CQ…Clark Here

Thoughts and opinions. LOTS of opinions.

Archive for the tag “Bible”

Hateful and Inflammatory? Inconsistent? Not sure I agree.

Note: I first want to apologize to my liberal and libertarian friends for my responses to various comments on social media yesterday.  For various reasons, I was Mr. Cranky Pants, and did not respond as well as I usually do.  I hope this post is a bit more rational.

Note:  For any readers that may be Muslim, liberal, or otherwise disagree with what I write, I sincerely hope my comments will not be seen as hurtful or callous.  They are not intended to be.  However, I will not apologize for what I say here, these are my thoughts and opinions.  I strive to be measured and rational, not strident and angry.  To a large degree, I think I succeed.  But I ask that you not be offended by this post, but I expect that many will disagree, and that, also, is ok.  You are as entitled to your thoughts, opinions, and beliefs as am I.

I am no different from the vast majority of Americans with how I have felt with the terrorist attacks in Paris.  And although I haven’t posted anything new here on my Blog, I have been active on social media, and posted multiple articles, opinions, thoughts, and memes regarding the Paris atrocities.  Regular readers of this blog already know I am a committed Christian, a family man, an American, a political conservative, and rather bold to state my opinions.  Due to my postings, in the past couple days my Christianity and my consistency in applying my Christianity has been questioned, and my posts on the American response to the Syrian refugee situation characterized as hateful and inflammatory.  I disagree with those questions and characterizations, and wanted to address them.  However, I figured my remarks would take a lot more space than social media, and light bulb above my head! I have a blog site that I can write on. (Um, duh?)

Anyhow, I want to address two things here.  First my Christianity, how I have come to this point, and how I interpret the Bible.  And Second, my thoughts on the Syrian refugee crisis.

First, regards my faith, Christianity, and Biblical interpretation.

I believe in the God of the Bible.  I believe that He created everything that exists, that He has always been, and always will be.  I believe that God exists in three distinct but equal “persons:” God the Father, God the Son (Jesus, the Christ), and God the Holy Spirit.  I believe that God is perfect, without error, and has been so forever, and always will be.  I believe that the Bible is the inerrant, inspired, complete Word of God, and includes the Hebrew Scriptures (AKA: the “Old” Testament), as well as the “New” Testament, which introduces the Jewish Messiah, Jesus the Christ.  I believe that I am separated from that perfect Creator-God because of my willful choice to commit “sin.”  Sin is simply doing what I know to be wrong, in the face of a perfect God.  I believe that because of God’s perfection, He cannot even be in the presence of sin, and so my cosmic treason has separated me from ever being able, on my own, to stand in God’s presence.  I believe that God loved me so much that he sent His Son, Jesus (who volunteered for this mission), to earth to atone for my treason. I believe that Jesus was born of a sinful woman, Mary, with no earthly father, but was miraculously conceived by Mary, through the working of the Holy Spirit.  I believe that Jesus was absolutely, completely, perfectly God and simultaneously was absolutely, completely, “perfectly” a man, as are any of us.  I believe that Jesus is the only Son of God, that there is no other.  I believe that Jesus literally lived, but never sinned; never lied, never coveted, never stole, never did any wrong thing that would cause separation from God the Father.  I believe that he led a ministry on earth, and was ultimately arrested by the religious leaders of the time, tried by Roman law, and crucified, suffering physical death, and retaining his spirit until he decided on his own to die.  I believe Jesus suffered a literal death, and was buried for (in modern understanding) for a day and a half (by reckoning of the time, three days); literally dead in a literal tomb.  I believe that when Jesus decided it was time, I believe he literally came back to life; that dead human tissue was re-animated, against human possibility and human rationale.  I believe that when Jesus allowed himself to be crucified, and when he chose to die and take his life back, that he paid the just and righteous penalty for my treason; that because he paid the penalty (my penalty), God is able to forgive me, and that due only to God’s grace, I can now stand in front of Him.  And that He sees me, not as I was, but in light of Christ’s finished work, perfect, just as Christ is perfect.  I believe that Christ came for the Jewish nation first, and that any national Jew that recognizes Jesus as Messiah automatically steps in front of me in as God’s chosen, and are ultimately my elder brothers and sisters.  I believe that it is God’s grace and God’s grace alone that has earned me the right to be called His son.  I believe belief in Christ in this way is the only way for anyone to find the ability to be allowed into God’s presence as a forgiven individual.  I believe that Christ’s sacrifice is all that is necessary for anyone who chooses to believe and confess the above to stand before God.  And I believe that if one does not specifically choose to believe this, then by that choice, that person, when they die, will never be allowed in the presence of God; that all goodness, and all hope will be removed, and that person will spend eternity in what the Bible defines as Hell.

More on the Bible:

I apply various, recognized rules to interpreting the Bible.  These are not “my” rules, but are a standardized method for Biblical interpretation.  First, it says what it says.  There is no hidden meaning, no “deeper truths,” no Gnostic gospel to apply.  Second the Bible is inerrant, inspired, accurate and complete as it currently exists.  Third, context and historical considerations must also be considered for a particular verse, and that each verse must be interpreted, not on its own, but in accord with the Bible as a whole.  Far too many people look at one verse and say, “Well, the Bible says (fill in the blank).” And this happens with folks that believe the Bible as well as those that do not.  One of my favorite examples is the one verse in the Bible that mentions tattoos.  Found in Deuteronomy, it says that one should not get tattoos or marks for the dead.  Many Christians use this to condemn anyone that gets a tattoo as unbiblical.  That is far from the truth.  That verse is speaking directly to the pagan practice of slicing one’s self and/or tattooing themselves specifically for ancestor worship or appeasement.  As such, it is addressing idolatry during a specific historical timeframe, not tattooing at any time forever and ever, amen.  But I digress.

I would also say that in reading and understanding the Bible, the way to do so is no different than reading any “classical” piece of literature.  One doesn’t have to be a Biblical scholar, nor does one have to believe the Bible to read it as it is intended to be read.  One should read it in the same way that one should read Melville’s “Moby Dick,”  Shelley’s “Frankenstein,” Homer’s “Iliad” or “Odyssey,” or anything by Shakespeare.

So that defines my Christianity, and how I interpret the Bible.  Next I want to expound (something some would say I do all too well) on the current situation involving the recent Paris terrorist attacks and the refugees from Syria.

I must first provide a further caveat.  Politically, I am conservative, which means that I do not identify as a Republican first, since I believe that the Republican party has strayed from its conservative roots.  I have been conservative since my youth, and it is my contention that conservatism works every time it is tried.  As a conservative, I believe that Ronald Reagan, although not perfect, was the best president in my lifetime.  I believe that George Bush “41” was more moderate than conservative, and George Bush “43” was more “Neocon” than conservative, but I support most of the actions taken by him during his presidency.  I further think that from Carter to Obama, each successive Democrat president was worse than the previous one, and that Obama is the worst president in my lifetime.  A further note on Obama.  It seems popular to tag those that oppose him as racist, and that opposition is due to his race.  Nothing could be farther from the truth for me.  I vehemently disagree with his politics, just as I do other far left liberals, such as Nancy Pelosi, Harry Reid, Joe Biden, Bill and Hillary Clinton, Bill Maher, Barbra Streisand, Michael Moore, and on and on.  I disagree with their politics, and I think their politics are dishonest and bad for the country.  Which is a nice segue into the Paris attacks and the Syrian situation.

The facts:  Just a few short days ago, several terrorists, in a coordinated attack, murdered upwards of 140 civilians in Paris.  Just a few hours later, the radical Islamic group ISIS claimed responsibility.  One of the dead terrorists was found to have a Syrian passport.  This created an immediate uproar, since a very large number of Syrians have claimed refugee status, conveyed by the United Nations, because of an ongoing war in their home country of Syria.  That war itself is very confusing, with the “players,” their “sponsors” and supporters not at all clear cut as to which is the “bad guys,” and which are the “good guys.”  This is not a situation that can be easily examined and a conclusion reached as to whom is at fault.  Due to that war, many people have been dislocated, and have fled the country and/or have sought refugee status.  This includes Muslims and Christians.  President Obama, even prior to the Paris attacks, has declared that the United States will accept up to 100,000 Islamic refugees.  However, the State Department has refused entry to many, many Christian refugees from other countries.

In light of the Paris attacks, it seemed prudent to me to re-think the President’s policy on the refugees, and I admit that I was furious that he did not do so.  In my opinion, the United States is in much more danger due to his position on this, and I posted multiple times on social media regarding this issue.  As I said earlier, those posts were characterized as hateful and inflammatory, and inconsistent with Christianity.  Hence this essay.

Prior to writing this article, I went back to November 14, and read through every single post on my page concerning the Paris attacks.  I then wrote out a line or two of their content.  Understand, I post a lot.  And if I had been required to rely on my recollection, I would have said that nearly all of my posts were somehow related to the Paris attacks, and that I had suspended my normal volume of typical posts, which run the gamut of humor to politics to sports back to humor to scuba diving to the weather and back to humor.  However, I was pleasantly surprised to find that this was not so.  I still posted my usual volume of non-political posts, with a lot of humor (example: I like to serve Eggs Benedict on hub caps because there’s no plate like chrome for the hollandaise.  Get it? “No place like home…” well, anyhow…).  Follows are the one-line synopses of every single one of my posts on the subject, starting from the first one to the latest:

  • 127 killed.  Bumps up to 140.
  • Putin insists immigrants become Russian. (in comparison to Obama’s lack of any similar conviction)
  • Obama refuses to acknowledge Islamic terrorism.
  • Obama stated that “Isis is contained” and approx. 12 hours later the Paris attacks occur.
  • Isis coming to US.  Warning to all.
  • Article on incident in Kenya, attack on Christians students at university.
  • Meme mocking Hillary.
  • Netanyahu statement that Islam behind Paris attacks; first world leader to say this.
  • Meme pointing out that the Tsarnaev brothers (Boston bombers) were “refugees.”
  • Seven points mocking Obama and the Clintons regarding their policies on Isis, gun control, refugees, police, Islam.
  • Posts regarding Bernie Sanders stupidity with attacks (he said that the attacks happened because the murderers had no jobs and because of climate change).
  • US refugee centers speeding up the process to get the refugees in faster.
  • An article identifying the victims of the Paris attack.
  • Map of where refugees are settling in the United States (including an additional 50 to be settled just fifteen miles from my home).
  • Location of jihadi camps in the US (including two in neighboring states).
  • An article and map of states refusing to accept refugees (multiple posts).
  • An article detailing that the US State Dept. has refused visas to persecuted Christians.
  • Statement from Senator Jeff Sessions that we cannot vet refugees.
  • An article that Republicans in the US House of Reps. are putting a bill together to address refugee issue.
  • An article on WHY Paris attacks get more media mileage than attacks in Africa, etc.
  • Obama saying that he is “not interested in the US leading or winning.”
  • A meme stating that “If you have ten grapes and two poisoned, would you eat them?”
  • A meme with a quote from ISIS: “We have 71 soldiers in 15 states,” and a corresponding quote that “We have 80 million gun owners…” 
  • An original post that there is not an “off-chance” that terrorists will infiltrate with other refugees.  This post sprang from a post I had seen comparing any current refusal to accept Syrian refugees to refusing to accept Jews in WWII.
  • A post, quoted as saying, “Before saying I support France, read this article by Michael Hurd.” This was a very conservative approach to Islam and refugees.  https://drhurd.com/before-saying-i-support-france-please-read-this/
  • A map of worldwide locations of tweets from ISIS supporters.  The US is fourth on the list.
  • An article detailing how President Obama was late for a moment of silence for the victims of the Paris attacks, and him saying that he was “not interested in posturing about the US winning…”
  • A video of a Greece/Turkey soccer match, showing that the Turks booed during a moment of silence for the Paris victims, and chanted Allah Akbar.
  • A meme placing the blame on Obama and Clinton for Muslim extremist terrorism currently being the largest worldwide threat.
  • An article quoting John Kerry, that people “shouldn’t be rushing to judgment” on the refugees.
  • An article expounding on why “Syrians refugees aren’t like Jews fleeing Europe,” and includes the US State Dept. saying vast majority of Syrian refugees coming to America are already safe, and are coming from Jordan, Turkey, Lebanon, Egypt.
  • Photo showing/comparing starving African babies to Muslim males as refugees
  • An article detailing how 5 Syrians with stolen passports were located in Honduras.
  • A John Pickering video, using gum balls to demonstrate the fallacy with the current US immigration policy.
  • An article that America has already allowed in 2151 refugees, and that only 53 are “Christians.”
  • A quote from Ronald Reagan, “a nation that cannot control its boarders is not a nation.”
  • A meme mocking Obama’s statement that ISIS is a “JV team.”  The meme said, “The JV team is winning.”
  • An editorial cartoon, “Which is the bigger threat to the US: Isis or Obama?”
  • An opinion piece detailing Kerry’s comments to the French regarding the Paris attacks.
  • An article about the female homicide bomber and Obama’s statements prior her death, in which Obama said, “apparently they’re afraid of widows and orphans…”
  • An article saying that a “missing refugee from Louisiana was found in D.C.
  • An article and video of refugees protesting conditions at hotel they were put up in, and giving demands.
  • An article analyzing why those on the political left “prefer” Islam to Christianity.
  • A two paragraph quote that America’s constitution does not vest the national government with enumerated power over immigration enforcement, suggesting that states can, in fact, refuse to accept refugees.
  • A meme stating, “And the sheep decided that instead of making friends with more sheepdogs, they would hang up signs saying, ‘No biting.'”
  • An article that Al Qaeda terrorists that had actually killed US soldiers were STILL allowed to legally entered the US. through a refugee program.
  • A meme that not taking in Syrian refugees and closing our boarders is not mean or heartless, and that “I lock my doors every night not because I hate people outside my house, but because I love the people inside my house.”
  • An article that Christiana Amanpour criticized Obama over statements he made at G20.
  • Another person’s  post that I passed along, stating that President Obama has drawn multiple lines in the sand with Syria, but that he hasn’t enforced a single challenge to those lines by Syria.
  • A bill introduced by US the U.S. House of Representatives that is virtually veto proof, due to the support of 47 Democrats.

 

Ok, admittedly my college degrees aren’t in mathematics, but I counted approximately 50 separate posts on the subject of the Paris attacks and the Syrian refugees.  The bulk of them are pieces that present perspectives from a factual and/or rather objective basis.  Of all of the posts on the topic, I counted three that I could consider to be inflammatory.  I have highlighted those three.  They are opinion pieces, and as such I can understand how they could be construed as inflammatory.  There are also other opinion pieces, editorial cartoons, and memes that I would not characterize as inflammatory, nor as hateful.  Several of the posts are barbed and sarcastic; such is the nature of editorials.  But hateful?  Inflammatory?  I’m not seeing it.  Each of my posts were published with a particular point.  Perhaps that current United States policy is wrong, or that we need to re-visit the whole topic of refugees.  Perhaps that President Obama is (or others are) pursuing a personal agenda that is harmful to the United States.  Perhaps that even Obama’s supporters are questioning him.  Further, I intentionally bypassed anything that mocked Muslims, Islam, or their specific beliefs and religious practices.  There are clearly a multitude of those, and I specifically wanted to distance myself from such, and attempted to present information that would not be perceived as hateful.  Perhaps I did not entirely succeed in that attempt.  I freely confess my frustration on the topic, and it is entirely possible that my frustration leaked over into some of my posts, and if any were hateful or inflammatory, I apologize.  That was not my intent.

Securing our borders and judicious selection of refugees is, to my way of thinking, not just our right as a sovereign nation, but our responsibility as well.  America isn’t perfect.  But because we are a “shining light on a hill;” because we are the “land of the free and home of the brave,” I understand and applaud those that wish to settle here.  I welcome those that come here legally, and make no distinction between natural-born and naturalized citizens.  I do not support those that come here illegally, any more than I would invite a burglar to sit at table with my family.  Nor do I welcome anyone that comes to the U.S., not with the intent to settle and assimilate into our culture, but to commit attacks on American citizens or property.  And I think that any country has the right to permit or deny entry, regulate the process to become a citizen, and to protect those that are legally within that country’s borders.  The first and most important duty of any government is the physical protection of its citizens.  The United States is no less within its rights to protect our citizens (and those here legally) than is any other country in the world.   I have read the scriptures, and thought about application to the current topic.  Nowhere do I read a mandate to commit cultural suicide by allowing an unchecked or un-vetted group to immigrate into our borders.  I recognize mandates to care for the poor, and to treat sojourners kindly.  But I do not think that means anyone can come into the United States at any time for any reason.  So I think that limits on immigration is simply common sense.  And I do not think that violates my Christianity in any way.

I used to LIKE roller coasters.

As usual, life has been difficult. I suppose I should understand that to be the norm, but somehow it often seems to catch me by surprise.

Part of the problem is that ever since I was a little boy, I have recognized fairness as a desired quality. My mother used to tell me that I would come home from school upset when someone suffered some unfairness. And though I tried to train my daughters to not expect life to be fair I didn’t, in the core of me, believe it. I still expect life to be fair, even though I know intellectually that it just ain’t so. Can you spell “conflict?”

I should probably make it clear that I am not complaining here. This is just a list of observations and my experiences.

We have a new President at Edinboro University. And any time there is a change like that, be it a new CEO at a corporation, a new pastor at church, or a new president at an institution of higher education, there are changes made and change should be expected. New priorities, new directions, new expectations both written and just understood. That is not to say that the process is easy. There will always be a state of flux until the water stops sloshing and reaches equilibrium (I have no idea how I could have mixed any more metaphors in this sentence). And easy it has not been.

Although my position is rather large and rather important, I am still middle management. And middle management is always getting pounded. Again, not a complaint. I recognized this fact coming in, and it is just a reality.

So work has been difficult. In addition to my normal (rather hefty plate of) responsibilities, I have had a shift in priorities and expectations. This is never easy for me. I like routine. I am comfortable with having the same tasks and expectations. Example: every morning my wife fixes me a breakfast burrito to eat in the car on the way to work. Variations on that are fine, but I am perfectly content to have the same thing every day.

I went on vacation this year from April 6 through April 15. Beth and I scheduled with our local scuba store to go to Little Cayman for a week of Caribbean diving, sun, and relaxation. Didn’t work out quite like that. Well, I need to clarify that. The diving and the sun were fantastic. Healthy reefs, coral, plenty of beautiful fish. We saw a lot of “old friends,” and a lot of “new friends,” too. I only saw one drum fish, and not one secretary blenny or flamingo tongue slug. However, we saw at least one queen triggerfish on every dive we did! Very cool. The weather was nearly perfect; hot and sunny, every single day. The resort, amazing. Great accommodations. Each of us had our own rooms, so there was no sharing of a suite. Nice. And the food! As I understand it, they have a gourmet chef, so breakfast, lunch and dinner were unbelievable. Two free drinks per day were included as well. Considering that is about my max, and Beth doesn’t drink, they didn’t lose a lot of money on us with that, but it was a great perk. And the company was fantastic. Great people to dive with and hang out with. If you ever want to go to Little Cayman, you could not do better than Little Cayman Beach Resort.

Normally, and this year was no different, I kind of depend on my vacation time to decompress and fill my tank so to speak. However, as great as all of the above was, the vacation did not help. I developed bronchitis just before we left, and was on z-pack until April 9. By evening of the 9th, I had a nasty sinus infection that I just had to push through until we got home. The dive boat we were originally on had a bad leak in the exhaust, and seven of us got violently sick on The first dive of the week on Sunday morning. On the plus side, we set a resort record for number of sick on one trip. Woo! NOT.

After I came down with the sinus infection on Tuesday, I looked at our dive itinerary.  We had signed up to dive the Capt. Keith Tibbetts on Cayman Brac on Thursday. Not wanting to miss that, I opted out of diving all day Wednesday. It was a good decision, as I was able to dive Thursday and Friday, but missing three Caribbean dives was not what I had gone there for.

The return home also proved difficult. On Little Cayman, there was a mix up with our bags that I had to work to fix. The lines at the airport on Grand Cayman were overly and unnecessarily long, and Beth and I barely got through security in time for our flight to Philadelphia. However we got to Philly, and waited a few hours for our connector to Erie. The plane was on time, and boarded on schedule. Unfortunately, Beth and I, along with four of our dive compadres, were refused boarding and had to stay the night in Philly. I have, by the way, sent this on to US Airways as a complaint, and have yet to hear from them. We will see if they are honorable about this or not. Stay tuned.

Because of the issues during vacation, I returned nearly as stressed as when I left. And last week was the “welcome back” from hell. There was an issue at work that happened while I was on vacation, and although I couldn’t have effected a change or a different outcome, I was expected to have taken care of it; I got into a shouting match on the phone with my boss (never a good career enhancer); and a couple other incidents occurred at work that I was expected to handle differently than I did (remember that “flux” I talked about?). There were seriously two or three days last week that I just wasn’t sure I would be employed at the end of the day.

And although work has been hard before throughout my various careers, I have usually had things to fall back on, things to divert me. But now my normal crutches have been taken away.

I love cigars no secret there. However, after my neck surgery (fusion of C5 to C6 and C6 to C7), my surgeon, uh, “disallowed” cigars until the fusion is complete, hopefully by the end of May. Some silliness about carbon dioxide and nicotine inhibiting oxygen absorption and bone growth or something. So cigars are out, and that is difficult. For me, there is something deeply relaxing in enjoying a quality cigar for an hour; relaxing, contemplative, nearly zen. Seriously.

In just the past few years I have discovered microbrew beer. Not the normal nasty American macros, but fine, flavorful micros. Now that is a fine topic for a future blog! For now, suffice it to say that I recognize that I need to be cautious with my new hobby. It would be easy to get lost in the beer, but that is, I am afraid, far too close to the edge for me. So, although relaxing, I have to put well-defined boundaries and limits on my beer consumption. Not always the easiest for me, but necessary.

Further, we have a small group of friends from church that we meet with almost weekly. We call this small group “Small Group.” Pretty clever, huh? And although I will deny it if you tell them, I love this group of people. We have seen each other through some pretty devastating situations, and they could not be more like family to me if we were blood. For various reasons, the past couple of months have been difficult for all of us in that group. No solace there.

Finally, I enjoy the computer game Civilization V. A couple of years ago I purchased a pretty upscale laptop specifically for Civ V, and I can get lost for hours. Beth says I am addicted, but I can quit any time I want. Really. I just choose to play as much as I do. Well, maybe I do kind of like to play it a lot. In any event, my laptop is down, and has been at the computer shop for three weeks, two days, and twelve hours. But who’s counting. No Civ.

I have been left with nothing to fall back on. No crutch, no salve. It feels like there is little but difficulty and hardship. And I wonder if that isn’t exactly where I need to be.

Beth and I were talking this morning, and her observation was that it has been hard for her as well. She didn’t sleep as well as she would have liked last night, and during one of her wakeful times, she said that she wondered just how centered her life has been on God lately. Her conclusion was, “not much.” And she recognizes that she needs to change that situation.

Hmm.

One of my favorite passages in the Bible is where Peter is in prison. I think I have said in the past that I like how Paul thinks; his logic, his orderly progression. John, not so much John is, to me, a bit of a goof; circular logic (which is no logic at all in my book), mystical, squishy touchy feely. Ick. But Peter? Oh, he’s the man! Hard charging, hard-headed, willing to leap in without even wondering what such a jump will cost. Peter is 100%. You never have to wonder where you stand with Peter. Peter is me. Up to, and including denying my Christ at critical times. Thank God it isn’t about me, but instead it’s about God’s grace and love.

But in this particular Bible story, Peter is in prison. Hopeless. An angel appears to him, and tells Peter to put on his shoes, which Peter does. The angel leads him out of prison, through the doors that the angel has opened, and past the guards to freedom. Now the point of this story for me, is that the angel did what Peter couldn’t; open the gates, shut down the guards. However, he told Peter to do what Peter could. Specifically, “put on your shoes.” I have struggled with that metaphor for a long time. I feel it is incumbent on me to “do what I am able to do,” and depend on God for what I am not able to do. We are all born with abilities and talents. I believe we are to use them to the best that we are able. But where does that stop, and my dependence on God begin? How much am I to “confidently go forth,” and how much am I to “give all to God?” And how do I have “joy in the struggle?”  ‘Cause I gotta tell you, I’m not real joyful right now.

There’s a song out that does a nice job of describing where I am. This is from Tenth Avenue North’s album, “Struggle.”  Please listen to this, it says it perfectly. I’m not stuck, this too shall pass. The day will dawn, the sun shall rise, hope springs eternal. But for now,

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UUEy8nZvpdM.

Oh, I am REAL good at right and wrong. But nicey-nice? Uh…

I have been corresponding with a friend for a while on an issue that we both are working on.  John is my accountability partner with internet use and so on, and I would be so far from where I am if not for him.  Over time I have had several guys to whom I made myself accountable, and I am so grateful for their work and prayers.  So, thank you to Randy, Carl, Doug, and John.  May God richly bless you for taking the time to work with a hard head like me on such a difficult issue.  I remain a “work in progress,” but any success I have had is due to your prayers and work.  Thank you.

Anyhow, my correspondence with John took a turn in an interesting direction the past couple days.  We have come to a point in our discussion where the focus is on matching Biblical Grace with Biblical Truth, and not as separate issues.  This is what John said:

“Grace and truth often appear to be in conflict with each other and yet Jesus was FULL of both at the same time.

At the risk of offending you and apologies if I do, you are FULL of truth and light on grace. We need to be FULL of both and that’s so very hard (seemingly impossible) to do.”
A couple of weeks ago our Pastor, Bob Klecan, gave a message that I discussed earlier (see my earlier post, “Exclusive? Definitely.  Inclusive?  Even more so,” put up on August 19).  In just a sentence or two, his point was basically this: do I want to win a point, or do I want to make a mark for eternity?  And this is a difficult issue for me.
This past Sunday, Pastor Bob made a point that I paraphrase in this way:
“Christianity is unique from other religions in this way: other religions offer advice on what I must do so that in the end God may accept me.  Christianity says that I CANNOT earn my place with God.  ALL I MUST DO is accept the gift of God’s salvation through the finished work of Jesus Christ.  All I must do is repent, NOT first from my sins, but from my righteousness; from that which I think makes me ‘good enough’ to stand before God.  THAT is the ‘gospel;’ THAT is God’s Good news.”
Although the previous point is no problem for me, the others above are issues I have struggled with for a long time.  If one is familiar with the Bible’s New Testament, one is familiar with various personalities.  The Apostle John is rather a dreamer, a mystic.  He appeals to many “artsy” people, but for me he’s a bit too touchy-feely.  Ick.  At the risk of catching rocks, I just don’t identify with John.  Paul, I like.  Straightforward, intellectual, I like to read his stuff.  I like his mind, and I like his logic.  But of all the characters in the New Testament, I probably identify with Peter the most.  Peter, the impulsive one.  Peter the hard-head.  Peter the one-hundred percent committed one that was willing to jump into a sword fight and die with or for the unmistakable Messiah.  Peter, the one who denied that same savior not once, but three times in a matter of a couple of hours.  That’s me.  So the issue of grace and truth is a difficult one.  Truth?  Easy!  Grace?  Not so much.  Also, I want to point out that there are people on Facebook in particular that I really care about and although we disagree, I would never want to hurt them.  With them, it is no chore to be “nicer.”  I love them, and enjoy the debate, but harsh?  I just don’t want to be that to them.
In this post, I talk about two issues: divorce and pornography, and I need to make a couple of points now.  First, I think pornography wrong in each and every instance.  It’s pretty clear according to scripture that looking at someone not your spouse with lust is as destructive and sinful as adultery.  So in no case is porn ever ok.  Divorce is not so cut and dried.  Scripture maintains a few instances where divorce is acceptable, if not ideal.  For the sake of brevity, I would count those reasons as a partner’s infidelity and one suffering abuse.  Further, if one is divorced, so be it.  I have no condemnation for anyone in that place.  But I think in our “no fault” society, we are far too quick to dump someone for any reason what so ever.  And that is what I’m talking about below.
Edited, I responded to John’s email (above) in this way:
Ok, pretty much my whole life I’ve been angry, but I’m not sure exactly at what.  My Dad used to tell me (a lot) that I was going to wind up in jail if I didn’t get my temper under control, so this is not a new phenomenon.  Further, I have always had a strong sense of justice.  Mom used to tell of me coming home from school and after watching kids pick on other kids that were weaker or whatever, talking about how that wasn’t fair.  Finally, I do tend to see things in black and white.  It’s right or it’s wrong, and if it’s wrong, then it’s wrong.  Period.  This part serves me well with things like fidelity and purity, but maybe not so much in my relationship with people.
Now, that having been said, I have long maintained  that I don’t care what you think, or what I think, or what anyone thinks; what does the Word of God SAY?  And if something is spelled out as right or wrong, then there it is.
And here’s where all of the above clashes.  On controversial issues of the day, I have little patience for a unitarian approach, whereby if that’s what one wants to do, well, that’s just fine.  But I also recognize that the “hammer” approach doesn’t often win a lot of converts (or friends for that matter).  So, where does that leave me?
I think that with people whom I trust and feel comfortable with, like Beth, and those of you in Small Group, I feel free to just say what I think, and not hold back.  But that doesn’t really give an accurate representation of what I think, who I am, how I respond, and what image I put forth to the world.  I was talking about this to Beth and she observed that I seem to have “a public face and a private face.”  True.  Especially after Bob’s sermon two weeks ago, I have been trying to be a bit “softer” in my approach on Facebook.  And for a long time, I will rant about our daughters to Beth, but when talking to them, I am much more subdued.
I think I have two issues here.  First, quite honestly, I get tired of taking it.  I get frustrated with people taking foolish or just plain wrong positions, and acting like they are morally or intellectually superior to me.  Makes me nutty. The example I gave Beth was, so if someone says, “You know what, I don’t believe two plus two equals four.  I believe it equals five,”  the response I want to give is, “Idiot, NO IT DOESN’T, AND YOU ARE DEMONSTRATABLY WRONG!!!”  But I’m supposed to say, “Well, that’s interesting.  How do you come to that conclusion?”  That is hard for me.
Second, I really struggle with this:  Who is really served by soft-pedalling the truth?  I’m just not sure.  I know I am harsh, but I struggle with being “squishy” when “capital-T” Truth is being discussed.
One example from Sunday night.  As you said earlier, I am not trying to offend, and I apologize if I do.  I noticed something that was said.  The statement was made that she has no problem with people who are divorced serving in church.  Actually, I don’t either, but like I said then, it depends on why they were divorced.  Referring to what I said above, I don’t care what anyone thinks, what does the Word of God say?  And God says, “I HATE divorce.”  Now that is pretty strong coming directly from God, and I think we are a bit cavalier about divorce.  Is divorce the unforgivable sin?  Certainly not.  But it is a serious topic that we should not just gloss over.
Most sin, I think, affects me, and only indirectly others.  Gluttony or lying being examples.  Both are wrong, both are sin, but often the main effect of either sin is directly on me.  I bear the brunt of the crushing effect of them.  But pornography or divorce very often hurt people right next to the one committing that particular sin.  I recognize that in terms of value all sins are the same, but the ripple effect, I think, is much more striking in some sin than others.
 So, where do I go from here?  Hard to say.  I am trying to be kind.  I am trying to be less harsh, less of a hammer.  But how well is that working?  I don’t know, and I am still so conflicted.  In issues where it is so clear to me, how do I let it go?  How do I show love when I think a slap is more appropriate?  It’s not enough to say that God didn’t treat me like that, or any other similar platitude.  I know these things in my head.  but I am far more a “soldier” than a “diplomat.”  God help me!  I just don’t know how to spare the sword and offer a hand.

Exclusive? Definitely. Inclusive? Even more so.

I first feel the necessity to generally highlight my views of the Bible.  I believe the Bible is logos; the Word of God made available to us through the written word.  I recognize the difficulties in logic, timeline, and seeming “contradictions,” but I believe that the Bible is a unified whole, from Genesis to Revelation.  Although no philosopher, the teachings I tend to admire are from C.S. Lewis, G.K. Chesterton, Francis Schaeffer, and Ravi Zacharias, to name a few.  I style myself as evangelical and fundamental, utilizing the “classical” definition of both.  That is:

Evangelicalism is a Protestant Christian movement. It began in the 17th century and became an organized movement with the emergence around 1730 of the Methodists in England and the Pietists among Lutherans in Germany and Scandinavia.  It continues to draw adherents globally in the 21st century, especially in the developing world.

It is a religious movement that de-emphasizes ritual and emphasizes the piety of the individual, requiring him or her to meet certain active commitments, including:

  • The need for personal conversion (or being “born again”);
  • A high regard for biblical authority;
  • An emphasis on teachings that proclaim the saving death and resurrection of the Son of God, Jesus Christ;
  • Actively expressing and sharing the gospel.

And;

The term “fundamentalism” has its roots in the Niagara Bible Conference (1878–1897), which defined those tenets it considered fundamental to Christian belief.   The first formulation of American fundamentalist beliefs can be traced to the Niagara Bible Conference and, in 1910, to the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church, which distilled these into what became known as the “five fundamentals”:

  • The inspiration of the Bible and the inerrancy of scripture as a result of this.
  • The virgin birth of Christ.
  • The belief that Christ’s death was the atonement for sin.
  • The bodily resurrection of Christ.
  • The historical reality of Christ’s miracles,

both from Wikipedia.  Obviously there is a ton more information regarding both on Wiki and elsewhere, but for my purposes, this will suffice, as definition and identification.

What this does not mean is that I am a rabid, shove it down someone’s throat kind of guy.  I do not believe it to be in the image of God to do so, and at best, I believe that approach counter-productive.  I believe that God loves me enough to be always present, an example, a guiding light, a beacon to find my way home when I have wandered.  I do not believe my God is interested in holding me at arm’s length until I get it right.  And since He is this for me, I should seek to be no less for those that do not believe as I do.  God is patient and kind, and I try to emulate Him with my friends who believe as I do, and those who may think I’m a bit of a nutter for believing this way.  I have friends all across the spectrum, and I like that.  My friends are precious to me, and for me to hit them over the head with my Bible every time we talk, well, we wouldn’t be friends for long, and I could hardly blame them.

This is background for a messaged presented by our pastor, Bob Klecan, last Sunday, August 12, 2012.  Another sidetrack: I have talked about Pastor Klecan before, and continue to have nothing but praise for him.  One of the smartest guys I know, he refuses to show off about it.  Humble and kind, Bob’s the real deal.  He’s a joy to talk to, and can converse on just about any topic one could wish.  And his approach to the Word of God is equally interesting.  He comes from blue-collar roots, and tailors his messages toward a blue-collar, get in the trenches and do this mentality.  Very refreshing.

Ok, back to his message.  It was entitled, “Contending for the Faith: Arrogant and Hateful?”  Although I am going to comment on that sermon, I need to add a disclaimer:  the original is much better than this paraphrase.  Anything that is good is clearly from Bob Klecan, and anything that doesn’t make much sense is clearly from me.  Also, I am still on oxycodone from my recent surgery, and therefore not firing on all cylinders (the number of which varies according to whom one is talking.  I, as an example, would think of my mind as an eight-cylinder muscle car, perhaps a Ford Mustang Boss 302.  Others would perhaps think that granting me a four-cylinder sub-compact would be generous).

Pastor Bob based his message on the Book of Jude, and although it may sound a bit frightening to think of going through an entire book of the Bible in church, it’s not so bad when one realizes that: A) Bob focuses on just a few verses at a time: and B) that the entire book of Jude is only twenty-five verses long.

He is actually doing a series on the Book of Jude, and it has been interesting, to say the least.  For me, Jude has always been kind of a throw-away, something to read quickly and move on.   It just never seemed like there was enough substance there to gain any traction.  But Pastor Bob has really added muscle to the book, and I have enjoyed it immensely.

This past week Pastor Bob started out with an observation from Jude that although Jesus is the fulfillment of Hebrew scriptures, the grace that was gifted to the human race by God was being distorted; that grace was being used as an excuse for license.  True, we are forgiven.  But that does not give us permission to do what we want, when we want.  Although God allows us to do so, this does not help us to grow in our faith, but takes us further from the ideal.  We are called, sanctified, and preserved (v. 2).  How then do we contend for the faith, as we are exhorted to do (v. 3)?  How do we contend for the faith “in a society that believes it is arrogant, hateful, and even dangerous to insist that your faith is the ‘right one,’ and to not only refuse to accept the validity of other faiths, but to also to attempt to convert others to your faith?”

The answer is two-fold.  First the explanation as to why we/I believe as we do.

The explanation is that the Good News as proclaimed by the Bible is uniquely exclusive.  Christianity (as represented by the Bible) makes unique claims, as compared to the world’s other major religions.  Christianity claims that God came to earth and lived among men, at the same time completely retaining His “God-ness” and yet at the same time He was completely man.  Christianity claims that Christ, the God-man lived a real life: that he suffered a real death while accepting every wrong thing that keeps us from a perfect God, and that after dying, he re-claimed His life, thereby defeating death.  Further, that since this is true, Christianity claims that accepting and giving oneself to Christ is the only means by which one can come into the presence of a Holy God (heaven).  Only through the acceptance of, and reliance on the gift of grace offered by God through the sacrifice of his only son, Jesus Christ may one obtain eternal life.  There are multiple verses in support of this exclusivity, suffice it to say that if Christianity is not the exclusive way to eternal life, then Christianity is useless.  It is not a good philosophy, it is not a good set of principles by which to live.  If Christianity is not true, it is worse than a waste of time, it is actually a terrible evil, pulling us away from any correct way to God, and dooming those that have chosen to follow.  But I believe it is true.  Can I prove that by formulae or direct observation?  Not really.  I can offer evidence of miracles that I have personally witnessed.  I can offer the Scriptures themselves as a unified whole.  And I rely on my faith.

The problem with the explanation is that many people stop right there, and basically live their lives as a bumper sticker.  “The Bible says it.  I believe it.  That settles it.”  That’s ok to live by, I suppose, but it doesn’t do much to speak to those with real questions.

Pastor Klecan stated that the best (and often only) answer to the question, “How do we then contend for the faith?”  is not in the explanation, but in the application.  And the application is that this faith is uniquely inclusive.  With the Bible, there is no Jew, no greek, no male or female, no racial divide, no favoritism.  All are equally needy before a righteous God, and all are equally accepted with reliance on Jesus’ sacrifice.  And for those of us who do rely on God’s grace, it is incumbent to present ourselves in a light that is worthy.  In our speech, in our actions, in what we post on Facebook, and in what we write.  This is not to say that we compromise on those areas of exclusivity, but that we reach out in love, always looking to the author and perfector of our faith, Jesus Christ.  Bob said something along the lines of, “Do we want to make a point, or do we want to point toward eternity?”  This is where I often personally stumble.  I have very definite ideas about nearly everything, and don’t often hesitate to share my thoughts, regardless of how harsh or pointed they may be.  I need (no, I must) change that attitude.  And that is a work in progress.  In fact, just this past week, a friend on Facebook kind of lit me up about a post I had passed on.  The accompanying photo was unflattering to the subject involved, and in retrospect, not necessary for the point to be made.  I hadn’t even noticed the photo, I liked the major point, so I passed it along.  My friend was rather relentless, and  when I understood how the poster came across, remembering Pastor Bob’s message, I saw I was wrong and apologized.  I told my friend that I should have seen the inherent nastiness in the photo.  She didn’t let me off the hook, she told me that I should have seen it prior to posting.  And you know what?  She was right.  I am trying to look at my posts ahead of time now.  The presentation is as important as is the message.  Like I said, “a work in progress.”

As Pastor Bob said, exclusivity and inclusivity is not, in the end, a “balancing act,” but a commitment to passionately embrace both the exclusive and the inclusive.  That we keep one foot firmly planted in each area.  That we embrace both with equal certainty.  And that we live both with equal passion.

May God grant me the ability to be His representative in love, and in peace.

Useless.

That’s me.  Useless.  Worthless.  Incapable of measuring up, of succeeding at…anything.

These are the thoughts and attitudes I have had nagging at me for pretty much my entire life.  I’m not sure exactly why, but I have a few ideas about that.

I am adopted.  My bio Mom approached my folks when she was pregnant to ask if they would consider the adoption.  So, not only was I “chosen” by my parents, my parents were “chosen” by my birth mother.  I grew up knowing of the adoption, and my parents always made sure I honored my mother, even if at the time I did not know who she was; that she had made some very difficult choices under very difficult circumstances in order to see me thrive in a home that I couldn’t have had otherwise.  I looked up my biological family a few years ago, and it has proven to be wonderful.  My adoption and bio family will, in all likelihood be topics of future blogs, but for now I offer it as background.

I cannot speak for all adoptees, but in my case it was difficult on only a couple of fronts.  My parents were fantastic, and I am so grateful to have been their son.  I did, however, sometimes wonder why my mother had given me up.  I knew from my folks that it was for good reasons, but still I wondered.  And part of that, I think, lead me to wonder if I somehow didn’t measure up.  If somehow, it was my fault that I wasn’t found “worthy.”

Growing up it was generally unspoken, but I knew much was expected of me.  I rather coasted through school, with mostly B’s on my report cards, with a couple C’s and A’s thrown in.  It was sufficient, if not outstanding.  My behavior was good, no real delinquency apparent, and I was kind of a “church kid.”  But for some reason I was always striving for more, better, faster, funnier (not attained by studying, are you serious?  Get real!).  I just knew that I kind of disappointed, that I didn’t quite bring home what was expected.

I remember one time, my Grandmother was visiting, and she was standing by the upstairs stairway talking to my Dad.  She turned to me, and looking at me said, “If you ever go to jail, it would kill your parents.”  I laughed at the time, and made light of it, but that has stuck with me for over forty years.

I have worked hard to be approved of by authority figures as long as I can remember.  Not to suck up in an Eddie Haskell kind of way (for you children under thirty, that would be a Leave it to Beaver reference, Eddie being an insincere flatterer), but to perform so that I would be found acceptable.  And that is hard work.  In my case, I could never do well enough at any given task to satisfy my thirst for excellence.  No, that isn’t quite correct.  In truth, I could never do well enough to satisfy my need for perfection.  And therein lies the rub.

Any time that I failed at a task (and in my personal lexicon, the word fail means that I didn’t do it perfectly; I didn’t do it “right.”) the words “idiot!” and “moron!” would ring through my head like the words of a relentless, cold judge pronouncing sentence on a convicted felon.  Over and over, time after time, year after year.

And if this sounds like I’m whining, I do not intend it as such.  I am merely relating how I have lived for most of my life, and actually for as long as I can remember.

I serve a loving God, one who has sent his Son to save me from myself.  And through Christ’s sacrifice, I am whole, unspoiled, in a love relationship with my God and my King.  I think of Jesus as Boromir thought of Aragorn in Lord of the Rings.  I look at Jesus and see “my brother, my Captain, my King.”  And intellectually I know that all is forgiven, all is forgotten.  I know that God has chosen to forget my failures, my imperfections.  But I seldom feel it.  Idiot!  Moron!!  FAILURE!!

Beth and I are currently on Grand Cayman for a long anticipated vacation, with some of our favorite people in the entire world.  And this is paradise.  We have relaxed (I read a book!  Due to responsibilities, I cannot tell you the last time I had a chance to read), gotten in some amazing scuba dives, and spent some fantastic time together.  But even here I have had some roadblocks.  We got a flat tire.  Idiot!  I have lost my cool a couple times.  Moron!!  I have been short with Beth once or twice.  FAILURE!! 

I love the ocean.  When we are at the shore, I customarily park myself near the shore and just experience that point where wind, water and land meet.  I feel small, and yet comforted at the same time.  It is one of the few times I feel content.

One of my favorite things to do when vacationing at the ocean shore is to have my devotional time on the sand or on a balcony where I can see the ocean, hear it, smell it.  Where I can feel the breeze and see the waves, the colors, the horizon.  I have done so this week, and devotions have been good.  However, I have felt a nagging “something” that I could not pinpoint.  I have been looking to God to help me let go of…whatever this is.  And I think today I have a clue.

I decided to not open my Bible to a particular passage to read this morning.  Instead, I really felt led to focus on a bookmark entitled “My Identity/Who I am in Christ” which contains a number of key passages under various headings.  (The bookmark is published by Freedom in Christ Ministries, and as far as I know can be obtained at www.freedominchrist.com.)

Under the first heading, “I am Accepted,” it starts out with John 1:12; I am God’s child.  Comforting, but not awe-inspiring.  Ok, next, John 15:15: I am Christ’s friend.  Huh.  That’s right, I had forgotten that.  Christ looks at me as His friend.  Friends with the creator of the universe?  Nice.  And so on for several more verses.

The next heading, “I am Secure,” was the crux of the time I spent this morning.  And it only took the first verse to shock my system like a glass of ice-cold water after mowing the lawn on a hot August day.  It came from Romans 8:1-2, and it told me that “I am forever free from condemnation.”  And I stopped dead in my tracks.  I looked at the water and the waves, the perfect blue skies with perfect white clouds, and whispered, “How can you not condemn me, Lord?  I condemn myself!”  And as I pondered that, I felt the merest touch of God’s finger deep inside me, and He answered me and He said to me, “How can you condemn yourself when I do not?”  Loved!  Cleansed!!   ACCEPTED!!  NOT condemned.  NOT  a failure.  But a child of the Master.

Useless?  Yeah, probably.  Left to oneself, one can live four score years, and by strength of will maybe a bit more.  For what?  To accomplish a bit, die, and after a time, be forgotten.  But not so in Christ.  I am not condemned.  I am loved, I am accepted, and I am paid for, purchased with the most precious commodity in the world: the priceless blood of Christ, shed for any of us who recognize our hopelessness, and who long for something more.  Christ’s blood shed for me.

I expect I will still struggle with the relentless judge, pronouncing sentence upon me, with the words “Idiot, moron, failure. Useless!!”  But I don’t have to listen to the accuser.  I can rest in the promise, and wrap myself in the truth.  I am not condemned!

What a great vacation.

Lessons from the fast.

Our week of fasting was interesting.  I am not naturally inclined toward fasting, it is not something toward which I am drawn.  The fact is, I like food.  I like the smell, the taste, the texture.  There is very little that I do not like about food.  Beth and I have fasted in the past, including two Daniel fasts in conjunction with our church, and the infrequent day of fasting through the years.  So I am somewhat familiar with fasting, at least to some degree, but I do not look forward to the times I go without food.

I think I was looking for some sort of “breakthrough” moments like I experience during our week-long missions trip to the Dominican Republic.  That was not a mountaintop experience, but more of a consistent, gradual healing of my spirit, one that I have needed for some time.

But that was not what I experienced during the fast.  That fact alone was a bit disconcerting, which is my fault for setting up expectations and not just waiting for the week to unfold.

The hunger was a great reminder to pray, and I did.  I prayed a lot through the week, on a variety of topics: family, friends, my wife, myself.  I seriously prayed a lot over the week, and that was very good.  Further, my daily readings in the Bible were also very good, very nourishing, if you will.  I found a real enjoyment in the reading, in the praying, and in the closeness that I felt with God.

And there were several other good things through the week.

For quite a while I was a Facebook junkie.  Keeping up with friends and family was very enjoyable, as was posting my opinions on topics and the give and take  with people who had different opinions or political persuasions.  It was a good opportunity to reconnect with childhood friends as well.  One of which was an acquaintance from high school.  I can’t guarantee this, but I believe he had friended me.  We weren’t really close way back when, but going to a small school we knew each other, and he was ok as far as I was concerned.  I remember him as a good-natured guy, easygoing, rather quick-witted and fun to be around.  However, something changed.  I noticed that on FB he was frequently acerbic, and rather taunting in his posts on my page, both with me as well as with others who posted on my comments.  I tried using humor to tone down his anger and pointed posts, but apparently my efforts were not appreciated.  It culminated in a post I made on a very controversial topic.  I posted what I thought I was simply a throwaway line on a topic that I am very passionate about.  In retrospect, I should have known what a backlash this would generate, but at the time I was caught completely by surprise.  What a firestorm!  A friend of my daughter questioned my Christianity, and would not dialogue.  Others blasted me as well, including my high school acquaintance.  Here’s what he wrote:

“It must be comforting in your black and white world, clark. One victim is obviously too many…you think you know me because we went to high school a long time ago…you don’t. I don’t know anything about you since then either…this is not a jibe, a bait or even sarcastic humor….it is adios. I have better things to do in this short life than read your self-rightous bullshit…good luck….”  (I’m not sure he really meant the “good luck part”)

In and of itself not that big a deal, but combined with his sarcasm and rather mean replies to my friends, it was a bit much.  He then un-friended me.  I attempted dialogue, but he refused.

This type of issue is very difficult for me.  I do my best to get along, and much prefer reconciliation to discord.  And for him to act in this manner was disconcerting to say the least.  It has been very difficult to let go of this, and it has been bothering me to some degree since around mid-January.

This has all been background for me to explain how huge it was that God laid it on my heart to let go of this whole thing during our week of fasting.  I noticed that early in the fast I seemed focused on this incident, and it seemed to be affecting my spiritual life.  I had no peace, just a jangled sense of disturbance, and it seemed to focus on my old acquaintance.  I realized (yeah, I can be a bit of a slow learner sometimes) that I needed to let the incident, as well as my acquaintance, go.  I’m not certain I was able to do so one-hundred percent, but I am much, much closer than I was before the fast.  And boy does that feel good!

Further,  as I had stated in an earlier post on this blogsite, I experienced some fairly intense kidney pain right around day three through day four or five of the fast.  I thought it would dissipate quickly, but it lingered, and prevented sleep for a couple of nights.  I had intended to take no analgesics at all for the duration of the fast, including aspirin, ibuprofen, and so on.  However, with the pain I experienced, not only did I need some pain relief, I loaded up.  I was quite disappointed in myself for that.  Also, I was at a local shop about mid-way through the fast, and they always have a small bowl of Hershey’s kisses for the customers.  I always have one or two, and without thinking, I picked one up, unwrapped it, and popped it in my mouth.  Enjoyed it, too.  It wasn’t until later that I realized I had unthinkingly broken my fast.  And that frustrated me as well.

But as the week went on, I kind of changed my thoughts on this.  I think I’m kind of grateful that I did “fail” in those regards.  I could easily become a bit proud of the fact that I completed the fast, and that I did so to the very smallest detail or requirement that I had set for myself.  Which, of course, would have been completely contrary to the entire intent of the fast itself.  So I wound up being thankful that I had not had the “perfect” fast.

Various other insights were also given to me through the week.  I will describe just a couple here.

As part of his Sunday message on March 4th, Pastor Bob Klecan shared a text he had gotten from a friend, talking about the fast we had just begun.  The text said, “Do you think this week of fasting is causing people to realize that they’re actually not replacing food with a fast but rather that they’re actually replacing food with a feast?”  I found that to be profound, and this thought was echoed through the week with my reading in the Word.  One example is from Phillipians 1: 9-11.  It says, “9 And this is my prayer: that your love may abound more and more in knowledge and depth of insight, 10 so that you may be able to discern what is best and may be pure and blameless for the day of Christ, 11 filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ—to the glory and praise of God.”

This passage calls to me.  This is exactly what I want my life to look like.  This is exactly what I want to be.

In the end, the week of fasting was not a spiritual rocket taking off.  If anything that “liftoff” was what I gained from our week in the Dominican Republic.  The week of fasting was instead, a booster attached to that rocket.  The fasting did not give me liftoff, but it kept me going.  I am grateful for the lessons learned, and for the spiritual applications I gained.  In fact, as unbelievable as this is to me, it is likely that Beth and I will be much more regular with fasting.  We have discussed making this a quarterly event, with our next one as early as sometime in June.  And for someone who loves food as I do, that’s a miracle in and of itself.

Next spiritual adventure coming up…fast!!

Ok, that’s a bit corny, but I couldn’t stop myself.

Our church leaders have called for a week-long fast starting at 6:00 PM on March 1, 2012.  I have fasted in the past, usually for a day, consisting of water only, or water and Gatorade.  Beth and I have also done the “Daniel fast” for ten days during Lent.

The Daniel fast is based on the book of Daniel in the Bible, in which Daniel and his companions ate only vegetables for a time period.  The fast consists of fruits and vegetables only; no meat of any kind, no dairy.  No processed anything.  No processed flour (white or whole), no baked goods.  In my viewpoint, if it tastes good, you can’t have it.  No coffee, no tea, no soda pop, no milk, no juice.  Just water and veggies.  Basically, if it grows in the ground or on a tree it’s fair game.  Other than that, forget it.

Ok, I’m not a big veggie fan, I take multi-vitamins so I don’t have to eat veggies.  So a ten-day period of time in which that’s all I eat is not exactly something I’m going to jump up and down for.  The Daniel fast is basically a vegan diet, only more restrictive.  Joy, rapture.  How about instead of the fast, I just give myself a papercut and squirt some lemon juice on it?  It’d be kind of painful, and over more quickly.  No, I guess not.

This year the fast being planned is a bit different.  It’s only a week-long, so that’s a bit more palatable (pun intended).  However, it’s not precisely like the Daniel fast.  Here’s the schedule for this year’s fast: Day one is water only.  Day two and three is water and juice only, and the juices are 100% fruit juices only, no preservatives or additives of any kind.  Day three through seven are then Daniel fast oriented.

From a physiological perspective, I know that this will be good for me.  There are all kinds of physical benefits from a fast such as this.  Spiritually, I know this will be good for me as well.  Fasting is a spiritual sacrament that is assumed.  In other words, the Bible doesn’t say, “If you fast,” but it says “When you fast.”  It is assumed that we will fast.  Just as it is assumed that we will pray.  The fact is, I don’t fast enough.  Not that I’m looking for a regular schedule for it…

See, I’m not just fond of food, I love food.  I love the taste, the texture, the smell, the appearance, everything.  I’m certainly no gourmand.  I love all kinds of food, from hot dogs and beans to a nice roast and boiled potatoes to squab and asparagus.  If you need to get classified information from me, there’s no need for torture.  Just set me down in front of an “everything” pizza and I’ll tell you anything you want to know.

With that as background, I think it is easy to see that I am not looking forward to this fast.  I am really, really, not looking forward to it.  But.  I have committed.  And I know God is here.  And God uses situations that appear to be unsavory (another food reference, there) in huge ways.  As an example, I seem to remember reading something about a missions trip to the Dominican Republic.  This is going to be interesting.

(for more information on the Daniel fast, check it out at http://danielfast.wordpress.com/)

Is honor a bad thing?

John, a friend of mine, texts me Bible verses fairly frequently, and occasionally a quote or thought.  He sent me a quote a couple of days ago.  Here it is.

The Decline of the Secular University, C. John Sommerville writes, “An ethical system based on honor is a self-regarding ethic, while one based in charity is an other-regarding ethic… With honor goes a concentration on pride rather than humility, dominance rather than service, courage rather than peaceableness, glory rather than modesty, loyalty rather than respect for all, generosity to one’s friends rather than equality.”  John then asked if I agree or disagree.  Here are my thoughts.

In the above quote, clearly Sommerville is not talking about honor, as it is defined.  Honor defined is usually something similar to, “honesty, fairness, or integrity in one’s beliefs and actions: a man of honor,” (Dictionary.com).  What Sommerville is referring to is a life based on honor.  That is, I think, a life in which honor is the central tenet of one’s existence.  Kind of, to borrow a Star Trek reference, a Klingon approach to life.

My first thought about the quote is that I see what Sommerville is driving at.  But I don’t entirely agree with him.  The opposite of honor is dishonor, and no one would prefer a life that is based on that.  So, right away we can disregard honor’s opposite as an appropriate lifestyle.  However, Sommerville is not advocating a life based on the opposite of honor.

Broken down, Sommerville seems to be defining honor as “Concentration on pride, dominance, courage, glory, loyalty, and generosity to one’s friends.”  I think Sommerville’s point is that he is advocating a life that is based on something superior to honor, a life based on “humility, service, peaceableness, modesty, respect for all, and equality.”

Ok, now look at each word individually.  Pride.  Dominance.  Courage.  Glory.  Loyalty.  Generosity to friends.  Humility.  Service.  Peaceableness.  Modesty.  Respect for all.  Equality.  I realize that a couple of those words or concepts have negative connotations, such as pride and dominance.  But in a proper context, each word or concept is a positive, and I think, a Godly concept.  I know I’m going to catch some flak for that, especially for pride and dominance.  However, on these two words, let’s look at a couple of thoughts.

If I am an architect and I design a truly beautiful building, is it a “Godly” thing to denigrate it, to say it is nothing?  That is what many Christian sources would espouse.  Of course we should give God the glory, but is it “ungodly” or “un-Christian” to be pleased with a work well done?  Think of a Christian singing artist.  Should they not be pleased with the beautiful songs they write, produce, sing?

And dominance.  How many times did God command the Israelites to completely dominate their enemies?  Think of Paul in his epistle to the Galatians.  Clearly he was asserting his dominance over the false teachers that had crept in.  So, in certain circumstances, dominance is a good thing.

Conversely, under the proper circumstance, each and every one of the words Sommerville used can be a negative.  I will show what I mean with just a couple of the words above.

Peaceableness is a good thing, right?  But what happens when a madman breaks into your home at 3:00 in the morning and charges you with a butcher knife held high.  Is it a morally superior, or a more Christian position to be at that moment and whatever the cost, peaceable?  I think that argument silly, at best.  Further, look at the New Testament.  There are several instances of soldiers being saved, or Christians, or whatever.  How sensible is it to expect a soldier to be peaceable, no matter the situation?  Or a policeman.  Perhaps someone would argue that yes, no matter what, the soldier or policeman would be taking a morally superior, or more Christian, approach to shun violence no matter what the situation may be.  Until it is someone dear to that person that a terrorist is about to behead.  Or their loved one that a maniac is about to mutilate.  I think that any sane person would want a soldier or policeman, even if a Christian, to use whatever force necessary to save their loved one.

What about service, that’s a good thing, right?  Sure is, but should we always be in attitude of service, no matter what?  We provide service to our children when they are born.  They are helpless and cannot survive without a caregiver providing for all intents and purposes, unlimited service.  We do this because it is what they need, and because we love them.  But at some point it becomes our task to train them as well as care for them.  And as time goes on, if we have done our jobs as parents, we serve them less and train them more, until the day that they “leave the nest” and strike out on their own.  But what if we “served” them their entire lives?  What if we never told them “no,” but provided them their every whim, their every desire?  Service would cease to be a good thing, and at some point, a bad thing.

Finally, go to any Bible concordance and look at “honor.”  There are probably dozens of references using that word.

My point here has been that each thing is neither always good nor always bad.  What is important, I think, is the attitude of our hearts.  Do I have a heart centered on Christ?  Or do I have a heart that is centered on (fill in the blank, using any of the words in the Sommerville quote).  I think that anytime my heart is not focused on Christ, I have missed the mark.  I cannot focus on pride or humility.  I cannot focus on dominance or service.  I must focus on Christ, and Christ alone.  I do not think that the Christian life and a life of honor are mutually exclusive.  But anything that takes our focus off Christ has become an idol, and therefore, evil.

I’m going to go out on a limb, here.  I am asking for comment on this.  My arguments make sense to me, but that isn’t the end of the matter.  I am asking for you to comment on this and give arguments, with or against me.  I look forward to reading your thoughts.

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