All the World’s- Programmed

There’s a cliche: All the world’s a stage. I amend this to say: All the world’s … programmed. Especially these days.

We know that we belong to God, but the Evil One controls the whole world.
1 John 5:19

I’ve been reading my way through Titus these past few days (it’s not a long book). Chapter 3, verse 9 got me thinking this morning:

Stay away from those who
– have foolish arguments
– talk about useless family histories
– make trouble and fight about what the Law of Moses teaches
These things are useless and will not help anyone.

And verse :14

Our people must learn to use their lives for doing good and helping anyone who has a need. Then they will not have empty lives.

Now that is one powerful statement, packed full of literal and figurative meaning. This got me thinking about why such an idea needs to be put into words – why it’s not part of “common sense.” Let’s break it down first:

Our people – The family of believers, those who have faith in a creator with a plan; clearly there is a separation from those who don’t believe or don’t spend time thinking upon this (Love your God with all your heart, soul mind, and strength.) Also can refer to anyone who believes themselves to be “good”.

must learn – Faith is not something we are born with;  although the need for knowing might be an inherent drive, it requires life-long education, study, teaching and learning. We also have to learn how to “be good”.

to use their lives – “Why are we here?” To be entertained? To simply consume? Or to be useful? “Good for something”?

for doing good – Answers the previous question; we are here to steward, to maintain, to improve even

and helping – Help can be of many forms, from money to skills-teaching to an encouraging word; (Love others as yourself.)

anyone who has a need – Need can be of many forms; there’s a way every one who needs any thing can get a hand or a word, an example, of some thing beneficial

then they – Both the helped and the helper (that’s the beauty of it! Givers gain)

will not have empty lives – Lives full of meaning and purpose; reasons to be remembered (to be loved)

Breaking down verse 9 a little:

Foolish arguments – can anyone say “politics”? (Granted some topics are life and death, but much is nothing except for distraction – more on this in minute); being quick to anger, speaking without thinking

talk about useless family histories – how about most TV? Kardasians? (probably not spelling it right, but I won’t waste my time looking it up); promotes an attitude of ‘the grass is greener’, envy, jealousy, coveting

fighting about what the Law of Moses teaches – I’ve mentioned before about a sect that split over the proper number of lanterns on their vehicles;  this is focus on the external practices that identify someone as “one of us”, rather than the internal work of becoming what and who we were created to be

There are two examples that further explain the point I’m trying to make. (I’m sure there are many more, but these are the two I thought of, having seen/read them.) One is the movie Wag the Dog about politicians manufacturing a conflict to distract public opinion from something. (Don’t tell me you don’t think this actually happens! That our entertainments can be more true to life than we wish.) The other is the C.S. Lewis book The Screwtape Letters, which are written between senior and junior … employees of the “Evil One”. (If you do believe in God and Christ, then you know this is Truth.)

All this got me thinking and googling for the correct phrase to describe what is going on in the world today. Distraction. Something akin to an illusionist’s or a magician’s sleight of hand. I found what I was looking for in a single word: misdirection.

“Misdirection is a form of deception in which the attention of the audience is focused on one thing in order to distract its attention from another… [it’s] the central secret of all magic… managing the audience’s attention is the aim of all theater… a manipulation of interest.” (Quotes from books on magic on the misdirection Wiki page.)

A Facebook post claimed (a la Morpheus in The Matrix) “Imagine if I told you your TV is (a device to program you)”.

There’s another cliche: If it walks like a duck, talks like a duck, smells like a duck (etc)- It’s a duck. An autopsy or extensive scientific research is not required to prove that it’s a duck. We all know that it’s a duck.

Similarly, there are things happening in the world today that everyone knows without necessarily being able to prove beyond a shadow of a doubt. While faith in God has always been like this, the ‘conspirators’ of the opposition are getting more and more brazen with the deceptions.

The only counter we have is in the time each of us takes in solitude with God and His word, learning and studying, and in the time we share in the community of God, for help, hope, and support.

“It was in solitude with God that Jesus regained his strength and energy. ”
(Brooke Obie)

Jesus often withdrew to lonely places and prayed. (Luke 5:16)

The Plan of Attack: an Inside Job

The Gospel’s plan of attack is an inside job; but in a sense, so is the dark side’s.

My morning’s time with the Lord started with 1 Peter 5:8-9. Those are the verses that warn us, “The devil is your enemy, and he goes around like a roaring lion looking for someone to attack and devour.” Tricia Goyer writes about a safari she went on, where she witnessed lions beginning the hunt. The big cats weren’t roaring – yet. They were maneuvering in stealth, patiently closing in on their prey, spying out the weak and wandering. When they were heard, it was too late. For some poor creature.

A classic example of ‘us and them’. Some would say, humankind is no different. That we’re basically animals. It’s in our nature to kill or be killed. If the #1 question is whether the force that created us has a personality and purpose, then this has to be one of the next: what is it that separates us from all other species? (A: it has to be either nothing or something.)

I say it is our ability to rise above our instincts. For example, my son is a vegetarian; my daughter a vegan. Clearly, they have both made a conscious choice that goes completely against what their parents (and ancestors) taught as one of our foundational needs: what to eat. (We ain’t bred to eat just bread?)

‘How we shall live’ covers quite a lot of behaviors, obviously. But I think that ignoring our spiritual side is most dangerous to our survival. On the whole. As the ‘animals’ that people this earth. IOW, we need to think upon – to consider – what created us. To decide what we believe. To choose. And then live from where this belief starts us. The beauty of it is, even if one doesn’t agree there’s a purpose-driven creator, humans are still faced with rising above – if only to live peacefully together. (Of course, I’m assuming – again – that that is what we all want.)

Tricia continues:

“…in God’s Word, we are told to stand firm. …we have Jesus standing up for us. And even when our enemy roars, our Lord stands stronger. No one is immune from the attack, but all believers have a shield of protection in Jesus Christ.”

In short, there is a way to get above our impulses, our needs-driven, me-against-the world urges. It’s something that can be followed and learned. Studied. By hitting ‘the books’.

Moving on, Men of Integrity continued with excerpts from this week’s book, Recovering Redemption (I think I will definitely get this and read the whole thing), by Chandler and Snetzer. From 2 Corinthians 5:17, “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold the new has come.” Ephesians 4:17-32 were the “dig deeper” verses:

“…don’t continue living like those who don’t believe… leave your old self… stop living the evil way you lived before… be that new person who was made to be like God…”

Certainly, this a clear indication we are able – and even expected – to change. To grow. To grow up. Upwards. That spiritual formation and development is a vital part of life.

I want to point out something very important about the New Testament, summarized in Ephesians 4:17. “Don’t continue living like those who don’t believe.” Nowhere does it say “kill the unbelievers” or “force them to convert” or especially even “hate them.” It implies continuing to live beside them, and directly states to not live like them. Hate the sin, yes; but love the sinner. Because, ultimately, salvation is only in the sinner’s personal relationship with his/her creator. Nothing external does that work. Believers can only be an example – not a standard – in our deeds (primarily) and our words. It’s how we deal with live – which will have troubles – that shows we have something better. Something to want.

From Recovering Redemption:

“Religion is always outside-in, but the Gospel goes from the inside out.”

The Gospel’s plan of attack is an inside job. Christianity is all – and only – about – in a word – self-improvement. Self-discipline. Self-discipling. (Learning. Studying. Growing.)

“…these things still require a battle of self-discipline, since we remain in the process of learning how to quiet those lazy, deceptive voices inside ourselves. But we’re not seeking God to get [accolades]. We’re seeking him to enjoy even greater intimacy with him, [and] to open more and more of those inner closets we’ve tried to restrict [him from accessing], thinking he might reject us if he knew…
“…we study his Word …attack our sin, share generously… serve the people around us… because [God] wants us to dig even deeper into the treasury of his blessings, into the joy and sweetness and abundant living his Gospel unlocks for us.”

Sure, we still have an instinct to attack. But the correct target is only our own old lesser self. The me of yesterday. What can I do today that makes me better? At living with people.

I started off by saying the ‘dark side’ also uses a plan of attack from the inside. To elaborate this, the example of the wolf in sheep’s clothing is more appropriate. Lions quietly sneak up on and deploy themselves for the sudden roaring charge. Wolves quietly insert themselves into the herd of “us” and assassinate one by one. They stir “us” up against a perceived external attacker (“them”), all the while they are the divisive enemy.

Note: I write this the morning after Nice. And I’m really wondering if we are called to … preserve… the peace and safety and security that civilized community requires. Spiritual formation is best done under these conditions?