Face your enemy.

James 3:14. But if you have bitter jealousy and selfish ambition in your hearts, do not boast and be false to the truth. This is not the wisdom that comes down from above, but is earthly, unspiritual, demonic.  For where jealousy and selfish ambition exist, there will be disorder and every vile practice.  But the wisdom from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, open to reason, full of mercy and good fruits, impartial and sincere.  And a harvest of righteousness is sown in peace by those who make peace. James 4:1. What causes quarrels and fights among you? Is it not that your passions are at war within you? You desire and do not have, so you murder. You covet and cannot obtain, so you fight and quarrel.

Your enemy is speaking to you every waking moment, just as mine speaking to me. You know that voice in your head that is incessantly whispering,  sometimes shouting, vile unpleasantness. That’s the voice that drives some people to suicide. It whispers to the jumper, “jump off that bridge, there is no hope for your life to improve.”  If he listens to it, and jumps, the very next thing it always says (when the poor jumper is on the way down) is “you fool, there are plenty of things you could have done to make your life better but now it’s too late.” Jumpers who have survived have reported this.

Jesus said “it isn’t what goes into the mouth that defiles a person, it’s what comes out of the mouth.” Matthew 15:17. “Do you not see that whatever goes into the mouth passes into the stomach and is expelled?  But what comes out of the mouth proceeds from the heart, and this defiles a person. For out of the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false witness, slander.” You can’t get rid of this enemy–it lodges in your “heart”, which is a metaphor for your mind. You can’t avoid hearing it’s whispers and insinuations, but you can avoid listeningThe enemy tries to show you pictures of what it wants you to do, but you can blur them or gray them out in your mind’s eye. The enemy is incessantly running the movies of your failures, but who is in control of the movie projector? You are! All of which raises the questions:

  • Who is this enemy, and what or who gives the enemy the power over your life?
  • Who are you?
  • Who is in charge of your life?

James referenced the “wisdom from above” and the “earthly, unscriptural, demonic ‘wisdom'”. God rules in heaven, metaphorically “above.” Satan and his demons rules this world–they are your enemy. You don’t believe in Satan and demons? Perhaps you don’t believe in a sovereign God? Who plants the good thoughts and the bad in your heart and mind? You have some decisions to make. Decide to believe God or believe the enemy, or if you insist on a strictly material view of reality, take control of the movie projector of your past. Either way, living in the thrall of depression, grievances, and hatred is mostly a choice of what you are listening to and watching internally.

 

 

Why some people can’t accept being forgiven by God.

The saying is trustworthy and deserving of full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am the foremost. But I received mercy for this reason, that in me, as the foremost, Jesus Christ might display his perfect patience as an example to those who were to believe in him for eternal life.” 1 Timothy 1:15. 

So said the apostle Paul, calling himself “foremost” among sinners, even though most of his outward life was a seeking after and suffering for righteousness. Almost no one, reading of Paul’s experiences and exhortations, would consider him even a baby sinner, let alone the worst. What did he understand about himself and about God’s mercy, that the rest of us need to understand?

When I use the word “sinner” in this context, I am not referring to the hurtful words and actions we use against each other. Our transgressions only appear to be against other people, but Paul, and King David, understood that all transgressions are ultimately against…whom? David was a “hero of the faith”, a “man after God’s own heart”, yet he sinned grievously. I am not going to tell the story, but if you want a really juicy tale of adultery and murder, read it here.David and Bathsheba

God sent a prophet to David to confront him about his sins. It would be rare indeed if a king listened to a prophet, but David was not any old king. (The following story will make a lot more sense if you read the account at the link, above). 2 Samuel 12: 1-7. And the Lord sent Nathan to David. He came to him and said to him, “There were two men in a certain city, the one rich and the other poor. The rich man had very many flocks and herds, but the poor man had nothing but one little ewe lamb, which he had bought. And he brought it up, and it grew up with him and with his children. It used to eat of his morsel and drink from his cup and lie in his arms, and it was like a daughter to him. Now there came a traveler to the rich man, and he was unwilling to take one of his own flock or herd to prepare for the guest who had come to him, but he took the poor man’s lamb and prepared it for the man who had come to him.” Then David’s anger was greatly kindled against the man, and he said to Nathan, “As the Lord lives, the man who has done this deserves to die, and he shall restore the lamb fourfold, because he did this thing, and because he had no pity.”

Nathan said to David, “You are the man!”  Nathan went on to describe the various punishments that the Lord would levy against David and his family, including the death of his son about to be born, and the rebellion within his own household. What was David’s response to this accusation, and the prophecy of the disasters that would be fall him? He responded “I have sinned against the Lord.” But even then, he knew that God would forgive his grievous sins. If you are reading this and can’t accept that your sins can be totally forgiven, you may fall into one of these two categories.

1. I don’t need to be forgiven, because there is no God to forgive me, or sin doesn’t exist, it’s just illusion or fear or ignorance, or there is nothing but the material world.

2. I don’t deserve to be forgiven, because what I did was too terrible, or I am too bad a person for God to love, or I haven’t repented or done enough to be forgiven.

ONE OF THESE IDEAS IS FALSE! EVERYONE NEEDS TO BE FORGIVEN….AND NO ONE DESERVES TO BE. BUT NO ONE NEEDS TO BE DESERVING, BECAUSE GOD OFFERS THE FREE GIFT OF UNMERITED MERCY THROUGH THE ATONING SACRIFICE OF JESUS CHRIST. 

Sometimes yellow lines save your life……. Other times they are just paint.

We were heading to Nova Scotia, a long drive from Connecticut. My passenger, though in college, had almost no driving experience, but I was getting tired, and she kept begging me to let her drive my car. I finally relented when we reached Maine. An hour later, I was dozing, but some sense of danger must have penetrated the fog of my mind. Seconds later, I was wide awake, as a huge semi was crowding into us from the passenger side and she was doggedly trying to stay in her lane, which was shrinking fast. “Veer left, he’s going to hit us” I yelled. She screamed “I can’t go over the yellow line!” I grabbed the wheel from her, and steered out of our lane into the center lane. “What’s wrong with you, it’s just paint? You could have gotten us killed,” I replied after I managed to stop the car. That was practically the last time I let her drive on this trip.

This happened in 1973, and I still think of the lesson. The yellow lines mark your lane, and help keep you safe–until someone encroaches into the lane. Then the yellow line is just paint. But not to some people. My passenger was just someone who responded to my ad on a ride board. She fancied herself a rebel, cursed like one and dressed like one, but when our lives were in danger, she couldn’t even bring herself to drive over the paint. What did the painted lines mean to her, and what did  her response to them say about the nature of her rebellion? The lesson I referred to above is really multiple lessons.

What “lines that should not be crossed” have you drawn in your own life? The alternative to drawing your lines in advance (of difficult moral decisions) is decision-by-expediency, i.e. reacting emotionally to circumstances rather than living by your principles. Expediency is driven by the “twin towers” of bad decisions–fear and anger. Fear of ridicule or looking stupid, fear of missing out on pleasure, anger over a perceived slight or insult, or even a real injury. No matter, decision-by-expediency = regret. If you haven’t drawn those “lines that should not be crossed”, what are you waiting for? What do you really believe in?

Once you decide to live within the “yellow lines” that either you have drawn, or which have been taught to you, how do you deal with someone crossing into your lane? In the case of my driving example, it was a simple decision–move over or be crushed. The issue was “how do we stay alive here”, not “who has right of way” or “what is his problem” or “doesn’t he see us?” Too often, we let emotions or extraneous questions (see my post of the Jack Reacher mind) or a “Pharisee” attitude get in the way of the real issue, which is “how then should I live/behave?”

With that in mind, let’s examine the obfuscations and confusions that get in the way of effective living with your lines:

1. I don’t even know what my yellow lines are. Then it’s time you found out what was taught to you and what you decided for yourself, so you can live according to what you really believe in.

2. I follow the rules! Sometimes you’re not even sure where these rules came from. Following rules because you think it makes you good, or simply because they are “rules”, is what I was calling the Pharisee mindset. That is “I want to look good on the outside regardless of what I stand for on the inside.” Matthew 23:25. “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you clean the outside of the cup and the plate, but inside they are full of greed and self-indulgence.”

3. I question other people’s motivations before I can act on my own beliefs. “Why did that person just do that?” “What does he mean by that?” Who cares? You’re getting caught up in the wrong things. Don’t let somebody else’s actions or words throw you off. Be like a gyroscope–don’t let anyone else or your own speculations throw you off, keep coming back to the balance point of what you stand for.

My main personal experience is this: In 1969 I was getting ready to be sent to Vietnam as an infantryman. The year before the massacre of unarmed villagers by U.S. troops at My Lai had been in the news, and I knew there were going to be some very morally ambiguous situations over there. I decided ahead of time if I don’t draw some lines I’m going to probably do something I will regret my whole life. One of the lines I drew was “I will not willingly kill or injure any noncombatants, no matter what pressures or emotions I am experiencing.” Sure enough, I was in a situation where I was tempted to fire on noncombatants, and it was probably the solid yellow, “uncrossable line” that I had established ahead of time that kept me from yielding to temptation.

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.