Thursday, May 6, 2010

So... what do you expect?

Worries are tied to expectations. So... what are you worried about? Well... let it go! It won't add a day to your life or an inch to your height or another minute's sleep at night. In fact, it will take away from all three.

The unfolding of the methods and intentions our governmental leadership over the last year and a half and the rumblings of impending calamity have stirred some thoughts that might be worthy of consideration. Let’s hold off on or, even better, cease the hand-wringing. We are re-made of better stuff.

For the Scripturally-defined follower of Jesus Christ, hope and a future have never rested in governments, programs, political parties, personalities, or the Constitution and Bill of Rights. At their very best and noblest, these are still the machinations of a world system. It falls under the umbrella of an overall world system encompassing every governmental, political, social, and cultural structure or institution. Granted, we Americans find ourselves in a place and time where we have, or theoretically have, some say over how our system functions and we should leverage that to the max. But we must all the while keep in mind that these devices have no answers to the core problems of mankind. We must not lose sight of this fact lest some sobering realities evade those who are, or should be, operating under the governance and enlightenment of the Highest Authority.

By "the world" (cosmos/adornments) we are talking about systems and values, not people, who we are to love as Christ loved. And the systems mentioned above are not the complete list. According to Watchman Nee in "Love Not the World", education, the arts, culture, entertainment, science/medicine, economics/commerce, technology, and similar entities are also included. Scripture makes clear that all world systems are doomed and to invest in them or place hope in them is striving after wind. Their advocates, adherents, and dependents are in for some very rude awakenings. How wise is the person who continues making deposits into a bank they know will collapse at any moment? How astute is the farmer who keeps planting seed in a rocky, depleted field that has never produced a profitable crop? Scripture tells us that any person, entity, or system not willingly under the governance of God is under the control of the prince of the power of the air and will share in his destruction. The world is passing away. Friendship with the world, or anything in the world, is enmity with God. Are we not the authors of our own misery, setting ourselves up for inevitable disappointment, disillusion, frustration, and anger by hoping that these entities will rescue us? The workings and intentions of all of these systems are not merely incompatible with the Christ-life, they are in abject, categorical conflict with it. We are to influence them but not be influenced by them.

All the hue and cry about the intentions of the founding fathers is futile. Origins and intentions do not matter. An entity conceived from Godly influences and intentions immediately turns 180 degrees toward the world when men replace God's hands with their own. That happened to us as a nation a long time ago as political power, greed, and pragmatism quickly trumped the original noble ideals. It is naive to think that tape can be rewound.

Scripture never endorses or even makes favorable reference to any particular system of government. There is no such thing as a Christian nation… only Christians (an increasingly meaningless term) functioning within it. A nation cannot be legislated or judged into goodness or righteousness. That only comes by making disciples of its people a few at a time with intention, purpose, and effort. Even while a prisoner of Rome, Paul describes good citizenship to Timothy thus: "I urge that entreaties and prayers, petitions and thanksgivings, be made on behalf of all men, for kings and all who are in authority, in order that we may live a tranquil and quiet life in all godliness and dignity. This is good and acceptable in the sight of God our Savior, who desires all men to be saved and come to the knowledge of truth." The true disciple of Jesus Christ makes an excellent citizen but a terrible dependent. We should be delighted that government doesn't shut us up altogether and allows us to aggressively go about Kingdom business. It is wishful thinking to expect secular government to give tacit approval, never mind overt support, to the cause of Jesus Christ. It is an abdication of our calling to depend upon spiritually indifferent or hostile structures to make our task easy, or worse, usurp it altogether. History has clearly shown that the cause of Jesus Christ prospers and expands under oppression and persecution but flounders and shrinks into anemic apathy or prideful corruption during seasons of prosperity and favor. Considering this, is losing comfort, security, and prosperity such a daunting, frightening prospect that it is to be avoided at all cost? The answer to that question is a hinge upon which much swings. Perhaps we are faced more with growing opportunity than calamity.

Even secular sources predicted that this nation and its systems were going to struggle and likely collapse. Consider these prophetic, objective observations from long ago about the destiny of our forms and institutions:

1. From Alexis De Tocqueville, French statesman and political observer, who witnessed first hand the workings of the American system and society in the late 1830's:

-The American Republic will endure until the day Congress discovers that it can bribe the public with the public's money.

-A democratic government is the only one in which those who vote for a tax can escape the obligation to pay it.

2. Attributed to Sir Alec Fraser Tytler, Scottish jurist and historian around 1797:

-A democracy cannot exist as a permanent form of government. It can only exist until the voters discover that they can vote themselves largess from the public treasury. From that time on the majority always votes for the candidates promising the most benefits from the public treasury, with the results being that a democracy always collapses over loose fiscal policy followed by a dictatorship. The average age of the world's great civilizations has been 200 years. These nations have progressed through this sequence: from bondage to spiritual faith; from spiritual faith to great courage; from courage to liberty; from liberty to abundance; from abundance to selfishness; from selfishness to complacency; from complacency to apathy; from apathy to dependency; from dependency back again into bondage.

3. From Winston Churchill:

-Democracy is the worst form of government except for all those others that have been tried.

The first two of these observations are around 200 years old and all are truer at this moment than when they were first made. From either a spiritual or secular perspective, the social and political machinery of men has historically been a bad place to put one's trust or hope. We should do our best to improve the lot of humanity within the systems at our disposal, and work to influence the systems themselves, but not be shocked when it is never enough. It never has been. It never will be. It can't be. The weaknesses of the fallen human condition will not allow any secular ideal to endure.

Scripture also tells us where hope and home truly lie. Apart from the governance of God man can do nothing. Levels of stress, frustration, anxiety, and disappointment due to unrealized hopes and expectations goes down or disappear altogether when we begin living and thinking as though the principles in scripture were actually true. Why are we surprised, even shocked, when the unbelieving world behaves the way it does? How can it ever behave otherwise? To cease expecting it to be and do what it cannot, by its very nature, possibly be or do is a healthy, reasonable, and liberating perspective.

The Sermon on the Mount is the spring from which perspective and values should flow. Blessed are even the unblessable… rejoice in persecution… let your light shine before men ... do not lay up for yourselves treasure on earth... no man can serve two masters... do not be anxious for your life, what you shall eat, drink, or wear... do not be anxious for tomorrow... love, pray for, and do good to your enemies (political or otherwise)… embrace humility and flee pride… not judge... do not condemn... be generous... enter by the narrow gate that few will find ... build your house on rock and not sand. By the way, the rock to which Jesus refers is not mere belief … it is hearing and acting on all “these words of Mine”. Assimilating and obeying them should dramatically reform our hearts and inform our world view. "My peace I give to you"... should dictate our inner peace, outward actions, and overall expectations. White-knuckled, anxious living is not the lot of the disciple of Jesus Christ. When the Son of God sets you free, you are free indeed.

Jesus' departing words were singularly focused… "Go ... and make and baptize disciples (not just church members or converts) and teach them to obey everything I have commanded/taught you." Teaching obedience is different from teaching facts or information. He also said the greatest commandment is to love God and neighbor. All we should hope from our secular authorities is that they leave us alone to carry this out. Taking prayer, the Ten Commandments, and Christmas trees out of the public square does not hinder one bit loving God... loving neighbor... and making disciples. In fact, these repressive actions actually serve to clarify the task at hand and place the responsibility of accomplishing it back where it belongs. The lights of the world, that would be disciples of Jesus Christ, don’t fear the darkness or curse it… they penetrate it, illuminate it, and dispel it… like a city on a hill or a lamp in a dark room.

“And this is eternal life, that they may know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent.” John 17:3. The disciple’s eternal life has already begun. It is not a destination after death but an awareness of being truly and wonderfully alive. For the follower of Christ, eternal life is not pie in the sky in the sweet bye-and-bye. It is joy and peace and purpose in the trenches of the nasty now-and-now.

This topic begs some introspective questions. Why am I here? What is my purpose and calling? On whom do I depend and in whom or what do I trust? What are my expectations of God, the world, and myself? From where did those expectations come? What are the origins and fuel of my anxieties and fears? How do my answers to these questions align with scripture, specifically the teachings and example of Jesus Christ? Perhaps its time to move beyond simply believing “in” Jesus Christ and start believing “like” Him.

My hope is built on nothing less that Jesus' blood and righteousness. On Christ the solid rock I stand, all other ground is sinking sand. Edward Mote- 1832

Let the peace of Christ guard your minds and hearts.


Saturday, May 1, 2010

The Addiction of the Experiential

Please familiarize yourself with Oswald Chambers'"My Utmost for His Highest", a daily devotional source. May I suggest you subscribe to have these daily devotional thoughts emailed to your computer. They are profound, introspective, and a good way to start every day. 
Here is the one for Saturday May 1. It cuts right of the heart of the pitfall of building my faith on what I experience rather than what I know. Experiential Christianity is lazy, requires little of us, and does not transform. It hopes to be in the right place at the right time and lives in search of emotional confirmation. Being egocentric, it does little to equip us for usefulness. 
Christianity emerging from knowledge of and intimacy with Jesus Christ requires all of our being. It requires joining the daily fray, yielding the will, expending effort. In other words... the denial of self.
Knowing the truth is what sets you free. Discipleship to Jesus deepens that knowledge and gives it root.
I have to lead my life in faith, without seeing Him. 2 Corinthians 5:7    

For a time we are conscious of God's attentions, then, when God begins to use us in His enterprises, we take on a pathetic look and talk of the trials and the difficulties, and all the time God is trying to make us do our duty as obscure people. None of us would be obscure spiritually if we could help it. Can we do our duty when God has shut up heaven? Some of us always want to be illuminated saints or golden babes with the flush of inspiration, and to have the saints of God dealing with us all the time. A gilt-edged saint is no good, he is abnormal, unfit for daily life, and altogether unlike God. We are here as men and women, not as half-fledged angels, to do the work of the world, and to do it with an infinitely greater power to stand the turmoil because we have been born from above.

If we try to re-introduce the rare moments of inspiration, it is a sign that it is not God we want. We are making a fetish of the moments when God did come and speak, and insisting that He must do it again; whereas what God wants us to do is to "walk by faith." How many of us have laid ourselves by, as it were, and said - "I cannot do any more until God appears to me." He never will, and without any inspiration, without any sudden touch of God, we will have to get up. 
Then comes the surprise - "Why, He was there all the time, and I never knew it!" Never live for the rare moments, they are surprises. God will give us touches of inspiration when He sees we are not in danger of being led away by them. We must never make our moments of inspiration our standard; our standard is our duty.

Friday, April 23, 2010

HA!.. you think I'm here to clean your house?

Why do you do what you do? Does it define you or do you define it? Do you look for purpose in it or bring purpose to it? Is fulfillment sought in the circumstance or the calling that finds you there?

Read Augusta's story.... you can find the entire account in Stephen Baldwin's book, "The Unusual Suspect". (yes.. the actor)
Stephen and Kenya Baldwin  settled into married life, and soon they were expecting their first child.  Kenya explained to Stephen that it’s customary in Brazil to hire a nanny when a baby is on the way. Since Kenya is Brazilian, that’s the way it played out.

So, they hired this lady from Brazil named Augusta, and the whole first week she’s working for them she’s singing in Portuguese, which she only spoke with Kenya.  She’s singing about Jesus, and Kenya comes to Stephen in a few days and asks, “Do you hear what she’s singing about?  She’s singing about Jesus.” Kenya, after a few more days, approaches Augusta. “I noticed your singing, and I’m wondering why every song is about Jesus?”  Augusta had this very interesting reaction. She burst out laughing. Kenya said, “What’s so funny?” Augusta replied, “Quite frankly, I think it’s a little bit funny that you think I’m here to clean your house.

 She goes on to tell Kenya that before she had accepted the job, she prayed with her pastor and some church members in Brazil. She was told through a prophetic word that she was to go to America to become the nanny for some people who needed Jesus Christ and that one day Kenya and Stephen Baldwin would come to faith and be involved in ministry.

 Life at the Baldwins’ began to change.  Kenya was the first to dive into the Bible.  She spent many hours with Augusta talking about Jesus. One night, Kenya went with Augusta to a Brazilian church in New York City. She comes home and says to Stephen, “Honey, sit down. I’ve got to talk to you. I’ve accepted Jesus Christ tonight as my Lord and Savior. I’ve been baptized in water. I need you to know that, from now on, what I need to do each day to the best of my ability is to become the most obedient servant to Jesus Christ that I can.  Now, I need that to be clear, and I need you to understand. I don’t know what you’re going to do, but that’s what I’m going to do.” Then he watched her go through what he described as a radically beautiful metamorphosis.

She went into an intensive prayer and Bible study regiment.  Up in the morning, on her knees face down on the ground for an hour, without flinching, up off her knees into the bed with the Bible at least 30 to 45 minutes, every morning, every night, for one year.

While Kenya was seeking God and learning more about Him, Stephen was beginning to ask questions, especially after September 11th which really freaked him out. He said, “Hey, what’s this all about?  My wife’s a Jesus freak. Maybe it’s time I begin thinking about this faith thing.”  He pursued it, became born again, accepted the Lord, and was baptized in water.

The follower/disciple of Jesus Christ lives in another realm... for another purpose... with a broader vision of their life. Are our lives about making money, meeting obligations, supporting families,  funding college, climbing the ladder of success, or socking away some cash for retirement? Didn't Jesus say those are God's obligations? How are you handling God's job? What would life look like if we began living in liberty... for eternal things... as though all that Jesus said about this were actually true? Did it ever cross your mind that you are not where you are to just "clean the house"?

Augusta laughed out loud because someone thought that was what she was there for. She could laugh while she cleaned the house because she knew better.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Thank You Russell Rigby!

Susan and I are getting ready to sit down and enjoy following the NFL draft wondering where Colt and Earl and Sergio and some other Longhorns are going to land. We'll bounce around between that and the NBA playoffs. We stayed up late last night watching the Spurs beat the Mavericks. As we keep up with former Longhorns in the NBA, we were up late the night before watching Kevin Durant lead his OKC Thunder team to within a cat's whisker of beating the Lakers in L.A. We caught some of LaMarcus Aldridge and the Trailblazers and D. J Augustin and the Charlotte Bobcats. All this NBA playoff stuff comes after a period of withdrawal from watching wall-to-wall March Madness... all of it. Our brackets got blown up early but it was awesome fun! That event was the culmination of weeks of fussing and fuming over the frustrating Longhorns basketball team. Which followed a great season cheering the UT football team into the title game. We typically watch golf most Sunday afternoons. We have enjoyed a lot Grand Slam Tennis tournaments over the years.

Yes... this is what we do together. But what Susan and I now enjoy began years before we even met

I owe a debt of gratitude to Russell Rigby, my father-in-law. I was only 28 when he passed away in 1978 and I regret that I didn't enjoy knowing him farther into my adult life. My initial common ground with him was sports. He commented once that I knew almost as much about sports as he did. That was high praise for a kid like me. When he was living in Austin and we were living in the valley, he'd cut articles about the Longhorns out of the American Statesman and mail them to me. Sports was a great point of contact and gave us a lot to talk about. It helped us to really like each other and enjoy being together. And trust me, it didn't hurt to have that card in my deck as a suitor for his daughter's hand. I was in his camp! Waaay ahead those other guys who were smarter, better looking, and had REAL prospects.

What incredibly good fortune for me that early in Susan's life when she balked at being "dragged" to various sporting events, he said to her, "One day you'll likely marry a guy who loves sports and you'd better learn to love this stuff now if you want to be included in that part of his life." She was already an angel wearing skin but that she heeded that advice has made our nearly 40 years together even sweeter than it was already going to be. I can't imagine having missed all of that.

I didn't realize what I had until it was too late to thank him.

So thank those who have contributed to your life while you can.

Got to go! The draft starts in 5 minutes.

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Bill Moyers Retiring

Many younger folk may not recognize the name Bill Moyers. He has been a fixture of political, philosophical, and cultural commentary on PBS for many years. Born in Oklahoma and raised in Marshall, Texas, he received a degree from Southwesterm Baptist Theological Seminary in Fort Worth, and was ordained. He never pursued the ministry but chose instead a path into journalism and politics. He ascended to the high station of special White House Assistant to President Lyndon Johnson and ultimately into a journalistic career immersed in the world of ideas. To see his bio just Google his name and see wikepedia.

Moyers' life and public influence makes for interesting reading. His world view evolved from a conservative, East Texas, evangelical protestant to a world-reknown, open-minded, idea-monger (not a negative term). An admission from him in today's Austin American Statesman speaks volumes to the emptiness of the socialistic, humanist ideal that producing knowledgable, educated people will produce good people. Moyers long held a strong conviction, as naively articulated by Robert Kennedy, that societal ills were due to a lack of awareness and information, and providing both would translate into compassion and improved national character. All that was really needed was enlightenment and education and the inherent goodness of humanity would emerge. In this exerpt Moyers admits that in retrospect that popular view of the human condition was wrong and he does not know what to do about it:

Moyers has devoted much of his life to the larger idea of an informed democracy. Yet he bows his head ever so slightly at the mention of Robert F. Kennedy's intent, articulated in 1968, to have the major TV networks air a two-hour prime time documentary on American poverty if he were elected president. If the people knew, certainly they would act.

"I no longer believe that, by the way," he says softly. "We have so much information. We know what's wrong. The predicament is: We don't do anything about it. That may be a factor in my decision to retire. ... We're saturated. There are more people who know than there are people who do. That's a quandary I haven't resolved yet. But it's a fact."

How sad and disillusioning must it be to realize toward the end of one's life that one of the primary hinges upon which your world-view has swung is deeply flawed or downright wrong? That being your understanding of the human heart. The secular humanist sees humanity as essentially good, gradually getting better (evolving), and in need of continued improvement. Mankind's universal task is clear... discover and implement the means for that improvement. Who gets to decide on and engage the proper means is a topic for another discussion.

So... we are getting systematically, observably better through evolution, education, and technology? Nature, intellectual awareness, and information are our saviors? Moyers, the poster boy for free thinking and icon for adherents of relative truth, now thinks not but has no fall-back remedies. It is hard to overstate the magnitude of this admission in cultural or political terms.

But how could any honest, objective observer conclude otherwise? The evidence is in. The most recently completed era of mankind, the 20th century, was the bloodiest in the annals of human history. WW1 and WW2, the slaughter of millions of their own people by the likes of Hitler, Stalin, Mao, and Pol Pot are the much-ignored documentation that mankind may be more devious, clever, powerful, and ruthless... but better?

The fool has said in his heart "there is no God". Those who minimize God or deny His existence have no choice but to place their hope in the flawed devices of humankind. They must write checks on a bankrupt account. What a frightening prospect. But where else does that one go? I'd like to ask Bill that question.