Christianity Is: “Not Me!”

Christianity Is: “Not Me!”

I’ve been on a movie-watching kick recently, particularly for action/adventure films. Two that I’ve seen in the past week or so are Schindler’s List, about World War II Poland (which I wrote about in The lords Of This Age) and No Escape, about a family of Westerners trapped in a coup in a third-world country. This is not a review of either film but their plots are the starting point for my thoughts – a blog prompt, if you will.

These stories show “the very darkest side of humanity,” which is how I wrote it in my journal. Schindler’s is based on a true story, and Escape claims to be fiction but looks an awful lot like the fall of Phnom Penh to the Khmer Rouge. (It compares well with The Killing Fields, which is based on a true story.)

As I took in the scenes of unspeakable violence (complete with ultra-modern special effects), a movie quote came to me. In The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers, Theoden King says, in the height of a losing battle,

“So much death. What can man do against such reckless hate?”

Reckless hate. I checked the definition of ‘reckless:’ (of a person or their actions) without thinking or caring about the consequences of an action. These movies depict incidents of repulsive violence, a complete lack of care about people, places or things. And it didn’t matter how the actors came to take these actions. In the first, the Nazi party worked from within the “civilized” democratic system, being voted into power. In the other, rioting gave way to an overthrow – in all its raw, base nature – of the existing government. (‘Base:’ adjective, without moral principles, ignoble. Synonyms: mean, bad, wrong, evil.)

And that brings me to my main point. I hope you have heard of “us versus them” in social/societal interaction. We humans seek to belong to a group – any group – as an instinctual form of security and protection. People in our group are “us.” Anyone not in our group is a “them,” an opponent to be wary of, at best, or a blood enemy to be killed on sight, at worst.

I submit that, at its very heart, this actually stems from an attitude of “me versus the world,” and is the ultimate drive behind a wholly instinctual survival of the fittest. Furthermore, I say that this is, for a human being, a perspective of immaturity – but it has nothing to do with chronological age. It is childish in the extreme. It is seeing everything outside of myself and my little world as “Not Me,” and a rival.

As an example, I give scenario “the last two people on earth,” and the last bit of food. Result: they fight to the death over it.

Maturity is a change in this piece of our instinct-driven, animal nature.

When I was a child, I spoke… understood… thought as a child,
but when I became a man, I put away childish things.
1 Corinthians 13:11

Definition ‘mature:’ adjective, having reached an advanced stage of mental or emotional development characteristic of an adult; (of thought or planning) careful and thorough.

Quite the opposite of reckless. In my own words, “an understanding that I/we are not alone in this existence, and not meant to be alone; that I/we need others and others need us.”

Ecclesiastes 4:9-12 …Two are better than one … a cord of three strands is not easily broken.

I believe that we start our transition into maturity when we realize this need, and specifically when we encounter another human who needs our help, whether it be from a lack of ability or due to negative circumstances. For us, this being needed is a brand new experience. The perfect example is becoming a parent for the first time.

At that instant, we begin to change our use of the phrase, “Not me.”  Instead, it becomes, “Father, not me, but you (or another).”

Father, if you are willing, take this cup from me;
Yet not my will, but yours.
Luke 22:42

Take that scenario of the last two people on earth, only make them related to each other, siblings or parent/child or married. Result: one will offer the other the food. In both movies, when it comes down to it, the main characters both show/display this attitude of giving and sacrifice or risking everything to save another.

Our Creator meant for us to strive for this conviction in how we live our lives. And Jesus is the ultimate example of living that out.

:13 This relief offering is a prod to live at your very best, showing gratitude to God [The Creator] by being openly obedient to the plain meaning of the message of Christ. You show your gratitude through your generous offering to your needy brothers and sisters, and really toward everyone.
:14 Meanwhile, moved by the extravagance of God in your lives, they’ll [some, a few will] respond by praying for you in passionate intercession for whatever you need.
2 Corinthians 9

Reckless hate is countered by passionate intercession.

Answer Me These Questions Three

Answer Me These Questions Three

Matthew 22:36-40
New International Version (NIV)

36 “Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?”
37 Jesus replied: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’
38 This is the first and greatest commandment.
39 And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’
40 All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.”

Once upon a time, I thought of the Bible as the history of the development of recommendations for good and right living. It started with the Law of Moses in the Old Testament – an uncountable number of do’s and don’t’s. (Q: Is the total of all the Laws of Moses documented somewhere?) Then it was condensed down to Ten Commandments. And finally, in the New Testament, Jesus reduced it down to two.

Now, I find this a tiny bit deceptive, as I have found that this pair is actually successfully followed by asking three questions. (None of which is really prerequisite, but it makes sense to tackle them in order.)

How do I love God? …love myself? …love others?

The key to answering is time. Taking the time. Making, not finding, the time in my busy schedule. (Note, though, that the third, loving others, does not always need a great deal of time, since I can achieve it simply, in the way I interact with them – even strangers I meet only once.)

The end result of a large amount of time with someone is knowing him/her, so an accurate way to put the three questions is:

Know God, love God. Know yourself, love yourself. Know others, love others.

Whoever does not love God does not know God, because God is love.
1 John 4:8

#1. Know God, Love God

I learn about God through the time I spend studying His Word, fellowshipping and worshipping with other believers, and through prayer and meditation upon the insights I receive. I keep coming back for more. I become thankful for any blessing. I realize how He, the Creator, sees His creations like a parent sees his child and grandchild. I know the feeling of holding forgiveness for them in their innocent childhood for anything they might do. (Of course, this is most difficult; I can have only a small sense of how much God is willing to forgive, especially as age introduces willfulness to the wrongdoing.)

#2. Know Myself, Love Myself.

As I begin to comprehend Him, I begin to see myself as He sees me. I look with His eyes and honestly examine my life, my choices, my deceptive attitudes about who I am and who I am not. I unravel the tangle of loving and caring for and about oneself. I take the first tentative attempts at forgiveness, mercy, and understanding of me. I grasp that each morning is a new day. The harshest lesson is that forgiveness and consequences are not at all the same. But I am somehow able to keep moving forward, rising – with His help – after every fall.

#3. Know Others, Love Others

As I come to embrace my own humanness, I figure out that I can give what I have received. I keep paying it forward. I understand the difference between needs and wants, and what amount is enough and how to release and share any overflow. I apply myself to servanthood instead of servitude. I can wait patiently and not give in to anger or frustration.

Do to others as you would have them do to you.
Luke 6:31

Each moment is a test of my studies. Confident and content, I experience a peace I have never known before. And I am fully ready for every new “now”.

“But For The Grace Of God”

“But For The Grace Of God”

Did you know there are five single-chapter books in the Bible? I found this out, I’m slightly ashamed to say, when, in response to a challenge to read a book of the Bible, I sought out the shortest one. (I have always looked for the easiest way. To be fair, though, I  resolved to read all five to complete the test.)

If you are curious, allow me to save you the time it would take to look them up. They are: Obidiah, Philemon, 2 John, 3 John, and Jude.

So, this morning, as I contemplated how to get my time in the Word, I decided to have a look at one of these books, and chose Jude. Some translations will have “headers” to different sections of verse, and Jude started out ominously, “The Warnings of History to the Ungodly.”

As I read, a cliche came to me and I dug a little further into it. “There, but for the grace of God, go I,” is commonly attributed to John Bradford, a preacher in sixteenth-century England. The supposed occasion for the saying was the sight of convicted criminals going to their execution. The inference I take is that the fate of the wrong-doers was something Bradford had been unconditionally pardoned from; which is to say he believed himself to be deserving of the same punishment, or worse. (If there could be anything worse. If you believe, I think you’d agree there are several things worse than a swift death.)

(As a side note, the ‘history’ Jude lists are: the post-Exodus destruction by God of some of His people, the angels who followed Lucifer in being thrown down from heaven, and the fates of Sodom and Gomorrah.)

What research showed, however, is a complete reversal in the saying’s meaning in modern times. Nowadays, we might intone the phrase whenever we see someone who’s experiencing some bad luck or misfortune. The change is as if it were not villains the speaker is observing, just some poor innocents in the wrong place at the wrong time. I assure you, God’s Amazing Grace is not some lottery prize only for those with some winning combination of circumstances. It is a free gift offered to every living person, simply waiting to be received, enjoyed, and employed.

Do you see? The new interpretation is one of victimhood. “I’ve done nothing to deserve this,” we claim now. Certainly, we are guaranteed storms in this life, and we are unlikely to understand why ‘this’ is happening to us. But “all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God.” “Human” and “perfect” are two words that can not be set together, except when referring to Jesus Christ. Instead, what grace allows is our continuation of this human journey. It is progress, not perfection, we seek. And what we often need is convincing to carry on.

One source indicated Bradford was paraphrasing 1 Corinthians 15:8-10, in which Paul is explaining why he is the least of the apostles because he persecuted the church in his past, and: 

:10 God’s kindness made me what I am, and that kindness was not wasted… I worked hard… [but] it was not I who did it, but God’s kindness was with me.

Jude also states this concept of a divine reprieve, and the opportunity for us to change which it makes possible. We are invited to redouble our efforts to accept His assistance and the sacrifice which provides the ultimate for us, and to:

:20-21 …use your most holy faith to grow. Pray with the Holy Spirit’s help. Remain in God’s love as you look for the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ to give you eternal life. (GW translation)

I really like the sense of urgency the AMP version gives to this:

…waiting anxiously and looking forward to the mercy of our Lord…

“Anxious for mercy.” The Grace of God. It’s not about my fortunes or rich circumstances, but about a constant acknowledgement of my real blessing in receiving the ultimate in undeserved favor. The greatest gift. So, maybe it is like winning the lottery, after all.

By the way, as for John Bradford, he was burned at the stake in 1555.

The lords Of This Age

The lords Of This Age (note the capitalization)

I finally watched the whole of the movie Schindler’s List, and can understand why it was nominated and won some Oscars. It was a typical Steven Spielberg film: all out in production, even to the point of fitting the period (all in black-and-white). It was, in a word, blunt; especially in depicting “man’s inhumanity to his fellow man,” and the sheeplike trust and innocent hope law-abiding citizens have in those who govern them.

I very well might be opening a can of worms with this post. I’m not thinking so much about how/why the Holocaust happened or whether or not something like this could happen again. I (and I think most people) will admit that it did happen and that similar atrocities are taking place around the world.

I’m wondering more about whether it would or can be stopped from within a country – one with a Christian culture – by those targeted and those who believe that what they see happening is wrong.

Let me be specific: when, if at all, is it our duty as Christian citizens to rise up? What is God’s will in the matter?

What does God’s Word say?

Romans 13:1 ESV – Let every person be subject to the governing authorities.

This is the simplest instruction, to “be subject” to your government. But let’s check out a few more verses which add some qualifiers:

Titus 3:1 – Remind them to be submissive to rulers and authorities, to be obedient, to be ready for every good work.

Hebrews 13:17 – Obey your leaders and submit to them, for they are keeping watch over your souls, as those who have to give account.

1 Peter 2:13 Be subject for the Lord’s sake to every human institution, whether it be the Emperor as supreme or to governors as sent by him to punish those who do evil and to praise those who do good.

The way I read these verses, they are recognizing (presumably from experience) the possibility that rulers do abandon their responsibilities to allow for good work to be done, to watch over their citizens in an openly-examinable manner, and to punish the lawbreakers and praise the lawful.

The explanation for why this happens is also documented in the Bible:

Ephesians 6:12 NIV – For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.

…from the Jubilee Bible 2000 translation:
“against The lords Of This Age.”

#1. The Bible teaches “submission” to the governing authorities when those authorities are doing their “jobs,” when “all things are equal, so to speak; when there is glory to God (freedom for those who choose to give it), peace on earth (or at least in one’s own nation), and good will toward (all) men. (Luke 2:14)

#2. When all things are not equal; when leaders are exercising evil (and the big difficulty is recognizing what constitutes those conditions), we are called to obey a higher power:

Acts 5:29 – We must obey God rather than man
Acts 4:7 – Submit yourselves to God. Resist the devil and he will flee from you.

#3. God himself is our example. Isaiah 59:12-19 says that God “did it himself, took on the work of righteousness, of salvation. KJV translation’s verse :19 reads

When the enemy comes, the Spirit of the Lord shall lift up a standard against him.

#4. Is that ‘standard’ one of us?

1 Thessalonians 5:21 …test all (“prophecies”) against what you know to be good..

…with the implication that we will know what is good by spending quality time (learning) in the Word of God, and in prayer and meditation. We are to struggle against this world’s darkness wherever we perceive it, loving God and loving others.

In extreme cases,

James 4:17 – Whoever knows the right thing to do, and fails to do it, for him it is sin.

Isaiah 59:15-19 says that God will make everyone pay for what they’ve done. Will that also include what they have not done?

Finally, there are two ways to “rise up.” One, of course, is to join the resistance. The other is that chosen by Oskar Schindler, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, and others. I really wonder which I would choose…

Top 100 Books – The Amazon Lists

Recently Amazon posted two lists of top 100 books to read in a lifetime. One was compiled from GoodReads’ users’ input, and the other from Amazon’s editors.

Business Insider’s Link To Amazon’s Lists

Here are my thoughts on the lists.

I don’t read as much as I used to.

My rough totals were 38 and 21, respectively. I say “rough” because many of the titles were familiar and I think I’ve read them but it would have been so long ago that I can’t be sure. Others were books (not included in my count) that I might have read during English Lit classes (like the several Shakespear plays that made the list).

The other rather shocking discovery showing how I’ve slacked off was that those books on the list which I’ve read recently – say within ten years – is six. (That’s actually stretching it because, although I’ve read the Bible, it wasn’t the KJV translation, which was the one specified.) (And this is not because I haven’t read at all – I guess I’m just not on the same wavelength as the people who composed either list.)

Books I consider “critically acclaimed classics” were underrepresented.

I was very surprised that Atlas Shrugged (or anything by Ayn Rand) didn’t make the list, and, except for The Odyssey, what I’d call “cultural foundational” stories were missing; for example, Beowulf or anything Arthurian (even Connecticut Yankee – there were several other Twain books).

It’s possible some types of books were left off, as other compilers indicated that their lists did not include religious, philosophical, or political books, but the GoodReads users selected only one spiritual text (the aforementioned KJV Bible).

Also strangely absent were any kind of self-help/self-improvement material. I surely expected How To Win Friends… and Think and Grow Rich to appear. I half-expected recently published informational and how to’s like Blink4-Hour Work Week to be on the editor’s list, especially.

Only one recognizable poetry title made it, The Raven, and only one dystopia that I knew of, Brave New World.

Fiction – and recent fiction especially – outnumbered non-fiction greatly.

I know non-fiction was included, Anne Frank made both lists. Night was on one, and Man’s Search For Meaning was on the other. (But then, I do favor histories. Maybe not everyone does?)

Twentieth and Twenty-First-century “young adult?” fiction series which have been made into movies were all there: Lord of The RingsHobbitNarniaHunger GamesHarry Potter. I was happy to see some of my (very) old favorites, too: Charlotte’s WebA Wrinkle in TimeCharlie and the Chocolate FactoryThe Phantom Tollbooth, and Where the Wild Things Are.

It seems High School assigned reading has remained pretty much the same.

Catcher in the Rye, anyone? Grapes of Wrath? Great Expectations? The Scarlet Letter? Lord of the Flies? Great Gatsby? To Kill a Mockingbird? All there. I suppose it’s possible that some books on the list were there due the popularity of the movies made from them. The last two I just mentioned would fit this reasoning.

And the “top” book?

I was personally happy to see one of my young adult, I-read-it-several-times-and-saw-the-movie stories on one of the lists, The Count of Monte Cristo. But judging from its appearance and position on both lists – #4 on the users’ and #1 on the editors – the top book to read is:

1984.

Recently, I watched The Equalizer, in which the main character is making his way through a list of 100 books. I started this post hoping I’d find which list he was using… Anyone know of other “top 100” lists?

If Life Is A River… It Flows Under The Same Bridge – Once

If Life Is A River… It Flows Under The Same Bridge – Once

Every day’s the same. Every day is different. All true.

20 thousand days I’ve experienced now. This morning, as I sat on the edge of my bed, I considered that number. It’s rather large. One would think I would’ve got it all down with so much practice, but this is my first try. I’ve been here many times, but it’s brand new to me. I’ve seen everything, but my eyes have just been opened.

bridge 4What is it that makes each awakening so similar yet so unfamiliar? Each day is an unmet opportunity and a second chance to live again, just one of many steps on a single, long journey. I think maybe it’s that I’m able now to look up and around more at the scenery I’m passing and the people traveling with me, instead of down at my feet, wishing for better boots and learning how not to stumble. Learning how to live … “righteously,” but that’s not quite the right word. Righteous is old and has been overused.

So I looked up some synonyms and found three that fit my feelings.

Blamelessly

“Innocent of wrongdoing.” For sure. I’m serious! My faith – I pray – helps me to strive to become more like the child I was – by grace and (a lot of) effort. The 12 steps have taught me something about forgiveness and amends. I know I still make mistakes, but my voyage is one of progress, not perfection.

Well

bridge 3I can’t describe this one in my own words, so here are some apt phrases from its definition: “in a good or satisfactory way;” “in a way that is appropriate to the facts or circumstances;” “with praise or approval;” “in a thorough manner;” “intimately, closely;” “sensibly, advisably.” (Note that I didn’t include the one about being comfortable or well-off.) The one thing I’d change here is to make all those “or’s” be “and’s.”

Justified

Again, not my words: “having, done for, or marked by a good or legitimate reason;” “declared or made righteous in the sight of God.” I really like that last one, except that I would add “by God,” “by God’s grace.” This (He) is really what never changes.bridge 1

Even when you are old I will be the same, and when you are grey-haired I will take care of you; I will still be responsible for what I made; yes, I will take you and keep you safe.
(Isaiah 46:4 The Bible in Basic English)

bridge 2So, yes, every day is the same, but different. And what I encounter for the first time is each section of the course, the unique path I’m on, and my attitude about how closely I’m determined to follow it. If life is a river, it’s the landscape that changes, from the mountains and hills of rocky youth, to gently sloping plains of early productive maturity, to the “olderness” at the approaching river’s mouth and, at long last, its entrance into the sea.

As usual, I know a praise and worship song that fits, but it’s lyrics aren’t available online so, I’ll include them below. It’s still available on YouTube here.
You can download it for just $0.99here

Let All I Do Be Praise

Every day’s the same
Heaven and earth so far away
Father, don’t take this as complaint
But I need You here

So won’t you come sweep me off my feet
Tether my heart to presence deep
Father, my spirit seems so weak
So I need You here

Cause I wanna live in Your presence
I wanna dance all my days
My soul will sing of Your goodness
My heart will shout for grace
I live my life as a story
That You be seen in my ways
And in the light of Your glory
Let All I Do Be Praise

I wanna live with You
I wanna serve You
I wanna sing to You
Only to You

I worship You, Lord

I wanna sing
I wanna dance
I wanna live
I wanna laugh
I wanna give praise to You, God

Setting Myself Free

Last night, I finally watched “The Shack” movie. I’d read the book about eight years ago, early in my journey of spiritual formation (and “recovery”). I think that at the time it contributed quite a bit to my understanding of our triune God.

Since I don’t want to spoil it if you haven’t read or seen it, I’ll summarize it simply: one man is deeply hurt by another; both are sinners; sin is sin. Actually, it’s a little like the Adam and Eve, Cain and Abel stories. Death is involved, both physical and spiritual.

For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord. (Romans 6:23)

I find it slightly interesting that there are some verses I’ve tended to stay away from when Sharing God’s Story. They are the “famous” ones I learned as a child. “For the wages of sin…” “For God so loved the world…” Maybe my assumption is that everyone knows and opines about them, which must obviously be false. The world wouldn’t be this broken, if it were true?

Anyway, I certainly found parts of my own life in the story. (By the way, I felt the movie kept fairly close to the book.) There are two sins represented. This first is, of course, that of the killer. To “get” the other sin takes a whole lot of self-examination, and both knowledge and experience of The Word of God. It is the sin of playing God, of sitting in The Judgement Seat.

“Sin is its own punishment.” (God, “Papa” in The Shack’)

I wrote, in Hope For Life, about how I, in my sin, locked myself away in a prison of my own making. In this is the gist of the quote. The bars of my cell were (are) shame, guilt, self-pity, self-loathing, my addictive and compulsive “need” for certain behaviors, and my literal love-hate relationship with myself. The door to the cell is a perverted, physial love of self, and my judging of everyone else contrasted with my fear of my own imminent, guaranteed verdict, of ongoing self-condemnation. Closed, the gate is my view that everything is sexual, that everything is a cause for forced and fake celebration (drinking only to get drunk), that I forever desperately search for another life in role-playing video games where I am a creator god, and a new and different character as many times as I like.

My “release” was the very best and worst day of my life; the day I tried to impose sentence; the day The Director called, “Cut! Bring on the stunt double!” The day (if there ever was just one) when Jesus loved me the most.

The lesson was that somebody did love me unconditionally, despite everything I had ever done. And this is the divine pardon, all I ever needed and wanted.

This is God’s story, His movie, His book. But in a way, in how He loves me, I’m the star, highly paid, the highest paid by the gift of spiritual rebirth. I’ve been reborn, an innocent child again, with new eyes that see good and the potential for it in the world, and, most importantly, in myself.