Of provocation and persuasion!

I was inspired to write this post by seeing an ad for that shirt today. I will not be wearing that T-shirt above, even though I definitely favor those positions. When I was in college, I used to enjoy  provoking friends and enemies with inflammatory and outrageous statements. My purpose was, ultimately, to learn how and what others believed and were emotionally attached to. When I would make such statements face to face (always), I could usually look forward to the following reactions from friends and antagonists, in order:

  1. Involuntary guffaws (“right, he’s making a joke”), followed quickly by…
  2. Tentative, conflicted smile, fading as they surveyed my unsmiling face (“can he really be serious”)…
  3. Raised brows with “darkening” countenance, smile turning to sneer, as they interpret my attitude as arrogance (“I think he really means it, the jerk”)….
  4. Outraged and vociferous shouting of disagreement (“I’ll show him”)…
  5. Complete shock and silence, after I admitted I could be wrong…
  6. Mostly rational, though grudging debate, as we discussed the relative merits of each other’s position. Sometimes I would concede the superior validity of their position, other times they were persuaded by my points.

This is how I learned to: evaluate information, listen for understanding, gain perspective, think for myself, and often, persuade others to my “cause”. But the most important lesson I learned is humility. Others sometimes turned out to be smarter than me, or better informed, or more accepting of other viewpoints. I was willing to say “I was wrong, you make more sense.” My main point here is, while provocation can be both a useful learning tool and a way to reveal what someone else is really thinking, it can also function to make enemies, divide people unnecessarily and make the provocateur look immature and foolish when they refuse to admit when they are wrong or to take responsibility for wrongdoing.

The shirt above may or may not have been specifically designed to provoke, and it does function to make it clear what “tribe” you identify with and to signal your virtue to your tribe, but the reason I will never wear it or anything close is that it probably cuts off the possibility of dialogue before it even starts, and thus impedes the learning and perspective of the wearer. In my youthful quest to learn through provocation, I was careful to keep my position and intentions hidden until face to face with a “worthy opponent”,  in a relatively quiet and neutral place, so we could really have a dialogue.

It’s still important to me to have a “worthy opponent”, someone as intelligent and informed as I am who differs on many issues, but with whom I can still conduct a civil discourse. I would recommend that to everyone–but so many people seem to prefer the “echo-chamber” of their own personal and their tribe’s opinions. I‘m not sure who even wants dialogue today, in 2018, or who has the skills and attitude to debate rationally. I invite all my readers who disagree with any of my posts to engage in reasoned debate.

 

What is our true purpose?

If you read my previous post objectively, without indulging in wishful thinking, it should be apparent that philosophies and religions that claim the absence of sin are at best fantasies, at worst hypocritical. In order to really understand foundational sin, you must understand what we were created by God to be and do. Much of the following perspective, and a lot of verbatim, comes from my friend and mentor Robert Andrews, and his blog post. God’s family business

God created mankind with a three-fold, eternal purpose for living in order for His eternal purpose to be accomplished. It would make sense that our best chance of living a fulfilling, satisfying life would involve discovering and pursuing, according to the Bible, our very reason for existing, would it not? We saw that purpose for mankind is to: 

1) Rule as vice-regent over the earth and all it contains, as God’s representatives; 

2) Reflect the image of God, their creator, i.e, ruling just like He would rule, including looking and acting like He looks and acts.

3) Reproduce and fill the earth with offspring,  perpetuating that rule with descendants who have a vision themselves to join Daddy in this family business (Genesis 1:26-28).

“In the Garden of Eden, Satan deceived man into straying from the purpose for which he was created, God’s endgame for him.  So, when God turns on the lights in our hearts, we begin to see what happened at the cross.” In contrast to the (futile) self-effort demanded by other religions to overcome sin, perfect yourself, attain true happiness and total satisfaction, Jesus Christ’s voluntary sacrifice on the cross did the work for us. “Sin was forever judged and put away, it is no longer an issue with God, and He is now completely satisfied with me, right now, just as I am. I am free to quit worrying about how God thinks I am doing (He says I am doing fine!), so I am now free to forget continually evaluating my performance and look at something besides myself for the first time, God’s purpose for me.”

This is the answer to those who accuse Christianity of being negative and judgmental, of consigning us poor sinners to a hopeless existence or an eternal torment!  Accepting Christ’s sacrifice for yourself makes you perfect in God’s sight! No, you won’t behave perfectly, but you will be progressing, inevitably, towards the perfection God has in store for you. For the believers in self-effort, including many (most?) Christians, THIS IS AN INSULT! Why? Because I am saying that you and I can contribute NOTHING towards our salvation or perfection. If you place your hopes on self-effort, you will fail and not be much of a partner in “God’s family business.”

The Bible tells us that God’s business of ruling over the earth through man began, of course, in the Garden of Eden. The start-up there had a very rocky beginning, as it was derailed almost immediately at the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil. There Satan deceived Adam, God’s newly installed president in His fledgling business enterprise, into renouncing God’s leadership and following Satan’s. In doing so, he surrendered to Satan the authority to rule that God had given Adam when he was created. That authority to rule only came to Adam as a result of his child-like, dependent faith in God alone for everything. It is called “living (ruling) by faith” in the Bible. At the Tree, Adam rejected this life of faith and adopted Satan’s way to live instead—by determining for himself what he should or shouldn’t do, what we would call “living (ruling) by his own free-will.

With Adam, Satan’s temptation at the Tree had been to “be like God (even though you are not!).” “You don’t need God to do your job of ruling. You can make all the right decisions yourself, independently, apart from the Father, completely on your own.” Do you want a fuller understanding of these issues–God’s family business, the root sin, redemption, the unnecessary futility of self-effort? Read Robert’s entire post (link at the top), but read it with the proper spirit–that of accepting your total inability to obey God’s law.

 

 

The foundational sin, and understanding the clash of worldviews.

SIN! What a loaded word; and so many meanings! In this post, I am going to explore the only sin that matters, since all other sins stem from this root–the foundational sin. Genesis 3:  Now the serpent was more crafty than any other beast of the field that the Lord God had made. He said to the woman, “Did God actually say, ‘You shall not eat of any tree in the garden’?” And the woman said to the serpent, “We may eat of the fruit of the trees in the garden, but God said, ‘You shall not eat of the fruit of the tree that is in the midst of the garden (the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil), neither shall you touch it, lest you die.’” What was so important about this tree? “But the serpent said to the woman, ‘You will not surely die. For God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.’” 

You will BE LIKE GOD. That is the root, the foundation, the ultimate sin from which all other sins grow. You say “but I don’t want to be like God.” Who in your life defines good and evil? Do you? By what authority do you decide? If that authority is your own reason or logic, your own beliefs, do you question where those beliefs come from? Are you aware of what sources have influenced you? From various internet sources, I present below brief descriptions of how the major religions conceptualize sin, and what to do about it. Read carefully, because I have a quiz waiting for you at the end!

JUDAISM: Judaism teaches that human beings are not basically sinful. We come into the world neither carrying the burden of sin committed by our ancestors nor tainted by it. Rather, sin, chet, is the result of our human inclinations, the yetzer, which must be properly channeled. Chet literally means something that goes astray. It is a term used in archery to indicate that the arrow has missed its target. This concept of sin suggests a straying from the correct ways, from what is good and straight. Can humans be absolved of their failure and rid themselves of their guilt? Yes. In rabbinic Judaism, these ideas evolved into the concept of the two attributes of God, the attribute of justice and the attribute of mercy, the latter being the dominant mode of God’s activity. The attribute of mercy means that God gives respite to the sinner, not meting out His full punishment at once, but granting the sinner the opportunity to repent and thus be rid of the power of the evil inclination.

ISLAM: Muslim theologians explain man’s nature at birth as fitrah: state of intrinsic goodness. Like Adam, people are born pure and sinless. They are Muslims by birth, and salvation is intact, but they must do all in their power to maintain this status. Everyone is “accountable for what he himself inscribes upon the unblemished Tabula Rasa or tablet of his nature.”

HINDUISM: There is no concept of original sin in Hinduism. It is an aspect of a duality, its opposite being virtue or dharma. According to Hinduism, as in Christianity sin may arise from disobedience to God’s eternal law (Dharma). True, it is difficult to follow the laws of God, but it is an obligation for humans. Their mistakes can be forgiven if they uphold Dharma as a service to God. Further, the sins which they accumulate during their lives upon earth can be removed, neutralized or cleansed through austere self-effort and devotion to God.

BUDDHISM: Buddhists do not regard man as sinful by nature of ‘in rebellion against god’. Every human being is a person of great worth who has within himself a vast store of good as well as evil habits. The good in a person is always waiting for a suitable opportunity to flower and to ripen. Remember the saying, ‘There is so much that is good in the worst of us and so much that is bad in the best of us.’ Buddhism teaches that everyone is responsible for his own good and bad deeds, and that each individual can mould his own destiny. Man’s sorrow is of his own making and is not handed down by a family curse or an original sin of a mythical primeval ancestor. Buddhists do not accept the belief that this world is merely a place of trial and testing. This world can be made a place where we can attain the highest perfection. And perfection is synonymous with happiness. 

SECULAR HUMANISMHumanism is an ethical process through which we all can move, above and beyond the divisive particulars, heroic personalities, dogmatic creeds, and ritual customs of past religions or their mere negation. Leading Secular Humanist psychologists begin with the assumption that a personal God is a myth and that we are simply products of spontaneous generation and billions of years of evolution.
Because Secular Humanists deny the existence of the supernatural—including the mind, soul, and personality in any meaningful sense—they are left with the study of strictly material things: the brain, environmental stimuli, and tangible human responses to those stimuli. Monism is the belief that there is only one basic and fundamental reality, that all existence is this one reality. Psychological monism is the belief that the mind is part of the material body. Obviously, there is no concept of sin.

THE QUIZ:

  1. What do these religions other than Christianity hold in common (hint, what is underlined)?
  2. Since they all insist that human beings can perfect themselves, where is the evidence? What does the evidence of history, or your own experiences, or observing untrained or unsocialized humans, actually show?
  3. Since all culture and laws are the outworking of the dominant religion of a nation, which of these religions has produced a nation of individual freedom and opportunity?
  4. How do the most vocal practitioners of each religion actually treat people of other religions (or each other, for that matter)? For a subset of this question: Based on how many they kill….Do Muslims hate Jews, Christians or Hindus the most? Do Hindus hate Muslims or Christians the most? Do Buddhists hate Muslims or Christians the most? Do secular humanists (and their favorite political system–Communism) hate Christians or Jews the most?
  5. What’s your scorecard say for mankind being able to perfect itself?

Since it should be patently obvious that any philosophy that says that mankind can perfect itself is bullshit, my next post will examine the truth.

 

 

There is democracy….then there is “idiocracy”!

From The end of America is coming in 2020: Trump v. The Oprah, by Peter Heck (italics): “The presidency, the office that was instituted by a man who reluctantly accepted the charge with feelings ‘not unlike that of a culprit going to his place of execution,’ has become a status symbol for vain celebrities desperate to advance their personal brand.” That quote from George Washington sums up a big reason I consider our first President to have been our best President! It’s not that I think entertainment celebrities make terrible Presidents, since I would rank Ronald Reagan just below G.W. It isn’t necessarily the candidate’s profession, nor gender or ethnicity, that determines whether or not he/she would make a good or even great President, in my humble opinion. Has the Presidency “become a status symbol for vain celebrities desperate to advance their personal brand?”

Republicans demonstrated in 2016 they were willing to sell out to such vanity. And if The Oprah runs in 2020, Democrats will demonstrate the same. After all, she will be the embodiment of everything the left wants in terms of identity politics: woman, black, perilously liberal, vociferously opposed to “organized religion,” and a purveyor of redistributionist socialism.”

Let me frame this issue in a different way. Let’s take the example of the very different approaches that two Western European nations recently enacted to deal with a highly charged issue–that of how to treat immigrants who were a net drain on their economies. From a report by Joseph Curl, 1/11/2018. “Switzerland doesn’t mess around. The idyllic nation — where the average annual GDP per capita is nearly $80,000 — doesn’t like deadbeats. The nation recently enacted a new civil rights act that prevents residents who received welfare benefits from becoming citizens until they pay back the money they took. The new regulations took effect January 1. Asylum seekers and refugees who received handouts in the previous three years can’t become permanent residents without paying back the government.

What’s more, refugees must prove they are making efforts to integrate into society in order to win citizenship. They must show that have “cultivated contacts” with a number of Swiss people, according to Kronen Zeitung. There are also new language requirements, which vary depending on the canton they are living in, the Daily Mail reports.” What do you think? Good policy? There’s a lot I don’t like about Switzerland, but either this is sound policy or it isn’t.

“Switzerland’s tough stance is different from that taken by Germany in the past few years when the nation allowed more than 1 million refugees in. But after stiff pushback from German citizens, the country’s leaders are rethinking the move. Late last year, Germany began offering rejected asylum-seekers who voluntarily move back to their home countries a one-time payment of $3,570. The Interior Ministry said those who qualify can apply by a February 28 deadline and would get the money when they get home, the Associated Press reported. The Bild am Sonntag newspaper reported on Sunday that more than 8,600 refugees have already taken up Germany’s offered cash to go home over the last few months, but there are some 115,000 rejected asylum-seekers in Germany.”

Hmm, rejected asylum seeker, I wonder what that’s about. According to an article in The Telegraph, Jan. 2018, Germany considers Algeria and Morocco as “safe countries of origin”, meaning their citizens will have little chance of gaining asylum. “Nearly 1,000 asylum applications per day are rejected by Germany’s overburdened system, but the federal states are “obligated” to deport, Peter Tauber, CDU secretary general, said last week. Deportations are rarely carried out, with figures showing that in 2015, only around 18,000 rejected asylum seekers were deported. Of the 5,500 rejected asylum applications from Moroccans and Algerians in the first half of last year, only 53 were deported, according to an internal government paper.The CDU and CSU hope that housing Algerians and Moroccans in designated centres will streamline the deportation process. Germany has complained that Algeria and Morocco are not cooperating in taking back their citizens.”

For purposes of this post, let’s call these policies regarding immigrants, Swiss policy and German policy. Emotions aside, which is better policy? The Swiss say about their generosity, “pay it back and integrate”, the Germans say “we’ll pay you what you don’t deserve even though you have no right to be here.” The U.S. will be voting for President again in 2020. No one knows for sure who will be running, but one thing is more likely: We will probably see the Republican candidate with a “Swiss” attitude, and the Democrat candidate with a “German” attitude.

 

 

If these were my last words on earth….

To my precious daughters: Today I watched a sermon on the book of Revelation. The message was that “everything that God touches is made new.” Revelation 21: “Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, ‘Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God. He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away…..And he who was seated on the throne said, ‘Behold, I am making all things new‘.”

I think about this a lot, especially when I am alone, as I have been this weekend, with you all visiting your cousins. When I have a particularly bad fit of coughing, which leaves me gasping for breath, I think “what if I die right now and my children come home to find me dead?” It isn’t something I fear. In fact, since I am in pain all the time, and experience such a longing to “be made new“, I actually look forward to death, to being with the Lord, with a new body, in a redeemed earth. So I write these words as if they are my last–even though they probably won’t be–as a legacy to you, knowing they won’t have quite the impact on you if I am alive. But when I am dead and you want to be reminded of me, you can read these words with new eyes.

Not new in the sense of new stuff, shiny and unfamiliar. In our world we all love new, we all seem to hate the old. We seem to think that new wisdom is greater wisdom, and old wisdom is lesser, when the opposite is really true. But when Revelation speaks of new means something quite different–it means redeemed. Redeemed from what, you ask? Rather than get into theology, I want to leave you with words that will redeem your relationships, especially your relationship with your heavenly father. If these are my last words, I can gratefully say that God has given me the grace to have nothing against anyone–I bear no grudges, have no sense of unforgiveness towards anyone nor any sense of grievances or wrongs done to me. My conscience is clear of wrongs done to me or by me, NOT because I have never been wronged by nor done wrong to others.

God has forgiven me in Jesus Christ, and I have obeyed his command to forgive others. How do I know this? There is no one in my past or present whom I think of with anger or dislike.  This grace is an undeserved blessing. I wish and hope for each of you the same blessing. It is there for the taking. Revelation 21:6. “And he said to me, ‘It is done! I am the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end. To the thirsty I will give from the spring of the water of life without payment’.” What is the requirement to receive the “water of life?” Just this–be thirsty! Thirst for the new life, thirst for the redeemed world where “death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore.”

If you think of anyone in your life or your past to whom you bear ill will (“I hate that guy” or “she makes me so mad”), forgive them in your heart and then seek them out to forgive face to face. If you cannot, then fall on your knees and ask Jesus Christ for the gift of grace to forgive, and He will make your life new, new as in redeemed, better, eternal. Just bring your thirst (no, this is not a 7Up commercial).

The principle of the vested interest.

When I was 14 years old, I was in the Sea Explorers. One day when a bunch of us were caulking our boats, I decided to amuse myself by convincing my friends of something. So I said, “those French are really clever the way they built the Eiffel Tower to resist high winds.” Then I went back to caulking. One of my shipmates couldn’t resist, but asked me “what do you mean?” I said “well you know Paris gets very high winds (of course I didn’t know that at all) and the Eiffel Tower is a very tall structure, and they didn’t want it to blow over in the winds so they had to do something special.” Then I went back to caulking again. Of course, someone else couldn’t help but ask me, “what do you mean something special?” I said, “well they built it out of something that could bend with the winds rather than break.” I went back to caulking. By this time they were hooked and so the question followed, “what special material?” I said, “hard rubber of course. But they had to paint it to make it look like steel.”

The argument that followed was very informative. At first they thought I was kidding, but I just kept a straight face throughout and cap to my logical argument after a while, one by one they came around to my way of thinking. At that point everyone agreed it made sense to build the Eiffel Tower out of hard rubber. I then said hey everybody I was just kidding I just made it up the Eiffel Tower is really built out of steel just as you thought. But then the my surprise, I ran into a phenomenon that I was not to understand until I began college and was studying psychology. That phenomenon is called Cognitive Dissonance: The mental stress or discomfort experienced by an individual who holds two or more contradictory beliefs, ideas, or values at the same time, performs an action that is contradictory to one or more beliefs, ideas or values, or is confronted by new information that conflicts with existing beliefs, ideas, or values.

The Bible has a colorful way of describing it. Matt. 7:1-5. Judge not, that you be not judged. For with the judgment you pronounce you will be judged, and with the measure you use it will be measured to you. Why do you see the speck that is in your brother’s eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye? Or how can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when there is the log in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother’s eye.” It has always been popular for people to take out of context the first two words, “judge not.” However, they miss the actual point. The point is not the judging is wrong, it’s that judging wrongly is wrong. What is judging wrongly? Note the underlined phrase, there was a “speck in your brother’s eye and a log in your own eye.” What does that actually mean? How can someone have a log in their own eye? What it means is that a speck in your own eye looks like a log because it’s so close to you and prevents you from seeing properly or judging rightly. It is a colorful way of describing cognitive dissonance.

I call cognitive dissonance the principle of the vested interest. In the case of my shipmates, once they accepted my argument for the Eiffel Tower being made of hard rubber, they felt they had to defend their new position, especially because they changed what they had previously believed–the truth that the Tower was made of steel–to accept a new position. That new position had to be defended, or they would have looked like fools. I could not get them to admit they had been tricked. They would rather believe something that was manifestly false because they had a vested interest in doing so, than to admit they had been tricked into believing a (logical) lie. While this might be excusable for a group of 14 year olds, what can we say when adults who are often in positions of power and authority believe and defend falsehoods?

So we should all judge ourselves. The first question to ask in order to judge rightly is, “what is my vested interest in my position?” How do you benefit from believing something, or from the agenda you’re pursuing? Get the log out of your own eye!

 

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.