“Antidote to the Coronavirus Panic of 2020…”

“You will keep him in perfect peace, whose mind is stayed on you: because he trusts in you.” – Isaiah 26:3

In this time of turmoil, mental anguish, confusion, truth simplified is at its best. When beset by conflict, anguish, fear we have little energy or inclination for complex theological computation. This verse epitomizes simplicity, yet in no way compromises the powerful promise of God.

In the end we all seek just one thing… peace. Jesus is the Prince of Peace. Jesus is a priest according to the Order of Melchizedek. Melchizedek means King of Righteousness, but he was, also, the King of Salem(shalom), that is peace.

In our world peace means harmony, the absence of hostility, the absence of violence or conflict, or the fear thereof. The Biblical view of peace is more.

The Hebrew word translated peace in the cited verse is “shalom”. You may recognize this as a common Jewish expression, salutation or greeting, but it is so much more. The Hebrew concept of “shalom” meant wholeness, completeness, soundness, health, safety, prosperity, and had staying power, the implication of permanence because it was rooted in God.

Compare and contrast the two terms: peace as over against shalom. The one is fragile, the other enduring; one exists primarily as an antithesis to the negative(fear, violence, conflict); the other is a stand alone, it exists only and always as a positive; one is primarily one dimensional, a state of mind; the other encompasses the whole man, the whole body, the whole human experience.

Interestingly enough, the phrase translated “perfect peace” in Isaiah 26:3 is literally “shalom shalom”, a double portion of peace. Peace upon peace. Perhaps a peace so great that it defies description.

I believe a well known Biblical personage may have paraphrased this concept in his letter to the Philippians: “And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” (Phil. 4:7)

Who would not want to experience this peace? How do we obtain this peace? Jesus is the Prince of Peace, His atonement alone is the source of such peace. In the New Testament we are admonished to “keep our eyes upon Jesus the author and perfecter of our faith”. I submit that the same concept is embodied in Isaiah 26:3.

The assurance stated at the beginning of the verse is that God will keep “him”, or “the one”, in perfect peace. Who is “him” or “the one”? The one is “whose mind is stayed on you”. The New Living Translation captures the concept beautifully, “all whose thoughts are fixed on you!”

Lastly, there is causation. What causes God to keep such a one in perfect peace? It’s not just that they have set their mind on God, it’s “because he trusts in You.” It all starts, and ends, there.

The Hebrew word here translated “trust” means to be bold, confident, secure, sure, be a careless one, to put confidence in. I love the thought of carelessness in this context. I am so confident that God has my back that I am without a care, I am “careless”. Not stupid, so cared for that I am care-less.

So in the midst of the covid-19 storm, a very real storm, where the winds of media coverage threaten to undo us, where waves of fear of the unknown threaten to shipwreck our faith, there is an antidote. Shalom, shalom. Peace, peace. Perfect peace. It is yours for the asking…

“Rejoice always… “

“Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice!” Philippians 4:4

“Rejoice always;” 1 Thessalonians 5:16

Always, really?? In the original language of the New Testament, Greek, “always” means at all times. Yes, always. As in, I have always struggled with these verses so I just put them on the back burner and moved on. Today I bring them to the front burner…

The modern English definition of “rejoice”: to be glad; take delight. Synonyms: revel, exult, glory.

So let’s work this definition into Paul’s admonition to do so at all times. “My dog just died.” Be glad, delight, be pleased, revel, exult, glory. Worse, “My child just died.” Be glad, exult, glory. That’s just stupid. Beyond stupid, cruel. This interpretation and application is nonsensical and is simply not consistent with the law of love. So, it cannot be the proper interpretation and application. Perhaps something is lost in the transliteration…

Transliteration, the process of transforming, in this case, a Greek word into an English word. The Greek word used in both verses, cited above, is χαίρω. Got that? In English, the transliteration, is “chairó”. According to one lexicon, the root of the word means “to be favorably disposed, leaning towards”. Properly, to delight in God’s grace. Literally, to experience God’s grace, to be conscious of and glad for His grace. Further, it is closely related, a cognate (that is to share the same root or birth), to “charis”, which means grace and/or favor. Another lexicon suggests, “chairó” means “glad for grace” and it has a “direct etymological connection with charis (grace)”. Yet another commentator suggests that the Greek word for “chará”(joy) and “cháris”(grace) are cognate with “chaírō”(to rejoice), “they all share the same root and therefore the same core, fundamental meaning”.

First and foremost, what strikes me is what rejoicing is NOT in the original language. There is no sense of revelry, of doing a “happy dance” or sensual delight or sense of gaiety. There is no sense of smiling, laughing, or the lightheartedness that is suggested by the English definition of “rejoice”. It is not some shallow temporal emotional state. Rather, “chairó”, and its cognates, strike me as a deeper, more considered, even contemplative condition of mind and spirit that is more consistent with the concept of contentment, as over against happiness.

In the context of a relationship with God this Greek concept of rejoicing is eye opening. To delight in God’s grace. To lean into God. To be favorably disposed toward Him. These are notions consistent with a Father-child relationship. These are notions consistent with the law of love.

Lastly, we must consider the context in which Paul wrote these verses in order to understand his objective in so doing.

Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice!” Let your gentle spirit be known to all men. The Lord is near. Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all comprehension, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. Finally, brethren, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is of good repute, if there is any excellence and if anything worthy of praise, dwell on these things.” Phil. 4:5-8 (NASB)

This passage is found near the end of his letter, he is wrapping up his thoughts, these are his last words of instruction, therefore, they carry considerable weight. The theme, the emphasis, of these final words is on their state of mind and heart. Rejoicing is not a stand alone.

Rejoice always; pray without ceasing; in everything give thanks; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus. Do not quench the Spirit; do not despise prophetic utterances. But examine everything carefully; hold fast to that which is good; abstain from every form of evil.” 1 Thess. 5:16-22 (NASB)

Once again, these represent Paul’s last words of instruction, this time to the Thessalonians. Do you see a theme? Compare the two passages and we see that rejoicing, giving thanks, guarding one’s mind, examining, dwelling on that which is good… are referenced in both. Again, rejoicing is not a stand alone. Rejoicing is inextricably linked to prayer, being thankful, meditating upon God’s grace, and paying attention to our thought-life. To rejoice is not to gin up an emotional state. Nor is it something that can be expected to sovereignly overwhelm us, lest Paul would not have given responsibility to the readers to invoke it. Given the etymology and the context how then might we apply the admonition to rejoice always?

When I am in a funk I find it very difficult to even think about rejoicing. However, I find that if I choose to pray, starting by simply finding things to be thankful for and continuing in that vein, mining the nuggets lodged in my memory of the manifest grace of God in my life, the darkness begins to lift. If I choose to begin to praise Him for all that He has done in my life, and especially if I choose to incorporate music, the light begins to dawn. As I choose to “lean toward” Jesus, as I choose to “delight in God’s grace”, as I choose to remain in a posture of listening to, and speaking with, Jesus (“prayer without ceasing”) I will find myself “rejoicing”, in the New Testament meaning of that word. It’s a place of experiencing the “shalom” of God, the peace of God that defies definition such that Paul refers to it as that which “surpasses all comprehension”.

When I perceive Paul’s admonition in this light I begin to see that his words are not so much a command, rather words of a loving father to his children. Why? Perhaps because he knew that it is impossible to rejoice and be depressed at the same time. It is impossible for evil to overshadow us when we are rejoicing in what God has done, and will do in us and for us. It is not some kind of litmus test to Christian maturity. It is not an end in and of itself. Rejoicing is a weapon that when properly wielded fends off all the fiery darts of the evil one. It is also a shelter, a place of rest in the midst of the storms of life. It’s a place of refreshment. Who wouldn’t want to dwell there at all times?

It has been said by those wiser than I, that giving thanks promotes mental health, and rejoicing promotes emotional/psychological health. Here’s to our health…

Does God harbor even one negative thought about you?

It’s more than a provocative question…

I propose that He does not and I ask you, dear reader, to suspend judgment for a minute or two. I promise it won’t hurt and the time spent will be better than listening to the “news” of the day. (Not saying much there.)  So please put off the temptation to immediately discard the notion as heretical or to disregard per any other source of resistance you might initially sense. Give yourself permission to simply consider the “what if”. What if it’s true? What if the all-powerful, all-knowing, Almighty God of the universe does not harbor a single negative thought about you? What if the ultimate Authority in the universe does not impute to you guilt or shame or disapproval or disappointment? What if you become persuaded that such is the case and then you ask yourself the follow-up question, “Do I harbor negative thoughts about myself?”

Given my experience, I might struggle to believe someone who would not answer that last question in the affirmative. However, if the ultimate Authority in the universe does not harbor negative thoughts about me, why would I want to continue to do so? Imagine what it would feel like to go an entire day without harboring a single negative thought about yourself, or anyone else. Pollyanna? Perhaps, but just now as I floated the idea by you did you find yourself sensing even a hint of optimism, perhaps hope, perhaps relief, perhaps peace? Perhaps a “wouldn’t that be wonderful”?  I propose it is not Pollyanna, rather it is the will of God for us. It is suppose to be our norm.

So let’s get to it. First, let’s define some terms. “Harbor” means to give shelter to. In this context, employing a nautical metaphor, it means to allow a thought to “drop anchor”.  All of us experience negative thoughts throughout a typical day. They rain down upon us via the media, from those around us and some have their genesis from within. The point here is that there is always a point of decision, sometimes so nearly automatic that we are not even cognizant of making a choice. That choice has to do with what to do with a negative thought, or any thought, when it comes our way. One such option is to “harbor” it. When we harbor negative thoughts about ourselves, others, the world we start down a path that can, and often does, lead to a downward spiral.

Second, the term “negative” can be very relative, subjective in nature. So for instance, some might perceive correction as a negative, I did something “wrong” which requires correction. I actually want correction in my life. Every correction is a true opportunity for growth. It’s not punitive, or at least it shouldn’t be. If God, or my spouse, wishes to correct me why wouldn’t I want to be corrected. If I am taking an unhealthy path why wouldn’t I want to be steered straight? True correction  is a manifestation of care, concern, love. The negative I am writing about is that force of thought that causes one to be critical of self or others. This negativity promotes discouragement and worse. This negativity steals our life, it is death-on-the-installment-plan.

Lastly, and necessary to my hypothesis, my starting place includes a philosophical presupposition that God exists and that He is a positive force. It is written that “God is love.” That is a baseline without which all bets are off. For those who might be thinking, “Oh yeah, were back to the ‘faith’ thing.” Yes, in deed, we all live by faith. It’s a big universe, no one has universal knowledge, therefore we all live by faith in some, in fact in many, aspects of everyday life. Treatment of that subject would require another blog or two.

Beyond definition of terms, why would a God who is love in His essence wish to harbor negative thoughts about you and I? It is written that love is patient, kind, endures, believes…  all positive thoughts. On the other side of the ledger, it is not judgmental, critical, punitive, resentful or bitter. So a God who is all these things, in His essence, would hold us in contempt, why?

You may well reply, “Isn’t He going to judge us?” Yes, it is written that we shall be judged. So think about judgment for just a moment. Is it truly a negative, in and of itself? It is defined as: “The act or process of judging; the formation of an opinion after consideration or deliberation.  An opinion or estimate formed after consideration or deliberation, especially a formal or authoritative decision.” If you are the plaintiff in a court case wherein you were wronged are you not seeking a judgment? Judgment is only a negative term if one is afraid of the outcome.

I actually look forward to that judgment. It will be the first time that I will be accurately judged by myself, or anyone else, in my entire life. Also, there is immeasurable relief found in the assurance that while certainly guilty, my pardon has already been obtained. Any judgment against me has already been satisfied in full. Actually, from a legal standpoint God must forbear, must forgive those in Christ Jesus. In a sense we enjoy the benefits of the legal concept of res judicata. Res judicata provides that once your case has been adjudicated you may not be charged again with the same offense. My case has already been adjudicated. I was found guilty. But, there is now no condemnation for those in Christ Jesus. Jesus paid the price for me, He satisfied the judgment against me. Legally speaking, God cannot charge me again. Given that state of the case, if God were to choose to harbor negative thoughts toward me wouldn’t He be thinking Jesus just didn’t do enough, His sacrifice was just not enough? He would be denigrating the work of His Son.

You might reply, “What about the sin problem?” Ah yes, the sin quotient. What is sin? It is the tendency, the proclivity, the default nature of humankind to wander from God and His precepts. Ironically, it is actually a product of love, for love requires a free will choice. Inherent in that free will choice is the option to choose poorly, to choose to disavow God and His goodness. However, for those “in Christ” sin has been removed as far as the east is from the west. (Psalm 103:12) I could list a very long list of verses affirming that notion. The proclivity to wander from love has been removed, done away with. As a believer, any such proclivity to continue to wander from God’s precepts are not due to our nature, because we were given a new nature. We are new creatures in Christ. Then why do I wander? I submit, first, I still have a free will and from time to time I choose poorly. Second, my old habit patterns may still be alive and well. Habits are merely patterns of thought, like harboring negative thoughts about myself. (As an aside, for believers, anything that is not of faith is sin. Harboring negatives thoughts about myself are evidence of a lack of faith, are they not?) Habits can be broken, my brain can be rewired, new neural pathways can be established. Habits are not my essence, they do not define me, they are not my nature. Jesus’ sacrifice has made sin a non-issue. Period. If we say otherwise we denigrate His sacrifice.

The writer of the letter to the Hebrews in the New Testament states:

“For the Law, since it has only a shadow of the good things to come and not the very form of things, can never, by the same sacrifices which they offer continually year by year, make perfect those who draw near. Otherwise, would they not have ceased to be offered, because the worshipers, having once been cleansed, would no longer have had consciousness of sins? But in those sacrifices there is a reminder of sins year by year. For it is impossible for the blood of bulls and goats to take away sins.”

“Every priest stands daily ministering and offering time after time the same sacrifices, which can never take away sins; but He, having offered one sacrifice for sins for all time, SAT DOWN AT THE RIGHT HAND OF GOD, waiting from that time onward UNTIL HIS ENEMIES BE MADE A FOOTSTOOL FOR HIS FEET.”                   (Hebrews 10:1-4, 11-13 NASB, italics mine)

The writer is comparing the two biblical options for the forgiveness of sin. First under the Law, the old covenant, he makes the case that it never could secure for us forgiveness. For if the Law could secure forgiveness those who partook they “would no longer have had consciousness of sins”. Not only did they continue to have a consciousness of sin, the yearly sacrifice under the Law actually served to remind them of their sinful state. On the other hand, the sacrifice of Jesus offered once for all time, securing forgiveness of sins for all who believe, did what the Law could not do. Therefore, we who believe in and trust the sacrifice of Jesus should no longer have a consciousness of sin. That’s right, those of us in Christ should no longer have any consciousness of sin. In the original language consciousness means a persistent notion. We all know what it means in our experience. It is an awareness, sometimes a vague sense of lack, of guilt or shame, of inadequacy. It is the haunting, taunting thoughts we harbor in the recesses of our mind that come out in the unguarded moment to harass us. It is the source of so much negativity in our thinking. But, here you may protest, “If I don’t remain conscious of my own sin, If I don’t operate in an awareness of my own sin then who is minding the store?” It is written that the Holy Spirit convicts us of sin. It’s His job. He’s really good at it. Much better than you or I. Why not let Him do it? So, if sin, and all its attendant notions, are no longer an issue why are we fighting that battle? Jesus already fought that battle for us and won, “It is finished.”

I can feel the resistance to such a notion even now. Too good to be true. License, if we believe this notion we are liable to run amok. Let me just ask, “How is that working for you?” Been there, done that. I am nearly 70 and have been a “believer” for nearly 50 years. I am persuaded that every ounce of energy and focus spent on trying not to sin, etc. is a total and complete waste of time and a slap in the face of Jesus. Jesus set us free for freedom! Not my thought, see the Apostle Paul. He stated quite clearly that “our struggle is not against flesh and blood”. Last I checked I am flesh and blood. I am not suppose to be the problem any longer, rather I, like you, am called to be a part of the solution.  I am suppose to embody good news. Struggling against sin everyday doesn’t sound like good news to anyone. We are not likely to get very far as “ambassadors of Christ” if we are still focused on our own shortcomings, harboring negative thoughts about ourselves. And if we are harboring negative thoughts about ourselves are we not very likely, also, harboring negative thoughts about others. That state would be the antithesis of the commandment that Jesus charged us with, namely to “love your neighbor as yourself.”

Assuming by now that you are either still with me or have written me off as a heretic, I conclude. It is well settled that “nature abhors a vacuum.” So does my brain. If I simply try to stop thinking about something, leaving an empty space, I am doomed to failure. It’s the old diet mentality, “I won’t eat, I won’t eat.” It doesn’t work. I must “put off” and “put on”. I cannot simply decide to remove negativity. It must be replaced. In order to do so we have to “repent”. That is we have to change the way we think, that’s all that word means. We must give ourselves permission to believe that it’s okay to reset our mental default settings. That is what I have been writing about, permission. Ultimately, I am proposing that the ultimate Authority in the universe has given us permission, actually commands us, to move from a negative default setting to a positive. How? Truth. Jesus taught that the “truth shall set(make) you free”.  What is the truth? Life as God sees it. Me from God’s perspective. Is there a gap between how He sees me and how I see me? Shouldn’t be. Ironically, that would be sin. Not a moral failure, rather missing the mark, the literal definition of sin. To the extent that my view of me does not line up with His view of me I need new eyes, I need new lenses, I need a new prescription. It’s been long enough, hasn’t it? Let’s lay down all the old religious baggage and take up the truth that sets us free.

Start today. Exalt the sacrifice of Jesus by purposing not to harbor a single negative thought about yourself, knowing that this is God’s will for you and, therefore, He shall provide the necessary grace. And, if you should fall off the horse and find yourself falling back into “harboring” habits of negativity, just stop and get back on the horse. No guilt. No disappointment. Waste no time thinking about the misstep. God is good, He never uses guilt or shame as a tool to shape you, never. Turn the tables… the best defense is a great offense. Harbor, drop anchor, in all the positives available to us through Christ Jesus. That’s Good News…

 

“Blessed are the Peacemakers… “

..It sounds so easy. It’s not.

Who or what do we think of when we think of the word “peacemaker”? Who are the people in our lives that we would consider likely candidates? They are most likely the non-confrontational, mercy people in your circle of friends.  They don’t argue or fight. They are the non-violent, pacifist types. We like them, they are safe to be around. However, it would be a mistake to conclude that these nice folk are peacemakers, based upon those attributes alone, because fear of conflict may well be a root motivation for them and while fear of conflict is natural, a true peacemaker cannot allow fear to direct or control. What is it that transforms one from being a person sensitive to conflict into a full-on peacemaker? In my humble opinion, it is not just the experience of , but “the embrace” of life’s most dynamic change agent, suffering.

It is truly one of life’s enigmas that authentic transformation of a life, it seems to me, is  always the product of tragedy, trauma, or pain on a level that overwhelms the emotional, psychological survival tools we develop along the way. It is not a suffering we ask for or can initiate. It is not an experience we can control, otherwise it would not be true suffering. However, suffering alone does not produce transformation or the whole world would be redeemed in some fashion by now. Suffering seems never to be in short supply. As has been said by those wiser and deeper than I, “In deep silence you can feel the pain of the whole world.”

The additional necessary element to transformation is “the embrace”. We must come to that place where we stop running from the fear that drives our lives, turn and embrace our experiences of suffering and/or the attendant fear. What are we afraid of? Suffering. How do we run? We are brilliant and very creative, we have created a bazillion ways to avoid facing our fear of pain and suffering. The easiest illustration that comes to mind is the concept of insurance. The U.S. insurance industry nets over $1 trillion a year in premiums! We are without a doubt the most insured nation in the history of the world. Why is there insurance for everything imaginable? Fear. Sit down and just brainstorm the number of insurance offerings available to us these days. It’s quite a social commentary.

Have you ever done a personal fear inventory? Set aside some time and consider just how much of what we do in our day-to-day lives is fear-based. Obviously, there are some real dangers that require responsible thought and action, but unfortunately, for many of us, fear plays far too great a motivation for getting up in the morning. We manage our lives driven by what might happen to our families, our significant others or ourselves if we were to let down our guard. We become OCD, schizoid, paranoid or some other newly labeled psychologically dysfunctional group. Of course, it is likely that we have been serving the fear master for so long that it has become a part of us, it is our default setting and it works… kinda.

For me, one of my most profound fears was that I would become a man just like my father. You see he abandoned his young family, sold everything out from under us and over time managed to self-destruct all the way to San Quentin. Not a great role model. My grandmother, who was one of the most merciful people I have ever known, one day said, without intending any harm, “Oh Johnny just don’t be like your daddy.” That statement, combined with the already ingrained shame by association, set me on a path that culminated in my mid-30s, when through a profound spiritual experience, I was shown quite brilliantly that I had been living most of my life driven by the primary purpose, not to be like my father. The fear of being like my father was so strong, and yet below the radar of my own consciousness, that while he had practiced transgressing the law, I became a practitioner of the law. I was paid to put people like him in prison. (I am some kind of classic psychological case study on so many levels!)

Negative examples can be very powerful, but they cannot win the day in the long run. The fear I speak of actually led me to obtain an education, supplied me with the power to endure, persevere and succeed on many levels. But, there is a price to be paid and at some level a fear unchecked can eat away at our soul and steal our lives. Once I embraced this revelation, about my father and my motivation, I was left floundering for a time, which confirmed to me the veracity of this mystical message. I began to lose motivation at work and passed it off as “burn out”. Ultimately, I had to make a change because I could no longer honestly perform the role. In reality, and only in retrospect did I realize (honestly, only as I wrote this) that my motivation disappeared once I made peace with my father. I, also, consequently made peace with myself. The fear that had driven me for most of my life was disarmed and that form of motivation cut off.

As an important aside, my foundation of faith supplied me with the necessary courage to acknowledge and face that fear. That faith was based in no small part by the manner in which the revelation came to me. I did not seek it. I was not even consciously aware that I was operating under that specific fear. The revelation was a mercy, grace manifest. Perhaps others can summon the courage to face their fears without faith in God, for me it was central to the revelation and the transformation.

Back to my thesis. Peace making is not for the faint of heart. I became a peacemaker, not of own accord, at least not of my own initiation. A peacemaker of my own soul. I had to come to terms, not a cease-fire, but a real resolution in order to disarm my fear. It started with the embrace, an honest appraisal and acceptance of what is. The truth about my dad and about me. I had to forgive him, seventy times seven. I had to come to the place where I could be genuinely thankful for those things that my dad gave me either by his words, his actions or via DNA.  He was not evil, what he did was “evil” in a sense, but there were reasons for his actions that I will never know, but as a fellow human I can understand, even without knowing what they were. Once, actually as many times as necessary, I forgave my dad and began to acknowledge the good things he gave me, the fear of being like him began to dissipate. The patently obvious truth that I was not my dad became easier to not only believe as a psychological and biological truth, but I was actually able to receive that truth deep into my soul. I could then begin to know me in a new way, to forgive me, to love me, maybe for the first time in my life. The result…   freedom, peace, wholeness. And, a hope for a future previously unknown, unconsidered, unexpected.

Incidentally, the biblical terms for peace, in both Hebrew and Greek, have to do with much more than simply the lack of conflict, rather they carry the idea of wholeness, completeness, health, welfare. A peacemaker is one who not only stems conflict, but restores life and hope.

If you care to, read the Beatitudes again sometime and you will note that there are eight groups of people who Jesus delineates, yet only one group is called “the sons of God”. Peacemakers held a special place in the list of those who would be blessed. It’s a high calling. It’s not for wimps. But, neither is it only for the “gifted”, the “anointed”, etc. Jesus wasn’t speaking to the highest caste of folks on that hillside. He hadn’t hand-picked the cream of the crop of Jewish society. It was me. It was you. It still is.

So, when we are touched by the current political and cultural civil war, a cold war that threatens the very fabric of our nation, marked by acrimony, division, even hate, consider taking up the challenge to be a peacemaker. Let’s make it our aim to speak the truth in love. To be quick to hear and slow to speak, especially with our loved ones. As we consider our own bias, and lay aside our own need to be “right”, let us consider the big picture.

We, as individuals, have no control over the machinations that drive Washington, D.C. or Wall Street. The media thrives, makes huge profits, on all the upset they themselves exist to stir up. Fear is their primary hook. The sky is always falling! They continually sow seeds of discord, division and strife and they could care less who gets hurt in the process. They are corporations. What is the primary goal of such corporations? Profits. The talking heads spew forth whatever is necessary to secure the almighty ratings lest they lose their source of income.

So what are they stirring up currently? How about the Senate confirmation hearings on the latest Supreme Court nominee, Brett Kavanaugh? That was easy. There is a lot of emotion, a lot of energy (not necessarily of the healthy variety) and big difference of opinion as to the veracity of Ms. Ford as over against that of Mr. Kavanaugh. The talk shows are at full throttle. The network ratings are jumping. The public eats up every possible clue or hint or new angle. It would be a soap opera, but unfortunately the lives of real human beings are being deeply impacted by the goings-on.

If you find yourself supporting Mr. Kavanaugh might it be because you yourself are a male, or you have a son or a father or a brother who could find themselves in the very difficult position of defending such a charge? You fear that if this could happen to Kavanaugh perhaps it could happen to you, or someone you love. The fear might prompt you to question, “How far is this MeToo movement going to go, anyway?”

If, on the other hand, you side with Ms. Ford is there a possibility that you are a female and you or a friend, or a sister, or a daughter, have been victimized in much the same way and you are sick and tired of men conducting themselves in such a manner without any accountability? The sense of injustice and the fear associated with a culture that allows men to get away with this brutish behavior, while interrogating the victim publicly and, thus, exposing her to further shame may make it very difficult for you to hear Mr. Kavanaugh.

I understand that this is a complex issue and I don’t mean to be flippant or trite. For the purposes of this post my treatment of it is brief, but I trust you get my point.

In truth, can we absolutely know what happened 35 years ago between two people that none of us know personally? We weren’t there. The only testimony taken was from the two parties. We can listen to their testimonies and judge their respective credibility employing every tool known to mankind and come to some conclusion if we wish, but there is nothing close to a guarantee that in the end we will be right. We only know what the media provides, and, likely, only from the menu of our choosing.  Yet, we are keen to take a position, a stand, and defend that position even if it may mean an argument with a spouse or a friend. Even if it may jeopardize a relationship. Why?

Even if we knew the truth. What would it change for us? We don’t get to vote on the issue of confirmation. We get to vote for our Senator, who votes on the issue. Our remedy is to vote for or against that Senator in the next election. Or, in the alternative, vote for a different President if you don’t like the nominees put forth. Really there is not a lot more that we can do. One thing for sure, getting angry, upset and fighting with our friends and family is not going to change the result in Washington.

The senate will vote. Kavanaugh will either be confirmed or not, irrespective of what we believe. If confirmed, he will serve out a life term along with a court of eight other justices. If not, another “victim” will be led to slaughter chasing that pinnacle of lawyerly status, Supreme Court Justice. Given the political climate and what is at stake, the likelihood is that if there is another round it will be every bit as ugly.

How will this effect my life? Not much. That’s not to say that there aren’t important issues at stake. But, I will continue to live according to the principles I have carved out over six decades of falling, flailing and occasionally finding some success. I know I have a civic responsibility to know what is going on and to engage at some level, but I don’t and I won’t allow them to steal my peace or, more importantly jeopardize my relationships. You all are too important to me to let that happen.

A good friend sent me a great alternative to the current conflagration, a photo of her grandson running down the sidewalk. What better place to focus one’s time, energy and emotion? Wisdom.

If I were king of the world (let’s all stop and thank God that’s not the case!), I would call for a six month media boycott. Can you imagine? All of the crap that they have stirred up would settle to the ground. The media would go bankrupt or they would be forced to change their game. Normal folk could get back to living their lives peacefully, with dignity, no longer hating their neighbor or their brother or sister because they have the wrong letter in front of their name. No longer would we be addicted to the TV, or our phones, or our computers waiting for the next delicious, salacious crumb to fall from the media table of our choice. Outpatient rehab centers would be overwhelmed!

I know, I’m a dreamer. But, maybe I’m not the only one…

 

 

 

 

“A Hearing Heart… “

We all want to hear God. I find it one part amusing, one part maddening that most Christian teachers, authors, lecturers are want to say that we can all hear God it’s just a matter of faith and/or exercises and/or activation and/or… I believe that they are sincere and I believe that they are at least partially correct, after all they speak from their own personal experience. HOWEVER, why then are there so many who do not hear the voice of God on a daily, continuing basis?

Some to be sure aren’t listening or asking. Many of those simply don’t believe He speaks, so why would they listen. Many others believe He speaks, but not to them, only to the anointed, the gifted, etc. I, frankly, don’t pretend to know. Here is what I do know based upon my experience, my observations of the life experience of others and what I have gleaned from Scripture.

In truth, I don’t know anyone, personally, who has heard the audible voice of God. I have not read of many who have had that experience. When referencing “hearing” God what most mean, apart from dreams or visions, is an impression, a thought, sometimes described as that “still small voice”, which is really no voice at all. Sometimes it is a mental picture or seeing a word spelled out, but mostly it is just an “impression”. In the secular world it might be called intuition or a premonition or a hunch.

There is a book entitled “Blink” by Malcolm Gladwell that is secular treatment of that phenomenon perhaps most of us have experienced wherein somehow we just knew what to do or the correct decision to make without knowing all of the facts necessary to act or decide, yet it turned out to be exactly the right move or decision. While Mr. Gladwell’s perspective, at least in the book, I would describe as secular, I wondered as I read how much of what he described was really the voice of God manifest in the hearts and minds of people by his grace.

Whatever we may call it, however we may experience it one thing is for sure… it is by faith. It almost always requires a risk on the part of the “hearer”, especially if action is required. And, sometimes we “hear” wrong, for all kinds of reasons. There are no guarantees in this life.

Yet, “hearing from God” is of utmost importance to believers. Did not Jesus tell us that his sheep will know his voice? The scriptures are wonderful but they will never give us the specific information need to live our lives. The scriptures won’t tell me who to marry or where to live or where to work, etc. The Holy Spirit may highlight a verse out of context to give us direction, but that is decidedly different from a strict exegesis. Purists shutter at the thought!

For me the most powerful scriptural example of hearing God is found in the life of Solomon. Law school profs still cite the “wisdom of Solomon” in reference to the case he decided by ordering the infant to be divided in half. (1 Kings 3:16-25) How did Solomon obtain such wisdom? The answer is found earlier in 1 Kings 3…

Solomon was just a youngster when his father David died and he was understandably feeling a bit overwhelmed at the prospect of filling his father’s shoes. I find it interesting that the story is typically recited assuming that Solomon initiated the transaction with God by asking for wisdom. Not so…

“One night at Gibeon the LORD appeared to Solomon in a dream, and God said, “Ask, and I will give it to you!” God did the initiating and he did so via a dream.  According to this passage Solomon did not ask specifically for wisdom, as in commonly thought, rather … “So give Your servant an understanding heart to judge Your people to discern between good and evil. For who is able to judge this great people of Yours?” (1 Kings 3:5,9)

The Hebrew word for “understanding” is a word that literally means to hear, understand, comprehend, listen, obey. To the Hebrews “heart” in this context did not mean the pumping muscle in one’s chest, but rather the seat of intellect, emotions and will. So Solomon literally asked for the ability to hear God in his heart of hearts. Doesn’t that make more sense than to imagine that God somehow just injected Solomon with wisdom for every situation he would ever face for the rest of his kingship? Can’t you just imagine Solomon sitting on his throne and under his breath asking, “Well God what is wisdom on this case?” God answers, Solomon hears and what comes out of his mouth is wisdom.

Isn’t that what we want? We may not be reigning or judging over a kingdom, but don’t we all want and need to hear God? Scriptural principles are wonderful, but they are no substitute for hearing God in any particular context. I have long said that while it is wonderful that “God so loved the world”, what I need to know is that God loves me. When He communicates to me, by whatever avenue He chooses, He is really saying, “I care about you, I know all about you, I see you, in essence… I love you .” And, that is the real reason we need to “hear” His voice.

Last thought… Isn’t it interesting that God came to Solomon in a dream and while the entire transaction took place in a dream state Solomon’s request was granted and given effect in his very conscious every day experience? That’s the substance of another blog…

 

 

 

“Politics… Ugh!”

The etymology of the word as provided by that outstanding linguist, Tommy Smothers, says it all… “poly” meaning “many” and “tics” meaning “blood sucking vermin”.

It is a grievous thing to observe the media pump out hate speech 24/7. In truth it doesn’t really matter what side your on… democrat, republican, liberal/progressive, conservative, etc. Hating someone because they don’t subscribe to your political philosophy, on its face, is ludicrous. Yet, here we are, more divided than I can remember for the six decades of political history lodged in my memory bank.

Of course, one side blames the other for the hate, which somehow justifies their hate. In the meantime, the media gets rich off of the poison they pump into the atmosphere. After all it’s all about ratings and it seems the more outrageous the higher the ratings. Think about it… if everything were peaceful and quiet they would have nothing to report, nothing to exploit, no one to harangue. The media loves it when things get stirred up. All those political commentators, on both sides, only have a job because they know how to stir up their base. And how we love being stirred up, we listen to “our” side, whether it be Fox or MSNBC, hoping for another juicy morsel to confirm our worst thoughts and feelings about the “enemy”, the “wrong” side of the political spectrum. We ask our like-thinking insular group of friends, “How can they be so stupid?” Hours and hours spent in front of the tube, or on our laptops, or phones. It’s a national addiction. It’s a spiritual experience. The question is from whence does this spirit hail?

It seems to me that the current political climate is getting worse by the day, maybe by the hour. It, also, seems that this political storm will likely culminate in violence. If the President gets impeached there will likely be protests on the right. If the last President and the last democrat candidate for President are charged with corruption all hell will break loose on the left. No matter who takes to the streets the other side will no doubt have some in their ranks who feel the need to respond in kind. Essentially we are looking at a civil war which is now in the “cold war” stage, but could blossom into a “nuclear” conflagration at any time given the right triggering event.

In light of this unhappy political landscape I have a question. Do we really believe that the politics is that important? Do we really believe politicians are running this country? This world? Really?

All of history would indicate otherwise. It’s always been about power to amass wealth. The truly powerful place their minions where they need them and run things from behind the curtain. Somehow we Americans in our ethnocentric naiveté think we are different. We see America as God’s political gift to the world, the first constitutional republic complete with history’s greatest Constitution. While I would agree that we have enjoyed the blessings of the Almighty, to somehow think that the country operates based upon the principles we are taught in our high school civics classes is just beyond the pale. If you have had the opportunity to work in or around government, as I have a various times in my working career, you will see a much different side of how our country actually operates.

Jesse “Big Daddy” Unruh was a political hack of the first degree. He served in the California State Assembly and was the State Treasurer for many years. He was no altar boy. He was irreverent, vulgar, but he told the truth. He was made famous in political lore by such quotes as, “Money is the mother’s milk of politics.” And, his view of lobbyists: “If you can’t eat their food, drink their booze, screw their women, take their money and then vote against them you’ve got no business being up here.” Of course his political career pre-dated the media as we know it. He, and his cronies, got away with much that was never reported in the newspapers or in the 5:00 news.

Politics is still a dirty business. We all know that. Why is it dirty? Because politicians are “persuaded” to act as they do because they are either bought off or leveraged in some way. Period. Look behind each of the Presidents from 1900 on and you will find lots of ugly skeletons. Some a lot more than others. Both, democrats and republicans. Yet we want to believe that the people on “our” side of the political aisle have it right and are pure in their motivations. Please. How do people get elected to Congress, making a salary of about 200 grand a year, serve a few two-year terms and retire wealthy?

I’m not conspiratist but how much do you know about the Council on Foreign Relations? Sounds like a governmental body. It is not. It was founded and funded in 1921 by the very rich and powerful to protect and forward their agenda. Since then 21 secretaries of defense, 19 secretaries of the treasury, 17 secretaries of state, 15 CIA directors (in just 70 years of existence), and several presidents have hailed from the Council on Foreign Relations, irrespective of whether they identified as Democrat or Republican.

David Rockefeller, one of the founders of the CFR, admitted the following in his memoirs:

“For more than a century ideological extremists at either end of the political spectrum have seized upon well-publicized incidents such as my encounter with Castro to attack the Rockefeller family for the inordinate influence they claim we wield over American political and economic institutions. Some even believe we are part of a secret cabal working against the best interests of the United States, characterizing my family and me as “internationalists” and of conspiring with others around the world to build a more integrated global political and economic structure — one world, if you will. If that’s the charge, I stand guilty, and I am proud of it.”

How about the Federal Reserve? Founded in 1913 via federal legislation signed into law by Woodrow Wilson. Sounds truly “federal”, as in a federal agency or department. It’s not. It’s really more like a private bank and is owned by private individuals, many of whom are not U.S. citizens, yet they set U.S. monetary policy. There is a lot more behind the Federal Reserve, but my point is that the CFR and the Fed are just two examples of agencies that appear to be very democratic, even governmental, but they do not operate as such.

Ultimately, my point is you and I have very little say in how this country operates. Am I suggesting we should not participate? By no means. Vote. Get involved, especially locally where we can make a difference. But, let’s not get sucked into the media circus that produces so much vile hatred for one another. We all know that one of the really unfortunate facets of social media is that people say and/or print things that they would not say to another person’s face. Wouldn’t it be a good idea to stop before we hit the “send” button and apply a simple test before we publish our thoughts to the world? “Would I say that to their face?”

Don’t get sucked into this media generated civil war. Turn off the TV and get off the internet. Think about it. How do you feel after you have spent hours, or even minutes, listening to or reading the drivel they call “news”? Happy? At peace? Warm and fuzzy? Rested? Joyful? Do yourself a favor, instead of listening to political crap call a friend or talk to your kids or have a cup of coffee with your spouse or your significant other. Go plant some flowers. Take a walk in the woods. Go ride a bike. Read a “good” book. In short, take your life back and do something healthy for yourself and those around you.

The next time someone wants to ratchet up the political rhetoric why not artfully, graciously let the air out of the balloon and refuse to engage. Jesus said, “Blessed are the peacemakers.” Do you remember the clarion call of the hippies in the 60’s, “Make love, not war” and “give peace a chance”. Just because your brother votes for the other side he is not your enemy. And who is your brother? Jesus said, pointing to the mass of people before him, “These are my mothers and brothers.”

“Render unto Caesar… “

Section 501(c)(3) is the portion of the US Internal Revenue Code that allows for federal tax exemption of nonprofit organizations, specifically those that are considered public charities, private foundations, which includes churches and para-church organizations.

Seems innocuous enough, even benevolent. If you are a church it is neither.

As a disclaimer of sorts, I have been a church-goer on and off through my adult life, however. I no longer attend. It’s not that I dislike churches, necessarily. It’s not a philosophical issue. It’s not a religious issue. I’m not in rebellion. I am not anti-church. Like many people I know and know of, I just don’t fit.

One of things that I have long questioned is why churches find it necessary to rely on a government hand out. Jesus made it pretty clear. “Render unto Caesar what is Caesar’s and render unto God what is God’s.” So why shouldn’t a church pay taxes on it’s income? Wouldn’t it be a good testimony to the non-believing community? Don’t the churches avail themselves of the infrastructure provided by the government via our tax dollars? Shouldn’t they pay their fair share? It’s not like 510(c)(3) is chapter and verse from the scriptures. It was passed into law in 1954.

In order to avail themselves of this hand out churches must apply and incorporate. In so doing the churches give the government the legal right to tell them how to do their business. Thus the Johnson Amendment, added in 1964, prevented churches from speaking forth on political issues from the pulpit lest they endanger their 501(c)(3) status. In other words the silence from the pulpit on issues like abortion was bought and paid for. You would think that history has taught us that it is never a good thing for the church to get in bed with the government. How many examples do we need? Yet, here we are again.

Let’s be clear. The “church” never has been about a building or an institution or an organization. This too shall pass. The day will come when the organic church will rise again, not out of prosperity, not with assistance from the governing authorities, but rather out of need, whether it be financial or otherwise. The day of using God’s name in vain by applying the “Jesus Good Housekeeping Seal of Approval” to building programs and man’s agendas will come to an end. Judgment will begin with the house of God. Don’t be surprised, be ready. The life of the “church” is found in its members, not in a top down organizational structure. If you’re not meeting with a group of local believers in a home, start or start your own, even if you’re currently attending a church. It’s not hard. Have a meal together and take Jesus up on his promise that where two or three are gathered… The day is coming and may now be.