Tuesday, September 1, 2015

KNOWING TRUTH AND REJECTING TRUTH




There is a comfort in knowing the truth. Let’s start with a simple example. Knowing the truth about your car is comforting. If you didn’t know how to turn it on, drive it, or how to pump the gas, this would be stressful.

Knowing truth is a matter of mastery. If we don’t know how to master our car, kitchen, or frig, we will experience frustration and confusion. However, this same principle also pertains to other areas of our lives. We make thousands of moral decisions daily. They even govern how we speak to our friend, mate, or teacher.

In fact, almost everything we say has a moral dimension. When your husband advises you to start cooking dinner, you can respond in many different ways:

  1. Yes, dear.
  2. What is it you would like to eat?
  3. Why is this always my responsibility?
  4. You shouldn’t expect anything from me. You aren’t keeping up your responsibilities to me.
  5. You are always thinking about yourself!
  6. What will you do for me?
There are many possible responses, and they involve many different considerations, like the nature of the relationship and the way we conceive of it, the way the day has gone, and our values.

Some values yield good results; others do not. For example, if getting our needs met is our first consideration, conflict is inevitable. Whenever receiving takes precedence over giving, there will result a tug-of-war between our opposing demands.

This observation raises an important question:

  • Are there moral and relational truths to govern our lives as there are truths about my car? If I have to pump the gas into my car at the right orifice, is there also a right way to treat my friend or partner? Also, as there is a joy and comfort in my mastery over the physical objects of my life, is there also a moral mastery that brings joy and comfort?
If there is such a mastery that comes from knowing and understanding, then acquiring and using such knowledge should also be a delight. All the major religions would probably be in agreement. In fact, this is the message of the Bible:

  • Blessed is the man who does not walk in the counsel of the wicked or stand in the way of sinners or sit in the seat of mockers. But his delight is in the law of the LORD, and on his law he meditates day and night. He is like a tree planted by streams of water, which yields its fruit in season and whose leaf does not wither. Whatever he does prospers. (Psalm 1:1-3)
Some study their auto manual so that they can understand the use and maintenance of their car. How much more important to understand the use and care of our lives! Therefore, Scripture consistently encourages us to seek wisdom:

  • How much better to get wisdom than gold, to choose understanding rather than silver!... Whoever gives heed to instruction prospers, and blessed is he who trusts in the LORD. The wise in heart are called discerning, and pleasant words promote instruction. Understanding is a fountain of life to those who have it, but folly brings punishment to fools. A wise man's heart guides his mouth, and his lips promote instruction. (Proverbs 16:16-23)
  • A fool finds pleasure in evil conduct, but a man of understanding delights in wisdom. (Proverbs 10:23)
Wisdom is a delight. It opens our eyes to the fullness of life, where we can see how everything it interrelated. It is like the joy of completing a puzzle or even a house, but the joy of wisdom is even more profound. Wisdom is also a light, enabling us to navigate this hazardous life.

However, not many are willing to pay the price for it. Augustine of Hippo claimed that although the happiness of truth is available to all, we would rather be right than wise:

  • True happiness is to rejoice in the truth, for to rejoice in the truth is to rejoice in you, O God, who are the truth… Man’s love of truth is such that when he loves something which is not the truth, he pretends to himself that what he loves is the truth, and because he hates to be proved wrong, he will not allow himself to be convinced that he is deceiving himself. So he hates the real truth for the sake of what he takes to his heart in its place. (Augustine’s Confessions, Book 10:23)
For many, darkness is more comfortable than knowing the truth, even peace of mind.

CELEBRATE ORGASM






While walking through a college campus, I observed a table manned by two female students with a sign reading "Celebrate Orgasm."

I understood it to mean, "celebrate uncommitted, casual sex," a message not at all uncommon on our college campuses. For me, at least, it conjured up thoughts of angry Leftist professors indoctrinating youth against traditional values. I decided I had to confront these misguided young ladies.

"Are you aware that studies show that married women report having better, more satisfying sex than the hook-up crowd?"

I was surprised to hear that they were familiar with these studies. I was even more surprised by what followed:

"Of course, a woman is going to enjoy sex more with someone she can trust, with someone she knows is totally committed to her."

I was stunned. She even said these words so matter-of-factly, as if to say, "It's just common knowledge."

"Well, if it is common knowledge," I thought, "why the heck are you celebrating indiscriminate orgasm?" However, others approached the table and I never got a chance to ask my provocative question, but I continued to think about it.

Although our youth have been substituting "until dead do us part" with something like "until we no longer are getting what we want out of this marriage," they know that they and their future offspring are made for committed relationships.

Meanwhile, they mock the Christian faith as puritanical and repressive, even though it is this very faith that safeguards what they ultimately want in a family and a relationship.

It is the teachings of the Bible, which provide the light and guidance for human thriving. Quoting Genesis 1-2, Jesus taught:

  • “Haven’t you read,” he replied, “that at the beginning the Creator ‘made them male and female,’ and said, ‘For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh’? So they are no longer two, but one flesh. Therefore what God has joined together, let no one separate.” (Matthew 19:4-6)

I am grateful for these teachings. Marriage can be trying, but it is because we are convinced these truths, that divorce has never presented itself as an option. Consequently, we're in it for the long-haul, and therefore, we can trust and rely upon one another. We are not surveying the grass of the other side, and so spend our time fertilizing our own lawn.

Monday, August 31, 2015

PROPHECIES OF TRAGEDY: HOW TO DEAL WITH THEM



 
I continue to wrestle with this verse and many others like it in the books of Daniel and Revelation:

  • The man clothed in linen, who was above the waters of the river, lifted his right hand and his left hand toward heaven, and I heard him swear by him who lives forever, saying, “It will be for a time, times and half a time. When the power of the holy people has been finally broken, all these things will be completed.” (Daniel 12:7)


How do we cope with the fact that we will be broken? I scream, fume, and lament even though we will eventually be given an everlasting kingdom.

Perhaps a question of even greater interest is how Israel was able to cope with the many horrific prophecies concerning themselves. Why is it that they hung in there with their God despite the almost ubiquitous put-downs? Why is it that they preserved such degrading and terrifying prophecies in their canon of Scripture?

While other religious literature is filled with commendations towards its followers, even to the point of esteeming them as superior people, the Bible never descends to these depths. Why not? The Bible evidently didn't originate with man and from human motivations!

Why did Israel put up with God's many damning assessments? (It is easy to understand why people cling to a religion that tells them, "You're the best!") Evidently, Israel was convinced that these threatening prophecies came from God and not from man!

WHAT DOES CHRISTIAN GROWTH/SPIRITUALITY LOOK LIKE?




 We mistakenly think that growth is primarily about mastery over sin. We try harder, develop spiritual discipline and habits, and we apply every effort to uproot sin as the gardener pulls out weeds.

However, if we look at mastery over sin in these terms, we will fall into discouragement and despair. Rod Rosenbladt, a Lutheran theologian admits:

  • "I fear that things have gotten worse in me rather than better. I have horribly abused all of God's good gifts to me. I was so optimistic in the beginning... That the Holy Spirit now dwelling within me would aid me in following Christ... I have re-dedicated myself to Christ more times than I can count. But it seems to stay the same, or even get worse, no matter what I do. Whatever the outer limits of Christ's are, I have certainly crossed them. I have utterly, continuously, and with planning aforethought blown it all. I guess I was never a Christian in the first place, because if I had been, I would have made some progress."
Perhaps Rosenbladt and most of us had been looking for fruit in the wrong place. Perhaps the way up to Christian maturity is the way down. Perhaps our broken limbs must first be re-broken and reset before they can heal properly. In this respect, McDavid, Richardson, and Zahl write:

  • "The first fruit of grace is humility: not a lessening of sin so much as a deeper awareness of sin's continuing presence... Sins like lust and greed and stinginess are not fixed by habit-forming and effort... The Law must continue to convict us of our utter unrighteousness, and the Gospel must continue to save us." (Law & Gospel, 69)
Trying to obey the law humbles us, as it should. It shows us that we aren't as spiritual and deserving as we'd like to think (Romans 3:19-20). However, as we learn that we cannot adore ourselves, we learn to adore our Savior, who loves us despite our sins.

This was the lesson of a deeply sinful woman who boldly entered a home, where she didn't belong, to adoringly wash Jesus' feet. About her sacrificial behavior, Jesus explained:

  • “Therefore, I tell you, her many sins have been forgiven—as her great love has shown. But whoever has been forgiven little loves little.” (Luke 7:47)
We too need to learn about our unworthiness and the depths to which we have been forgiven so we can adore our Savior as we ought.

When I was first saved, I believed that God saved me because I was worthy of His mercy, certainly more worthy than others. Consequently, I was not as grateful as I should have been and, therefore, didn't enjoy His mercy as I now do. He therefore broke me so that He could heal me.

This lesson requires time and our many moral failures, which our attempts to follow the law make painfully obvious.

The Apostle Paul also had to learn this lesson, the painful way. Pride is the greatest enemy of humility and of receiving anything good from God. While pride is full of self and not receptive to the things of God, humility is empty and cries out to be filled.

Had not God chastened Paul with a satanic affliction to keep him from spiritual pride - perhaps the worst kind - Paul would have become puffed-up because of his knowledge and understanding. Through his failures and afflictions, he learned essential lessons:

  • “For in my inner being I delight in God’s law; but I see another law at work in me, waging war against the law of my mind and making me a prisoner of the law of sin at work within me. What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this body that is subject to death?” (Romans 7:22-24)
Only an understanding of his wretchedness and inability (2 Cor. 3:5) would prepare him to experience the glory of God:

  • “Three times I pleaded with the Lord to take it away from me. But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me. That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong.” (2 Corinthians 12:8-10)
Paul had to learn that it is all about God and not about his strengths and spiritual successes. And we too need to learn to delight in our weaknesses.

God's grace comes in unsuspected packages. It is disguised in failures and even in self- despair. If we look for evidence of His grace in the wrong places, we will not see it and become discouraged.

Elijah had been discouraged. Following "his" great triumph over the prophets of Baal, he ran away panicked at the threats of a woman. He must have regarded himself as the greatest spiritual flop. 

He needed a lift and probably expected to find it in an awesome display of his God's power, but God manifested Himself to Elijah in an unexpected and probably unwanted way:

  • The Lord said, “Go out and stand on the mountain in the presence of the Lord, for the Lord is about to pass by.” Then a great and powerful wind tore the mountains apart and shattered the rocks before the Lord, but the Lord was not in the wind. After the wind there was an earthquake, but the Lord was not in the earthquake. After the earthquake came a fire, but the Lord was not in the fire. And after the fire came a gentle whisper. When Elijah heard it, he pulled his cloak over his face and went out and stood at the mouth of the cave. (1 Kings 19:11-13)
Perhaps we too are looking for God in all the wrong places. Instead, growth must begin in brokenness and not in strength and conquest.

Friday, August 21, 2015

Toxic Love





Toxic love is a modern take on love that equates love with not giving any offense. And it is toxic. Instead of love, it breeds avoidance and intolerance.

One organization committed to tolerance is refusing to tolerate any change or even new people. Why? Because they have had irresolvable conflicts with some members in the distant past!

But conflict is to be expected in any organization or even any relationship. Besides, shouldn’t we even welcome conflict? Doesn’t conflict promote growth?

Why then does this organization run from conflict? As one board member explained, the members are too concerned about being nice. Therefore, instead of dealing directly and honestly with conflict and differences of opinion, their commitment to niceness and to not hurting others’ feelings has led to avoidance. Why avoidance? We avoid those situations and relational problems we cannot resolve. This is intolerance, but a “loving” person cannot tolerate the fact that they are intolerant.

The board member explained that instead of re-examining their myopic understanding of love and radical tolerance, they remain secretly defensive and intolerant of any possible threats. While, on the surface, they remain very nice people, their membership is dwindling.

I’ve encountered the same kind of thing in the NYC Public Schools, which made great efforts to be nice to the students. On several occasions, I was reprimanded for giving students accurate but needed feedback. However, the administration interpreted my words as damaging the students’ self-esteem.

I wasn’t a permanent feature there, so I was able to avoid pursuing the required Masters in Education degree. But from what I had heard, it was largely an instrument of indoctrination in politically correct ways to nicely manage the classroom. However, despite the hours of additional education, many of our NYC schools have become jungles where the number one goal is survival and not education.

Parents also believe in being nice to their children. Instead of requiring that they call their parents “Dad” and “Mom,” niceness has led parents to discard the traditional titles in favor of “Bill” and “Betty.” Children who had once been regarded as an indispensable addition to the family, are now regarded as objects of parental self-fulfillment. And if they fail to fulfill, then they are not fulfilling their purpose.

Training of children has given way to friendship with children by parents who want to be nice and appreciated. As a result, they are raising demanding monsters who have not learned respect. Is it any wonder that Western nations now average 1½ children per family! Who can handle any more!

This “niceness” of toxic love can be noted in many areas of Western society. Preserving niceness has become such an overriding concern that justice suffers.

In Germany, 15 were wounded when one Afghani refugee reportedly desecrated a Koran:

·       Four police officers, two badly, and 11 refugees were wounded in the clash. Seven police vehicles were also damaged during the riot that took around four hours to come under control. According to the officials, the person who tore pages from the Holy Quran had arrived from Afghanistan. Police took him into custody for his own safety. In other words, they arrested the one who violated Sharia blasphemy law, not the rioters. http://www.jihadwatch.org/2015/08/germany-refugees-riot-stone-police-over-torn-quran-15-wounded

The one who violated the “niceness code” was arrested, even though he hadn’t broken a law. Contrary to the requirements of justice, the rioters were not arrested.

Examples of toxic love abound. Western leaders cannot proclaim often enough that Islam is “a religion of peace,” despite all of the evidence to the contrary, even while their own nations are being endangered by this deadly form of “peace.” In fact, Western niceness has gone the extra mile by labeling anyone who doesn’t practice niceness as “Islamophobes.” Western nations have even criminalized un-nice words, even when these words represent legitimate warnings about terrorism.

We need to see ourselves as good, tolerant, and accepting people, especially of people whose ways differ from ours. For this reason, we are susceptible to revolutionary ideas promoting toxic love.

David Horowitz, a former Marxist, is now appalled by Marxism and Marxist strategies. In particular, he cites Saul Alinsky’s Rules for Radicals:

·       The Alinsky radical has a single principle – to take power from the Haves and give it to the Have-nots… a destructive assault on the established order in the name of the “people.” (Barack Obama’s Rules for Revolution: The Alinsky Model)

Have these radical changes actually helped “the people?” Well, we can’t ask the 100,000,000 who have been slaughtered in the process. However, each one of these experiments of utopian niceness has proved to be unsustainable nightmares.

Why then are Westerners continuing to talk about the radical change of income redistribution and all other forms of entitlement programs? Why haven’t they learned from the past? In The Black Book of the American Left, David Horowitz has observed:


·       Radical commitments to justice and other social values continue to be dominated by a moral and political double standard. The left’s indignation seems exclusively reserved for outrages that confirm the Marxist diagnosis of capitalist society.

Why does toxic love fail to examine itself? There is just too much at stake. Horowitz continues:

·       This is the classic revolutionary formula… [they] get to feel good about themselves in the process.

Feeling good about ourselves seems to trump thinking accurately. Horowitz’s assessment is born out in many other areas.

In The Significant Life, attorney George M. Weaver argues that our quest for self-importance, which often takes the form of toxic love, governs our lives:

·       Individual humans are not concerned so much about the survival of the species as they are about their personal survival or significance. In order to push ourselves beyond our confining space-time limits, we as individuals try to set ourselves apart from the rest of humanity. It is unsettling to admit that one is average or ordinary – a routine person. (7)

Jesus’ Apostles were no different. Each wanted to be greatest in His kingdom. However, Jesus was able to perceive their toxic motives:

·       And he said: "I tell you the truth, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. Therefore, whoever humbles himself like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven. (Matthew 18:3-4)

The human quest for significance seems to be unrelenting and self-exalting. Weaver documents this quest in many ways:

·       Salvador Dali once said, “The thought of not being recognized [is] unbearable”…Lady Gaga sings, “I live for the applause, applause, applause…the way that you cheer and scream for me.” She adds in another song, “yes we live for the Fame, Doin’ it for the Fame, Cuz we wanna live the life of the rich and famous.” (7)

However, others pursue significance in ways that appear to be opposite to niceness. Weaver writes:

·       In 2005 Joseph Stone torched a Pittsfield, Massachusetts apartment building… After setting the blaze, Stone rescued several tenants from the fire and was hailed as a hero. Under police questioning, Stone admitted, however, that he set the fire and rescued the tenants because, as summarized at trial by an assistant district attorney, he “wanted to be noticed, he wanted to be heard, he wanted to be known.” (44)

If we cannot be nice, we can achieve feelings of goodness in more perverse ways.  On December 8, 1980, Mark David Chapman, a zealous fan of the Beatle, John Lennon, first obtained his idol’s autograph before gunning him down. He explained:

·       “I was an acute nobody. I had to usurp someone else’s importance, someone else’s success. I was  ‘Mr. Nobody’ until I killed the biggest Somebody on earth.” At his 2006 parole hearing, he stated: “The result would be that I would be famous, the result would be that my life would change and I would receive a tremendous amount of attention, which I did receive… I was looking for reasons to vent all that anger and confusion and low self-esteem.” (47)

By attaching himself to someone greater, Chapman was able to elevate himself. Was it “low self-esteem” or merely Chapman’s own way to achieve what everyone else is trying to achieve – importance? Weaver reports that:

·       More than two hundred people confessed in 1932 to the kidnapping and murder of the infant son of famed aviator Charles Lindbergh. (50)

The need for importance – and this is often expressed in the form of toxic love - is so powerful that it seems that people are willing to pay almost any price for it. However, seeing the hopelessness of this pursuit, some have opted for a quest for ultimate meaning. In this case, toxic love might take the form of a moral-crusader. The UN claims: “The precious dignity of the individual person is a central humanist value” (82-83). Even if true, is this mission just another expression of toxic love, disguised as a nobler quest? Toxic love’s prime concern might be looking good in the cite of others.

We can even deceive ourselves into believing that the most horrid crimes are a spiritual duty, as Jesus explained:

·       They will put you out of the synagogue; in fact, a time is coming when anyone who kills you will think he is offering a service to God. (John 16:2)

We are captive to our psychical needs and will satisfy them any way we can, even if it takes deluding ourselves. We need to believe that we are nice people, even superior people, and will, therefore, be nice and tolerate behaviors that we should not tolerate to convince ourselves of our niceness.

However, the root of niceness is self-righteousness and an unwillingness to seriously look at ourselves, as the Bible repeatedly claims:

·       All a man's ways seem innocent to him, but motives are weighed by the LORD. (Proverbs 16:2)

When we attempt to establish our worth and identity through our performance, it is almost inevitable that we will succumb to toxicity. Why? If we are honest with ourselves, our performance is blighted and will fail to give us the lift from our feelings of guilt, shame, and dissatisfaction with life. Instead, we are compelled to reach out for greater and greater toxic infusions.

What then is the answer? It begins by receiving a gift of significance that can only be received as a gift of righteousness from God, as the Prophet Isaiah claimed:

·       I delight greatly in the LORD; my soul rejoices in my God. For he has clothed me with garments of salvation and arrayed me in a robe of righteousness, as a bridegroom adorns his head like a priest, and as a bride adorns herself with her jewels. For as the soil makes the sprout come up and a garden causes seeds to grow, so the Sovereign LORD will make righteousness and praise spring up before all nations. (Isaiah 61:10-11)