Category Archives: Bible

My Guts; His glory: living an authentic life that is pleasing to God

In “Guts and Glory: Profiles in Courage from TV and Film”, I highlighted the motivations of two fictional characters which propelled them to take risks and pursue their passions, goals and dreams.

My foundation for such a quest seems out of place in this modern world. The chasing of personal goals is subsumed in a greater ambition: pleasing God. This means in practice I must listen to Him. The first thing I learned as a kid was that the Jesus portrayed in the Bible was not a fictional character, but the one true God.

In this day and age, when even prayer is mocked in the public domain, I fear that listening to God’s voice and making decisions on this basis might require courage of the kind these TV and film personalities displayed.  Like them,  I may have to risk being humiliated to actually seek answers from Him and do what He says.

Perhaps my trepidation is an exercise in overthinking. Ours is a time when people do what is right in their own eyes anyhow, so I may be worrying in vain about how people see me when I go against their grain. On the other hand, everything seems to be permissible today EXCEPT being a follower of Jesus, so I may indeed have a cause for concern.

What I have come to partially understand is the nature of how God  works in His dealings with humans. When He speaks, He is not a dictator. From what I grasp of Him, He is rarely loud nor does he yell. God’s voice is one that is of a kind that mainly whispers.

Furthermore, when he desires to accomplish His work through me, He does so through a man he created in His image, one He made with a certain distinctiveness.  God has no intention of violating my uniqueness. Indeed, he wants to form me from within and honor and set apart my motives, thoughts, plans and ideas in such a way that I am a real and authentic person

Despite the buzz I hear from others, I realize in my mind that opposition to the pursuit of this genuine “me” should not even be an issue with secular folks ? Historically, going after our human originality has been totally valid. For instance, the 16th century William Shakespeare called it being true to yourself.

The rub in modern society may be that I am chasing the honest “me” on the basis of what may seem like an  ethereal relationship with and obedience to a Supreme Being it knows little about. Our modern world doesn’t seem to have much use for the God portrayed in the Bible. Of the the billions of people inhabiting this planet, it is my perception that a relatively small percentage search out the truths found in this book.

The words from His Scriptures have been my foundation for living for a long time. They speak to my purpose in this world and how that is to play out for me as an individual personality. In fact, I began following Jesus in high school BECAUSE I discovered that my true purpose was found in Him.

American pastor and teacher J. Vernon McGee cites the following text from the Bible to support his teaching that God desires to work through His people so that they are normal and natural and not some automatons:
Stop assuming an outward expression that does not come from within you and is not representative of what you are in your inner being but is patterned after this age; but change your outward expression to one that comes from within and is representative of your inner being, by the renewing of your mind, resulting in your putting to the test what is the will of God, the good and well- pleasing and complete will, and having found that it meets specifications, place your approval upon it. (Romans 12:2 Wuest Expanded Translation).

In some fashion, I believe this passage says that God’s will must suit ME! The Bible actually tells me to approve His specs for me. Working with God to shape my life is not life having an autocrat for a boss.

Shakespeare likened humans to actors playing a part on the stage of this world. The director gives the players the script and they’re to recite it. McGee disagrees with the learned bard.

“This is not true of the believer,” he said. “He must be genuine because (God the) Holy Spirit is working from within.”

McGee indicates that I would actually be working at cross purposes with God and my own personhood if I do not remain true to myself.

“The minute you and I assume a pose, to be something we are not, it will be impossible to determine the will of God for our lives,” he said. “The will of God becomes good and fits the will of the believer exactly.”

Knowing how to ascertain and implement the plan of God for my life has not been easy over the course of my life. I have been confused at times and in retrospect, made mistakes.

This could be because I have acted like a participant in a game who tries to win without knowing much about the rules or how to play. As an avid board gamer in my youth, I know it’s important to understand the instructions.

Pleasing centers around two words that sound strange in this culture of independence..

One of these terms is ‘worship’. I was created for a relationship with Jesus, one that involves devoting myself wholly to Him. The term ‘worship’ should not astound us. After all ,we “worship” girlfriends, boyfriends and rock stars. Why not “worship”Jesus.

Another word that is bizarre for us but is crucial in following Jesus is the term ‘surrender’. Pastor Rick Warren in his best selling book “The Purpose Driven Life” reveals that surrendering to Jesus is at the heart of the worship of Him.

He explains that when a believer in Jesus comprehends the true meaning of “surrender”, they can be in a place to relinquish the fear, pride and confusion that can sometimes accompany following Him. In defining “surrender, Warren writes  that the term does not mean “passive resignation, fatalism, or an excuse for laziness.”

Warren notes:

“It may mean the exact opposite: sacrificing your life or suffering in order to change what needs to be changed. Surrendering is not for cowards or doormats.”

The people who I wrote about last time were definitely not cowards or doormats. But stories I watched said nothing about the roots of the courage they revealed in pursuing their hopes  and dreams. They only spoke of what those passions were. But they at least exemplified a brave pursuit of their fulfillment.

What I have learned from these fictional folks is that I need to determine what my current passions and hopes are. What should follow is to take what I learn to God with open arms and let Him help me live them out in a way that pleases Him.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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America has made a deal with the devil. Perhaps it’s not too late.

There is some thought that we are in the midst of a civil war in America. If we are, it’s not like the first one that occurred over a century and a half ago.

In 1861 there was a clear geographical demarcation in the War Between the States: the northern states were on one side and the southern states were on the other. There were some border states with mixed loyalties that officially stayed in the Union.

The nature of the war is different now. The conflict is between masses of individuals spread throughout the country in blue {“liberal”) states and  red “”conservative”” ones. A few are purple, meaning they could go either way during an election.

I  suppose there COULD be a geographical split, but I doubt any states that secede would join a confederation.  These states most likely would blue ones located on different coasts.

There are some similarities between the 19th century contest and our own. Both wars concerned political, ideological and cultural differences.  But the mixing of those who hold disparate views is so great now that it would be virtually impossible to have organized hostilities involving armies.

What is very different today is the spiritual nature of the struggle. Back in the 1860s Americans generally accepted that Christianity was the prevailing faith. Both folks in the north and their counterparts in the south accepted that our country was “Christian”.

This didn’t mean that everyone was a believer. It just meant that our national values leaned heavily on Biblical teaching and many Americans sought to live their lives by them. It was also generally agreed that violating Christian instruction regarding social mores was anathema.

This way of thinking is obviously not the case in the second decade of the 21st century. The Christian faith is still prevalent, but not as much as in the past. Furthermore, since the 1960s the nation has descended into what can best be termed a post-Christian era. In fact, we are probably way beyond such a period.

The end result is that every man does what is right in his own eyes.  This could very well mean that Americans wittingly or unwittingly are making a deal with the polar opposite of Jesus, i.e. the evil being known as Satan, or the devil.

Oh, the accord with the angel of darkness may not be cut in stone in the human’s mind, but it is still an understanding. This compromise is similar in kind to my sports rooting.

Since none of my team’s win, I generally cheer from the negative. I pull for my teams’ rivals to lose.

Some unbelievers behave in the same fashion. They see Christianity as a losing proposition for them. They may not be that enthused about or even believe in the devil, but they get involved with his dark devices anyway by default. The resulting values and actions are not exactly “Christian” in tone.

Other people who are not followers of Jesus are in a worse fix. They have fallen hook, line and sinker into the abyss with Satan. They are making a clear and conscious choice to ignore and disobey God and walk with the devil.

This predicament can be detected in the America of today by observing the onslaught of lying in the media.Politicians and other leaders lie to our faces on TV, radio and the Internet. In addition, the purveyors of news are not only willing accomplices, but avid participants in the deception.

The source of this systemic falsehood is made known in the Scriptures. Satan has many names, but one of his monikers in the Bible is “The Father of Lies.” He’s the king prevaricator.

Such a decline as we see now  was perhaps possible in the 19th century, but not probable. Americans still had not thrown caution to the wind. Truth still mattered. Evil was at bay.

Soldiers

CIVIL WAR SOLDIERS FROM NORTH AND SOUTH AT A REUNION. A COMMON SET OF SPIRITUAL VALUES MADE RECONCILIATION POSSIBLE.

Because of our current beguiling, I was amazed to see the Christian faith of the time depicted on my television last night. Unfortunately, the show was one made almost 60 years ago, not recently.

One of my favorite Netflix pastimes is to watch old episodes of the science fiction/fantasy series “The Twilight Zone.” The one I saw last night involved a Confederate soldier who stumbles upon a bizarre scene in a Virginia town.

This Rebel scout found Union frozen in place in the streets of the place. They appeared as if they were people in a still photo, some in the middle of an action.

The Confederate, a man named Sergeant Paradine, at first thought the men were asleep. But he soon tossed that idea. He couldn’t wake them up, even though he shouted in their faces.

As he walked Paradine came upon an old man named Teague who claimed to have cast a spell on the Union soldiers. He showed the Confederate his book of witchcraft.

When Paradine didn’t believe him,the warlock froze him in place, too. However, the sorcerer left him with the ability to comprehend what was happening around him.

After releasing Paradine from the effects of the incantation, the old man told the sergeant that he could cast a spell on the entire Union army, but he wouldn’t because he knew he was to die that day. He gave the book to Paradine so the Confederate could do so himself.

Before reporting back to his commanding officer, Paradine froze some Union defenders in place on a ridge in the region. The state of these soldiers was confirmed by the attacking Confederate officer when the rebels were all together that night.

Paradine

PARADINE

What ensued was a debate over whether or not Paradine should go on and paralyze the entire US Army. He hesitated at first because while he was with Teague the sergeant felt the use of the book was unclean. The warlock also confirmed that the person conducting the witchcraft was in league with the devil. All this made Paradine uneasy.

At first Paradine’s commanding officer resisted the casting of spells, also. “It’s of the devil,” he said.

But Paradine regrouped and tried to convince his superior to let him use the book of witchcraft. “I don’t know much about Satan, he said, “but this cause of ours is dying right in front of our eyes.”

The officer then concurred and told Paradine to read from the book. However, when he did so he came across a passage that made him stop dead in his tracks.

“He calls upon us to revoke the name of God,” said Paradine. Despite exhortations from the others the sergeant couldn’t go on.

“What do we call em? Damn Yankees, don’t we, lieutenant?,” said Paradine. “If I read aloud from the book it is the Confederacy that will be damned.

“It’s the book or it’s the end,” he went on. “Then let it be the end. If it must come, let it come.

“If this cause is to be buried let it be put in hallowed ground. Let it be put in hallowed ground.”

The book of witchcraft was immediately burned in the campfire.

Would that men and women in America take the same stance against Satan instead of colaboring with him. The only way that will happen if we see the error of our ways as Paradine did. If we do, then perhaps we will have a spiritual revival in our nation.

Even if a large segment of our populace continues to make a deal with the devil, the people of God can still take a stand. They can actively oppose Satan’s playbook. This courageous activity may not save our country, but such a stance will at least please God and make our burial ground noble in His eyes.

In the long run of eternity, this is more important. Siding with Satan is never right.

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Rebirth Day

On October 17, 1781 Lord Cornwallis, the commanding officer of 8,000 British troops at Yorktown, Virginia asked his opponent George Washington for terms of surrender. On October 19 the Redcoats marched in defeat before the Yankees and the fruits of revolution had bloomed. On October 18 not much happened.
However, October 18 is an important date for me. I was born that day in the city of Baltimore. This particular birthday I am experiencing my own revolution of sorts.IMG_20171018_092837_356 (1)
Yesterday a close friend told me that he thought a weight was being lifted from my shoulders. I wrote back this morning. This is what I told him:

It’s funny you should say those things about weight being lifted from my shouders. I just got a note wishing me a happy birthday from a Christian life coach I did some writing for, a guy now in Australia. He told me at the end of the note that “you are a good man.” Don’t hear that much.

I told him that I was coming out of a dark place spiritually and circumstantially but that it has taken good men to help me do it. You of course are one of them, and probably the prime mover.


As you are well aware when God sends you connecting patterns you had better be alert. So it was yesterday with the “arrows of the Lord” metaphor. (Note: I had told my friend that I felt like Job, who said “for the arrows of the Almighty are within me, the poison whereof drinketh up my spirit: the terrors of God do set themselves in array against me.”)
I am reading the memoir of Steven Curtis Chapman, the singer/composer. He was 30 miles from here over the weekend and I really wanted to see him. But I couldn’t make it.
Anyhow, in the book he says he was able to connect with the ministry of Steve Saint, the son of Nate Saint, one of the missionaries killed by Auca Indians in South America in the 1950s, along with Jim Elliot. (Eliot was the husband of Elizabeth Eliot, who wrote their story in “Through Gates of Splendor”.)  Chapman went down to the tribe and met the murderers, all who had become Christian believers.
 
A documentary was being filmed outside the hut they were in. Kimo, one of the converted Indians said, “That’s the sound we heard.” Steve Saint said,”What? You heard music?”

The Indians had indeed heard music when the missionaries approached their area on a nearby beach. The Indians had never heard music. “Yes, it came from the trees and the skies,” Kimo replied.

 

Stephen Curtis Chapman wrote the following in commenting on what the Indian had told Steve Saint:

 

Whether it was the sound of angels we will never know. But I couldn’t help wondering if Kimo’s revelation answered the often-asked question, “Where was God when this horrible thing happened?”. When his messengers were attacked, when the spears were plunged into their flesh, when their bodies were dumped into the river. Was the sound in the trees and the skies an indication that God’s presence had been there even as the spears were run through the missionaries? I felt I knew the answer.”

 

Kind of blew me away that God was in the midst of all that has happened to me in the last few years. But I think I am getting the message. As you said to me recently, God thinks outside of our evangelical box.

 

So, I am optimistic about the future. This is something for me to say that. Last birthday I tried to forget all about it. At Christmas I holed up in my apartment and just waited for it all to be over.

 

Not this year. Today I am celebrating my birthday, i.e “life”. Went to a coffee shop first thing, and will go to see a movie later. I might even buy myself a cake. On the way I met a Gideon who gave me a Bible. I don’t think that was  accidental.
I later wrote my buddy and told him I had read Psalm 118 out of that Gideon Bible. Some verses immediately spoke to me. “Out of my distress I called on the Lord; the Lord answered me and set me free…the Lord is my strength and my song; He has become my salvation…I shall not die but shall live and recount the deeds of the Lord…This is the Lord’s day, it is marvelous in our eyes.”
Another passage to sum of the meaning of my own little revolution just came to mind. In the Old Testament book of Deuteronomy God told the Israelites: “I call heaven and earth to record this day against you, that I have set before you life and death, blessing and cursing: therefore choose life, that both thou and thy seed may live.” (30:19)
This birthday I have decided to care, whether others do or not. I have decided to choose life. It’s an important day for me.

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Why Aaron Rodgers’ call to link arms is a good idea

At the moment the United States doesn’t seem so united. In fact, the country seems to be tearing itself apart.

We seem to be at war with each other. The conflict isn’t so much physical yet, although there are signs of it with recent rioting. It’s more of what University of Virginia scholar James Davison Hunter called a “culture war.”

The recent hubbub about professional football players refusing to stand for the national anthems is just a symptom of this struggle.  The kneeling is starting to spread to other venues.

“Taking a knee” is becoming a hashtag and is either praised or vilified. Some think doing so is a protest of injustice in American society. Others think this gesture is unpatriotic.

The nation is not only threatened from within. We also seem to be walking on the edge of a possible armed fight with North Korea, one that could easily go nuclear.

Our president seems to be provoking not only the battle with North Korea,  but also the ones with his own citizens. Some of these Americans are not going quietly into that good night.

Some people seem to enjoy a scrap. Donald Trump apparently is one of them. I could easily name some of his enemies in the media and Congress who are just as happy to get down in the mud with him.

While politicians and competitive athletes seem to enjoy the contents of a chamber pot, most of us try to avoid kakka. Count me as one of them.

Because of my aversion to cultural rot I plan to avoid tonight’s planned “linking of arms” in Green Bay, Wisconsin.  Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers has called for fans at Lambeau Field to do this in order to display unity. I would just prefer Aaron and the rest of the guys just play ball. I am sure that his intentions are good but I just think the NFL is the wrong venue for political statements and such displays in stadiums just enflame the culture war in a hugely divided nation.

The Bible tells the story of a young fellow who found that the road to hell was indeed paved with good intentions. He didn’t plan to end up in dung-filled waters, but found himself in a pig pen because of his actions.  He goes by the name of “The Prodigal Son” in modern vernacular.

This youth asked his father for his inheritance early and wandered off into a “far country”. There he squandered all his resources and as a result had to slop pigs and eat their food in order to survive.

Why did this wayward child leave his safe space at home? 20th century preacher J. Vernon McGee said that he bid adieu to his home because he was drawn to the far country, a place of mystery.  It held a certain allure for the boy.

War and fighting holds a similar attraction to some. Young men are fascinated by it. Older ones are as well.

Confederate general Robert E. Lee was 56 years of age at the time of the Battle of Fredericksburg in 1862. As he watched Union troops advance on his army’s entrenchments, he said to General James Longstreet, “It is well that war is so terrible. Otherwise, we should grow too fond of it.”

Lee’s assessment on the horror of war was correct, especially during this battle. The North’s soldiers would be slaughtered as their own general sent them wave after wave into Lee’s unconquerable defenses.

Yet, the generations after General Lee seemed to shout “hurrah” and march off to battle when their governments called on them to do so. But they too learned of the terrible reality of combat once they were there.

Many cultural commentators are saying that the US is reaching a crossroads in its life as a nation. When they look at the landscape they see a country where the internal strife has put it on the eve of destruction unless something is done.

However, America has been up against it before. The Great Depression in the 1930s was one of those times. It was a period of extreme economic and social upheaval, yet we came out of it and became the leading power on Earth.

One of the reasons is that capable people have been trying to draw lessons from that period ever since. One of these experts is Christopher Burns,  who has authored a book on how supposedly knowledgeable people made wrong decisions that lead to some of America’s greatest disasters, such as the sinking of the Titanic and war.

In a documentary about the Depression called “When the World Breaks”, Burns discusses how societies reach their breaking points. But he also suggests a positive consequence that come from these emergencies.

“I think we progress in lurches. I think we lurch forward. I think we adopt a set of rules and a vocabulary and a standard for truth and that serves us well. This is certainly true in science. It serves us  well right up until the moment where all of a sudden it isn’t working and the whole world comes apart.  We don’t know how to change it gradually. We just have to wait for the iceberg. And then a wonderful thing happens: the world falls apart. And we are able to stand there and say ‘what are we really trying to do here? What is our world really like?’ And one of our most important resources in our country is creativity. 

Like the Titanic, America has hit the iceberg and is at risk of sinking. Instead of working together to plug the leaks, Americans are at war.

We have to stop fighting before we all drown. To get to the point that we put down our weapons, we Americans have to change our thinking.

Traditionalists have to see that the ship has sailed on change in America. Like it or not, the US is not the country it was, even 50 years ago.

Progressives need to comprehend that people who have views different from theirs are by and large decent human beings and not bigots or fascists. In the midst of change, America should not throw the baby out with the bath water.

If we don’t get creative together we will continue to fall apart. Our war will destroy us. On the other side of war is darkness.

NFL quarterback Aaron Rodgers has called for fans at to link arms tonight at his team’s game in Green Bay, Wisconsin in order to display unity. The National Football League has become ground zero in the culture war lately.

My first inclination when I heard about this was to become dismissive because I would just prefer that Aaron and the rest of the guys just play ball and avoid politics at a sports event. But now I think that Rodgers is onto something.

I think it’s better that we lay down our rhetorical arms and link them together than keep battling each other. If that’s the purpose of this demonstration, I am all for it.

 

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In a threatening world, who loves ya baby?

As I write this the world is supposed to come to an end. As the story goes, some legendary ninth planet called Nabiru is supposed to appear today and destroy the Earth.

My view is that a  “Christian” conspiracy theorist named David Meade is trying to make dough selling his book.  Guys like him give my faith a bad name.

Even so, if you don’t think people are worried about the state of the world, just check the social media posts you get.

One friend of mine sent me an instant message out of the blue this week expressing his feelings about the ongoing dust up between the Trump administration and North Korea. My pal said to me that it was just a matter of time before the formerly hot war on the Korean peninsula reignites. He’s obviously concerned, as we all should be.

The conflict seems personal, with Kim Jong Un lobbing insults as well as missiles and the Donald responding in kind, at least verbally for now. In the last couple of days, however, the Donald has upped the ante by threatening to physically “destroy” North Korea should America or its allies have to defend themselves.

My friend’s worries could be justified. From what I read in the news, there are some questions about the mental stability and motivations of the North Korean leader. For that matter, the mostly anti-Trump media wonders about our own president’s mental health and competence.

I read a fascinating article about Joseph Stalin and Adolph Hitler yesterday morning in “Foreign Affairs.” It noted that despite repeated warnings that Germany was about to attack Russia, Stalin could not believe that Hitler would invade.

Germany and Russia had a non-aggression pact. The Russian dictator figured that Hitler would not risk a two-front war. He guessed wrong, and Stalin almost had to flee as Nazi troops approached Moscow.

There’s no doubt that there’s  a lot to fear these days. None of us are guaranteed the next hour, much less the next day, because of the dangers out there.

I had this morbid thought yesterday morning before I left my home that someone could just blow me away with a gunshot outside my door. We’re that violent now. In fact, there was a fatal shooting of a woman outside my window in the last couple of weeks, so perhaps I am not a conspiracy theorist like the Planet 9 guy.

It’s not easy to ascertain the true perils we face on a national or individual level. Stalin had to depend on his advisers, intelligence services, and news reports to make his decision to not mobilize Russia’s military.  He didn’t trust them.

Sometimes it’s not until after disaster hits that we learn how to avoid future problems. Even then the lessons may not be clear. Hindsight is not always 20-20.

Experts interviewed for  “When the World Breaks”, a documentary about the Great Depression in the 1930s, revealed that researchers still don’t agree about what caused the worst economic catastrophe of the 20th century. They can only offer possibilities.

However, author Christopher Burns offered some sage advice for handling any kind of potential menace to our basic well being before we end up in a world of hurt. He said,

“If you’re going to function, you have to be certain about some things. You have to be pretty certain about who you trust; who loves you; where the next meal is coming from; and what you’re going to do it if rains. You have to have that stuff figured out so that you can take risks and grow and all the other things that are so much fun to do.”

The Bible provides an example of a person who seems to have figured out Burns’ advice. He’s the key figure in Jesus’s parable about a “prodigal son.”

The young man asked his father for his inheritance early and ran off to the “far country” to live in debauchery. When he ran out of money, the boy ended up slopping pigs.

His meals consisted of swine food. The fellow had no money left, having thrown it away on wine, women and song.

However, he knew who loved him.  Therefore, he decided to humble himself and return to his father.

His Dad welcomed him back with open arms. He even threw his son a party.

Students of the Bible know that the father in this parable is God. Jesus’s point was that God receives sinners who are in danger of losing their lives for eternity.

Ultimately, God is who we need to turn to when we are faced with threats. He’s trustworthy and He loves us.

I am not saying that we should be the embodiment of the expression “some people are so heavenly minded they are no earthly good.”  Surely we should take actions to protect ourselves and our loved ones.

There are some who operate out of false beliefs that do themselves and others harm. For example, American Civil War general Thomas “Stonewall” Jackson was a strong Christian man who took risks because of a fatalism rooted in Calvinism. He would subject himself to enemy fire, believing that God had a time for him to depart this earth.

One night during the Battle of Chancellorsville he was reconnoitering in the no-man’s land between his own Confederate lines and those of the Union. His staff advised him that this was no place for the most valuable general of the Confederacy.

Jackson ignored the pleas of his advisers. That night he was mistakenly gunned down by his own men in the dark.

What we know and what we believe matters. When it comes to worrying about my life span, I listen to and believe Jesus Christ. He told his followers:

What’s the use of worrying? What good does it do? Will it add a single day to your life? Of course not! And if worry can’t even do such little things as that, what’s the use of worrying over bigger things?

He has a lot of other things to say that I listen to as well. For example, in the Scriptures he talked about the truth about the end of the world.

However, I also believe that if we can influence our circumstances, we should by all means do so. We shouldn’t take unnecessary risks like Jackson nor should we throw up our hands or shrug and say “what will be will be.”

If I am concerned about losing my health care, for example, then I ought to write my Congressional representative. I’m not sure I can influence Kim Jong Un, but former basketball star Dennis Rodman thinks he can. I’m all for giving him a shot at it if it keeps us from annihilation.

But Kim Jong Un isn’t trustworthy. Neither was Hitler. Our politicians in America may not be either.  Burns counsel is sound.

In this crazy world find out the answer to the question that Telly Savalas in the old “Kojak” TV series used to ask:”Who loves ya baby?”

Trust them.

 

 

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Americans should quit dreaming and change the way they think

I was raised in the South. When I was a kid there were still remnants of the War Between the States around. (We southerners preferred that moniker for the American Civil War.)

I recall for example a couple of bumper stickers I saw as a youth. One said “Hell no, I ain’t forgettin’.” Another exhorted, “Save your Confederate money. The South rise again.”

The Confederate battle flag, known as the “Stars and Bars” was prevalent in my area. Vestiges of Jim Crow still lingered.

As an adult I became a Civil War buff. Living in Virginia I could tour numerous battlefields where Union and Rebel soldiers laid down their lives.

I enjoyed going to reenactments, where people dressed up in the blue and grey. There were even “civilians” who took part in the living histories. They came costumed as sutlers, camp followers and even ministers of the Gospel.

In the 90s I worked for a small college in South Carolina. In their main parlor the most prominent painting was of Confederate general Robert. E. Lee.

Fast forward about 20  years. General Lee is now a controversial figure. A statue of him in Charlottesville was this summer the catalyst for a confrontation in the streets between white supremacists and so-called anti-fascists.

This week the general’s descendant, Rev. Robert Wright Lee, denounced his own great uncle.  He told the press that he felt shame at General Lee’s role in the Confederacy.

There is now an outcry from some to do away with any and all memorials to American heroes who owned slaves. The most prominent Founders now being maligned include George Washington and Thomas Jefferson, both slaveholders.

In his will Washington freed his slaves. Jefferson did not.

Yet, Thomas Jefferson wrote the Declaration of Independence. He even included in one of the early drafts a condemnation of slavery.

Yet, 15 years ago historian Stephen E.  Ambrose published a piece for the Smithsonian that was highly critical of Jefferson. He wrote:

Jefferson knew slavery was wrong and that he was wrong in profiting from the institution, but apparently could see no way to relinquish it in his lifetime.

Ambrose didn’t stop at these unflattering comments. He was even more condemning:

Jefferson owned slaves. He did not believe that all were created equal. He was a racist, incapable of rising above the thought of his time and place, and willing to profit from slave labor.

When I have thought of the Founding Fathers who owned slaves, and of the southerners who fought in the Civil War, I have tended to excuse them. “They were men of their time,” I think. “Everybody thought like they did.”

Ambrose did not excuse Jefferson . He saw him as a hypocrite who espoused equality for all, but did not express it in his own behavior. Ambrose said:

Few of us entirely escape our times and places. Thomas Jefferson did not achieve greatness in his personal life. He had a slave as mistress. He lied about it.

As a man with southern roots, and someone who considers Virginia his native soil, I find Ambrose’s comments deeply troubling. I also recoil at attacks on men like Robert E. Lee,  a revered son of Virginia. It is as if he is attacking my own personal world view.

However, I have now come to the conclusion that Ambrose is correct.  While I still consider Jefferson and Lee great public figures, I cannot excuse their racism.

How could these bigger-than-life figures have been so wrong? I think it might have something to do with our human natures.

The Bible portrays us all as sinners, i.e. people who are in rebellion against God. It describes us as people with corrupt natures who do corruption.

Yet, the Scriptures also call on us to master our sin. For whatever reason, men like Jefferson and Lee did not master theirs when it came to racism and bigotry.

Ambrose wrote that Jefferson had a “great mind and a limited character.” I think this was probably true of a lot of mythological characters in American history.

It is also true of many of us in modern life. I am not an intellectual by any means, but I do like to think and analyze. Unfortunately I tend to “overthink.”  This leads me to indecisiveness.

Like Jefferson I muse and write on subjects, but take little action in my own personal life.  I have recently thought that this is due to a lack of faith in God and His Word, the Bible.

I have for  most of my life agreed with the truth that Jesus died to pay the penalty for my sins and rose again from the dead to reign over me. I have also espoused intellectual assent to the truths of Scripture.

The reality though is that my life does not reflect these beliefs.  I have not done what the Bible has told me to do.

I have a myriad of excuses for this neglect, but the crux of the issue is that I have preferred doing things my way, perhaps out of convenience, or perhaps out of lust of the eyes, lust of the  flesh or pride of life.

I have determined of late though that God means  what He says. The Scriptures say “do not be deceived; God is not mocked. For whatever a man sows that He will also reap.” In many ways I have sown the wind and reaped the whirlwind.

The Roman philosopher Seneca wrote, “Why is it no man confesses his vices? It is because he has not yet laid them aside. It is a waking man only who can tell his dreams.”

J. Vernon McGee, a popular pastor and radio personality from the last half of the 20th century said of Seneca’s quote, “A man in sin is like a person still dreaming.

He alone (Jesus) can give comfort and understanding to the afflicted as well as extend mercy and grace.”

I have now after a lifetime awoke from my dream and seen my sins. The dream is to me more of a nightmare.

I should have obeyed God and His Word and listened to the men and women over my lifetime who taught me the way to live.

There’s still time for me, though. Thankfully, I have taken a first step.

The Bible says, “Don’t copy the behavior and customs of this world, but let God transform you into a new person by changing the way you think. Then you will learn to know God’s will for you, which is good and pleasing and perfect.”

I have begun to change the way I think. I am trying these days to think about how I can please God.

That in itself pleases Him. McGee said, “God in interested in what we think when we lie upon our pillows.”

Changing the way we think would be a good start for a lot of Americans today. But first, we have to wake up from our dreaming.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Social Justice Warriors are hampered by intellectual dishonesty

“Twilight Zone” host Rod Serling would open his show with the following:

You are traveling through another dimension, a dimension not only of sight and sound but of mind. A journey into a wondrous land whose boundaries are that of imagination. That’s a signpost up ahead. Your next stop: the Twilight Zone.

As I recently wrote, all the signs currently point to the world entering the Twilight Zone. What I  mean is that it is really difficult to determine whether a lot of people are living in reality or fiction.

For example, when I turn on my computer and choose to watch the news instead of entertain myself with science fiction, I see protesters explaining to a reporter why they are out in the street. What comes out of their mouths are best termed conspiracy theories, devoid of logic and truth.

The media aids and abets this warped thinking with its twisted reports. Their reports are seductive, for they pose as news.

Further, news organizations are in charge of what we see and hear on our devices. We may not be getting the most important news.

To be fair to the mob, we are full of false beliefs and memories. As I was writing this an article popped up in my Twitter feed from the Wall Street Journal which discusses research about individual self awareness.

“Most of us are not as self aware as we think we are,” writes author Elizabeth Bernstein.

Reporting on the research of psychologist Tasha Eurich, Bernstein notes:

When it comes to self-knowledge, she says there are three types of people: those who have it, those who underestimate how much they have (she calls them “underraters”) and those who overestimate how much they have (“overraters”). Underraters beat themselves up unnecessarily. Overraters believe they do everything well.

Some of us think that we have wonderful memories, also. I personally think mine is flawed, but I do have a close childhood friend who I believe has an exquisite ability to fill in the blanks for me on my lost memories. However, he may not be as astute as I think he is.

In a 2013 piece, The Atlantic asked “How Many of Your Memories are Fake?” Erica Hayasaki reported that even people with something called Highly Superior Autobiographical Memory sometimes have their remembrances wrong.

One of the reasons for these mistakes in memory is that that our minds are subject to manipulation.

Simone Weil, one of the great philosophers of the first half of the 20th century, wrote that imagination and fiction make up more than three quarters of our real life. Unfortunately, she herself was evidence of this.

During World War II Weil contracted tuberculosis while in England.  She was there hoping to be sent to France to work for the Resistance. As a show of support for the French, she only ate what she “believed” the French person under German occupation would feed on. She died.

The coroner’s report said:  “the deceased did kill and slay herself by refusing to eat whilst the balance of her mind was disturbed”.

Despite this sad end,  Simone Weil is credited with seeking for truth during her short life.

 

A great student and thinker, she had a higher degree in philosophy. Weil also studied several religions.  In 1935 she was drawn to the Christian faith.  She wrote in her “Spiritual Autobiography” that her concept of life was Christian.

In the same work, Weil described Jesus as the truth. She also had a high regard for the Bible. Weil wrote:

Christ made promises to the Church, but none of these promises has the force of the expression “Thy Father who seeth in secret.” The word of God is the secret word. He who has not heard this word, even if he adheres to all the dogmas taught by the Church, has no contact with truth.

Weil chose to live out her faith outside of the traditional church. She believed that Christianity was “catholic (i.e., universal) by right but not in fact.”

“So  many things are outside it, so many things that I love and do not want to give up, so many things that God loves, otherwise they would not be in existence,” she wrote.

Weil was not only an intellectual and devoted person of faith, but she was also politically active. Like a lot of young people, she was a political leftist. At the age of 10 she decided she was a Bolshevik.

Weil supported Communist movements in Europe. She wrote articles debating both capitalism and socialism. Although she was a terrible soldier, Weil tried to fight for the republicans during the Spanish Civil War in the 1930s.

 

If she were alive today, Weil would grasp the attraction of modern groups such as Antifa and Black Lives Matter to today’s youth. She chose to try to reach the revolutionaries of her day and with truth outside of the Church.

Social enthusiasms have such power today, they raise people so effectively to the supreme degree of heroism in suffering and death, that I think it is as well that a few sheep should remain outside the fold in order to bear witness that the love of Christ is essentially something different.

Would that our latter day young social justice warriors, so full of a desire to change the world, add the zeal for truth possessed by Simone Weil to their repertoire. They could do it if they wished.

Weil wrote:

After months of inward darkness, I suddenly had the everlasting conviction that any human being, even though practically devoid of natural faculties, can penetrate to the kingdom of truth reserved for genius, if only he longs for truth and perpetually concentrates all his attention upon its attainment.

I can only hope and pray for this kind of effort toward intellectual honesty today. It is severely lacking.

 

 

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