Points of Ponderation…..Episode 13.16

A semi-regular attempt to address some of life’s minutiae that might otherwise be overlooked…..

 

 

 

 

 

Let’s be honest…

If Barack Obama would’ve stepped in and convinced Carrier not to move some of its operations overseas and saved 1000 jobs in Indiana he trump2would have been hailed by the media as a conquering hero. President-elect Trump does the same thing and the story is flippantly treated with suspicion & thinly veiled derision. That kind of double standard is EXACTLY what led to Trump’s election, yet talking heads & other “journalists” don’t get it at all and just keep on doing what they do.

 

 

The older I get the more selfish I become, which I’m pretty sure is the opposite of how things are supposed to work. I guess I’m just tired of being taken advantage of & used.

 

 

quietRecently posted status on Facebook:   “How do you not have a boyfriend? I hear that repeatedly. Because men suck and I’m too sexy that’s why fucktard.” I resisted the urge to opine that you don’t have a boyfriend because why in the blue hell would any self-respecting man date a woman who has such a poor opinion of men. It’s not them…it’s you. Generally speaking I am opposed to using social media as a forum to whine & cry about everything that’s going wrong in life. I have not been blameless in the past and still occasionally have moments that poorly reflect on my character, but I have really made an effort in the last year or two to make most of what I post online be informative, entertaining, uplifting, or some combination of all of those things.

 

 

Have you ever watched someone do something and thought to yourself “Yeah…I’m just going to redo this whole deal later”??

 

 

fhI am much more saddened by the recent death of Florence Henderson, aka Carol Brady from The Brady Bunch, than I am by castrothe departure from this mortal coil of dictator Fidel Castro.

 

 

I have zero patience for people with no sense of humor. Lighten up Francis.

 

 

Jesus Christ deserves our devotion & respect, especially for Luke 23:34, when He pleads with God “Father, forgive them, for they do not know jesuslmbwhat they do” as He is hanging on the cross. I get annoyed when, despite numerous gentle admonitions, my well-intentioned but dim-witted neighbor knocks on my door EVERY Saturday afternoon and seems surprised that he’s awakened me when he KNOWS I work midnight shifts and sleep most of the day. I cannot fathom how I would feel or act toward someone who was KILLING me. Think about that.

Thoughts On Christmas Shopping

ArtificialPre-LitTreeAnd so it begins. Today is Black Friday. Yesterday most of us celebrated, in some form or fashion, our most underappreciated holiday…Thanksgiving. We got up early for the big parade, we watched a lot of football, and we chowed down on turkey, stuffing, sweet taters, & pumpkin pie. By now though we have moved on. A Christmas movie or two has been watched. Carols are being played. Trees & other decorations are already up or soon will be. We are in full throttle Christmas mode.

 

bf1It is commonly stated that today is the busiest shopping day of the year. I have my doubts about that, but I suppose it is a nifty marketing ploy. Some of you may have already been shopping last night/early this morning. Black Friday has become such a hyped event that the sales now begin the day before, but traditionally…and I use that word with some level of revulsion…it has been a midnight or later kind of thing. Apparently lots of folks are really into it. My old buddy Tony V. in Florida LOVES Black Friday. He plans an intricate strategy. Where he’s going. What he’s buying where. Maps out the route. Gets all the sales flyers & coupons as soon as they become available weeks before. His Black Friday battle plan is better than the U.S. exit strategy from The Middle East. The Pentagon should probably hire him as a consultant. Conversely, I couldn’t possibly care less if a $1000 television is available at WalMart for $35. Perhaps bf2that reflects badly on my grasp of economics, but I prefer to look at it as a prudent decision to be home in my warm bed at 3am snuggling with Rocco and having Wacky Dreams instead of traipsing around battling the elements & encountering humanity wallowing in avaricious excess. I have pondered the idea of participating merely as a sociological exercise, but I always talk myself out of it. If that ever changes citizens of The Manoverse will surely get a firsthand account of the occasion, but don’t hold your breath.

 

There was a time…long ago in the halcyon days of childhood…that I did enjoy the hustle & bustle of the mall at Christmastime. However, a) I didn’t have to drive on slick roads…that was my mother’s problem, b) I didn’t have to find a place to park, c) being in large crowds was fun & exciting, not like now when it is a reason to double the dosage of my blood pressure meds, d) my shopping list was very small & inexpensive, & e) I was a kid who didn’t know any better. Now?? I don’t even enjoy the mall on a boring macysTuesday afternoon in the middle of spring, so the idea of going there when it’s actually crowded & noisy makes me nauseous. There is ONE exception. The local United Way has a spot in the middle of the mall where volunteers from its organizations will wrap your presents for a small donation. They even use ribbons & bows, and I like ribbons & bows. They’re festive. Wrapping gifts isn’t really a talent I possess, so I happily fork over a few bucks to have someone else with such skills do the job for me. I choose a day when the weather isn’t horrible, park as close to the appropriate entrance as I can get, take my plunder to the aforementioned location, and wait patiently until they are done. Then I take my lovely wrapped bundles and get out of Dodge as quickly as possible. Doing this on a weekday does minimize the agony just a bit, and I am lucky to have had employment situations for much of the past two decades that have enabled me to go about things in this manner.

 

angelNow my mother…God bless her soul…always did Christmas shopping the smart way. She’d begin the task as early as the previous spring. I would be totally surprised by a gift on Christmas morning because it was something that I’d casually mentioned wanting back in March and had almost completely forgotten about by the time the holiday season rolled around, but Mom had taken note and bought the thing not long after I’d expressed interest all those months ago. She was the BEST gift giver. Mom would give us things we never knew we’d always wanted. Looking back I now realize that the only reason she endured the hellish retail scene in December was because my sister & I needed/wanted to go. She was already done!! She put up with the mall for US!! What a great mother.

 

driveI know a lot of people that refuse to be confined by the limitations of the local mall or other nearby stores. I live about equal distance…a couple of hours give or take…from both Pittsburgh, PA and West Virginia’s capitol city of Charleston. Both offer much more retail variety than our small town, and some enjoy spending a day or even an entire weekend making the trek to take advantage of that expanded assortment of choices. Not this guy. Because of an auto accident many years ago I have a rather debilitating driving phobia, so the thought of braving the highways & byways of Pittsburgh terrifies me. But even if that weren’t the case I just don’t believe those places have anything THAT great to justify the trip. They pretty much have the same stuff we have here…just more of it. Atleast that’s what I tell myself to justify not being adventurous.

 

shop1Of course shopping malls & retail outlets have largely been rendered pointless because of one thing…The Internet. Yes friends, online shopping is where it’s at!! I already began Christmas shopping earlier this week right here in the comfort of my humble Bachelor Palace. Obviously one can peruse the big sites…Amazon, Ebay, WalMart, etc., but really you can find just about anything in cyberspace if you are persistent in the search. You are only limited by your imagination & bank account. Not only does Christmas shopping online offer almost limitless possibilities, but there are other benefits. You aren’t restricted by the time constraints of when stores open or close. I’m a night owl, so much of my shopping will be done in the wee hours of late night/early morning. Depending on the rules & regulations of your job you may be able to knock out some of your list while at work, atleast on your break or lunch hour. Almost everyone has access to a computer or smartphone at all times these days, right?? You might even make a purchase or two while sitting in traffic!! How cool is that?? Being productive is a good thing. And these trinkets, knick-knacks, deliver1baubles, & doodads that you order are delivered…usually right to your front door!! That’s awesome, especially as the weather deteriorates in December. One just needs to be careful and allow enough time for delivery. Sure Amazon will usually have your stuff to you in just a few days, but a more obscure site won’t be quite so expeditious or will make such rapidity cost prohibitive. There really is no downside to this Internet thing other than identity theft.

 

I do suggest that, even if you’re shopping online, have some kind of strategery. Make a list of who you listwant to buy gifts for and how much you want to spend, both individually and in total. We still have to pay our rent or mortgage, put gas in the vehicle, feed the dog/cat/ferret/fish/amphibian, eat, & buy toiletries. Christmas doesn’t make that stuff go away. Be smart.

 

snoopI do not believe that there is anything wrong with asking someone what they want for Christmas. Ideally if it is someone you are close enough to want to buy a Christmas gift for you have some inclination of what their interests are or what they really need, but let’s be real…we all know those people that are just so darn difficult to shop for. They might lead really tedious lives, or perhaps they’re just really persnickety and won’t be all that captivated by anything you give them. I’ve bought my father more than one gift over the years that I know has ended up collecting dust in a closet in his house because Dad is just kind of stuck in his ways and doesn’t really have any hobbies. When he was young & spry he was a golfer so that was my go-to every Christmas, birthday, & Father’s Day…golf balls, golf tees, golf clothing. It was like shooting fish in a barrel. Sadly those days are gone which makes things a little more challenging, but I still manage. Anyway, if you’re not sure what to get someone ask them…they might surprise you with an idea. Or they might stonewall you with platitudes like “I just want your friendship” or “You don’t need to get me anything. I’ve already got everything”. That’s the kind of stuff I say because I hate being asked what I want for Christmas. It’s awkward. If you run up against someone like me you’ll just have to be a little more Machiavellian in your inquiry.

 

gift-cards-overhead-1-250What about gift cards?? Ehhhhhhh……I go back & forth on this discussion. I think in the right situation with the right person a gift card is acceptable. However, it can also be lazy, uninspired, & totally lacking in imagination. Proceed with caution.

 

VegasExperiences make really cool gifts. Concert tickets. Movie tickets. Game tickets. Plane tickets. Vacation getaways. Although it helps if you’re wealthy if you are giving a trip as a Christmas present. If you’re rich and like to give away vacations please leave a comment on this post. Let’s be friends.

 

 

Of course I want to be REALLY clear about something…Christmas is NOT about shopping or gifts. My nativityinclination is to assume that everyone knows that, but I have to remind myself that everyone doesn’t. A couple of millennia ago a Child was born in a stable. That Child was the Son of God, born with the express purpose of spreading His Word to the masses and then dying for OUR sins. I respect anyone’s right to disagree but I will not apologize for my beliefs or hide behind closed doors whispering to other believers.

 

Wow, that got heavy, didn’t it??

 

merry-christmas-bells-2Okay, so we’ve got about a month of this Christmas thing. There will be music. There will be movies. There will be horribly mawkish drivel on The Hallmark Channel. You will eat cookies & pies and gain weight (don’t go to the doctor for a check-up until spring). And yes, there will be shopping. Is Christmas too commercialized?? Clearly. Have we minimized Jesus in favor of Santa Claus?? Probably. We can play a part in correcting those problems on an individual basis. Having said that, the old maxim “’tis better to give than receive” has validity. Buying someone a Christmas gift is a way to show that we love, respect, & appreciate them. Be prudent. Be original. Show discernment. Enjoy. It’s Christmas…have fun. God bless.

Passion Diminished

The word passion is derived from the Latin passio and the Greek pathema, both of which mean suffering or enduring. Today this meaning is most closely associated with what Jesus Christ went thru in the last hours of His earthly life.

 

Modern usage of the word passion is more commonly connected to other definitions… ardent affection, a strong liking or desire for or devotion to some activity, object, or concept, and of course sexual desire. It is the first two definitions that have been on my mind lately, especially as they are connected to the Latin & Greek terminology.

 

ponderThe question that I have been pondering is this: Is anyone truly passionate about anything anymore?? It seems to me that most of us have subjects that pique our interest, activities that we enjoy, & stuff that we get involved in for one reason or another…but are we really passionate about any of it?? Nelson Mandela once said that “there is no passion to be found playing small, in settling for a life that is less than the one you are capable of living”, yet that is exactly what most of us do…we play small and settle.

 

This train of thought began, in part, with a conversation I had with The Owl. We were lamenting the lostbowl art of customer service. We are both old enough (especially him) to remember the days when one could go into a clothing, music, shoe, electronics, or any other kind of store and find genuinely helpful salespeople, the kind of folks who had been doing the gig for a long time and really knew their stuff. They were passionate about their work and cared about doing it the right way. Oh sure they wanted to make a sale and earn extra cash, but it seemed to be understood that the two things weren’t mutually exclusive. As a matter of fact, back then it felt like everyone knew that being honest, respectful, knowledgeable, & diligent is what would clinch the sale. I am sure that kind of service is available today, but it is certainly rarer than it used to be. Such jobs are looked down upon now. They are viewed as stepping stones to something better. Few employees are passionate about the products they produce/sell or the companies for which they work. It’s just a job, a necessary evil to be able to pay bills & put food on the table.

 

bbeeBut this lack of passion isn’t just reserved for the 40 hours/week that we are on the job. It permeates almost every aspect of our lives. We are overwhelmed by sensory overload. There are so many choices at our fingertips that we go from one thing to another, like a bumblebee gathering nectar & pollen, darting from flower to flower, never staying in one place or focused on one thing for too long. We are always in a hurry and have such a diminished attention span that we don’t take time to embrace excellence or let our passion ripen. We have developed faster & cheaper ways to do just about everything, but quality suffers because craftsmanship has become all too uncommon.

 

passionWatch a ball game. Go to a concert. Check out a museum. Read a book. Go see a theater production. What do all of those things have in common?? Passion. Excellence. Hard work. Effort. One doesn’t make it to the NFL or NBA, get a book published, become part of an orchestra, or star in a play, movie, or television show without all of those things. Certainly natural talent plays a part, but the finished products that you & I enjoy are the result of a lot of blood, sweat, & tears and countless hours of training & preparation. Yet the people that do those things at a high level make up a fractional percentage of the population. Most of the rest of us just try to get thru our day with as little stress as possible and without putting forth any more effort than necessary. And when we are forced to work hard we usually don’t feel good about it because we really don’t enjoy what we are doing. We feel obligated to serve on the committee. Parents feel like they have to involve their kids in every extracurricular activity available. Folks begrudgingly volunteer for the hot dog sale, book drive, or brainstorming meeting. We show up because we like the people and believe in the organization & its mission, but also because we’ve been taught that it’s the right thing to do, we don’t want anyone to dislike or be disappointed in us, and simply because we don’t know how to say no even when that is exactly what we would prefer to do. I’m not saying these are horrible reasons to be involved in something or that anyone has bad apathyintentions. I am only suggesting that those reasons/excuses don’t mean a person is passionate about their involvement and in the long run it shows. Most everyone has a job and atleast one hobby…but in my experience few people nowadays have a true passion. On the rare occasion that those things intersect it is obvious and the outcome is beautiful. Harriet Tubman observed that “every great dream begins with a dreamer”. Perhaps that is part of the issue. We have become far too pragmatic. We play it safe. We don’t take chances. To call someone a dreamer is at best dismissive and possibly even an insult.

 

lukewarmSadly this issue infiltrates our churches and the spiritual realm. Sunday mornings are oftentimes just a social outing where we get to drink coffee and hang out with friends. That’s not to say that there is anything wrong with good coffee or great fellowship, but how can we say we have a relationship with a God & Savior that we only interact with a couple of hours per week and even that time lacks passion?? The meme you are seeing on the left is something that I ran across a few weeks ago and it’s been gnawing at me ever since. Those words are probably responsible for this discourse as much or more than my conversation with The Owl. None of us want to spend eternity in Hell so we seek salvation, but salvation should be as much about living our earthly lives in relationship with God as it is spending eternity with Him. We rob ourselves of years of joy by continuing to wallow in sin and paying lip service to God, playing “church” on Sunday but doing whatever feels good or seems cool & hip the other 6 ½ days of the week. God tells us in Revelation that “I know your works, that you are neither cold nor hot. I could wish you were cold or hot. So then, because you are lukewarm, and neither cold nor hot, I will vomit you out of My mouth.” The third chapter of 2 Timothy talks about “having a form of godliness but denying its power”, which I believe is a perfect definition of religion in America.

 

Part of the reason why we lack devotion is because we prefer to avoid suffering, thus the two meanings of passion concurrently toe-in-the-wateroverlap and diverge. Not only do we not have the dedication to put in the work required to attain excellence, we are uncomfortable with the idea of suffering, whatever that may entail. It is much easier to just dip our toe in the water than to dive in and fully immerse ourselves.

 

I do not say these things to pass judgement. I am as guilty as anyone for lacking passion in my life. Neither do I offer solutions because a) I’m not that smart and b) I’m not sure there is one pithy, one-size-fits-all answer for everyone. These are just things that I have observed, and the first step in solving a problem is admitting that there is one.

Thou Shalt: A Brief Refresher

bowlIt isn’t unusual for my friend The Owl & I to engage in thoughtful & lengthy discussions about sociopolitical issues and/or religion. That’s just how we roll. Recently the subject matter was The Ten Commandments, and we were both dismayed when we could only come up with eight off the cuff. Like many others we fancy ourselves to be men of faith but too often come up short, falling prey to the frustrations & distractions of the world. However, unlike (sadly) too many we are unhappy with that inadequacy and seek a meaningful relationship with Jesus. It isn’t enough to pay lip service to The Almighty, lazily go thru the motions for a couple of hours on Sunday morning while sinning freely 6 ½ days/week, & use an old dusty Bible for a paper weight. So if we are going to try to emulate Christ and live the life God desires for us to live it would seem fairly essential to know what the His Word says. I understand that rote memorization of Scripture isn’t necessarily a hallmark of genuine faith, but shouldn’t broad familiarity/knowledge/awareness of what’s inside that dusty Bible be important not so that we can impress anyone with knowledge but rather so that we can have that aforementioned meaningful relationship?? Ponder your friends, family, and significant other. You know them, right?? You know what they think, believe, & deem important in life. You know their birthday, where they grew up, what colors they like, what they studied in school, which sports teams they root for, what their favorite foods are, & what kind of TV, books, movies, or music they enjoy. That’s all part of a relationship. If you want a relationship with God it might be a good idea to learn His ways. To that end let’s talk about those Ten Commandments.

 

First of all, it should be noted that these commandments (also called The Decalogue by some) can be found in two places in the Bible: Exodus 20:1–17 and Glasses on Open BibleDeuteronomy 5:4–21. They were given to Moses on Mount Sinai, inscribed on two stone tablets. When Moses came down from the mountain after 40 days & nights he saw his people partying like it was 1999 (BC obviously), so he got ticked off and broke the tablets. No worries though…God wrote him a new copy because God’s an awesome Dude.

 

10Unlike the ceremonial and sacrificial laws of the Old Testament these commandments are still applicable. These commandments represent God’s eternal standard of right vs. wrong. They represent vital obligations to society. They represent behavioral benchmarks. We have volumes of verbose laws at all levels these days, governing everything from taxes to intake of food & beverages to how much noise we’re allowed to make in the neighborhood late at night, and I would never suggest that all of those laws are irrelevant. However I believe that many of the problems we face on a daily basis could be considerably minimized if we’d just adhere to the foundation laid out by God. What follows is by no means meant to be a comprehensive, in-depth examination of The Ten Commandments. It is simply a little reminder of what they are, what they mean, & why they’re so important. Let’s take a look:

 

 

 

1          I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of bondage. You shall have no other gods before Me.

It’s all about priorities. God wants to be THE priority in our lives. We should fear, love, and trust in God above all things…but…do we?? What are priority1“other gods”?? Nothing in all of Creation should be held up as a god – not the stars, sun, moon, planets, anything in Nature, nor any other spirit, statues, bones, relics, money, fame, sex, or any intellectual or philosophical concepts. I don’t think there are very many people out there melting down gold and making it into idols that they worship or pray to, but I know there are lots & lots for whom God is way down on the ol’ priority list. Jobs, family, entertainment, alcohol & drugs…we have no shortage of options to distract us. I’m not suggesting that anyone should ignore their family or that it’s not okay to have some good clean fun on occasion, but God needs to come first.

 

 

2          You shall not make for yourself a carved image or any likeness of anything that is in heaven above or that is in the earth beneath or that is in the water under the earth. You shall not bow down to them nor serve them, for I, the Lord your God, am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children to the third and fourth generations of those who hate Me, but showing mercy to thousands, to those who love Me and keep My Commandments.

Remember those golden idols I referred to?? Well, people actually used to do that sort of thing. I don’t know…maybe there are places where they still worshipdo. However, idolatry is a big no-no. A graven image is an idol carved from stone or wood, a material effigy that is worshipped…but let’s dig deeper. An idol can be anything we depend upon to meet needs of the heart like love, security, worth, or significance. When we seek to find identity & security in something besides God we have made it an idol. What are you addicted to?? What do you need to get thru the day?? What pursuits do you enjoy and why?? It could be something as simple and seemingly harmless as shopping or eating…or much more sinister things like gambling or pornography. Yet anything that you become a servant to and that pushes God down further on that priority list could be a culprit.

 

 

3          You shall not take the name of the Lord your God in vain, for the Lord will not hold him guiltless who takes His name in vain.

It’s about respect. God’s name is holy. Using the power of His name without submitting to Him or having a trusting relationship with Him is wrong. mouthWe should never use God’s name to curse, deceive, or condemn anyone. Rather we should call upon Him in times trouble and use His holy name in prayer, praise, and giving thanks. Sadly…in large part due to flippant usage in modern entertainment…the perception of this particular commandment has become watered down and overlooked. I think there is an attitude of “If cussing is the worst thing a person does then they’re probably an okay person”. God just might disagree with that assessment.

 

 

4          Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy. Six days you shall labor and do all your work, but the seventh day is the Sabbath of the Lord your God. In it you shall do no work: you, nor your son or daughter, your servants, your cattle, nor any stranger who is within your gates. For in six days the Lord made the heavens and the earth, the sea, and all that is in them, and rested the seventh day. Therefore the Lord blessed the Sabbath day and hallowed it.

One word comes to mind…worship. It is God who supplies our needs, and if God rested after His labors why do we think we can outdo God?? When Isabbath was a kid we had something called blue laws, which basically meant that almost all businesses were closed on Sunday. That all started to change during my formative years, and now blue laws are mostly viewed as a quaint artifact of the past…but is that okay?? It is important that we consciously set aside one day each week for worshipful rest to remind ourselves to whom our time…our life…belongs. And no…spending a day off from your job running around like a headless chicken doesn’t count. That kind of day isn’t about God…it’s about you, your wants, your desires, your interests, & your ego. Refer back to the first two commandments.

 

 

5          Honor your father and your mother, that your days may be long upon the land which the Lord your God is giving you.

I’ve always been taught & believed wholeheartedly that nothing on Earth is more important than family. We need to recognize that someone else gave parentsus life and took care of us when weren’t capable of taking care of ourselves. Parents have been entrusted by God to be our guardians & teachers from the day we were born. We are to serve, love, & obey them and hold them in the highest esteem. I am well aware that some aren’t blessed with great parents and I’m not sure what to say about that except that it is likely that in that type of situation someone else…a grandparent, another relative, a neighbor, or some type of guardian…took care of you as a child. Honor that. The time comes for most of us when our parents are no longer around, and then there isn’t a day that goes by that they aren’t missed.

 

 

6          You shall not kill.

The Hebrew word ratsach means “to murder or slay”. It specifically refers to the premeditated murder of one person by another.  Sadly we don’t seem killto appreciate the sanctity of life as much these days as in previous generations. We are to cherish all life and recognize it as part of God’s Creation.

 

 

7          You shall not commit adultery.

There’s no way to have accurate statistics, but I’d be surprised if this isn’t the most broken commandment, the one that many people are far too marriagewilling to overlook & ignore. If it feels good do it, right?? We give lip service to the sanctity (aka holiness) of marriage, but genuine respect for that particular bond seems to be at an all-time low. Adultery is any sexual act committed by a married person outside of that marriage. We are not to do anything that would lead a person to break the sacred union of marriage, but unfortunately it is all too common. And I won’t even get started on fornication, which is a whole other ballgame.

 

 

8          You shall not steal.

Ownership is a sacred boundary. Stealing is dishonest & treacherous conduct that shows great disrespect and a lack of love toward fellow human thiefbeings. It disturbs societal stability and the results are feelings of fear, insecurity, & desire for revenge.

 

 

9          You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor.

Lying and dishonesty pervert & corrupt hearts and are abominations to a God of truth. He wants us to learn to hate lying gossip& dishonesty and to love truth. We are not to deceitfully betray, slander, or defame our neighbors, but defend & speak well of them. A person’s reputation is an extension of themselves and we should not violate it for our own selfish gain. Integrity is not for oneself, but for the sake of others, so that they may live in security, knowing that we will treasure their reputation above our own.

 

 

10        You shall not covet your neighbor’s house, wife, servants, ox, donkey, or anything that is your neighbor’s.

Covet means to long for something that belongs to another person. And yes, the word neighbor means everybody…not just the few people that may covetlive beside of you or across the street. If we claim to be in relationship with God we must see people in the same way He does. Their lives are not ours to take for our purposes. In modern times we probably don’t covet anyone’s livestock, but we may be envious of their car, job, or general lifestyle. Yet the Bible emphasizes multiple times that we aren’t supposed to focus on worldly possessions. Look back up to those first couple of commandments. God wants to be the center of our lives, and if we’re too busy keeping up with the Joneses or loathing them because they have cool stuff that we can’t afford then we’re not living for Him.

 

The Fruits of the Spirit – Temperance

Shall I compare thee to a summer’s day? Thou art more lovely and more temperate.
– William Shakespeare

fruitNearly seven years ago we began a quest to examine, assess, and learn about the nine Fruits of the Spirit mentioned in Galatians 5:22-23. Today we finish that journey. I don’t know why it has taken seven years to complete a project that could have easily been wrapped up in a few months, but hey…I just go with the flow folks.

 

If you’d like a refresher on what we’ve talked about previously just follow the links to see my thoughts on love, joy, peace, longsuffering, kindness/gentleness/goodness/meekness, and faithfulness.

 

tempWe are crossing the finish line by taking a closer look at temperance. The first thing that probably comes to mind is The Temperance Movement, which dealt with promoting moderate consumption or even outright banning of alcoholic beverages, especially in early 20th century America. However, the Biblical definition of temperance is a little more comprehensive.

 

There are two words in the Bible that correlate with temperance. The first is enkrateia, which means “strong in a thing; strength; power; dominion; having power over; being master of.” The second word is nephalios, which has the same general meaning but more specifically refers to self-control as it relates to drunkenness.

 

Obviously we know that temperance is, in part, about avoiding intoxication. The Bible cautions against drunkenness on multiple drunkoccasions. Isaiah 5:11 warns “woe to those who rise early in the morning that they may follow intoxicating drink; who continue until night, till wine inflames them.” Proverbs 20:1 says that “wine is a mocker, strong drink a brawler, and whoever is intoxicated by it is not wise.” Ephesians 5:18 instructs us “do not be drunk with wine, in which is dissipation; but be filled with the Spirit”, with dissipation being a synonym for debauchery. Proverbs 23:29-33 asks “Who has woe? Who has sorrow? Who has contentions? Who has complaints? Who has wounds without cause? Who has redness of eyes?” and answers “Those who linger long at the wine and go in search of mixed wine. Do not look on the wine when it is red, when it sparkles in the cup, when it swirls around smoothly. At the last it bites like a serpent and stings like a viper. Your eyes will see strange things.” Isaiah 28:7 says that ”The priest and the prophet have erred through intoxicating drink. They are swallowed up by wine. They are out of the way through intoxicating drink. They err in vision and stumble in judgment.” Though drinking wine seems to have been a part of normal, everyday life in Biblical times, God’s Word strongly advises against imbibing to the point of intoxication. There are two reasons for this.

 

First of all, when referring to drunkenness the Bible often uses the Greek word methuo, which means “to be filled”. Look at Ephesians 5:18 again. It says not to be drunk with wine but to be filled with the Spirit. If we’re going to fill anything…our body, our mind, our time…it should be with the Holy Spirit or corresponding things that are edifying to and glorify God. Romans 8:5-8 says that “Those who live according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh, but those who live according to the Spirit, the things of the Spirit. For to be carnally minded is death, but to be spiritually minded is life and peace because the carnal mind is enmity against God; for it is not subject to the law of God, nor indeed can be. So then, those who are in the flesh cannot please God.”

 

drunk3Secondly, Mark 7:15-20 says that “There is nothing outside a person that by going into him can defile him, but the things that come out of a person are what defile him. Whatever goes into a person from outside cannot defile him since it enters not his heart but his stomach, and is expelled. What comes out of a person is what defiles him.” Think about that in terms of intoxication. It’s not the wine, beer, or liquor that is the issue. They are merely things that we are putting into our bodies. But what often happens when we overindulge and get drunk?? We make bad decisions, say & do wrong things, and generally act immoral & ungodly. So the actions that come out of us as a result of that intoxication are what defile us in the eyes of God, not to mention tarnishing our relationships and our reputation.

 

This thought process can be expanded to so much more than just our use of alcoholic beverages. Temperance requires moderation in everything. It is the ability to master our desires. It is a sense of duty with regard to conduct. It is the practice of always controlling actions, thoughts, or feelings. The influence of the Holy Spirit on the heart should make a person moderate in all indulgences, teaching them to restrain passions and control evil propensities.

 

Glutton ElfThe opposite of the Fruits of the Spirit are the works of the flesh spoken about in Galatians anger5:19-21. “The works of the flesh are evident, which are: adultery, fornication, uncleanness, lewdness, idolatry, sorcery, hatred, contentions, jealousies, outbursts of wrath, selfish ambitions, dissensions, heresies, envy, murders, drunkenness, revelries, and the like; of which I tell you beforehand, just as I also told you in time past, that those who practice such things will not inherit the kingdom of God.” All of these things are the opposite of temperance. They indicate gluttony, wrath, & being out of control. Proverbs 16:32 teaches that “he who is slow to anger is better than the mighty, and he who rules his spirit than he who takes a city..” Self-control is mastery over passions, thoughts, emotions, & words. It is the virtue that holds our appetites in check, controlling our rational will and regulating our conduct without being duly swayed by sensuous desires.

 

Jesus2Self-denial, self-sacrifice, & self-control are inextricably linked in Christian life, but notice the troublesome use of the word “self”. It is indicative of the stubborn human notion of trying to achieve this massive goal on our own, which is demonstrably impossible. This is another reason why temperance is a key fruit that we must exhibit. Temperance is vital to demonstrate to God that He is in control…not one’s flesh. It is the proof that Jesus is the Lord of one’s life. Controlling ourselves, denying human nature its impulse to satisfy its desire, and even sacrificing ourselves are necessary if we are to stop sinning as a way of life. With God’s Holy Spirit help we can practice temperance. Titus 2:11-14 says “The grace of God that brings salvation has appeared to all men, teaching us that, denying ungodliness and worldly lusts, we should live soberly, righteously, and godly in the present age, looking for the blessed hope and glorious appearing of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ, who gave Himself for us, that He might redeem us from every lawless deed and purify for Himself His own special people, zealous for good works.” Temperance is a necessary building block in our relationship with Jesus Christ. 2 Peter 1:5-9 instructs us to “Add to your faith virtue, to virtue knowledge, to knowledge self-control, to self-control perseverance, to perseverance godliness, to godliness brotherly kindness, and to brotherly kindness love. If these things are yours and abound you will be neither barren nor unfruitful in the knowledge of our Jesus3Lord Jesus Christ, for he who lacks these things is shortsighted, even to blindness, and has forgotten that he was cleansed from his old sins.” Romans 13:12-14 says that we must “cast off the works of darkness and put on the armor of light. Let us walk properly, as in the day, not in revelry and drunkenness, not in lewdness and lust, not in strife and envy. But put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh, to fulfill its lusts.” Galatians 5:16-17 says to “Walk in the Spirit, and you shall not fulfill the lust of the flesh. For the flesh lusts against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh; and these are contrary to one another.”

 

And what is the ultimate goal of this temperance (as with all the Fruits of the Spirit)?? 1 Corinthians 9:24-25 says “Do you not heavenknow that those who run in a race all run, but one receives the prize? Run in such a way that you may obtain it. And everyone who competes for the prize is temperate in all things. Now they do it to obtain a perishable crown, but we for an imperishable crown.” I’m not very athletic and don’t know much about running races, but I am knowledgeable enough to know that one must have the proper tools & training to compete. 1 Corinthians 6:9-10 lays the cards right out on the table, cautioning “Do not be deceived. Neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor homosexuals, nor sodomites, nor thieves, nor covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor extortioners will inherit the kingdom of God.” 1 Timothy 3:8 says that “God is not mocked; for whatever a man sows, that he will also reap. For he who sows to his flesh will of the flesh reap corruption, but he who sows to the Spirit will of the Spirit reap everlasting life.”

Righteousness – Hunger, Thirst, & Persecution…Part 1

I am well aware that The Manofesto has been somewhat sports-centric lately. That tends to happen during football season. Rest cornassured however that I have not forgotten the mission of this little rest stop on the ol’ information superhighway to be a cornucopia brimming with the vast array of topics that frost my cupcake. And for anyone who might be following the progress of our concurrent examinations of The Sermon on the Mount and The Fruits of the Spirit that thinks things may be moving a bit slow…you are not wrong. For some reason God has not laid upon me the inspiration to complete these series in a prompt & timely fashion, and I have decided to follow His lead and go with the flow. At the moment though I am being guided to pick up the pen (so to speak) and take a stride forward.

 

Over the past couple of years we have looked into why The Sermon on the Mount tells us we’ll be happy if we mourn, if we are meek, and if we are poor in spirit. Our next step in studying is to define righteousness, something so important that we will be persecuted because of it. We’ll get to that, but first we are told that hungering and thirsting for it will make us happy.

 

Now I am pretty fortunate. I live in the United States, grew up in a solid middle class home, and throughout my adulthood have had DrinkingWatereatrelatively stable employment. I have always had a roof over my head and food on the table. I cannot identify with the folks we see on television in impoverished Third World countries who know true hunger. But when it’s been a few hours since my last meal and my stomach is growling, y’all best not be standing between me and wherever the food is stashed. And we’ve all had that parched, dry feeling in our mouths on a hot summer day or after any type of strenuous activity. Nothing feels as good as that moment when we finally get to pour an ice cold drink down our throat. But do we seek God on a daily basis like we hunt down the nearest pizza joint on a night out with friends?? Do we earnestly yearn for a relationship with The Lord like we desire that cold beverage??

 

The Hebrew word for righteousness is tzedek, which means integrity, equity, justice, & straightness. The root of tzedek is tsawdak, which means upright, just, straight, innocent, true, & sincere. To be called righteous in Scripture is a compliment. It means something akin to what we say when we call someone “a great guy” or “salt of the earth”. Righteousness is simply freedom from guilt or sin. It is following the ways of God. It is doing the right thing (according to God, not Spike Lee). However we tend to go about such things halfheartedly. We give lip service. Just like most of us have never experienced true hunger or thirst, we aren’t really passionate about living Godly lives. The book of Revelation says “I know your works, that you are neither cold nor hot. I could wish you were cold or hot. So then, because you are lukewarm, and neither cold nor hot, I will vomit you out of My mouth”. Yuck. That sounds rather unpleasant, but it can be avoided. God is happy…and He promises that so are we…if we have a sincere hunger and thirst for understanding His Word and knowing Him personally. In the fourth chapter of the Gospel of John Jesus tells a Samaritan woman “If you knew the gift of God and who it is that asks you for a drink, you would have asked Him and He would have given you living water.”  Righteousness describes the nature of God – justice, truth, mercy, and love. So here Jesus blesses those who hunger and thirst after…who deeply desire to identify themselves with…the nature of God.

 

It is extremely important to recognize a significant distinction made by Jesus. He says “blessed are those who hunger and thirstright after righteousness”…not those who are righteous. To hunger and thirst for righteousness is to hunger and thirst for Him and for transformation into the fullness of His image and likeness. Implied in this blessing is an understanding that we are being challenged to commit ourselves to a process, a journey, an ongoing reaching out for the righteousness of God. This blessing comes with a promise that we will be satisfied, we will be filled, and we will be transformed by his Holy Spirit. Thus it seems that as we hunger and thirst to identify ourselves with God, God’s Holy Spirit will honor that desire, fill us and transform us. Matthew 6:33 instructs us to  “seek ye first the kingdom of God and His righteousness”. To thirst after righteousness means wanting to live according to God’s will instead of the world’s.

 

Both a physical and a spiritual appetite are normal for a healthy human being. Neither the body nor the soul is self-sustaining…both must be fed regularly. Just as physical hunger is a sign of physical health, so is spiritual hunger a sign of spiritual health. But while we instinctively understand that when we are physically hungry or thirsty that we need to eat food or get something to drink I am not so sure that we recognize or comprehend the spiritual appetite. Restlessness and longing are universal traits of the human heart. Gambling-The-Problemcollege-guys-drinking-300x200God has put eternity in our hearts and we have a wretched yearning. Many of us understand that there is something missing in our life…that too often we are unhappy, frustrated, anxious, unfulfilled, bored, angry, and discouraged. We try to solve those issues any number of worldly ways…spending money we don’t have on things we don’t need, climbing the corporate ladder, scenic vacations, accomplishments of creativity, stunning cinematic productions, national sports extravaganzas, illicit sex or pornography, drugs & alcohol, gambling, overeating, etc. But the longing remains. In Isaiah 55:2-3 we are asked “Why do you spend your laddermoney for that which is not bread and your labor for that which does not satisfy?”, but then we are given the answer: “Hearken diligently to me, and eat what is good, and delight yourselves in abundance. Incline your ear, and come to me; hear that your soul may live.” Why is that so hard for us to grasp?? The very first Psalm says “Blessed smoking-man-300x262is the man who walks not in the counsel of the ungodly, nor stands in the path of sinners, nor sits in the seat of the scornful; but his delight is in the law of the Lord, and in His law he meditates day and night. He shall be like a tree planted by the rivers of water, that brings forth its fruit in its season, whose leaf also shall not wither; and whatever he does shall prosper.” Yet in our humanness we shun the opportunity to prosper, mostly because we think that walking in the counsel of the ungodly and sitting in the seat of the scornful is a lot more fun. The 37th Psalm tells us that “a little that a righteous man has is better than the riches of many wicked, for the arms of the wicked shall be broken but the Lord upholds the righteous.” I think it’s that “little” part that is our downfall. We want more. We are too bullheaded to grasp the fact that most of the time that “more” is temporary. Proverbs 10:2-3 says that “Treasures of wickedness profit nothing, but righteousness delivers from Michael_Dudash_Living_Water_700death. The Lord will not allow the righteous soul to famish, but He casts away the desire of the wicked.” We’ve all been told that “you can’t take it with you”, and we get that on a physical level. When you die your fancy car, nice big house, and whatever else you’ve collected in your time here on Earth won’t be buried alongside your body. But we need to wrap our heads around the fact that there is something more important than those possessions that we enjoy so much…our soul. And while we can’t haul a boat or a fat bank account into the afterlife we will be taking along our soul. It says that the Lord will deliver the righteous from death. We have the opportunity to live eternally in a place that’ll be a lot more fun and way more awesome than anyplace we’ve ever lived or visited in this world. As my new minister might say “ain’t that cool??

Stay Tuned!!

My New Identity in Christ

I’m going to break a few of my own rules today. First of all, I usually do not repost the plethora of little pictures with cute sayings or quotes that everybody puts on Facebook these days. Sometimes I’ll look at them and chuckle or agree with the insight espoused, sometimes I’ll devote a few seconds to mocking & derision in my own mind, and sometimes I’ll just plain outright ignore it in search of an original thought…but rarely do I share with the masses. I suppose it is my nod to non-conformity. However, sometimes I do come across something rather good that I feel needs to be spread to others and therefore happily do my part. Secondly, I am a big proponent of not doing all the heavy lifting myself. If you want to know what a particular Bible verse actually says I feel that it is important that you actually pick up a Bible and read it versus me spoon-feeding you the information. However, in this case not only have I done the work for you I have actually expanded upon the original verses given so as to provide context. The emphasis in bold is strictly mine. And finally, I have avoided, as much as possible, the ol’ cut & paste routine here at The Manofesto. The things I write are generally my own thoughts & opinions, with minimal research done just so I don’t come across as a complete idiot who has no idea what I am talking about. But in this case I feel as if this is something worth sharing here. Enjoy & God bless.

 

 

 

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places in Christ, just as He chose us in Him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and without blame before Him in love, having predestined us to adoption as sons by Jesus Christ to Himself, according to the good pleasure of His will, to the praise of the glory of His grace, by which He made us accepted in the Beloved. In Him we have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of sins, according to the riches of His grace which He made to abound toward us in all wisdom and prudence, having made known to us the mystery of His will, according to His good pleasure which He purposed in Himself, that in the dispensation of the fullness of the times He might gather together in one all things in Christ, both which are in heaven and which are on earth—in Him. In Him also we have obtained an inheritance, being predestined according to the purpose of Him who works all things according to the counsel of His will, that we who first trusted in Christ should be to the praise of His glory. In Him you also trusted, after you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation; in whom also, having believed, you were sealed with the Holy Spirit of promise, who is the guarantee of our inheritance until the redemption of the purchased possession, to the praise of His glory.     Ephesians 1:3-14

 

God, who is rich in mercy, because of His great love with which He loved us, even when we were dead in trespasses, made us alive together with Christ (by grace you have been saved) and raised us up together, and made us sit together in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, that in the ages to come He might show the exceeding riches of His grace in His kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, not of works, lest anyone should boast. For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand that we should walk in them.    Ephesians  2:4-10

 

We give thanks to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, praying always for you, since we heard of your faith in Christ Jesus and of your love for all the saints; because of the hope which is laid up for you in heaven, of which you heard before in the word of the truth of the gospel, which has come to you, as it has also in all the world, and is bringing forth fruit, as it is also among you since the day you heard and knew the grace of God in truth; as you also learned from Epaphras, our dear fellow servant, who is a faithful minister of Christ on your behalf, who also declared to us your love in the Spirit. For this reason we also, since the day we heard it, do not cease to pray for you, and to ask that you may be filled with the knowledge of His will in all wisdom and spiritual understanding;  that you may walk worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing Him, being fruitful in every good work and increasing in the knowledge of God; strengthened with all might, according to His glorious power, for all patience and longsuffering with joy;  giving thanks to the Father who has qualified us to be partakers of the inheritance of the saints in the light. He has delivered us from the power of darkness and conveyed us into the kingdom of the Son of His love, in whom we have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of sins. He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation.              Colossians  1:3-15

 

Servants, be submissive to your masters with all fear, not only to the good and gentle, but also to the harsh. For this is commendable, if because of conscience toward God one endures grief, suffering wrongfully. For what credit is it if, when you are beaten for your faults, you take it patiently? But when you do good and suffer, if you take it patiently, this is commendable before God. For to this you were called, because Christ also suffered for us, leaving us an example, that you should follow His steps: “Who committed no sin, nor was deceit found in His mouth”; who, when He was reviled, did not revile in return; when He suffered, He did not threaten, but committed Himself to Him who judges righteously; who Himself bore our sins in His own body on the tree, that we, having died to sins, might live for righteousness—by whose stripes you were healed. For you were like sheep going astray, but have now returned to the Shepherd and Overseer of your souls.   1 Peter  2:18-25

 

Having been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom also we have access by faith into this grace in which we stand, and rejoice in hope of the glory of God. And not only that, but we also glory in tribulations, knowing that tribulation produces perseverance; and perseverance, character; and character, hope. Now hope does not disappoint, because the love of God has been poured out in our hearts by the Holy Spirit who was given to us.     Romans  5:1-5

 

There is therefore now no condemnation to those who are in Christ Jesus, who do not walk according to the flesh, but according to the Spirit.     Romans  8:1

 

If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare His own Son, but delivered Him up for us all, how shall He not with Him also freely give us all things? Who shall bring a charge against God’s elect? It is God who justifies. Who is he who condemns? It is Christ who died, and furthermore is also risen, who is even at the right hand of God, who also makes intercession for us. Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword? As it is written: “For Your sake we are killed all day long. We are accounted as sheep for the slaughter.” Yet in all these things we are more than conquerors through Him who loved us. For I am persuaded that neither death nor life, nor angels nor principalities nor powers, nor things present nor things to come, nor height nor depth, nor any other created thing, shall be able to separate us from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.          Romans  8:31-39

 

The grace of God that brings salvation has appeared to all men, teaching us that, denying ungodliness and worldly lusts, we should live soberly, righteously, and godly in the present age, looking for the blessed hope and glorious appearing of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ, who gave Himself for us, that He might redeem us from every lawless deed and purify for Himself His own special people, zealous for good works. Speak these things, exhort, and rebuke with all authority. Let no one despise you.   Titus  2:11-15

 

Flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God; nor does corruption inherit incorruption. Behold, I tell you a mystery: We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised incorruptible, and we shall be changed. For this corruptible must put on incorruption, and this mortal must put on immortality. So when this corruptible has put on incorruption, and this mortal has put on immortality, then shall be brought to pass the saying that is written: “Death is swallowed up in victory. O Death, where is your sting? O Hades, where is your victory?” The sting of death is sin, and the strength of sin is the law. But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ. Therefore, my beloved brethren, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that your labor is not in vain in the Lord.    1 Corinthians  15:50-58

 

Do not be unequally yoked together with unbelievers. For what fellowship has righteousness with lawlessness? And what communion has light with darkness? And what accord has Christ with Belial? Or what part has a believer with an unbeliever? And what agreement has the temple of God with idols? For you are the temple of the living God. As God has said: “I will dwell in them and walk among them. I will be their God, and they shall be My people.” Therefore come out from among them and be separate, says the Lord. Do not touch what is unclean, and I will receive you. I will be a Father to you, and you shall be My sons and daughters”, says the Lord Almighty.      2 Corinthians  6:14-18

 

I have been crucified with Christ; it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself for me. I do not set aside the grace of God; for if righteousness comes through the law, then Christ died in vain. Galatians  2:20-21

 

Christ has redeemed us from the curse of the law, having become a curse for us (for it is written, “Cursed is everyone who hangs on a tree”), that the blessing of Abraham might come upon the Gentiles in Christ Jesus, that we might receive the promise of the Spirit through faith.    Galatians  3:13-14

 

For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life. For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world through Him might be saved. He who believes in Him is not condemned; but he who does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God. And this is the condemnation, that the light has come into the world, and men loved darkness rather than light, because their deeds were evil. For everyone practicing evil hates the light and does not come to the light, lest his deeds should be exposed.   John  3:16-20

 

By this we know that we love the children of God, when we love God and keep His commandments. For this is the love of God, that we keep His commandments. And His commandments are not burdensome. For whatever is born of God overcomes the world. And this is the victory that has overcome the world—our faith. Who is he who overcomes the world, but he who believes that Jesus is the Son of God?   1 John  5:2-5

 

Jesus Christ, the faithful witness, the firstborn from the dead, and the ruler over the kings of the earth. To Him who loved us and washed us from our sins in His own blood, and has made us kings and priests to His God and Father, to Him be glory and dominion forever and ever.       Revelation  1:5-6

The End of My Sambatical From Organized Religion – The New Hope

Please check out Part 1 & Part 2 or else you will be thoroughly confused. Thanks!!

I had said for several months, as church friends would interact with me online or I’d see them at family events and they would say they missed me & encourage me to come back, that I was bothered by the fact that the one person who I should be hearing from was the one person I hadn’t…the minister. He himself had taught our youth about the Parable of the Lost Coin (Luke 15:8-10) about 15 years ago at a lock-in when I was assisting with that particular ministry. The story had always struck a chord with me, and this past year I had felt kind of like a lost coin. The only difference was it seemed like no one was really looking for me, atleast not in the earnest, diligent way the woman in the parable searches for her drachma. Does this reflect poorly on my own insecurities and self-esteem?? Probably. But it was bigger than me. I feel like it is a microcosm of how the church as a whole operates in 21st century America. The machine keeps humming along and no one really notices when people go missing. There’s a scene in my favorite action flick Die Hard when one of the federal agents given the task of dealing with the crisis at hand says “I figure we take out the terrorists and lose 20-25% of the hostages tops”, with his partner replying “I can live with that”. That’s the church these days. The end justifies the means. It all seems a tad bit cool & detached. A lesson learned in The Godfather  – ”it’s not personal, it’s just business”. Maybe it’s just me, but when the line between the church & the mafia becomes blurred it is disturbing.

 

At any rate, my minister & I had a polite, pleasant conversation on that lazy Saturday. He needed me to sign some papers because I am still on the Board of Trustees and they are getting a loan for some upkeep on the church. Of course…business…The Machine…money. It never stops. He asked me to come back and I expressed some of my concerns. We didn’t dive in too deep, and really there was no need to. I’m not angry and I don’t hate anyone. The people in that congregation have been a part of my life for the vast majority of my existence. My Mom worshiped there, as did my grandmother and several aunts, uncles, & cousins. Its home and I’ve missed it. The fact is that the flaws within the church will be there whether I am or not. My mistake was in expecting the church to be accountable for things for which I need to take responsibility. I am responsible for feeding my body, so why should I assign others the task of feeding me spiritually?? Yes I know that that SHOULD be the first priority of the church, but when they fall short I can either throw a hissy fit about it or get busy doing it myself. I have spent the past year doing the former but now realize I need to do the latter. I have also made the mistake of getting too caught up in the busy work of the church at the expense of my own spiritual well-being. Again, that stuff will exist whether or not I am present. I am the one who allowed it to drag me down.

 

I spent the next few weeks in considerable ponderation of the situation. My ego felt as if returning would be admitting defeat and letting “them” win…a tacit admission that I had been wrong. After all, it isn’t like things were suddenly going to be markedly different. On the other hand, I realize…have always known…that no one in this little drama is really to blame. I don’t think there are people in my little country church or in any other church that set out to go down the wrong path. While I am smart (and cynical) enough to know that bad people with malevolent intentions certainly exist, I choose to believe that the vast majority of folks just do the best they can and try to make the wisest decisions possible. Mostly though, I finally really understand the difference between religion & faith, between being a churchgoer & having a relationship with Jesus Christ. I had always been under the impression that I comprehended that concept, but I guess one is never too old to keep on learning.

 

So now I am back. The sambatical is over. I am rested & renewed. I have returned to the weekly routine of Sunday school, worship, Bible study, committee meetings, and fundraisers. All those things have their merit and meet a need. I have always known that their place on the proverbial totem pole should be fairly low, but I now recognize that they do indeed have a place, atleast in my life. I am fully aware that selling hot dogs or building a picnic shelter or spending as much time drinking coffee & eating cookies as discussing scripture on Wednesday evening won’t get me or anyone else into Heaven. I know that going to church can only provide an outline and that it is up to me to pray, study, and build a relationship with Christ in order to write the full story. My expectations of myself have grown exponentially as I have lowered my expectations of others. All of us are human. We make mistakes. My pride & resentment have not represented me well, but they were things I needed to work through to grow. There is a reason for everything. This past year has been yet another time period I would probably change if given the opportunity, but then again maybe not. I still believe it is possible…maybe even advantageous…to experience Christ, to worship Him, to spread His good news, and to be a shining example of His teaching without chains. A church is still simply a building…land…stuff…money…business. It is easy to get caught up in the work, the responsibility, the politics…the humanity. It is easy to become insulated and not “make disciples of all the nations”. These are weaknesses which rob the modern church of its power & authority. However, I have made the decision to separate religion and faith, as I should have already been doing anyway. And I have decided that the two do not have to be mutually exclusive. Frustration with the business of the church need not rob me of my “blessed assurance”, and dedication to a more genuine relationship with The Lord does not preclude church attendance. The two should ideally intersect more often than not, but when they don’t then I need to assess the circumstances and react appropriately & rationally. The truth is that I have missed my friends. I’ve missed my family. I’ve missed those opportunities to gather together and attempt to do something good for the community or even just have some good old fashioned fellowship. None of that stuff has anything to do with my salvation or loving Jesus Christ, but I have come to appreciate their place in my life. Your mileage may vary & my conclusions may not jive with yours, and that’s okay. We all do what we gotta do, right?? Or maybe…just maybe…you recognize kernels of similarity between my story & yours. If so I hope my experience provides some insight, a pleasant read, and some fodder for your own ponderation.

 

The End of My Sambatical From Organized Religion – Part 1

Nearly one year ago, right after Easter, I exited the church in which I grew up and had attended regularly since I was a child. I had not returned until today.

The cause of my initial exit is trivial, important only to me. There were valid issues, but some problems can just as easily be blamed on my own neuroses, stubborn pride, and failure to deal with disagreements effectively. However, the bigger reasons for my nearly yearlong sambatical, as well as my abrupt decision to return to the fold, are worth delving into because I have more than a sneaking suspicion that there are numerous disenfranchised Christians who, like me, have felt a growing chasm between what they are seeking versus what organized religion in 21st century America currently offers.

My friend The Owl, who is much more devout and genuinely devoted to living a Christ-like life than most folks I know (including your humble Potentate of Profundity), says that the church has become too worldly. He hasn’t found a “home church” in a long time, even though, to his credit, he still occasionally gives it the ol’ college try. He has most certainly spent more time in close proximity to pews & steeples than I have in the past year. However, his devotion, strong faith, and heartfelt determination to, as my Dad would say, “live life closer to the foot of the cross” despite not having close ties to a church has been influential in my own thought process. After all, a church is just a building, right??

Ah yes…a building. There’s a building. There’s land. There are bills to pay, things to buy, and stuff to maintain & repair. These things make money necessary. Fundraising becomes an obligatory evil (atleast in smaller churches). Committees are formed. Disagreements are either argued about or fester quietly for years. Folks jockey for position. Egos are bruised, feelings are hurt. All the sudden instead of focusing on Christ and His teachings, we spend a half hour on Sunday morning with Him…theoretically…at the center and the rest of the time running the business that the church has become. Even worship service is bogged down by meaningless ritual, incongruous nods to secular pop culture, screaming children lacking manners & discipline, and squirmy, visibly disinterested adults who are merely fulfilling an obligation but clearly have no sincerity of purpose. I honestly believe that most adults are more attentive when they shell out $8 at the local cineplex for some profanity laced, overtly sexual, ultra violent CGI crapfest than they are in church. And many are undoubtedly more passionate about a host of other pursuits…golf, fishing, watching the game or the race…than they are in worshiping God and spreading the good news of our Lord & Savior Jesus Christ.

Sadly, I have been right in the thick of the hypocrisy. I’ve been that disengaged, disinterested, distracted person just going through the motions and only giving my bare minimum (or less) focus to The Lord. I’ve been the person who attends all the committee meetings and helps out with all the fundraisers but has merely a cordial (at best) relationship with Jesus Christ. I’ve been the person who attended church on Sunday but sinned freely and capaciously the other 6 days of the week. But at some point something either broke or awakened inside of me and I decided that I didn’t want to be that person anymore. This discontent with my Christian walk culminated with me walking away from the church.

It really all began nearly 6 years ago during what I call My Unfortunate Incarceration. I’ll spare those not “in the know” the details and just give the Cliff’s Notes version of my sad tale. In April 2006 I landed in the hospital with an ulcer on my tailbone. 6 weeks in the hospital were followed by 6 months in a “skilled” nursing facility. That was followed by an entire year homebound until, at last, I had the surgery that probably should have been done right off the bat. Another month in a hospital, a second shorter stint in a “skilled” nursing facility, then a few more months at home finally ended with me resuming normal activities after having, in essence, lost 2 years of my life in my early 30’s. I believe that everything happens for a reason, but I must admit that given the chance I’d skip over or significantly alter that time period in a heartbeat.

Looking back it was during those long dismal months that…atleast subconsciously…the yearning for a closer bond with The Lord blossomed yet I began to grow apart from the church. After all, besides my Dad, sister, and an aging, perverted, hard headed, yet genuinely kind & decent cousin all I had was Him. Regretfully though, instead of embracing the opportunity to cultivate that relationship I chose to wallow in a newfound bitterness caused by being “out of the loop”, “out of sight, out of mind”, and left in solitude by people who I am sure were blissfully unaware they were doing anything wrong. These were the days before Facebook allowed us all to stay in constant contact with hundreds of people across the globe on a daily basis. My Dad & sister would run into people who’d say “Tell Sam we’re thinking about him & praying for him”. I didn’t buy it. I just wanted them to take 10 minutes and give me a call. I was lonely, bored, and probably depressed, yet few people outside of my immediate family seemed to give a damn. When I was in the hospital recovering from surgery my friend Greg & his wife Jenn…who live in Texas…came to visit. Sure they were in town for his father’s wedding (or maybe it was his brother’s), but that visit meant the world to me. It was aggravating that friends that lived thousands of miles away found the time to make contact in my hour of need but others who lived much much closer…many of them “church family”…did not.

The Fruits of the Spirit – Longsuffering

Patience-Roger-Smith-CEO-American-Income-LifeI was once given the advice “Don’t pray to God for patience because He will give you plenty of opportunities to practice”. Notwithstanding one’s opinion of that particular directive, I have decided for now to write about it rather than pray for it.  As you may have guessed, I am not examining The Fruits of the Spirit in any particular order or with any sort of overriding structural theme. I think they each tell their own individual stories that guide us down the correct path when viewed collectively.

 

Longsuffering is an interesting word. It certainly isn’t common terminology we utilize in everyday conversation. It comes from the Greek word makrothumia, meaning long-tempered…the opposite of short-tempered. Longsuffering can be defined as forbearance, patience, steadfastness, self-restraint in avenging wrongs, and the ability to endure adversity, persecution, provocation, suffering, & ill will with no thought of retaliation or punishment. Longsuffering is the antithesis of anger and is associated with mercy. It is being mild, gentle, and constant in all circumstances.

 

There are many shades of anger. I do not consider myself to be violent. I have never beaten anyone up or made any type of legitimate threats. I don’t brandish weapons, and I don’t generally go around causing mayhem or destruction. But…..I am easily annoyed, tend to hold grudges, and have an overall sense of resentment against people, situations, and entities that I perceive to have caused me harm or even mere inconvenience. This acrimony, more often than not, fruitdoes not manifest itself in any tangible way. Most who interact with me personally and professionally would consider me to be kind, polite, and even-tempered. Only those few with whom I am most comfortable ever get a glimpse of the animosity simmering just beneath the surface. And even then I have the ability to spin things with wit and a modicum of charm. But does the fact that my frustration with those things that fall short of my standards and expectations doesn’t lead to any corporeal damage make it okay?? Jesus tells the Pharisees in the 16th chapter of Luke that ““You are those who justify yourselves before men, but God knows your hearts. For what is highly esteemed among men is an abomination in the sight of God.”  In other words, I have some work to do.

 

However, I suspect that I am not alone. Our society can be rather aggravating. Between job related stress, the pressures inherent with raising a family, economic woes, inescapable socio-political divides, technology that is both awesomely wonderful yet sadly fragile, and a dog-eat-dog fast paced world where we all want to keep up with the Joneses to the point that even a vacation can cause strife…well, as Kevin Costner says in Bull Durham, “We’re dealing with a lot of stuff”. It isn’t uncommon to hear people wistfully hearken back to a simpler time, where they perceive life was better. But that is a mirage. Life may not have been as fast paced a hundred years ago…no automobiles or super highways, no televisions, no Internet, no video games, not as many “everyone else is going there” tourist traps…but economic conditions were even tougher, people had to work much harder for much less, living conditions and illness meant shorter lives, and the world was far smaller and less accessible. In other words, throughout the ages humanity has had issues to face and burdens to endure. There has only been one constant over all the years, and with all due respect to James Earl Jones, it isn’t baseball. The 13th chapter of Hebrews tells us that God will never leave or forsake us and that Jesus Christ is the same, yesterday, today, and forever.

 

faithWhich leads me to the first key point we need to ponder in relation to longsuffering. One does not have to look any further than the example of Christ to understand the essence of the fruit we are to bear. No greater demonstration of longsuffering can be found than that shown by God toward man. Everyone knows John 3:16 – “For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life.” We know it so well and it is a verse that is so often quoted that I sometimes fear its meaning has been watered down or atleast taken for granted. Do you know anyone who would literally die for you, or anyone who you would die for?? We all have close family and maybe a few good friends. It is likely that most parents would answer yes to the question in regard to their children. But honestly…and I am truly trying to put aside my cynical tendencies here…how many people would REALLY die for another human being?? I suspect the honest answer is “not many”.

 

Have you ever done a favor for another person?? I am sure most everyone has at some point in their life. How did the person react?? They probably said thank you, or maybe they went so far as to buy you a nice gift or treat you to dinner. However, have you ever experienced a person for whom you have done a favor say to you “I owe you one”. I have…many times. And let me tell you what usually happens…they never get around to actually doing anything about it. I think that is how we treat The Lord. He made the ultimate sacrifice for all of humanity, and how do we repay Him?? By not being even one thousandth of one percent as patient and understanding with our fellow man as He is with us. Our life is 100% in His hands. Every breath we take is a gift from Him. All that is asked of us is to be a mirror image of Christ, to bear the fruits that we are discussing in this series. Yet every single day…multiple times during the day…we carelessly ignore our responsibility and casually disregard the favor that was done for us…that is done for us every moment. If The Lord was an impatient with us as we are with everything and everyone none of us would last 5 minutes. But 2 Peter tells us that “The Lord is not slack concerning His promise, as some count slackness, but is longsuffering toward us, not willing that any should perish but that all should come to repentance.” If we make an honest effort to live life in a Christ-like fashion one of the first things we need to do…that I know I need to do for sure…is to shed much of the frustration and resentment that we allow into our daily lives. 1 Timothy says that “Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am chief. However, for this reason I obtained mercy, that in me first Jesus Christ might show all longsuffering, as a pattern to those who are going to believe on Him for everlasting”. If we want the gift of eternal life we need to use Jesus as the pattern and show others the mercy that He shows us daily. Another verse that we tend to use as a cliché without actually giving it the consideration it deserves is found in Matthew 7:12, which says “whatever you want men to do to you, do also to them”. Of course we refer to this as The Golden Rule…but do we follow it?? More often than not we tend to bend it into “do unto others as they have done unto you” or even “do unto others before they do unto you”. But those twists are the result of Man’s brokenness and the damage that sin has wrought on the world, and following those rules will get us nowhere except our very own extremely warm corner of Hell.

 

The second point that needs to be touched on is the question of how to bear the fruit of longsuffering. It is not a skill that one can learn in a six week correspondence course or that will magically develop overnight. It takes effort. It might seem rather obvious, but the only way to become more Christ-like is to develop a relationship with Christ and study His holy teachings. In one of my previous places of employment when a new supervisor was hired one of the first things they did was “shadow” an experienced supervisor for a number of weeks. We need to “shadow” Christ not just for a few weeks or months, but every day for the rest of our lives. Spend time with Him in prayer, study your Bible, and surround yourself with fellow Christians who you can learn from and emulate. This last part is admittedly a delicate balancing act because we are not to shut ourselves up in church and only associate with fellow believers. We are to be “fishers of men”. Jesus said “It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners”. On the other hand, we need the support and relationship of other believers in Christ. A relationship with Christ is pretty much the whole ball of wax…it is what everything boils down to. And I think as we grow in that relationship we can’t help but become more and more the person that we are meant to be, which in part means bearing fruit. This holds true for all the Fruits of the Spirit, but I believe it is especially important in regard to longsuffering, as it may be the one we struggle with the most yet is most easily put into practice if only we make the effort.

 

When we accept the free gift of salvation we are to be “born again”. Galatians 2:20 says “I have been crucified with Christ; it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself for me.” Once saved we are a new person. Ephesians instructs to “no longer walk as the rest, in the futility of their mind, having their understanding darkened, being alienated from the life of God, because of the ignorance that is in them, because of the blindness of their heart. If indeed you have heard Him and have been taught by Him, as the truth is in Jesus, that you put off, concerning your former conduct, the old man which grows corrupt according to the deceitful lusts, and be renewed in the spirit of your mind, and that you put on the new man which was created according to God, in true righteousness and holiness”. Furthermore, according to 2 Timothy we are to “flee also youthful lusts; but pursue righteousness, faith, love, peace with those who call on the Lord out of a pure heart. But avoid foolish and ignorant disputes, knowing that they generate strife. And a servant of the Lord must not quarrel but be gentle to all, able to teach, patient, in humility correcting those who are in opposition, if God perhaps will grant them repentance, so that they may know the truth, and that they may come to their senses and escape the snare of the devil, having been taken captive by him to do his will”. It is important that we bear fruit not only as proof of our maturing relationship with the Lord, but so that we may also be a guiding light for others.  The same chapters tells us that we are to “Preach the word. Be ready in season and out of season. Convince, rebuke, exhort, with all longsuffering and teaching”. Anyone who has ever tried to teach anyone anything, whether it was one on one or in a group setting, will understand the need for patience in such a setting.

 

The final point I want to emphasize about longsuffering is…well…suffering. Afterall, it is part of the word, right?? Many new Christians come to the Lord through a “mountaintop experience”. They hear an especially powerful sermon, attend a large gathering like Promise Keepers, or go to an old fashioned fire & brimstone revival. In situations like that it becomes easy to run to an altar and “make the decision” for Christ. Please don’t misunderstand…I am not questioning the authenticity of salvation received in these settings. I myself gave my heart to The Lord following a performance of the drama Heavens Gates and Hell’s Flames. But my concern is what comes afterward. The next day one must go back out into the world…work, school, friends, family, and dealing with the general public in everyday situations. This is the true test. Contrary to popular belief life does not suddenly become sunshine and roses just because one said a prayer and asked Jesus to forgive their sins. Salvation is not the end, it is the beginning. Relationship and growth must follow, and it is my sincere belief that it is during this lifelong process that Satan will come after a person with a full court press. The question is how will you react to these tests of your faith?? Make no mistake…they are not graded on a curve and a C is not acceptable. Life is pass/fail. Our response to the difficulties we face is an excellent barometer of where we stand in our relationship with Christ. And I am not talking about the big stuff. I think most people have a tendency to call on the Lord in times of real trouble…severe illness, death, and other significant calamities. But how do you react to the “ankle biters”…the little aggravations and roadblocks we encounter every day?? James 1:2-4 counsels us to “Count it all joy when you fall into various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces patience. But let patience have its perfect work, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking nothing.” It may seem a bit odd that we should rejoice when we’re in trouble, but that is exactly what we are supposed to do. Remember, Christ DIED for our sins…so is it really too much to ask that we endure annoying co-workers, bad drivers, slow checkout lines, thoughtless friends, overbearing in-laws, rambunctious children, and all the other obstacles life throws in our path??

 

The 103rd Psalm says “The Lord is merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in mercy. He will not always strive with us, nor will He keep His anger forever”. God is complex. He is love, and He shows us infinite mercy and patience on a daily basis, yet one day we will all face judgment. How can we hope for a free pass that we do not deserve if we do not bear fruit?? Why do we assume and expect God’s continuous patience with us in light of our sins but not show the same understanding toward others ourselves?? I cannot sum up the expectation God has of us any better that Colossians 3:1-5 – “If then you were raised with Christ, seek those things which are above, where Christ is, sitting at the right hand of God. Put to death your members which are on the earth: fornication, uncleanness, passion, evil desire, and covetousness, which is idolatry. Because of these things the wrath of God is coming upon the sons of disobedience, in which you yourselves once walked when you lived in them. But now you yourselves are to put off all these: anger, wrath, malice, blasphemy, filthy language out of your mouth. Do not lie to one another, since you have put off the old man with his deeds, and have put on the new man who is renewed in knowledge according to the image of Him. Therefore, as the elect of God, holy and beloved, put on tender mercies, kindness, humility, meekness, longsuffering; bearing with one another, and forgiving one another, if anyone has a complaint against another; even as Christ forgave you, so you also must do. But above all these things put on love, which is the bond of perfection. And let the peace of God rule in your hearts, to which also you were called in one body; and be thankful”.