My modest suggestion for this new year, GET WISDOM!

Proverbs 3: 5-6. “Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make straight your paths.” Have you ever hiked on a designated and marked trail? Let’s call that kind of path “straight”. That’s quite a different experience than blazing your own trail. When I was in Vietnam we hiked, but the trail was anything but “straight”. There was jungle, there were booby traps, there were mines, and the last thing you wanted to do was walk in a straight line. The person who had the unenviable job of walking in front and testing the safety of the path was called the point man.

In your life you are the point man, or woman. As in Vietnam, there is jungle, there are booby traps and mines–though most of those are emotional and interpersonal rather than literal–so how do you know which path to walk safely? In Vietnam, walking the right path safely required courage above all else, and intense concentration, and experience, and there was no template for it. In life there are many paths you might take and courage, concentration and experience, while important, are not nearly as significant as wisdom.

What is wisdom? It is applying truth to decisions. What is truth? Let’s go back to Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make straight your paths.” How do we trust in the Lord? How do we acknowledge him in all our ways? First, notice that there is a counterpoint to trusting in the Lord, and that is “leaning on your own understanding.” What happens when a dog is leashed to a tree? Very soon, the leash is wound around the tree. When humans do this to themselves–the “tree” being their habits which create their circumstances–their preferred answer is a longer leash! If you made the dog’s leash longer, what would happen? You dog owners know that the dog would become even more entangled. There must be a better way. (Thanks to a Tony Evans sermon for this example).

Why am I using the example of a dog? There is another Proverb I love, Proverbs 26:11. “Like a dog that returns to his vomit is a fool who repeats his folly.” Just so you don’t get confused by the real significance, that one is followed by 26:12, “Do you see a man who is wise in his own eyes? There is more hope for a fool than for him.” We can be “wise in our own eyes” even while being steeped in the Bible. Here’s an example (don’t try this at home, as they say, unless you really, really like to laugh at yourself): J.E. resolutions

Far be it from me to impugn Jonathon Edwards, but…….there’s this thing called “the law”–in the Biblical sense that Paul was using it (“O foolish Galatians! Who has bewitched you? It was before your eyes that Jesus Christ was publicly portrayed as crucified. Let me ask you only this: Did you receive the Spirit by works of the law or by hearing with faith? Are you so foolish? Having begun by the Spirit, are you now being perfected by the flesh? Did you suffer so many things in vain—if indeed it was in vain?  Does he who supplies the Spirit to you and works miracles among you do so by works of the law, or by hearing with faith—”) Keeping resolutions by your own will is the law, from which we in Christ have been set free. It is “being wise in your own eyes.” Wisdom is looking to Christ to be our resolution-keeper. 

Instead of trying to apply Biblical principles to every aspect of your life–which you will fail at–steep yourself in the knowledge that Christ will do it for you. The hardest part is getting out of your own way, stop celebrating your own efforts (could actually be the “dog’s vomit”), rest secure in Christ’s perfecting you as you go along, He will unwind your chain from around your habits and circumstances.

A different kind of New Year’s resolution.

While it’s completely arbitrary that somehow January 1st is different from December 31st, nevertheless people tend to treat it that way and they make resolutions. I want to suggest a single resolution, one that will make a huge difference not only in your life but in the lives of everyone you interact with. This resolution reads: “I resolve, going forward, to stop making everything about me.” A shorter version would be, “I resolve to get over myself.”

But you say “I don’t make everything about myself, do I?” Maybe, maybe not, it’s more likely that you’re not even aware of making everything about yourself. So ask yourself the following questions: “Do I find myself suddenly flaring up in anger over something that someone just said, before I’m even aware of why I’m angry?” “Do I think that a lot of people are trying to offend me?” “Do I get offended easily? Do I not even know what getting offended easily means? ”

Like most decent New Year’s resolutions this one is difficult to keep. In fact, it’s more difficult to keep than almost any other resolution, because people who make everything about themselves are generally not aware that they’re making anything about themselves. They are just simply offended at or angry about a whole lot of stuff, since it feels like others’ fault.

Here’s another one that will help you keep the first one. “I will think about things that would be appropriate last thoughts if I were to die in the next minute”–because you could……die that is! Or substitute “I will refrain from saying things that I would not want to be my last words on earth” for the previous sentence. You really wouldn’t want your last thoughts or words to be trivial, would you?  However, there’s a huge problem in all this. I am presupposing that you have enough self awareness and self control to keep resolutions. I don’t, do you?

The good news is, we neither need to make nor keep resolutions, if we accept the greatest gift ever offered. This gift is free for the taking, there are no hidden traps in reaching for it, and all you have to do is put aside your pride, because it is an undeserved gift! God loves you as you are, with all your flaws, and all you have to do is acknowledge, “Jesus Christ is Lord”–because He is–and then accept the gift that He will transform you. The less effort on your part to transform yourself, the more this spirit will do the work.

Ephesians 2: 4-9. “But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved— and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, so that in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast.”

FIRST, DENIAL, THEN THE PAIN THAT NEVER GOES AWAY!!!

Vacaville, CA.: She is walking her dogs, smiling at the thought of an intimate lunch with her husband when she gets home–he has just retired. As she approaches the house, she barely even notices the nondescript sedan with government license plates parked in the driveway, until her gaze shifts to the front door and the 3 men in Army dress uniforms with the yellow horsehead patch on their left shoulders standing in the threshold, talking to her husband. “No! No! No!” she screams, and runs towards them, waving her hands as if to make the whole scene disappear, before collapsing into her husband’s arms.

Midland, TX.: A woman is addressing a package to her son-in-law in Iraq, when she notices a similar nondescript sedan pull up, and she knows what it means even before the 3 men with the same patch get out. But her daughter answers the door, and greets them before her mom can stop her. “Mrs. Guadalupe Garza, is your husband specialist Israel Garza serving with the First Cavalry?” She is still smiling as she answers in the affirmative. “The Secretary of the Army has asked us to express his deepest regrets that your husband was killed in action in Iraq…” As the smile begins to turn into something else, this brief moment of denial before the horror sets in will be the only comfort she knows for years to come. Even now, their two small children are asking, “is this about daddy?” She slams the door shut before they can finish, while yelling “No! No! No!” She yells through the door, “you have the wrong house” as her kids stare uncomprehending.

The 3 men are the Army “casualty notification team.” These scenes are out of the series The Long Road Home, from National Geographic, about the ambush of my former unit, the First Cavalry, in Sadr City, Iraq, 2004. I am crying too as I watch. Those scenes could have been my parents in 1970. They are the parents, the spouses, the children of countless war casualties. And for what? Even now, ISIS is killing Shiites in this same place. And how goes it with our longest “war”?

From Marty Skovland, Task and Purpose, December 2017: “Whenever the justification for the ongoing war in Afghanistan is called into question, the response is typically that it’s a vital national interest. In fact, that was the very justification Obama used for his troop surge in 2009. That sentiment has been echoed more recently by Joint Chiefs chairman Gen. Joseph Dunford, Jr., who said that continuing to put pressure on terrorist organizations in Afghanistan and the greater South Asia area “is critical and vital to our national interests.”

“But is it? In 1996, a bipartisan working group, The Commission on America’s National Interests, proposed “vital national interests” be defined as “conditions that are strictly necessary to safeguard and enhance America’s survival and well-being as a free and secure nation.” How could an unstable, non-nuclear, economically unthreatening nation in Southwest Asia merit such a label?

“I received a little bit of clarification during an intelligence brief at Resolute Support headquarters. Officials explained that the country is home to approximately 20 of the world’s 98 U.S.-designated terrorist and violent extremist organizations, and the rationale has long been that it’s better to “fight them over there” than on American soil. That said, many of these groups did not even exist when Congress passed the Authorization for Use of Military Force on Sept. 14, 2001.

“The fact is our real national interest in Afghanistan has very little to do with Afghanistan at all. Increasingly, the more important conflict playing out is our ongoing effort to contain Russia. (sounds familiar, like the “Domino Theory” used to justify the Vietnam War) In recent years, the Kremlin’s escalating aggression has included incursions into Georgia, the invasion of Ukraine and subsequent poaching of Crimea, and a habit of meddling in foreign elections, as well as successfully maneuvering for unilateral control of Syria. These power plays have not escaped the attention of NATO-aligned countries, who have certainly made note of Russia’s recent hints about ramping up military operations in Afghanistan if the situation there grows too unstable.

“Meanwhile, Iran and Pakistan see the country as a vital trade partner, and also a critical stage on which to exert regional influence. Additionally, many of these countries see untapped economic potential in Afghanistan’s significant mineral resources — including enough battery-grade lithium to become “the Saudi Arabia of lithium.” The coming year will probably be the bloodiest to date. Most Afghan and NATO military officials that I talked to agree that 2017 was a year to build momentum, and that the first-year goals of the four-year road map have been met. But the violence will get worse before it gets better.”

OKAY, THAT’S ENOUGH. After Cain killed Abel, and then pretended innocence, the Lord declared “The voice of your brother’s blood is crying to me from the ground.” The blood of all of our dead, as well as that of the innocents in Vietnam, Iraq, Afghanistan, and other places where we didn’t need to be cries out to us, “ENOUGH!” Of course, I am being naive and foolish–the bloodshed will not end until the Lord redeems the earth from the curse!

For this Christmas season, let’s revisit one of the most reprehensible songs ever written.

Imagine there’s no heaven, it’s easy if you try,
No hell below us, above us only sky. Imagine all the people living for today.
Imagine there’s no countries, it isn’t hard to do, nothing to kill or die for, and no religion too. Imagine all the people living life in peace, you may say I’m a dreamer,
but I’m not the only one, I hope some day you’ll join us and the world will be as one.”
You know this one; in fact, as you read the lyrics it’s easy to sing along. I can’t help myself, it’s such a pretty melody and oh so noble. John Lennon, with Yoko Ono, wrote Imagine in 1971, was killed by Mark Chapman in December of 1980, and eulogized by Jay Cocks in Time magazine that same month. “The outpouring of grief, wonder and shared devastation that followed Lennon’s death had the same breadth and intensity as the reaction to the killing of a world figure: some bold and popular politician, like John or Robert Kennedy, or a spiritual leader, like Martin Luther King Jr. But Lennon was a creature of poetic political metaphor, and his spiritual consciousness was directed inward, as a way of nurturing and widening his creative force. That was what made the impact, and the difference—the shock of his imagination, the penetrating and pervasive traces of his genius—and it was the loss of all that, in so abrupt and awful a way, that was mourned last week, all over the world.”
Even Monday Night Football’s Howard Cosell weighed in. “Yes, we have to say it. Remember this is just a football game, no matter who wins or loses. An unspeakable tragedy confirmed to us by ABC News in New York City: John Lennon, outside of his apartment building on the West Side of New York City, the most famous perhaps, of all of the Beatles, shot twice in the back, rushed to Roosevelt Hospital, dead on arrival. Hard to go back to the game after that newsflash, which, in duty bound, we have to take.”
In the face of all this, how do I dare to call one of his greatest songs “reprehensible?” Bear with me as I examine some of the lyrics and more important, the philosophy/beliefs and worldview behind the lyrics. My presuppositions about John Lennon are:
  • He is at least indifferent, and probably hostile to Christianity, and therefore the “heaven” and “religion” he wants you to imagine gone are based on the Bible;
  • He is a “utopian”–someone whose ideal of heaven is unity of hearts and minds on earth–and thus believes it is possible and desirable for human beings to be “as one.”
  • Explicit from his lyrics, national sovereignty (which requires borders, laws and all that they entail) and beliefs strong enough to “kill or die for” are bad things.

You may challenge my presuppositions about Lennon, but my evidence is in his writings and statements. The real challenge would be reconciling his lifestyle with his stated beliefs. Like most wealthy and famous celebrities, his lifestyle was one of extravagance and privacy/exclusivity. He earned the right to enjoy both, and his preaching does render him a hypocrite. No big deal to me, most people are. In fact, I won’t even dispute that he believed the sentiments he expressed in Imagine. If he didn’t he would certainly be a hypocrite, but if he did believe them he’s either a naive fool, or a closet totalitarian.

But why, you ask? Utopian visions have always required totalitarian measures, because people want what THEY want, and Utopia requires submission of the individual desires to the goals of oneness and equality of outcome. I read that George Orwell once debated a Soviet apologist, who excused Stalin’s tyranny with the lame cliche, “you can’t make an omelet without breaking some eggs.” Orwell’s response was “where’s the omelet?” While the words of Lennon’s song are dreamy, the reality of attempts at utopia without Christ is in the cries of pain and despair of the broken “eggs” in gulags and reeducation camps, the agony of the peasantry in Mao’s “Great Leap Forward “, the destruction of the intellectual class by Pol Pot.

The “omelet” of an earthly utopia that did not require the breaking of human beings occurred only a few days after the ascension of Jesus Christ. The very things Lennon wanted to eliminate–Heaven and religion–created the first successful community of oneness. Acts 2: 41-47. So those who received his word were baptized, and there were added that day about three thousand souls. And they devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers.  And awe came upon every soul, and many wonders and signs were being done through the apostles.  And all who believed were together and had all things in common.  And they were selling their possessions and belongings and distributing the proceeds to all, as any had need.  And day by day, attending the temple together and breaking bread in their homes, they received their food with glad and generous hearts, praising God and having favor with all the people. And the Lord added to their number day by day those who were being saved.”

Under the influence of the Holy Spirit, these lovers of Jesus Christ in Jerusalem were comprised of people “from every nation under heaven.” There was no compulsion necessary, everyone shared and everyone cared. Why? Heaven and religion. They all looked forward to eternity–their actions sprung from hearts attuned to and cognizant of heaven awaiting. The religion was later called Christianity. There is much more to be said. Soon it will be Christmas 2017. John Lennon died December 8, 1980, and still the birth of the Savior of the world was celebrated that year and every year, and always will be. Imagine is not immortal, nor was it’s composer, but the religion he wanted gone is immortal.