neighbor --
to the next base...

So where does this "constant Attitude of True Love" come from?

Attitudes are EFFECTS, not Causes; it follows, then, to examine Causes:
It begins with Thinking: "Seek wisdom, seek Understanding", Proverbs tells us;
How we THINK (and WHAT we Think) lays the groundwork for, and begins to set
in stone, what we BELIEVE. Then, our Beliefs -- reviewed, supported, grown,
and erected -- begin to produce in us certain ATTITUDES about the nature of
the thing being Believed, and very often, about the World in general.
The last bit is that it is most often our Attitudes which drive our BEHAVIORS.

Put simply, it looks like this:
    THINKING establishes (or "causes") BELIEFS
    BELIEFS foster (or "cause") ATTITUDES
    ATTITUDES determine (or "cause") BEHAVIORS

So, logically, the first place to focus when we want to create an Attitude
of True Love inside ourselves (and this should be our constant prayer...
"God change me, fill me with Your Love and make me a conduit of Your Love
to those around me") is to go back to how we THINK, about God, about ourselves,
and about those around us...

Indeed, is this not the main purpose of going to church, of reading
the scriptures, of reading good Christian literature, and of surrounding
ourselves with mature, humble, spiritual Christian companionship? To bring us
back, again and again, to the TRUTH of God (Thinking), which can then buttress
or change) our Beliefs, and which then can change our ATTITUDES, resulting in
more mature, God-like Behaviors? "...be being made complete..."

So ponder the Pitching Wheel today. Ask yourself if, right now, in your Heart,
you have this "Attitude of Love", already in motion to imitate Christ,
by "taking the very nature of a servant" and by "washing one another's feet"...
If we don't find that Attitude pervading our hearts, it's time to Think,
deeply, about whether or not the Christ-life is alive in us.

Sunday, September 04, 2011

2 Problems with Materialism

For the philosophically uninitiated, the philosophy of Materialism (and here I am
paraphrasing) suggests that the only plane of Reality is the physical world; indeed,
sometimes philosophers use the words "Physicalism" and "Materialism"

Especially in matters of Mind, a strict Materialist will insist that what we refer
to as "Mind" is merely the emergent result of the physical workings of the Brain;
that a Thought, or an Emotion, is merely the result of the chemical and
physiological workings of the organ inside our skulls, and that anything like a
"Mind" (or any other "Force" or "Influence" on that "alleged Mind") is quite
literally traceable to areas in the Brain and the chemical and physiological
processes going on in that region...

Well there are two huge problems with that philosophy and the central role
it plays in many modern World Views:

Truth becomes Impossible
An internal combustion engine works by having Gasoline injected into, say, eight
cylinders; the spark plugs (powered by the battery) provide a "spark" that causes
the gas in the cylinder chamber to explode, forcing the cylinder downward, and a
spring brings it back up. If all the cylinders are "firing" properly, the
aggregate "energy" from the engine is fed into the transmission systems,
eventually finding its way to the wheels, which spin the tires, and the automobile
is put into motion. (This is a recap from a strict amateur on how this all works,
but I think I may have got the basic details right...)

Now, there is nothing whatsoever specially "TRUE" about any of these details;
you would not say that a properly-functioning engine produced some kind of
"statement" about Reality that is "True" (or "False"), and neither can anyone say
that the mechanical, physiological, chemical "firings" in the Brain produce any
kind of "Truth"; they simply DO what they DO, as physical properties; they do not
establish, by themselves, any kind of FACT.

Indeed, statements ABOUT these chemical processes can be "True" or "False,
but if nothing exists EXCEPT those processes, then even those statements lose
all meaning. A physical process cannot make any claims about itself; it just
DOES what it DOES, making no statements and offering no insights on Reality.

So Materialism defeats itself because even the very statement "The Material world
is all there is" is not something mere chemical processes would ever assert.
Something OUTSIDE of those processes -- something BEYOND the chemicals --
has to be *observing* those chemicals in order to arrive at conclusions ABOUT
those chemicals. TRUTH, then, becomes impossible in a purely Materialist world,
since NO "thought" (even about Materialism!) can rise above the physiology.

Localization assumes way too much
Quite a few modern atheist/materialist/naturalist/reductionist Neuro-Scientists
(and others who trumpet the conclusions of this group as some kind of "proof"
that "Science" has figured it all out) are claiming to have found the "God" part
of the Brain, and proudly demonstrate how their various tools -- advanced brain
scans, high-resolution MRIs, etc. -- can pinpoint parts of the Brain that
"light up" when the subject is said to be having some sort of "religious
experience"... "See, it's all just Brain activity!" they gloat...
This is sometimes called "Localization", the idea that certain experiences
*come from* and are *local to* certain portions of the Brain...

You can take a simple radio and apply various electronic tools to "track"
precisely where, in the circuitry, the Sound of your favorite radio station
seems to be occurring at any given moment; but does that mean, then, that the
SOUND originates from, and remains resident in, those electronic components?
Of course not: The Signal is coming from a radio tower somewhere near enough
to be picked up by the radio, and these electronic components ACT on it --
"modulate" it -- in various ways to present the Sound to your ears (we could
talk about Sound "only happening in your ears", too).

So while it may be true that a Neuro-Scientist's tools can identify WHERE in
the Brain certain functions occur, it does NOT follow, then, that those portions
of the Brain are RESPONSIBLE for the *production* of specific events.
Something -- like a Mind -- could be *operating on* or *passing through* that
portion of the Brain, which then lights up the Scientist's detection tools, but
the SOURCE of that activity may very well be something the Materialist simply
cannot capture, measure, or pin down...

I get a little weary of the scientific community dressing up their assumptions
in lofty rhetoric and then excoriating anyone who challenges those assumptions.

But then we Christians know precisely why they do it, don't we...

Sunday, August 14, 2011

Practicing the call to be "Slow to Speak"

I'm not sure where I heard this, though I am sure that it was when
I was a youngster... And I've heard it a number of times, in various ways,
over the years: These are some great "Guidelines" to help us with the
spiritual discipline of being "slow to speak", as we're encouraged to do
in James 1:19. Indeed, if we were to devote a great deal of energy into
just these three guidelines -- "be quick to listen, slow to speak, and
slow to become angry" -- what a blessing we could be to those around us,
and in so doing, co-operate more fully with the work of the Holy Spirit
inside us and display the glory of Christ more evidently to the world...

So here are some "guidelines" that can help us rein in our speech:

Is it TRUE?
We obviously ought not run around spouting things that are not True;
the absolute Lies are the easy ones. But what about things we say
that we do not KNOW to be True, for certain? Have we got our Facts
quite right? How much of what we blather on about is mere opinion?
If it isn't TRUE, then it shouldn't be said.

Does it NEED to be said?
OK so fine, it's true that that co-worker is lazy, or that man over
there doesn't bathe and is a rather disgusting fellow; yes, it's true,
those comments were sarcastic, but does it not foment additional
animosity to point it out? Might it not be more gracious to let it go,
and let the speaker (hopefully) be impacted by the silence that follows
their caustic remarks? All those bitter opinions, all those cut-downs,
the snide remarks, the brow-beating, the under-the-breath comments in
judgment of someone else... Even if these are True, do they really
NEED to be said? How are they a blessing to anyone who hears them??
If it's True but doesn't NEED to be said, consider not saying it at all

Does it need to be said RIGHT NOW?
There are many, many times where a given comment or remark is
purely benign, or maybe even helpful, and would be a good thing to say,
but is NOW the right time to say it? If my brother is hunched over the
motor of his car and is obviously straining and grunting, trying to get
the wrench positioned just right and is putting all his energy into the
effort, should I choose that precise moment to offer help, distracting him
and forcing him to focus on something other than what he's working so
hard at? Might it not be better to WAIT a minute or two? What makes me
think that my comment or question (True, and Needed) needs to be spoken
right now, urgently, no matter what else may be going on with those
around me?
If it's True, and Needed, but doesn't need to be said RIGHT NOW,
consider waiting to say it until a more appropriate moment...

Can it be said NICELY?
So fine, this all-important Comment or Remark or (often rhetorical) Question
is True, it Needs to be said, and it needs to be said Right Now... Can it
at least be said Nicely? My daughter is going out of the house in an outfit
that her parents don't approve of; our son is making a pest of himself in
a group of people we're with; my assessment of the situation, and the comment
I want to make about it is TRUE, and yes it probably does NEED to be said,
and because of the timing of the situation, it does need to be said RIGHT NOW;
but can I not calm my rising anger a great deal, take one second to breathe,
formulate a firm-but-encouraging Instruction for her/him, and deliver it with
a tone more like a "coach" than like a tyrant? How much more of a blessing
could we be to those around us if we simply spoke more NICELY, and with more
GRACE injected into our words and tone?
If it's True, and it Needs to be said, and it needs to be said Right Now,
then at least try to find a Nice way to phrase and deliver it...

It's not difficult to see that the first of these would capture a great deal
of what we let flow out of our mouths every day; the second would filter out
another huge segment; the third would relieve those around us of our self-imposed
sense of "urgency" to speak; the fourth would render what is left over much
more like "apples of gold in pictures of silver" (or, "a word fitly spoken",
and again, "a gentle answer turns away wrath")... Proverbs has quite a bit
to say on this topic.

May God Himself help us to devote ourselves to following these simple
"guidelines" for how we manage that poisonous piece of flesh behind
our teeth...
    "Those who consider themselves religious and yet
    do not keep a tight rein on their tongues deceive themselves,
    and their religion is worthless." - James 1:26


Thursday, August 11, 2011

Natural vs. UN-Natural LOVE

In thinking about our mandate to love God and to love those around us,
it's critical that we come to a deep understanding of what Love even means,
and that we dedicate ourselves to the life-long process of studying and
practicing Love... Make no mistake: The central theme and compelling directive
of the Gospel is LOVE; anything less is mere religion, and profits us nothing.

As I've noted here on TPoG before, there is perhaps no better Context in which
to understand and to practice True Love than Marriage; and in regard to this
"proving ground for Love", I had a realization yesterday that I don't think
I've ever had, before:

Married Love is UN-NATURAL.

I heard someone say recently that they know what "True Love" is, referencing
relationships with Siblings, Parents, and even that "first love" romance from
high school; but as I pondered this, I began to see a very clear difference
between these Loves and Husband-Wife love.

The Love one experiences for both Siblings and Parents is what might be called
"Natural Love", that is, it springs from a relationship in which we find ourselves
beginning at birth, having made no *choice* to Love and yet growing to feel,
naturally, the strength of a bond often described with the phrase, "blood is
thicker than water". We grow up in these relationships experiencing a deep filial
affection, a certain "you belong with me" connection that is, from the start,
a central part of our very identity; family ties are who we are, to a very
great degree, and while not all Family ties are necessarily loving and happy and
blessed, they are relationships we are born into, natural and normal
realities that define us throughout our entire lives...

Married Love, however, is NOT Natural, it is UN-Natural: It begins with a Contract
in which both parties vow that certain behaviors can be expected of them until
death parts them; it is the voluntary sealing of the relational "escape hatch" with
Vows that are meant to hold the relationship together specifically when one or the
other, or both, are desperately seeking a way out; and it is the life-long
determination of two deeply sinful and (often) wildly different parties to devote
themselves, BOTH of them, to building, strengthening, and deepening a Bond that is
designed to be "one flesh", a single, new "Super-person".

Contrary to Family love, Married love does NOT arise naturally, by definition; it is
NOT present from birth, and it is NOT an innate part of any of our identities; it
requires, like a garden, a tremendous amount of work, and maintenance, and care and
feeding, so that the couple can mutually enjoy the benefits of its Fruits.
The "weeds" of selfishness, and apathy, and indifference, and infidelity, and many
more, are a constant threat; and, tragically, its Bonds can be broken, by either
party at any time, whereas Family relationships cannot be, at least by definition,
ever be broken: We will ALWAYS be our Siblings' sibling, and our Parents' children,
no matter what any of us ever chooses to do...

Interesting, then, to consider that the relationship of Christ and His Church is
described, primarily, not as a "family" relationship but as a MARRIAGE relationship:
An UN-Natural relationship we must enter into by choice, from which we often stray,
and for which we must "die daily"... This UN-Natural Love requires commitment and
work and fidelity; and yet, ironically, its ultimate Fruit will, when we are finally
and perfectly Glorified, be the transformation of an UN-Natural Love into
a NATURAL Love, a Bond that will last for all eternity.

This then is the highest Love and the most dramatic of all, the epitome of
True Love, our deepest need and our greatest joy.

Sunday, July 17, 2011

Heaven, Hell, and Christian Love


Just recently, a new book was released by popular evangelical icon Rob Bell,
entitled "Love Wins: A Book About Heaven, Hell, and the Fate of Every Person
Who Ever Lived". I've read the book twice, and I've read other Christian
who have reviewed the book... In addition, I've listened to Rob Bell himself
discuss the book, and I've read other works by Mr. Bell and seen a number of his
YouTube videos (he's very good with modern technology and the tools of what has
come to be known as "Social Media"), so I think I have a good handle on his basic
perspective on our Faith... Indeed, the themes of most of the current crop of
post-modern Christian "pop-culture" figures are strikingly similar:
Read or listen to one and you're sufficiently introduced to them all...

His central thesis is that both the Love that God offers the world through Christ,
and therefore "heaven", can be experienced in the here and now (as well as in the
"afterlife"), and conjointly, that "hell" begins for us as the suffering and pain
we experience in our lives right now... He claims to believe in a literal Heaven
and a literal Hell, based on his understanding of the Bible, but that seems to be
more or less where adherence to traditional doctrine on these topics ends.

In my view, and as I understand the fundamentals of our Faith, I think Mr. Bell's
position on these topics is dangerously close to "it-means-whatever-works-for-you"
Post-Modernism, most especially as it concerns what the Love of God is really about;
indeed, the book seems, to me, to be a classic example of this new "Social Gospel"
that has become so prevalent in modern times... A watered-down substitute for
Scriptural themes that attempts to sponge away the "nasty" stuff in favor of
interpretations that are nicer to hear... But, as in so many other areas of life,
Error is most pernicious when it has a bit of Truth mixed into it...

Based on what the Bible says, clearly, in plain Enlish (no Theology degree, or
slick YouTube video, required), we understand that God DOES love the entire world,
every man, woman and child who has ever lived; it's also clear that God is not
willing that ANY perish (that is, to CHOOSE to REJECT the cleansing from Sin
through the blood of Jesus, and to DENY His Deity and Lordship); indeed the Bible
is utterly explicit that SIN is the problem between God and Man; but since -- as
the Bible explains -- we are free to choose or reject God, there will in fact be
some who reject Jesus, and God's Love... That choice MUST, at some point, become
permanent, and when it does -- when that Soul has lost all Hope and when all
Goodness and Truth and Beauty are removed from its existence, and when that Soul's
SIN Nature is fully, tragically perfected -- that Soul will BE Hell-ish
and will be IN Hell.

Since even the most evil person alive on this planet at least has EVIDENCE of the
Goodness and Truth and Beauty of God around him -- though he may take no notice --
he is NOT, in fact, yet in Hell, no matter how evil his heart is; Hell is not only
the complete and profound REMOVAL of any hint of God... It is a state which -- no
matter HOW badly the Soul suffers there -- is still (stunningly) preferred by
the damned Soul, and so will be, forever... Souls in Hell cannot be rescued
because they WILL not be rescued...

Mr. Bell speaks very infrequently about the Biblical theme of SIN; as for Love,
he is rather weak on what God's Love for us MEANS: Ultimately, God loves us just
like a Father loves his children: We "accept" them and "Love" them the way they
are, right now, but on a deeper and wider level, our "Love" for them leaves us
UNSATISFIED with them in their current state and desiring for them the very BEST
"grown-up" they can ultimately be; we view our role as Parents as the chief
"agents" or "coaches" to help them GET there...

...so God's Love for us begins there: What is the ultimate "ME" I can possibly be?
Well, a Glorified SAINT, in the end: Perfected by God, radiating His Glory,
reflecting that Glory back to Him in a way that only I -- as a unique creation of
God -- can do, and thoroughly enjoying the process of doing so forever and ever.
When God is finished with me, I will BE Heaven-ish and I will be IN Heaven...

But even the most sanctified person alive on this planet still has, at least,
some trace of the SIN Nature inside him, and evidence of evil all around him,
and so is NOT, in fact, IN Heaven just yet; indeed, the Love of God inside us is
intended to motivate us to reach out in Love to each other, desiring very
passionately to help those around us move on toward becoming the Glorified
SAINT that God wants to make of THEM, too...

Mr. Bell's views reflect a trend in some modern Christian circles to dilute these
very strong Biblical themes and to apply them to a much broader audience; it seems
that he seeks to lessen the "sting" of the end result of rejecting Jesus, and to
minimize the impact of the concept of SIN by focusing on a somewhat vague,
egalitarian sense of "love"...

We should be on our guard against any tendency in us toward "itching ears",
hearing what we want to hear instead of what we NEED to hear, the strong meat
of the Scriptures. Part of what we read there is that most Souls will
reject the truth of the Gospel, in contrast to Mr. Bell's fundamental
position that ALL will, eventually, be saved...

But the Scriptures are very clear on these topics; we must continue, as millions
of Christians have, down through the centuries, to submit ourselves to their
teachings, no matter how difficult they may seem to be.
May God grant us more grace.
    “Enter through the narrow gate. For wide is the gate
    and broad is the road that leads to destruction,
    and many enter through it.

    But small is the gate and narrow the road that leads
    to life, and only a few find it." -- MAT 7:13-14


Monday, June 20, 2011

Heaven Can Wait


This 1978 film -- starring Warren Beatty -- was a rather comedic look at
what can happen when a trip to Heaven is postponed by other things...

For some Christians -- certainly for the stereo-typical Evangelist -- Heaven
CAN'T wait; indeed, the pitch most often heard, and repeated even among those
who have no interest in Christianity -- goes something like this:

"Accept Jesus and go to Heaven!" And often the reverse is added or implied:
"Refuse Jesus and go to... well... That Other Place."

Other versions include these: "Do you know where you will go when you die?"...
"It's okay, Grandpa, Grandma is in Heaven"...

This, however, is just like saying that Newlyweds look forward to their
Honeymoon so that they can enjoy nice hotel accommodations, which is,
of course, ridiculous: Newlyweds look forward to the Honeymoon with tremendous
anticipation so that they can be togehter, so that they can
consumate their marriage vows in every sense of the word; it's meant to
be an incredibly beautiful and private and intimate time of Bonding, in body
as well as mind and spirit and soul... Sure, the hotel accommodations are a part
of that mystical, magical, joyful time, but that is a secondary condition;
clearly, the focus is Togetherness.

No wonder, then, that Scripture describes the relationship between Christ and
His Church not in terms of geography, but in terms of Relationship,
most specifically a MARRIAGE relationship.

When we die, and after we are finally and eternally PERFECTED by our Bridegroom
and presented to Him, our highest and greatest Hope is to enjoy TOGETHERNESS
with Him for all eternity, NOT primarily to co-habitate with Him in nice accommodations...

To the extent that any Christian grounds their Hope on GEOGRAPHY in the after-life,
they are in very great danger of missing the whole point of becoming a Christian
at all: The process of Transformation, from a creature beset by Sin and Self and
into a Saint, fully glorified by God, reflecting HIS Truth and Goodness and Beauty
forever, in a way that only they -- as a Unique soul created by God Himself -- can do
once Glorification (Perfection) has been accomplished.

That Transformation can -- and should! -- be going on already in the heart of every
Christian. If a Christian is single-mindedly focused on Geography in the
"sweet by-and-by", they are likely to miss out on the JOY of enjoying the first-fruits
of that Transformation process in the here-and-now...

Thursday, May 12, 2011

How to Love God -- Part 1


It doesn't take a great deal of studying the Christian faith to understand
that the central Theme of Christianity is LOVE, beginning with God's
unfailing, unflappable, passionate love for us, and then as a response, on
our part, by first loving God Himself and then loving one another in the
same way that we love ourselves... As a foundation for leaning how
to love God, consider these things:

    -- The very Nature of God is a 3-way community of Love
    which we call the "Trinity", or, Tri-Unity (Three-in-One)

    -- God created Humankind because Love seeks to share Itself;
    it spills out, overflows, and spreads Truth and Beauty and
    Goodness in every direction; so God made Man in order to
    continue sharing LOVE, with free-will Souls who could love Him
    in return... in a relationship of Love...

    -- This is not some weak, foolish love that ignores the hard
    questions: All the blood sacrifices of the Old Testament were
    foreshadows of the final sacrifice of the spotless Lamb of God,
    an act that would settle forever the requirement for Justice
    wherever there is Evil...

    -- ... all because of God's profound, passionate, radical LOVE
    for every human Soul that ever has or ever will exist... Each
    of whom is a unique product of God's infinite, creative genius...

    -- Isaiah 53 makes it clear that God has virtually NO INTEREST in
    "religion" per se, but in Justice and Mercy, Self-Sacrifice and
    Service to others...

    -- To those who understand and accept that Love, God reveals, in
    and through the Person of Jesus Christ, just two Commands:
    LOVE Me, and LOVE those nearest to you even as you are
    loving yourself.

    -- Jesus Himself said that the HALLMARK of what would define
    His disciples would be their LOVE for each other...

    -- Paul wrote to the Corinthians that LOVE is the greatest of
    the three Christian transcendentals; he went into great detail to
    explain that even Faith and Hope are nothing compared to Love...

So it would seem patently clear that if we are "majoring on the majors and
minoring on the minors", we will understand that LOVE ought to be the
fundamental pillar around which we build our faith and our lives.

The best place to begin, then, is at the beginning:
"Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with
all your strength and with all your mind", and, "Love your neighbor as yourself."
(Luke 10:27, where Jesus quoted an aggregate of Old Testament sources)

So what does it mean? How do we love God?

Some believers would answer instantly, reflexively, along the lines of,
"Loving God means obeying Him." Well, there are some serious difficulties
with that answer:

Logical Circularity
We're to love God... fine, how? Obey Him. Great. Obedience means doing
what He has commanded; what has He commanded? First and foremost,
Love Him. Fine, so how do we do that? Well, obey Him.
And how do we do that...? (ad infinitum...)

You see the problem, I'm sure: If we answer the "how?" by saying that
loving God means (simply) "obeying" Him, we run into an endless cycle.
Furthermore, you can Obey without Loving, but you cannot Love without Obeying,
so it seems clear that obedience is predicated on Love, and the question
before us is how to Love God; in other words, we'll be obeying God WHEN we
have learned how to love Him, as PART of loving Him...

The next stage of that answer that some might give would be, "well, it means
obeying [all the other commands]"... But if God Himself has said [all the other
commands] boil down to just those TWO, we're right back where we started,
are we not? And didn't Jesus point out, to the Pharisees during His ministry,
the emptiness of following "the Law" without having a genuine love for God?
Jesus borrows a passage from Isaiah 29 and describes them this way:
"These people honor me with their lips but their hearts are far from me"
(Mt. 15:8). It seems clear, then, that God isn't interested simply in
"obedience"; He wants LOVE, so loving God must mean something else...

The Heart
If I tell my son, "please clean the kitchen", and he does so, does that prove
that he loves me? If I tell my daughter to say "Thank You" when someone
pays her a compliment, does that prove that she is indeed thankful?

The obvious answer to both is "of course not." No, I want my son to
want to PLEASE his father by doing the things I ask; I want my daughter to
actually BE thankful when someone says something nice to her. The mere
ACT of cleaning, the mere WORDS "thank you", mean almost nothing to me
if their HEARTS are not in it... God isn't interested in mere "obedience",
He is interested in our hearts, and in our actually and truly and genuinely
LOVING Him, with our Hearts and Minds and Souls and Strengths...
In a word, COMPLETELY...

So how do we do THAT?

It's no overstatement to say that I (as do many Christians, I'm sure) ponder
this thought constantly. I came across these helpful thoughts recently
as I've investigated this issue (click the bolded text to view)...

While I think the writer still misses the point, I was struck by the exploration
of the Greek words for "Love" that are used in these verses admonishing us
to love God... I know next to nothing about Greek, but I am impacted by the use
of this word "AGAPAO" ("ah-guh-PAH-oh"), a verb which, in many of its uses,
means "to be totally consumed with"... We are to be "totally consumed with"
God Himself, a Real Person... But how?

"Make Him Lord of your life"... These and other Christian catch-phrases don't
quite do it, I'm afraid; when you truly LOVE someone, you don't need to erect
philosophical banners over your life reminding you of that fact; you just
genuinely and truly and sincerely LOVE, and it comes out of you -- spills out --
all over the place, more and more naturally as the relationship grows...

OK, so how can we be actually and sincerely "totally consumed" with God,
a Person whom we have never seen, never met (not really), never heard
speak (not really), nor smelled, nor touched, and even have some difficulty

Let's think on this for a bit,
and then go further in Part 2.


Wednesday, February 02, 2011

The Gospel is like Warm Water

These frigid days being experienced by nearly the entire Midwest
region of the country brings to mind an analogy of what the Gospel
is really like:

When you spend a lot of time outdoors in weather like this, you
of course get a sense that your hands are cold, but it's often a rather
vague sense, because your whole body -- including your hands -- has
acclimated to the cold and you're focused on whatever it is you're
doing (like putting out the trash or picking up those branches that
have fallen, or enjoying sledding with your kids)... You KNOW your hands
are cold, but you just kind of "accept" it as part of your condition...

But then you go inside and put your hands under the water faucet, with
the handle turned all the way to HOT... As the stream of water begins
to heat up, running over your hands, it actually HURTS at first; and actual
sharp PAINS shoot through your hands and you are tempted to pull away...

But you keep your hands under the water, and pain turns to tingling,
and tingling subsides into tepid, and tepid warms you up until your hands
begin to feel NORMAL again...

They turn back into a healthy shade of "pink", and you can even feel
that warmth spreading through your arms and even your whole body...

The Gospel is just like that: We don't perceive at first JUST HOW BADLY
we've frozen our souls; and the initial Treatment from a true understanding of
the Gospel brings PAIN at first; but the more we remain under its influence,
we sense our hearts warming, our minds opening up, our fears and frustrations
and prejudices and deep-seated Hate and Lust and Greed and Laziness being
exposed and soothed away... And we smile a grateful smile as we begin to enjoy
the warmth...

... and that thawed Heart begins to acknowledge God and the act of RESCUE
He is performing in us, a Rescue we didn't even know, really, that we needed
when we were galloping through the frozen Winter of the World and its paltry
and self-destructive amusements...

Letting that warmth change us forever, and sharing that warmth with others...
And someday experiencing COMPLETE warmth and eternal Enjoyments...
That's "The Rest of The Story", from the Christian's perspective.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

The Other Half of Forgiveness

The Bible has a lot to say about Forgiveness and its central role
in the life of a Believer; Jesus Himself included it in the Lord's Prayer,
and He specifically told His disciples, "if you forgive men when they sin
against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not
forgive men their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins." Mathew 6:14,15

In my own spiritual journey, I've come to understand Forgiveness as an utterly
fundamental goal of the process of Sanctification in our lives,
along with Humility and Wisdom, and all three of those rooted and grounded in the
most supreme quality of all, LOVE Itself...

As I've pondered this, and read a great deal on it, I've come to understand that
there are really two halves to this idea of Forgiveness; most of us understand
the first, but perhaps few have contemplated the second:

Debt Relief
When we extend TRUE Forgiveness to someone, we are saying to them, "I permanently
waive any 'debt' that you owe to me for what you've said or done to me; I will not
attempt to 'get back at you' or otherwise and in any way try to 'punish' you or
make you feel 'guilty' for this offense."

Like so much of the Christian world view, this would seem to go totally contrary
to the World's perspective, which preaches that we have the "right" to exact
justice for harms we've suffered, to "get back" at someone, to "make them pay"
for what they've done... Sometimes, though, even the secular world understands
that this kind of retributive approach not only (a) eats away at one's soul, but
also (b) ignores the truth that we ALL sometimes do and/or say things that we, too,
need Forgiveness for...

This is a hard thing to do, most of the time -- to let go of our "right"
to "hit back" -- but it is fundamental to the Sanctification of our souls to
understand this requirement and to practice it daily. There is no way around it.

Some years ago, someone I knew -- I'll call this person "Pat" -- unleashed a
furious tirade against me over some inconsequential circumstance, saying horrible
things and non-verbally communicating a good deal of hostility and malice toward me,
wild-eyed and waving arms... It was quite a sight...

The next morning, Pat came to me, teary-eyed, noting the bad behavior and expressing
remorse over it; for my part, I wanted to share, in that moment, how the behavior
had made me feel and what some of the real circumstances were that had apparently
"caused" the tirade... I didn't get 2 sentences out before Pat's expression changed
to a hardened, patronizing glare, and the rebuke I received was, "I've said I was
sorry, now YOU need to Forgive..."

It became immediately apparent that Pat's only goal was to be absolved of Guilt,
to have me apply salve to a stinging conscience, only so that Pat could feel
better... The "apology" really had nothing to do with me at all; I was only a
player in Pat's quest to obtain personal peace and a restored view of Self...

Well of course I had already forgiven Pat the night before, almost as soon as
it happened (as we become more and more aware of our OWN desperate need for
continual Forgiveness, it becomes easier and easier to Forgive others quickly
and sincerely)... But what Pat's reaction made me realize was that Pat had no
interest in RELATIONSHIP, either before or after the incident...

In many human relationships, and certainly in our relationship to God,
the "second half" of Forgiveness -- the GOAL of Forgiveness -- is the beginning
of RESTORATION of that relationship...

Restoration is the process (and sometimes it may be a long process) of building
back the Trust that was damaged by the behavior, to arrive once again at the level
of Intimacy that the relationship is intended to provide... God certainly FORGIVES
us when we sin, and He is even willing to expedite the Restoration process, I have
to believe, but we might do well to ask ourselves, when we ask for
"Forgiveness", do we really intend to then move on toward Restoration?
Is it relationship with God that we seek, or mere absolution of our own feelings
of Guilt?

Thanks be to God that Jesus took on the Guilt and then the Punishment
for our sins, and one day (as part of the completion of our Sanctification)
our Sinfulness will be ripped away (and I believe it's going to be painful), but
for now, we can enjoy Forgiveness when we ask God for it sincerely, and we can even
begin, just a little bit, to enjoy something like Relationship to Him, in this life,
if perhaps shrouded in mystery, for now...