Wednesday, January 28, 2015

CONVOLUTED CONFUSION

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Clarity in communication should be a foundational goal based upon that which is true, verifiable, logical and non-convoluted. One should always strive to say precisely what is meant and to mean unequivocally what has been said. It appears that clarity has been set aside for that which is convoluted and precise definition for that which results in confusion. Anything that is convoluted is defined as “twisted, coiled, complicated and intricately involved.” One recent illustration of this is the Affordable Care Act that contains more than 2,000 pages of descriptions, ramifications, fee structures, coverages, etc. One advocate for the passage of the Affordable Care Act, who hadn’t read it, addressed the House of Representatives said words to the effect: “you have to pass it so you can find out what’s in it.” That statement and concept is “convoluted confusion.”

Despite this type of “convoluted confusion” consider what it could’ve been if we were living 1500 years ago. At that time, our Alphabet contained more than the 26 characters we have today (See dictionary.com). One of the changes was the removal of the “&” (ampersand). They state: “…that small character was once the 27th part of the alphabet. Where did it come from though? The shape of the character (&) predates the word ampersand by more than 1,500 years. In the first century, Roman scribes wrote in cursive, so when they wrote the Latin word “et” which means “and” they linked the e and t. Over time the combined letters came to signify the word “and” in English as well. The word “ampersand” came many years later when “&” was actually part of the English alphabet. In the early 1800s, school children reciting their ABCs concluded the alphabet with the &. It would have been confusing to say “X, Y, Z, and.” Rather, the students said, “and per se and.” “Per se” means “by itself,” so the students were essentially saying, “X, Y, Z, and by itself and.” Over time, “and per se and” was slurred together into the word we use today: ampersand (the ampersand is also used in an unusual configuration where it appears as “&c” and means etc. The ampersand does double work as the e and t).”

It is a given that Congressional Language in Bills proposed or passed contains that which is convoluted and confusing. It usually contains legal language that lacks the precision and clarity one would desire. Even within religious movements and denominations, there is convoluted confusion in what is referred to as the Book of Order. The “order” sought is noble but it too often leads to disorder and disagreement over the applications of the Book of Order. There is a denomination that asks previously ordained ministers, when they relocate from one geographical jurisdiction to another, “What is your view?” about a variety of subjects. Some men act as though they should not be subjected to stating their “belief” (since they had done that previously somewhere else) but to be asked only about their “view”! What if their present “view” no longer squares with the “belief” system of the organization? This is how “convoluted confusion” begins and evolves.

There is an ongoing debate about Creation and the length of creative days. The simple words of Genesis 1:1, “In the beginning, God created (made all things out of nothing)…” is debated and argued. The statement about Creation in the fourth commandment is conveniently bypassed. Despite the resounding clarity of I Corinthians 15:1-8 regarding the resurrection of Jesus Christ and those who were witnesses to that act and event, arguments have persisted over the years of a possible “swoon theory” and questions about “who moved the stone”, etc. Additionally, despite the declaration of Romans 8:31-39 of the certainty and assurance of one’s redemption and salvation in Jesus Christ, there are those whose doubts about eternity become overwhelming. Ephesians 2:8-10 clearly states that salvation comes by God’s grace alone and not by any of man’s deeds or works. However, some groups teach the opposite that results in convoluted confusion. When Jesus stated in John 10:28-30, “I give to them eternal life and they shall never perish…” one should eagerly believe and receive that provision of God’s grace in His Son, Jesus Christ. Consider these things with me.

Monday, January 26, 2015

STUPEFYING

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There is a story that could begin with the words, “Once upon a time…” However, this story would not be a fable with a happy ending but a newsworthy story about intentional deception based upon the audacity, effrontery, insolence and shameless boldness of a man known as Jonathan Gruber, an MIT economics professor known for his role in advising the Obama administration on the Affordable Care Act. Demonstrating intellectual swagger and audacity Gruber was recorded and reported by ABC News as saying: “Gruber has made controversial comments in the past, but they don’t compare to the comments that came to light this week in videos where he refers to the ”stupidity of the American voter” and In another, when speaking about the Affordable Care Act tax credits said, “American voters are too stupid to understand the difference.” With his arrogance and insolence, he allowed that the American citizenry was easily stupefied by and with the deceptive rhetoric being used. The British Dictionary defines stupefying as: “to render insensitive or lethargic; to confuse or astound.”

The stupefying approach appears to be a clear and present danger for this generation in our nation and for the culture at large. Following the President’s 2015 State of the Union address, “MSNBC chief foreign correspondent Richard Engel emerged as a rare voice that to condemn the President’s rhetoric on foreign policy as both unrealistic and, in many cases, simply not true. After being asked by anchor Brian Williams for his thoughts, Engel began dissecting the President’s perceived world outlook: “Well, it sounded like the President was outlining a world that he wishes we were all living in but which is very different than the world that you just described with terror raids taking place across Europe, ISIS very much on the move.” In other words, he was indicating that the address was fantasy and myth. It implied that the intention of the rhetoric was to stupefy and mislead the public.

Is stupefying applicable only in the area of politics and government? Does it extend throughout the culture and impact the area of religion and the Church? Within the religious culture, there are any number of people who are graciously referred to as gullible.They are known for their readiness to ingest the “sound-good” words of the nefarious who proclaim “Peace, Peace when there is no Peace.” In Jeremiah 8:10-12, we have this description of the nefarious messengers who are beguiling the gullible and stupid: “From the prophet even to the priest Everyone practices deceit.They heal the brokenness…of My people superficially, Saying, 'Peace, peace,' But there is no peace. Were they ashamed because of the abomination they had done? They certainly were not ashamed, And they did not know how to blush…” Before anyone cringes at the use of the word “stupid”, consider the words of Psalm 92:5-8, “How great are your works, O LORD! Your thoughts are very deep! The stupid man cannot know; the fool cannot understand this: that though the wicked sprout like grass and all evildoers flourish, they are doomed to destruction forever; but you, O LORD, are on high forever.”

Paul began his writing to the Church at Corinth, I Corinthians 1:2-4, with these words: “To the church of God that is in Corinth, to those sanctified in Christ Jesus, called to be saints together with all those who in every place call upon the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, both their Lord and ours…” Paul was also clear about the inherent dangers of gullibility when he wrote in Philippians 1:9-10, “And it is my prayer that your love may abound more and more, with knowledge and all discernment, so that you may approve what is excellent, and so be pure and blameless for the day of Christ,” In the confusing and deceptive culture in which we live, great care must be exercised to guard and increase our knowledge and discernment regarding Jesus Christ, the Living Word, as well as the written word of God in the Holy Scriptures. The Word of God alone, Hebrews 4:12, “…is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart.” Consider these things with me.

Friday, January 23, 2015

AN ATTITUDE OF GRATITUDE

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Most lives are busy and filled with responsibilities. Because of the pressure of routines and responsibilities, we sometimes forget to acknowledge a thoughtful action or kindness with any expression of gratitude. It isn’t necessarily because one in unappreciative. It is most likely because there are too many things coursing one’s mind that block out the simple Thank You!

Recently, the news conveyed that Andrea Crouch had died at the age of 72. While his career bridge both the secular and sacred music fields, he was known differently by different people groups. For those with a sacred music orientation, there was the reminder of the time when he sensed the need to satisfy that which was missing within his soul. He professed faith in Jesus Christ. Afterwards, he composed a song that would serve as both his testimony and expression of gratitude. The title he gave to his composition was, My Tribute. Some of the Lyric he wrote was: How can I say thanks for the things You have done for me? Things so undeserved yet you gave To prove your love for me…To God be the glory, to God be the glory…for the things he has done; With his blood he has saved me With his power he has raised me To God be the glory for the things he has done…”

There are different ways one can show an attitude of gratitude.The Book of Psalms is a textbook regarding ways one can express thanksgiving and gratitude.There is a subtle implication for the one who has received a spiritual benefit from God in Christ. There is not only to be the verbal exclamation but also demonstrable acts of one’s gratitude. Luke 12:48 states the principle of demonstrable acts of gratitude: “Everyone to whom much was given, of him much will be required, and from him to whom they entrusted much, they will demand the more.” This verse is stating that we are to be good stewards of that which has been committed and entrusted to us. The Book of James in its entirety is stating this principle in clear and precise terms. One may argue that he/she doesn’t have the resources to do all of what needs to be done. 

There are at least two areas that should be considered. First, Who is the Source for what you have as a resource. We must remember the practical import of Philippians 4:19 (NLT), “And this same God who takes care of me will supply all your needs from his glorious riches, which have been given to us in Christ Jesus.” Second, what God has indicated and promised to those who are responsive to Him in terms of needs and responsiveness to them. If we give to the needs of others, does God know and notice this? Is there any added blessing for those who respond to the needs of others? Consider the following Scriptural emphases: Luke 6:38 (ESV), “Give, and it will be given to you. Good measure, pressed down, shaken together, running over, will be put into your lap. For with the measure you use it will be measured back to you.” In Proverbs 11:24-25 (ESV), “One gives freely, yet grows all the richer; another withholds what he should give, and only suffers want. Whoever brings blessing will be enriched, and one who waters will himself be watered.” Then in II Corinthians 9:6-7 (ESV) we read, “The point is this: whoever sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and whoever sows bountifully will also reap bountifully. Each one must give as he has decided in his heart, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver.”

All of us have choices that are made and priorities we embrace. The ways of God are beyond one’s complete comprehension. Consider Romans 11:33-36, “Oh, the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are his judgments and how inscrutable his ways! For who has known the mind of the Lord, or who has been his counselor? Or who has given a gift to him that he might be repaid? For from him and through him and to him are all things. To him be glory forever.” Similar words are expressed in Isaiah 55:8-9, the Lord says: “…My ways are higher than your ways, and My thoughts are higher than your thoughts…” Our God reigns and He never fails. He is the reason why we should maintain an attitude of gratitude. Consider these things with me.

Thursday, January 22, 2015

IMITATIONS OR IMITATORS

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From the beginning of time, their has been an obvious need to discern between truth and error, as well as reality and fabrication. It matters little where one seeks to make his or her determination. The search for truth and reality can be easily frustrated if one looks in the area of politics,  law, education, religion - all can offer that which is vague and false. An entry in the Athens Survival Guide, Adrian Vrettos writes about: “In Search Of An Honest Man.” Some of the narrative indicates the following: “Diogenes the Cynic…spent most of his life chilling in his barrel outside the city-state of Corinth. He was a cynic because he believed that men and women lived a life dictated by rules and taboos and therefore no one was really truthful or honest…Diogenes…was witty, rude, and had little respect for authority. When Alexander the Great rode down to visit Diogenes in his barrel, he offered Diogenes any gift of his choice. With a scowl, Diogenes snapped back his response: What you've taken away, you can never give me…What most people know about Diogenes is that he wandered around ancient Greece carrying a lantern and searching for an honest man…What most people don't know is why he went searching for an honest man when he believed, as a Cynic, that there was no such person…However…it may have had to do with the fact that he and his father had been accused of embezzling money from the Corinthian mint, where they had worked. Perhaps Diogenes was trying to prove that nobody is completely honest and thus wipe the slate clean from his little misdemeanor.” 

Was the quest of Diogenes valid? Is his conclusion accurate that one can search endlessly and never find an honest man? We can speculate that if Diogenes had searched in the right places and had looked at the right people he would have found examples of truth and reality. Examples can serve one well. An old saying has merit in terms of discerning that which is true and real, indicating that the wise person would do well to emulate what is being observed. The words are: “It’s more caught than taught.” Words are empty of meaning and value if there is no demonstration of truth and reality attached to them. I read somewhere that examples are an extremely common method of teaching in everyday life. Good teachers do not just directly state how to do things. Often they will show the student what to do by doing it and letting the student observe the example. Then the teacher can say, Now, do what I just did. A father may show his son how to work on a car; a mother may show a daughter how to bake a cake or to sew; or a teacher may show a student how to do a math problem. Instances surround us daily.

The Bible contains examples that show negative thought and behavior, as well as positive determination and application of foundational principles for life. The positive behavior and words for one to live by are recorded in I Timothy 4:12, “Don't let anyone look down on you because you are young, but set an example for the believers in speech, in conduct, in love, in faith and in purity.” The instruction is for one to demonstrate truth and reality through one’s behavior. The thrust is, Don’t be an imitation, phony or hypocrite. In I Corinthians 4:15-16, Paul would caution and urge: “For if you were to have countless tutors in Christ, yet you would not have many fathers, for in Christ Jesus I became your father through the gospel. Therefore I exhort you, be imitators of me.” Be an Imitator - nat an Imitation. Daniel is a book in the Bible that illustrates the quest and conquest of that which is true and real. Daniel 1:8 (NKJV) share the purposeful and principled words of Daniel (and his three friends). “But Daniel purposed in his heart that he would not defile himself with the portion of the king's delicacies, nor with the wine which he drank; therefore he requested of the chief of the eunuchs that he might not defile himself.” When challenged to compromise their religious beliefs, the statement of confidence and dependence are given in Daniel 3:16-18 (NKJV), “Our God whom we serve is able to deliver us from the burning fiery furnace, and He will deliver us from your hand…we do not serve your gods, nor will we worship the gold image which you have set up." Daniel and his friends were respectful. They were disciplined men who would not appear as being either ostentatious (conspicuous show in an attempt to impress others) or obnoxious. Their decision and behavior was based upon Biblical principles and personal commitment to honor the Lord in all things. Consider these things with me.  

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

THE IMPLAUSIBLE, IMPASSABLE AND IMPOSSIBLE

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The current news hardly scratches the surface as it reports of situations that are challenging and beyond human comprehension. One area is Ebola and the number of people who have been infected by it. When we think of human tragedies, previously there was the disease of leprosy. More recently, the transference of HIV and AIDS. HIV is an insidious disease. The following is copied from www.webmd.com, ”The human immunodeficiency virus is a virus that attacks the immune system...Without a strong immune system, the body has trouble fighting off disease. White blood cells are an important part of the immune system. HIV infects and destroys certain white blood cells (called CD4+ cells). If too many CD4+ cells are destroyed, the body can no longer defend itself against infection. The last stage of HIV infection is AIDS (acquired immuno-deficiency syndrome). People with AIDS have a low number of CD4+ cells and get infections or cancers that rarely occur in healthy people. These can be deadly.”

In more recent times, there is the rise of ISIS-ISIL as it spreads its form of inhumane terror in the world. Their form of Sharia Law (the moral code and religious law of a  prophetic religion. The term Sharia has been largely identified with Islam in English usage). The news of this past week includes their stoning to death an accused adulteress; throwing two accused homosexual men from a tall building to their death; crucifixion and beheading of those who refuse to yield to Islam. The Christian Post reports: “The Islamic State terrorist organization in Iraq has executed 13 teenage boys solely because they were found watching a soccer match…The 13 teens were caught last week in the Al-Yarmouk district of the Iraqi city of Mosul watching the Iraq vs Jordan Asian Cup soccer match, which was held in Australia.” This is an act that has been deemed punishable by death under ISIS' Sharia Law. These and many other acts by ISIS are inconceivable for those with any degree of persuasion regarding Judeo-Christian moral values.

Biblical History records events that can be categorized as implausible, impossible and impassible. One event was the Exodus. As Moses led God’s people out of Egypt and into a desert journey toward their promised land, the challenges were considerable. Primarily, it was keeping the people focused upon the Living God - His care, provision and protection. Even though they had a visible sign of the presence of God in their midst - The Shekinah glory cloud to lead them by day and the pillar of fire to illumine and protect them at night - the people had difficulty when it came to being focused. Then they came to the Red Sea before them and the Egyptian Army and Chariots closing in on them - and - they saw themselves as being trapped and doomed. After safe passage through the Red Sea, another challenge before them would be the walled city of Jericho.

An online Sermon/Devotional on: "How Faith Works":  http://www.raystedman.org/new-testament/hebrews/how-faith-works states: "When the great walls of Jericho stood before them, 85 feet thick and over 100 feet high, impassable, impossible, they had only feeble instruments of warfare but in obedience to God they marched around the city seven times and the walls fell down. Faith dares. It pays no attention to impossibilities. As someone has put it (words attributed to Charles Wesley), Faith, mighty faith, The promise sees And looks to God alone, Laughs at impossibilities And cries, In Christ it shall be done.” When Jesus told a rich ruler that he needed to give up all he had, Luke 18:26-27 (Matthew 19:26) asks and answers a question: “Those who heard it said, Then who can be saved? Jesus said, What is impossible with men is possible with God." Do you stand behind barriers you have erected - the implausible, impassable and impossible? Maybe you should begin NOW to trust Him Who can do the impossible. Consider these things with me.

Saturday, January 17, 2015

MOTIVATION

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Human behavior has been studied for many years in the hope that there can be a determination of why people act in certain ways and why they do certain things. Psychology approaches the study from the possibilities of the mind - either functional or dysfunctional. It’s interesting to note that there are several sub-groups endeavoring to understand behavior and ways to modify it, such as analytical, clinical, comparative, educational, and experimental psychology, etc. Sociology approaches it from a study of one’s environment - the influence of the fundamental laws of social relations and institutions. It is focused on studying the origin, development, organization and functioning of human society. Basically, the goal is to determine why people do what they do, as well as being who they are in their thoughts, words and deeds.

It appears that the contemporary world is marked by diversity and selfish ambition. It is undeniable that cultural diversity is the reality requiring attention. Throughout the world, the culture and society is comprised of the coexistence of different ethnic, gender, racial, socio-economic groups striving within social units and cultural realities. The demographics  of the United States illustrate the diversity - White - 72.41%; Black - 12.61%; Mixed - 9.11%; Asian - 4.75%; American Indian and Alaskan Native - 0.95%; Native Hawaiian and Other Pacific Islander - 0.17% (See: Demographics of the United States Online).  Within this nation, there are several organizations that include within the official name - “Diversity Task Force.” One of them, Race Relations and Diversity Task Force” in Michigan has this purpose and motivation statement: “The mission of the Race Relations and Diversity Task Force is to actively promote and embrace an appreciation for diversity and to advocate for inclusivity, equality, and justice in the region. We come together to develop and maintain an open, intentional community that works to overcome racism, prejudice, and discrimination through education, advocacy, and response.”

One of the areas of greatest diversity in this nation is within Churches and Denominations. There is a website that lists the number of “Christian Denominations” in the world. It is stated: “There are about 34,000 different Christian groups in the world since AD 30. This is according to the World Christian Encyclopedia published in 2001. 1,200 different Christian denominations exist in the United States alone. Some groups classify Christianity into 8 meta-groups, namely Roman Catholicism (the largest), Eastern Orthodoxy, Oriental Orthodoxy and Assyrian Churches, Protestantism, Restorationism, Anglican Communicants, Pentecostal, and others.” Within particular churches, there is noticeable diversity. Sadly, it is based upon cultural values more than on Biblical Standards and Spiritual Values. 

When Jesus offered His high priestly prayer in John 17:20-21 where the heart, purpose and motivation of Jesus Christ is observed, “I do not ask for these only, but also for those who will believe in me through their word, that they may all be one, just as you, Father, are in me, and I in you, that they also may be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me.” In Ephesians 4:1-6, Paul echoes this same purpose and motivation: “I…urge you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called to the one hope…” As the Church was developing in the first century, Paul stated, Acts 17:26-27, “He made from one man every nation of mankind to live on all the face of the earth, having determined allotted periods and the boundaries of their dwelling place, that they should seek God, in the hope that they might feel their way toward him and find him.” The focus should be on oneness and unity within the Body of Christ, not diversity and erecting of barricades to separate those of like precious faith. What is your motivation and purpose as a believer in and a follower of Jesus Christ? Consider these things with me.

Monday, January 12, 2015

CONSPICUOUS

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Conspicuous means: “easily seen or noticed; readily visible or observable; attracting special attention, as by outstanding qualities or eccentricities.” The British Dictionary defines the word and uses terms such as: “obvious or showy; attracting attention because of a striking quality or feature.” Negatively, it can be used to indicate one’s conspicuous absence or one’s demand(s) to be always first among equals. It would be easy to illustrate and apply conspicuous to people who were known or with whom one has had to work. Peculiarities and idiosyncrasies can be unnoticed by the one possessing these propensities and others just ignore those who model these negative qualities.  

There is an excellent Blog by James Emory White posted in Church and Culture for January 8th, 2015 in which he writes: “My heart has been filled with a fair amount of grief of late. No, nothing in my own personal life…my grief is over the many pastors I have become aware of – seemingly more than usual of late – who have felt forced to resign or have been outright fired from their churches. A tipping point was hearing of yet another local pastor who was fired by a small group in the church that was apparently empowered to do such a thing…He had just given a “vision” talk, and apparently it didn’t go over too well with the group. I went online and listened to the talk. For the life of me, I couldn’t find anything about it that was a) non-biblical, b) controversial, or c) not what any and every Christian church on the planet ought to be doing. But it did involve reaching out. It did involve taking the changing surrounding community and its demographics seriously. It did involve scaling back to the new realities of a church that once was in the thousands and is now in the hundreds. In other words, it reflected sober leadership…I have since learned that the tipping point was reaching out to people of different color and ethnicity…I seldom know such details. And even with those in mind, I’m sure there was plenty of fault to go around…But my heart cries out because this is not the way it is supposed to be.The church is supposed to be marked by love and functional community, not acrimony, discord, division and dysfunction. The great calling-card of the Christian church is to unity. When disunity erupts, it is always a victory for the evil one.”

There are too many churches and people who are elected as “leaders” for whom this shoe is a perfect fit. It is painful to admit it but, if one observes the decline of church attendance and the dropout rate of young families and young people, it cries out with the need for the the leaders and church members to seek repentance, renewal, restoration and revitalization. This is conspicuous to the observing eye looking in whereas those who are part of the church entity are blind to that which is obvious. Acts 28:25-28 closes with these words to a people who had numerous opportunities but chose to ignore them: “Paul had made one statement: The Holy Spirit was right in saying to your fathers through Isaiah the prophet: Go to this people, and say, You will indeed hear but never understand, and you will indeed see but never perceive. For this people's heart has grown dull, and with their ears they can barely hear, and their eyes they have closed; lest they should see with their eyes and hear with their ears and understand with their heart and turn, and I would heal them. Therefore let it be known to you that this salvation of God has been sent to the Gentiles; they will listen." 

The parallel for this passage is Revelation 2 and 3 where Jesus walks in the midst of the churches and makes his assessment and proclamation about and to them. To each church, Jesus said: “I know your works…” In other words, Jesus is stating that some churches have done some very good things. The issue He raises is that they have missed that which is conspicuous to the observing eye, such as departure from one’s first love; the toleration of error, etc. To those who were oblivious to the conspicuous, the words of Jesus are consistent, (1) Remember what you are supposed to be, (2) Repent for what you have allowed yourself to become, and (3) Return to the core values and foundational principles from which you never should’ve departed. Consider these things with me.