Empty Legacy

photo credit: waycoolpics.wordpress.com

No person should be allowed the luxury of holding a belief while ignoring its implications.  Why?  Because the implications of today’s prevalent beliefs shape the ethos of the next generation.  For instance, suppose I had been born into a culture which had been largely shaped by the belief that the ability to overcome a rival tribe was conferred on me through a rite of manhood.  Obviously, I would go through that rite.  After several defeats I might come to question the effectiveness of the manhood ritual.  I might come to believe that the rival tribe’s practice of cannibalism made them more powerful.  Since cannibalism had not been part of my cultural ethos, I would probably find the idea of eating another human to be distasteful (pardon the pun).  For me, eating another person would be hard, but propagating my ideas would be easy.  Suppose I convince others in the tribe of my position and after another defeat at which I get killed, they decide to eat a couple of the felled rival warriors.  What if after that, my tribe won the next battle?  My tribe would most likely continue to dabble in cannibalism.  Within two generations the buffet would be open.

Lately, I’ve encountered some pretty aggressive anti-theists.  The messages coming from that camp are fraught with what I would label, “ideological dissonance.”  So, just to do my part to help everyone come into personal harmony, I present this atheistic ontological syllogism for review:

P1- Meaning is an interpretive construct of a sentient mind.

P2- Sentience requires interplay between evaluative consciousness and memory.

P3- Consciousness and memory are products of chemical processes in the human brain.

P4- When the brain is destroyed, consciousness ends and memories are erased.

C1- Relative to the deceased individual, regardless of the details or duration, the life that he or she lived becomes retroactively meaningless.

P5- At some point, all brains and their products will be destroyed.

C2- Human life, regardless of the details or duration, is utterly meaningless.

P6- Resources invested in something which is utterly meaningless are wasted.

C3- The attempt to survive or accomplish anything is a total waste.

If you disagree, please tell me why.  If you agree but still choose not to commit suicide, then it’s because you fear the only certainty of your existence.  In short, your life isn’t advancing the human condition or accomplishing anything noble; you are just procrastinating.  So, the most consistent atheist ethic would be “die today” or “eat, drink, and be merry for tomorrow we die.”

If you are living in the West, then you were probably raised with a value system which says that you should value human life.  The basis of that value is, “all men were created equal” or some similar formulation.  Your heart is trying to retain a borrowed ethic the basis of which your mind and mouth deny.  So, feel free to keep going where you’re going, just please admit that you are going there.

Excuse My Insult

“I’m only human.”  That’s what people say to excuse repeated bad behavior.  Can Christians use this excuse?  They shouldn’t.  Paul used a very similar phrase to rebuke the Corinthian church over divisions among them.  Here’s the section.

You are still worldly. For since there is jealousy and quarreling among you, are you not worldly? Are you not acting like mere humans?   For when one says, “I follow Paul,” and another, “I follow Apollos,” are you not mere human beings? (1 Corinthians 3:3-4 NIV)

Do you get the implication here?  Implicit to an identification with Christ is the transcendence of cultural norms.  We are no longer mere humans.  We’re something more.  What are we?

Through these he has given us his very great and precious promises, so that through them you may participate in the divine nature, having escaped the corruption in the world caused by evil desires. (2 Peter 1:4 NIV)

We’re hybrids, implanted with divine DNA.  We’re aliens.  We’re morally supercharged creatures of God.  Our nature has become intertwined with his.  How could we ever claim to be ONLY human?

How could we use what to Paul would have been an insult as an excuse?  Imagine a man who threw a tantrum excusing his behavior on the grounds that he is childish.  Not only would he be rejecting personal responsibility for his behavior he would also be implicitly pledging to retain his faults.  With Christians who hide behind their humanity, the error is even more serious because it is God who has declared us to be more, based on the work of Jesus Christ and the outpouring of the Holy Spirit.  When we assert that we are only human we insult not only ourselves but God.  Christians often behave like people of the world but when we appeal to our humanity to cover our culpability it’s not just a fallacy; it’s heresy.

My Two Masters Part Two

photo credit: imdb.com

Daniel LaRusso’s first three days of “karate training” are filled with menial chores around Miyagi’s oasis in the junkyard.  Each chore must be carried out according specific instructions, “Wax on, right hand; wax off, left hand.  Make big da circles.  Breathe in the nose, out through the mouth.”  The next day, “Paint the fence.”  The one after, “Sand the floor.”  Each time, the method is specific.  Posture, style, breathing- they all matter.  The master’s unorthodox style confuses Daniel but he has agreed to do whatever he is told without question.  That agreement comes to an end when by the afternoon of the third day, Miyagi checks on Daniel on his way to go fishing.  Daniel unleashes a string of expletives in Miyagi’s direction and impugns his master’s motives.  Miyagi interrupts Daniel with the stern command, “Daniel san, show me ‘sand the floor’.”  The master begins to throw a series of punches and kicks at Daniel who watches himself block each one.  Daniel stands stunned as Miyagi bows.  Through unquestioning obedience to his master, Daniel has unknowingly received his imprint.

The figure I discovered in the pages of Matthew’s gospel compelled me to emulation.  I fantasized about wearing a white robe and teaching under a tree somewhere.  But that’s not what the Master told me to do.  He put the sponge of forgiveness in my hand.  The next day he gave me the brush of mercy.  On day three I found myself stooping to sand off the sun-scorched outer layer of my greedy heart.

After training this way for years, I made the startling discovery that I had actually begun to care about other people like I care about myself.  How did he do it?  It could not have come through standing over people preaching to them even though that is the activity I saw my Lord engaging in.  I, selfish and immature as I am, had to take the route of unquestioning obedience.

Here are the Master’s words about his method of training:

39 He also told them this parable: “Can the blind lead the blind? Will they not both fall into a pit? 40 The student is not above the teacher, but everyone who is fully trained will be like their teacher.

41 “Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye? 42 How can you say to your brother, ‘Brother, let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when you yourself fail to see the plank in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye.

46 “Why do you call me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ and do not do what I say? 47 As for everyone who comes to me and hears my words and puts them into practice, I will show you what they are like. 48 They are like a man building a house, who dug down deep and laid the foundation on rock. When a flood came, the torrent struck that house but could not shake it, because it was well built.- Luke 6:39-42; 46-48 NIV

The question for Daniel and for all of us is not what am I accomplishing here but who am I becoming.  When we receive the imprint of our Master, we will be ready for whatever gets thrown at us.

Don’t just stand there! Stand up! {Guest Post}

A more prosaic post by my post-Christian friend, Zane Gilley.

Years ago, while I was still Christian, I had this great idea for a song about the three young men in the fiery furnace.  I don’t recall any of the verses of it, but the chorus still comes readily to mind.

  “What’s it to you, O Nebuchadnezzar,
   Why do we care, what you do to us?
   The God that we serve, lives ever and ever,
   And he has the pow’r to deliver us.” 
 

 The reason I am writing this today is because in the story, these three men believed in something.  They believed in it strongly. And when they were tested, the believed it defiantly.

 “Love must be sincere. Hate what is evil; cling to what is good.” Romans 12:9

These men believed the bowing to images was evil, and they acted accordingly.  No man, no matter how powerful was going to tell them to do evil.

Just like in Acts 17:11, years ago, I searched the scriptures daily to see if those things were true.  My conclusions are likely not the same conclusions others may draw.  The important thing is the quest for truth, and the knowledge of it.  If more people would “buy the truth and sell it not”, this world we live would become a much better place.

It is true that peoples’ visions of the truth are as populous as their opinions.  This tends to lead to all manner of aggression; but it does not need to be so.  I can get along with near everyone, so long as I am not being preached at.  Then, I desire to do the same.

I, like Paul, can be all things to all men.  I can argue with the preachings on the hill, or I can concentrate on the things that make life better for all, such as peace, love, and forgiveness.

Going back to the beginning, everyone needs to stop expecting for things to either fall into their laps, or end up against their wishes.

It is better to go out and act.  Do what it takes to make the world better lived in.  Remember, “All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing.”

Don’t just stand there!  Stand up!

Fish Eyes

Mike the mallard bobbed on the surface of the pond, the early November wind whipping through his feathers.  Driven by an empty gizzard, Mike plunged toward the silted bottom.  Halfway down he encountered a rather large bass which caused him to backpedal a bit then come to a full upright position under water.  The bass, equally startled, came to a dead stop.  The two stared at each other for a few awkward seconds before Mike broke the silence with a little small talk.

“Boy, this water sure is cold today.”  He observed.

To which the bass replied, “What water?”

Good ‘Bye!

photo credit: competeinnovator.com

Church leaders can spend a lot of time attempting to keep people from leaving their congregations. We actually talk about ways to “close the back door” to our churches.

It occurred to me in the car today, though, that for a church on mission it’s always a good thing when people leave.  Either they leave disgruntled because their attempts to derail the mission have been ignored or the mission drags them right on out the door into new fields of kingdom growth – win, win!

So, maybe instead of trying to close the back door we should knock out the back wall and put axle grease on the floor.

My Two Masters Part One

I’ll admit it: The movie, “Karate Kid” has to some degree defined me as a person.  I’m not talking about the nepotistically-produced, pathetic excuse for a remake.  I mean the gloriously cheesy, deliciously predictable original.  I grew up without a father and really without a consistent father figure.  As a modern individualist, my rational mind never allowed me to acknowledge my need for a mentor but the relationship between Daniel and Mr. Miyagi compelled my hungry heart.  Ironically, the movie came out during one of the two summers I spent with my father.  We are both fans of the martial arts.  We went together.  Sitting next to a man who had never been there watching a man who didn’t exist, I found a mentor.

I got into Tae Kwon Do.  Martial arts helped me in many ways.  However I hung up my dobok three years later when I discovered a greater mentor – Jesus.  After twenty five years of training under the Master, I’m still blown away by all he has to teach.  Looking back, I’m surprised to discover that Jesus and Mr. Miyagi teach similar lessons and employ similar methods.  Over the next few posts I’ll be sharing a few.  The first is:

“Avoid the middle of the road.”

On the day of his first lesson, Mr. Miyagi asked Daniel, “Are you ready?”  Daniel responded, “I guess so.”  The master seized this teachable moment by explaining that a man who walks on either side of a road is safe while the one who walks in the middle will be “Squish!  Just like grape.”  Mr. Miyagi admonished that a person who makes up his mind either way regarding karate will be safe while the person who takes the “guess so” approach to karate places himself in harm’s way.

Jesus also instructed people who offered him conditional commitment that they would be better off not following (Luke 14:25-33).  In fact, half-hearted disciples make the Master want to barf (Rev. 3:14-18).  From the standpoint of the progress of the gospel, an open opponent is preferable to a half-hearted adherent.

Jesus and Mr. Miyagi teach that those who would come under their tutelage must buy in or get out.  The alternative is “squish.”

To be continued…

Prison Bars…

I used to correspond through the mail with an inmate named Lowell.  I don’t know if I’ve ever encountered a more biblically literate person.  Perhaps this was because he had come to know his desperate need for God and was given plenty of time to find him in solitary confinement.  As a former member of a white supremacist prison gang, he had been placed in solitary for violent acts (I don’t know what) against blacks in the prison.  Of course this was just the last in a long list of crimes committed by this relatively young man.

As his story unfolded through our year or so of correspondence, the most shocking revelation dawned on me – Lowell and I were not all that different.  Had I encountered the same life circumstances which he had, I probably would have ended up in the same place.  My heart reflected the selfishness, malice, and prejudice which landed Lowell in solitary.  Conversely, he demonstrated genuine remorse and a desire for redemption.  The last vestiges of my childish notion that humanity can be divided into “good guys” and “bad guys” melted as I figuratively gazed into the mirror of Lowell’s heart.

As a human being at the bottom of society’s dumpster, Lowell sits upon an anthropological dilemma.  Should Lowell not have to “pay” for what he did?  If so, who determines when the debt is paid?  If not, what of his victims?  During our correspondence, Lowell petitioned to be released from solitary after he had spent a year there.  He was denied.  The prospect of another year cut off from human contact in the name of justice nearly destroyed this man who had made so many positive changes.

So, how can we maintain the worth of an individual yet decry his evil deeds?  Is such a thing even possible?  The answer is yes and no.  Humans will never solve this dilemma because we are incapable of separating the essence of a person from their behavior.  We will never have instrumentation that precise.  God, however, does have an implement which can do the job.  The cross of Christ in one moment categorically condemns human evil (including mine and Lowell’s) and unequivocally declares human worth.  From the cross, God in voice clear and loud declares, “I hate your murder, theft, prejudice, selfishness, and lust and I love you more than words can say.”

Lowell is probably still in prison but Lowell has found a freedom while incarcerated that he never had before.  Lowell continues to suffer the consequences of his past actions but he is not defined by them.  God’s scalpel, the cross has removed the sin which was entangled around the heart of a man created after the divine image.  Praise God for the wonderful, horrible, crucial cross!