Merry Christmas Or Joyous Advent?

In recent years the iconic greeting, “Merry Christmas”, has become somewhat politically incorrect, and deemed offensive by those who feel it is religion intruding into a public that is religiously diverse on the one hand and largely secular on the other.

And yet not everyone who celebrates Christmas considers it a religious holiday. A secular version of Christmas is very common, focusing on the love of family and friends. To many Americans who are not Christians, Christmas is a special holiday of fun – home decorations and lights, Christmas trees and presents, turkey and eggnog, parties and get-togethers, mistletoe and Santa Claus. Things like Christmas carols and the Salvation Army collecting donations are just part of the ambiance – nothing to take too seriously.

When someone who isn’t a Christian says, “Merry Christmas”, they aren’t thinking about the Biblical account of the birth of Christ. They aren’t trying to convert anyone. It’s just another way of saying, “Happy Holidays”. They aren’t thinking, “I need to be inclusive by saying ‘Happy Holidays,'” because their secular Christmas is already inclusive.

Whichever greeting a person uses, they are saying, “Have fun!”, “Have a nice day!”, “Enjoy yourself!” It’s a universal feeling shared by all people, regardless of culture or religion. Even though they may celebrate different things, all people love gathering together to enjoy good music, good food, the giving of gifts and sharing the things we value with the people we care for the most.

That’s what “Happy Holidays” means, and that’s what “Merry Christmas” means in the secular world. But for Christians there is something much more important about Christmas than being merry. It is the very thing that is absent from any secular Christmas – it’s the Advent of the Christ.

Advent means a momentous arrival. The birth of the Christ or Messiah (the “anointed one”) is momentous for various reasons. First of all, this baby called the Son of God was God incarnate, meaning in the flesh. The infinite God, Creator of the entire universe condescended to be born into human form to live among us. Implicit in this is that the Son of God is God, the Son; the “child” born unto us in Isaiah 9:6 is called “Everlasting Father”. In the beginning the Word (Christ) was with God and was God, he made everything (John 1:1-3).

Secondly, Advent is momentous because it did not just happen. Centuries before, it had been foretold by the Hebrew prophets. That is why his arrival was so keenly anticipated by the Jews. One such person anticipating Messiah was Simeon in Luke 2:25-32. He was waiting for the “consolation of Israel” (see Isaiah 40:1-5). Upon seeing the baby Jesus, he said, “Lord, now you are letting your servant depart in peace, according to your word; for my eyes have seen your salvation that you have prepared in the presence of all people, a light for revelation to the Gentiles, and for glory to your people Israel.”

And here is a third reason why the Advent of Christ is momentous: He not only came to offer salvation to the Jews, but to the Gentiles also. That means to everyone, since a Gentile is anyone who isn’t a Jew. When the angel announced the birth of the Christ-child to shepherds (social outcasts of the day) he said, “Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord” (Luke 2:10-11).

The Advent of Christ is about the coming of salvation – salvation from sin for all who receive Christ, that is believe in his name (John 1:12). It’s not about a birthday. It’s about an event that has been saving and changing the lives of billions of individuals for almost 2,000 years.

No one really knows the actual date of the birth of Jesus, and that doesn’t really matter. December 25 is a traditional date, borrowed from a forgotten pagan celebration that predates Christmas. While those pagan folks “back in the day” enjoyed their celebrations very much as we do now, with family & friends, food & fun, they had no idea of what new life in Christ means. They had no idea of the joy available to true Christians in the celebration of the Advent of Christ.

Many of today’s pagans enjoy what they call Christmas. A merry Christmas to them is nothing more than a happy holiday. And there is nothing wrong with that. We need to understand that they are living in darkness, and we are called to bring the light of God into the world so that they can see who Jesus is and understand why he made such a momentous arrival. And don’t forget, he’s coming again in glory!

Have a joyous Advent season.

The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; those who dwelt in a land of deep darkness, on them has light shone.  Isaiah 9:2; Matthew 4:16

I have come into the world as light, so that whoever believes in me may not remain in darkness.  John 12:46

You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden. Nor do people light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a stand, and it gives light to all in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven.  Matthew 5:14-16

 

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The Doubting Christian, Or Feeling Condemned

You want to do the right thing, but you just don’t do it. You know you shouldn’t do the wrong thing, but you do it anyway. “Why am I like this?”, you ask yourself, wondering how your life can have so many ups and downs. “Am I a hypocrite?”, you ask yourself. “Am I a failure?” “Who am I?”

That’s ambivalence. My dictionary defines ambivalence as, “The existence of mutually conflicting feelings or thoughts, such as love and hate together, about some person, object or idea.”

Paul was a Jewish rabbi, steeped in the teachings of the Torah which was known as “the Law”. He was trained to look at sins in what we would consider a “legal” way, which declared a sinner guilty and demanded a price be paid for that guilt. In Romans 7:14-25 we read what can only be described as ambivalence about his innocence or guilt before the God of the universe.

14 For we know that the law is spiritual, but I am of the flesh, sold under sin. 15 For I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate. 16 Now if I do what I do not want, I agree with the law, that it is good. 17 So now it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells within me. 18 For I know that nothing good dwells in me, that is, in my flesh. For I have the desire to do what is right, but not the ability to carry it out. 19 For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I keep on doing. 20 Now if I do what I do not want, it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells within me.

21 So I find it to be a law that when I want to do right, evil lies close at hand. 22 For I delight in the law of God, in my inner being, 23 but I see in my members another law waging war against the law of my mind and making me captive to the law of sin that dwells in my members. 24 Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death? 25 Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord! So then, I myself serve the law of God with my mind, but with my flesh I serve the law of sin.”

I am confident in saying that there isn’t a Christian alive, or one who ever lived, who hasn’t faced this conflict between our internal and external lives. So often, even though we know what’s right, and want to do what’s right, we do what’s wrong. Then we feel guilty and ashamed. Our “religion”, if you can call it that, becomes one of alternating back and forth, between sinning and repenting.

1 John 1:8-2:1 confirms this fact, and reminds us that in Christ our struggle against sin does not condemn us: “If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. If we say we have not sinned, we make him a liar, and his word is not in us. My little children, I am writing these things to you so that you may not sin. But if anyone does sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous.”

This ambivalence was a reality check for Paul. In his spirit he loved the LORD, but in his flesh he could not help but live life in such a way that led him to break God’s laws. In John 12:47-48 Jesus says, “If anyone hears my words and does not keep them, I do not judge him; for I did not come to judge the world but to save the world. The one who rejects me and does not receive my words has a judge; the word that I have spoken will judge him on the last day.”

Paul knew that the old Mosaic law was fulfilled in Jesus Christ. Matthew 5:17 records that Jesus said, “Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them.” A lot rides on how we understand that the Messiah, Jesus Christ, fulfills the “law” of the Hebrew Scriptures.

Fulfilling the law doesn’t mean Jesus comes down to make sure every sin is punished. The law still needs to be upheld, in the sense that right is still right and wrong is still wrong. But Jesus paid the price for all sins by his crucifixion. All that remains is for sinners to receive him in faith.

Now elsewhere (John 14:15), Jesus says, “If you love me, you will keep my commandments.” But, returning to Paul’s ambivalence, when I sin I’m not keeping the commandments of Jesus; I’m not loving Jesus; I’m violating the very law he has fulfilled. What then? Have I rejected Christ and separated myself from God? Have I lost my salvation? Do my sins condemn me? And am I now to be judged?

The positive message of 1 John 2:1 and 3 is, “My little children, I am writing these things to you so that you may not sin. But if anyone does sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous, …And by this we know that we have come to know him, if we keep his commandments.”

But the following verses seem to have negative implications: “Whoever says “I know him” but does not keep his commandments is a liar, and the truth is not in him, but whoever keeps his word, in him truly the love of God is perfected. By this we may know that we are in him: whoever says he abides in him ought to walk in the same way in which he walked.” (verses 4-6)

How do we reconcile the fact that we unquestionably sin, despite the fact that we have been born again through the love of Christ, who tells us to go and sin no more? And most importantly, does the fact that we sin disprove or disallow our standing as children of God and members in the body of Christ?

When Jesus said, “You therefore must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.” (Matthew 5:48), did he mean if you didn’t behave perfectly you would no longer be allowed to remain in him as a born-again child of God? In that regard, is believing in Jesus any different from Old Testament Judaism, in which every sin required a sacrifice, day by day and year by year?

Paul, in his legal, Hebraic way of thinking, wrote in Romans 8:1-11:

1 “There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. 2 For the law of the Spirit of life has set you free in Christ Jesus from the law of sin and death. 3 For God has done what the law, weakened by the flesh, could not do. By sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and for sin, he condemned sin in the flesh, 4 in order that the righteous requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not according to the flesh but according to the Spirit. 5 For those who live according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh, but those who live according to the Spirit set their minds on the things of the Spirit. 6 For to set the mind on the flesh is death, but to set the mind on the Spirit is life and peace. 7 For the mind that is set on the flesh is hostile to God, for it does not submit to God’s law; indeed, it cannot. 8 Those who are in the flesh cannot please God.

9 You, however, are not in the flesh but in the Spirit, if in fact the Spirit of God dwells in you. Anyone who does not have the Spirit of Christ does not belong to him. 10 But if Christ is in you, although the body is dead because of sin, the Spirit is life because of righteousness. 11 If the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, he who raised Christ Jesus from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through his Spirit who dwells in you.”

And this is what Christianity is: a spiritual relationship with the Spirit of God, not a religion of rules that when followed make you better than anyone else, not a religion that justifies pointing your finger at the faults of others, or even condemning yourself when you fall.

When the world calls us haters, remember that it is sin we hate, not because we feel superior to it, but because God hated sin first. The greater truth is that we love because God first loved us (1 John 4:19).

When they call us “holier than thou”, remember that holy simply means “set aside”. God has set us aside for his purposes, not our own. And he declares us holy, not because we’ve earned it, but because God ordained it through Christ (2 Timothy 1:9).

When they call us hypocrites, remember that everyone, from time to time, is an actor wearing a mask. LORD, help us to be aware of ourselves. Help us to take off our masks and be real.

When they call us fools, remember the word of God when it tells us, “For the foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men” (1 Corinthians 1:25). And we are in good company, for even the apostles were considered fools for Christ (1 Corinthians 4:10).

And when people hate you, remember what he said in places like Luke 6:22, “Blessed are you when people hate you and when they exclude you and revile you and spurn your name as evil, on account of the Son of Man!” and John 15:18, “If the world hates you, know that it has hated me before it hated you.”

Being a Christian doesn’t mean we are holy or perfect. It means God calls us to be holy and perfect. As often as we fail to measure up to that calling, we need to simply confess it to the LORD, pick ourselves up, and start again. 1 John 1:9 tells us, “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.”

As the old bumper-stickers used to say, “Christians aren’t perfect. They’re forgiven.” That is how we should be living out our faith, neither considering ourselves “holier than thou” nor taking advantage of cheap grace by making excuses for our sinful habits.

Paul disabused us of that notion in Romans 6:1-2: “What shall we say then? Are we to continue in sin that grace may abound? By no means! How can we who died to sin still live in it?” And in verse 6 he explains, “We know that our old self was crucified with him in order that the body of sin might be brought to nothing, so that we would no longer be enslaved to sin.”

Galatians 2:20 explains it this way: “I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.”

Isn’t this the very thing Jesus meant when he said, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me.”? (Luke 9:23)

When we sin, it is the old self. That’s the self we need to deny. It isn’t what defines us. Paul told the Ephesians (4:22-24), “to put off your old self, which belongs to your former manner of life and is corrupt through deceitful desires, and to be renewed in the spirit of your minds, and to put on the new self, created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness.”

That is our spiritual journey, one of learning to put off the old self and put on the new, one of learning to walk in the light, as children of light, letting the blood of Jesus wash away our sins. And that is something we are to learn to do together, in fellowship, in the Spirit, according to 1 John 1:7: “But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus his Son cleanses us from all sin.”

If you, as a Christian, struggle with sin, you aren’t alone. That’s the nature of our spiritual journey. When we first are born again, we are mere babes in Christ. But gradually we grow in grace (2 Peter 3:18). Our sanctification is a process. And while we are making daily choices to do the right thing, God is at work, molding us as only he can. “And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.” (Romans 8:28)

So, as Dr. Laura used to say, “Now go do the right thing.” Admittedly, that isn’t always going to be easy. But don’t let ambivalence get you down. The God we serve is mightier than that.

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Don’t Be A Fool

Today, Saturday October 22, 2016 Donald Trump gave what I consider the most important speech of his presidential campaign. He chose to give this speech at Gettysburg, Pennsylvania because of the association we make with President Lincoln’s famous address, in which the phrase, “government of the people, by the people, for the people” is forever enshrined.

If you love Mr. Trump, you will see his choice to speak in Gettysburg as meaningful and appropriate. If you hate him, you will consider it nothing more than a political ploy. So much about this election seems to hinge on how we feel about the candidates. And so much of what we feel comes from who we believe.

So many people are outraged by accusations that paint a picture of Mr. Trump as a moral degenerate who preys on women. Yet, he has not only denied those accusations, but says that he did not even know these women who are accusing him, and that they all are lying.

In my previous post I asked who is lying. In an age when scandal and lying are commonplace and propaganda has replaced journalism, truth has become a rare and precious commodity. It seems to come down to who is the slickest at manipulating your feelings. And frankly, for many years I have seen both government and media doing a yeoman’s job of doing just that. Michael Savage has called it “the government-media complex”, building on President Eisenhower’s phrase, “the military-industrial complex” which described the power broker system of the 50s and 60s that threatened our form of representational government set forth by the Constitution.

In 2001, our President was the likable George W. Bush. Like many other American conservatives, I had high hopes for his presidency. If you recall, Bush had the blessing of a Republican Congress – for the first time in something like 40 years, if I recall correctly. He even called himself a “compassionate conservative”.

But before very long I began to have grave misgivings about this President. 9-11 put us into a “war on terrorism”. At the time, 15 of the 19 terrorists responsible for 9-11 were citizens of Saudi Arabia. And yet we took no actions against that country. In fact, our State Department continued to authorize the Saudis to issue U.S. visas themselves! We took no security precautions to protect our own nation from the now-established threat posed by terrorists entering our country as easily as tourists.

I couldn’t understand how a responsible State Department could do that. They were more concerned with keeping the Saudis happy than with keeping American citizens safe. But Bush made a big show of being a military tough guy by dramatically invading Iraq. It allowed Americans to vent their rage, and many Americans cheered.

But then I noticed something very peculiar. After a certain point, our forces didn’t seem to be fighting to win. One day I was watching coverage of the Iraq war on TV. A large jeep-type truck could be seen from overhead, driving along a desert road. The announcer said that riding in this truck was an important enemy leader and some of his lieutenants. In those days, the military had made up a sort of deck of cards with the faces of all the bad guys on them. This constituted a ‘hit’ list of the most dangerous leaders. And the man in the truck was one of the faces in that deck of cards.

The TV announcer was saying that at any moment they could obliterate the target with a “smart bomb” that was already targeted on the truck and that observers on the ground were just waiting for authorization to fire. I watched as the truck continued for some time to drive down the road, yet nothing happened. All the time, the announcer continued talking and waiting. Eventually, the truck drove out of danger and disappeared. The authorization to fire never came.

This whole episode only lasted a few minutes. There was a very brief window of opportunity, and we had failed to act. But who was it who failed to act? The military? No. The rules of engagement did not give the military the authority to decide when to shoot at the enemy. So, who was given that authority, under the Commander-in-Chief, to decide when and where the military may pull the trigger?

That authority was given to the CIA. The authorization that our ground forces had waited for was from a CIA control center, here in our own country. The decision of whether or not to blow up a truck known to be transporting a major enemy leader was not being made by a commander of the units that were fighting, nor by a person who was even there. We were fighting the war just as if we were running a huge, faceless bureaucracy. Who was the person who failed to act in time? Was it someone under the direction and scrutiny of the Commander-in-Chief?

I sent letters and emails to Bush, asking him what incompetent person was running the show. But of course, I never got a reply, because little tax-paying citizens like me don’t matter one whit to the big brothers of the globalist “community”, of which Bush and his Republican majority were proven members.

This was when I realized the Republican Party no longer stood for conservative principles. They were no more concerned about preserving the Constitution than their Democrat pals on the other side of the aisle. No better. Under Bush (the self-proclaimed “compassionate conservative”) the size of government exploded – a sure sign that he never really was a conservative. You can’t be a conservative without being opposed to big government. It’s that simple.

That’s why I decided to affiliate with the Constitution Party. They are a tiny party, but I agree with their principles and can vote for them with a clear conscience – that is, if a Constitution Party candidate is allowed on the ballot – something that has become increasingly difficult to accomplish, as the “Big Two” tighten their strangle-hold to control elections.

Now, some 15 years later, I can’t even vote for Darrell Castle as a write-in candidate in California because the Constitution Party has failed to produce the 55 Presidential Electors needed to authorize a write-in candidacy. That makes it impossible for me to “vote my conscience”, something jaded Cruz supporters have complained a lot about.

So offended are they – that the Republican candidate isn’t really a Republican, and certainly not a conservative – that they refuse to give their vote to a man who has betrayed their party values! They portray their principled outrage to be as pure as the wind-driven snow. And to those conservatives and (God help us) Christians who will cast their votes for Trump, the self-proclaimed purists cast aspersions of whoring after the devil and accuse them of being lead down a primrose path of false promises by a false messiah.

My, oh my. To you purists – my dear colleagues – I want you to know that the shock and distress over your party abandoning it principles will fade in time. Please wake up to the fact that the Republican Party no longer represents your values and ideals. Eventually, you will see a much bigger picture – one in which all Americans, liberal, moderate and conservative, must live together, in communities, united as a people – one nation under God, indivisible.

That means we have to stop falling prey to emotions that divide us. We have to stop hating, stop condemning and start trying to work together with what we have. That means you may have to vote for a candidate who isn’t a Republican. But it also means you may have to vote for a Republican candidate with whom you have substantial disagreements.

If you listen to Donald Trump’s Gettysburg speech, I think you will agree that what he offers as a candidate is the genuine hope and vision that we as Americans can begin to work together towards real goals which we can share and take credible and intelligent steps to achieve. But under Hillary, I see nothing other than the perpetuation, growth and eventual collapse of a totally unrealistic Nanny State.

A vote for Trump isn’t a vote for an idealistically pure Republican Party. They have long since ceased to stand for republican ideals and have sold themselves down the river of globalism. A vote for Trump isn’t a vote for pure conservatism. True conservatives are a rare breed today. A truly conservative party, the Constitution Party is a very tiny entity compared to either of the mega parties.

Finally, a vote for Trump isn’t a vote for pure Biblical faith. According to one study, only 9% of “Christians” even have a Biblical world view. We live in a society that more than just being diverse, has become primarily secular. It is unrealistic to expect a candidate with popular appeal to be a Bible-believing Christian. For true believers, it should be enough to recognize that Trump is pro-life and supports various issues that come under the heading, freedom of religion.

My unsolicited advice to all readers is, don’t be a fool. Don’t allow your judgment to be manipulated by your emotions. Don’t abrogate your responsibility to vote simply because you don’t like a candidate. All humans are imperfect. We aren’t electing a preacher or a Pope or a saint. This election has exposed the weaknesses and failings of both candidates. Neither Trump nor Clinton have been able to hide behind the respective labels of their political parties. Hopefully, they both will be seen for the individuals they are, although among Democrats, there is a much greater tendency to vote party, disregarding the actual qualities of a candidate.

But Trump’s Gettysburg speech makes it clear to me, that I would be a fool not to vote for him. Not because he is a Republican, for I am not. Not because he is a conservative, for he is more a moderate, compared to me. Not because he is a “Christian”. That label means different things to different people. But to me, he seems to respect the concerns of Christians. I would be a fool not to vote for Trump because he at least has a rational, cogent plan to correct many of the problems that plague our nation.

A world in which Hillary Clinton is the President of the United States would be a nightmare. Delusion, distortion, anguish and destruction. A road of lies leading to a future of loss. Don’t be fooled and don’t be a fool.

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Who Is Lying?

After more than a year of grinding political campaigns, the presidential election is only weeks away. I heard a joke the other day that asked if Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump are in a boat and it capsizes, who survives? The punchline answer was, “America”, and I must confess that I laughed. The reality is that gallows humor does give us something to laugh about. Emotionally speaking, it helps to deflect what feels like a devastating gut punch when our world is falling apart around us.

The first presidential election I can remember was in 1952. I was 7 years old. I remember enjoying the animated ads on TV that proclaimed, “I like Ike!”. When my father would be talking politics with his friends, he’d trot me out and have me tell them who I wanted to win. My enthusiastic response (“I like Ike!”) always brought smiles to their faces.

For the next 8 years, as I was growing up, I saw President Eisenhower many times on TV, and once in person, as I watched his motorcade pass by. In those years, I was not concerned with politics, per se. But each time I saw him and heard him speak, I felt pride in my nation and confidence in his strong and proven leadership.

Since that time, I have witnessed the performance of 10 subsequent individuals who have occupied the office of President of the United States of America. This is not a history that I have read about in books. This has been part of the life I have lived. I think that qualifies me as having a deeper and more meaningful perspective than much of what passes as informed commentary today.

I have never before seen a presidential election like the one in which we are currently embroiled. I have never seen a sitting (“lame duck”) President so intimately involved in his party’s campaign efforts as to slam their opponent with personal attacks. And not only the President, but the First Lady. Both of them have been busy slinging mud in the media, doing everything they can to paint a picture of Donald Trump as an utter moral reprobate.

In the past, sitting presidents (and their wives) have had the dignity of statesmanship to at least appear to stay out of the business of politics – particularly dirty politics. As the President of all Americans, previous presidents wisely and honorably did their best to remain above the fray. But not Obama and Michelle. They’ve gotten down and dirty, and the saddest thing for me is that to many Americans, their behavior seems to be acceptable.

The dirt is one thing. The lie is another. Trump’s enemies say he is unfit to be President because of morally despicable things he has said. And yet, nothing they accuse him of can be separated from their own hypocrisy. And I wonder how anyone can consider Trump’s accusers to be morally superior to him. When I think of society’s values today – the things we see in movies, the subjects of comedy routines, how overt sexuality has become commonplace and the level of crudity we tolerate as the social norm – aren’t they all being a bit hypocritical? Are we voting for a real human being or are we putting a chaste fantasy up on a pedestal?

Trump has never held public office. He has never had a fiduciary relationship to the people of this nation. He has never held the public trust. What he has done is succeeded as a businessman.

On the other hand, Hillary has held the public trust. Under her leadership Americans have died as a result of her incompetency – incompetency she lied about to cover up. As a politician, her success has mainly been in getting into office. She smiles, says how much she’s going to do for everyone…but she’s long on talk, long on excuses. She offers a fantasy, sustained on lies.

While Hillary’s husband was Governor of Arkansas and President of the United States, scandal after scandal plagued him, and yet nothing ever stuck. Accusers were paid off, witnesses disappeared, and people who were key to investigations mysteriously died. These prevailing scandals earned Mr. Clinton the moniker, “slick Willie”. I stand amazed that any rational person would think the wife of this impeached president would be any better than he was. The fact that they consider Trump disqualified by things he has said, while excusing Bill for things he’s actually done takes the nub of the debate well beyond the pot calling the kettle black.

The thing that troubles me most is the generalization that they are both equally bad candidates, equally bad choices. That was the point of the joke I began with. If you really believe they are equally bad, then they must also be equally good — merely two sides of the same coin. Are you willing to make this decision by the toss of a coin?

As the song says, “Time goes by so slowly, and time can do so much”. The winner of this presidential election will only be in office for 4 to 8 years. But long after that person is no longer serving, their appointees will continue to influence law and government. The most important and influential presidential appointees are the Supreme Court Justices, who may remain in their position for the rest of their lives. Over time, a president’s judicial appointments will potentially be their greatest impact on American culture and history. This fact alone prompts me to take the long view.

Out here on the left coast, in the People’s Republik of Culifoania, conservatives have looked for a third option, in the form of the Constitution Party’s Darrell Castle. Our new “open primary” has gone a long way to ensure that voters have a real choice between the top two Democrats. And with options like that, it’s even harder for third parties to even qualify for official recognition. Still, if the Constitution Party had 55 presidential electors, the state would recognize Darrell Castle as a write-in candidate. Without those 55 electors, write-in votes for Darrell Castle will not be counted.

As of October 12, according to http://www.constitutionpartyofcalifornia.org/faq.html there have only been 10 declarations for write-in electors for the Constitution Party. So much for a conservative choice in a state known for its fruits and nuts.

Bottom line, this election doesn’t give us a clear choice between pure political philosophies. But based on that, I do not see our choice as simply between two comparative evils or two comparative goods. What I see is a choice between a man who has been in private business all his life, administered a large organization and succeeded at that, vs a woman whose entire career has been in public life. And for all that time, she has made smiling promises on the one hand, and lied to cover up her blunders on the other hand. Everything about Hillary is based on perception.

How people vote will come down to what they believe. And what people believe seems to be rooted and grounded in what they want to be true. What do you want to be true?

I believe that in a totally different political world, some 2,000 years ago, Jesus told us we needed to vote when he said, “Render unto Caesar the things that are Caesar’s”. Caesar represented the governing authorities. Today in America, we elect those governing authorities, and they are supposed to represent our values and our interests. That’s what representational government is all about. It begins with the responsibility of every citizen to vote.

Christians especially are called to vote rationally and wisely. When we are confused, Scripture tells us to pray for wisdom and the LORD promises to supply us with wisdom. (“If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask God, who gives generously to all without reproach, and it will be given him.” – James 1:5)

And while you are seeking God’s wisdom, remember that the enemy is using deceptions and lies to confuse you. The Bible teaches that the enemy prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour. We are to be watchful and sober-minded (1 Peter 5:8). Finally, 2 Thessalonians 2:8 tells us that when the lawless one is revealed the Lord Jesus will kill him with the breath of his mouth.

Understand this symbolism. In John 1 Jesus is called the Word. And 2 Timothy 3:16 tells us, “All Scripture is breathed out by God…” These verses are talking about truth. Jesus described himself as the truth. When he spoke before Pilate he said, “…For this purpose I was born and for this purpose I have come into the world—to bear witness to the truth. Everyone who is of the truth listens to my voice.” (John 18:37).

Ephesians 6:17 calls the word of God the “sword of the Spirit”. Revelation 19:13-15 reads: “He is clothed in a robe dipped in blood, and the name by which he is called is The Word of God. And the armies of heaven, arrayed in fine linen, white and pure, were following him on white horses. From his mouth comes a sharp sword with which to strike down the nations, and he will rule them with a rod of iron. He will tread the winepress of the fury of the wrath of God the Almighty.”

In the end, the truth will destroy the lie.

In the meantime, Christians, be wary of deception. Don’t believe the lie.

Posted in Christian Attitudes, Vote | Tagged , , , , | 2 Comments

Like Sheep

The prophet Isaiah wrote, “All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned—every one—to his own way; and the LORD has laid on him the iniquity of us all.” (Isaiah 53:6)

That of course was written some 2,700 years ago in the context of an agrarian culture, where pretty much everyone was aware of the typical behavior of sheep. Even today, one of the most important jobs of a shepherd is to round-up and rescue the sheep that have unknowingly wandered away from the protective eyes of the shepherd.

But most of us today are unfamiliar with agrarian realities. As urbanites and suburbanites, our exposure to sheep is limited to things like the animated Shaun The Sheep series.

Perhaps we are not as different from sheep as we would like to think. But we often don’t grasp the Old Testament comparison of people to sheep, other than perhaps feeling it is a bit of a put-down. So, let’s be clear about what the phrase, “we like sheep have gone astray” really means.

Sheep are not wary. They naturally wander without giving a thought to where they are headed. They blissfully browse for things to eat. They don’t see the dangers around them, consider the risks they might be taking or anticipate any consequences for what they do. And because sheep simply do what they do without thinking about it, their survival and welfare depend on the shepherd who watches and cares for them.

Dumb animal” behavior is a natural thing. But for humans, the Creator has provided a supernatural Shepherd to save us from our natural wanderings. Isaiah called those wanderings “iniquities”, which like immorality or wickedness, is just another word for sin.

Sin is a red-flag word. Some people associate sin with the feeling of guilt or the breaking of some religious rule. And some people consider such rules arbitrary – just something someone else made up. Still, others follow the rules so religiously that they proudly consider themselves morally superior.

None of these attitudes are accurate. Sin isn’t a matter of rule-breaking. It’s simply our natural behavior causing us to wander away from the Shepherd. And since “the LORD has laid on him the iniquity of us all,” we can remain safe by staying close to him. Jesus said, “If you abide in me, and my words abide in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you” (John 15:7).

So here is the reason we pray. It’s how we stay close to the Shepherd. We cannot abide in Christ without prayer. We cannot walk in his light unless we stick close to him. Maintaining our relationship with him requires a lot of prayer.

When we pray we stop our natural wandering and begin to allow the Shepherd to show us the way. He does this by teaching us to develop the wisdom to make the best choices. The LORD is not a relentless taskmaster with a whip, forcing us to submit to his will. His yoke is easy. His burden is light. Our Shepherd’s rod and staff are a comfort to us, not an affliction. That’s why he invites us to come to him: “Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest” (Matthew 11:28).

Seeking the LORD, walking with the LORD, learning his ways and trusting in him with all our heart requires constant prayer. Consider for a moment what that means, and what it does not mean. Prayer isn’t just putting into words what is in our hearts or minds. God does not expect our prayers to be a sort of religious explanation or analysis or announcement or commentary that comes from our human wisdom or insight. He wants us to be constantly staying close to his love and protection, looking for his guidance, seeking his wisdom.

Christian prayer is not about following religious rules. It’s about maintaining a close relationship with the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. When we do not make prayer our regular practice we fall back on our natural inclinations, we wander off on our own, we lean on our own understanding, and we tend to forget we need the Shepherd’s loving presence.

1 Corinthians 8:2 tells us, “If anyone imagines that he knows something, he does not yet know as he ought to know.” We always need to temper our knowledge with God’s love. No matter how well we think we’re doing in our Christian walk, we always need to stay close to God and keep the conversation – and our relationships – going. So, lets not live like straying sheep, but remain in him through prayer, praying both privately and together as a body.

Verses for meditation:

Psalm 23             http://biblehub.com/esv/psalms/23.htm

Psalm 37:5-7       http://biblehub.com/psalms/37-5.htm

Psalm 37:23        http://biblehub.com/psalms/37-23.htm

Psalm 86:11        http://biblehub.com/psalms/86-11.htm

Psalm 119:133    http://biblehub.com/psalms/119-133.htm

Psalm 139:23-24 http://biblehub.com/psalms/139-23.htm

Proverbs 3:5-8    http://biblehub.com/proverbs/3-5.htm

1 John 1:7          http://biblehub.com/1_john/1-7.htm

Acts 1:14            http://biblehub.com/acts/1-14.htm

Colossians 4:2     http://biblehub.com/colossians/4-2.htm

Posted in Prayer, The Church | Tagged , , , , | 2 Comments

“No Foundation. All The Way Down The Line.”

(Excerpts from The Time Of Your Life © 1939 by William Saroyan. Excerpts used with permission of the Trustees of Leland Stanford Junior University.)

 

This is not an attempt to critique a stageplay or its writer, but to consider the significance of one minor character in the play, The Time Of Your Life, by William Saroyan. That character is the ARAB and following are excerpts from the play in which the ARAB appears. Page numbers refer to the anthology from which it was taken: Best Plays of the Modern American Theatre, SECOND SERIES, 1939-1946, edited by John Gassner, 1947.

Act 2, page 58

KRUPP Why then do you read?

McCARTHY(laughing) It’s relaxing. It’s soothing. (pause) The lousiest people born into the world are writers. Language is all right. It’s the people who use language that are lousey. (The ARAB has moved a little closer, and is listening carefully.) (To the ARAB.) What do you think, Brother?

ARAB (after making many faces, thinking very deeply) No foundation. All the way down the line. What. What-not. Nothing. I go walk and look at sky. (He goes.)

JOE (slowly, thinking, remembering) What? What-not? That means this side, that side. Inhale. Exhale. What: birth, What-not: death. The inevitable, the astounding, the magnificent seed of growth and decay in all things. Beginning, and end. That man, in his own way, is a prophet. He is one who, with the help of beer, is able to reach that state of deep understanding in which what and what-not, the reasonable and unreasonable are one.

* * *

Page 61

TOM (going) Ah, Joe. If McCarthy wins we’ll be rich.

JOE Get going, will you? (Tom runs out and nearly knocks over the ARAB coming back in. Nick fills him a beer without a word.)

ARAB No foundation, anywhere. Whole world. No foundation. All the way down the line.

[His remark, as usual, is ignored by those present, who continue with their own exchanges.]

* * *

Act 4, pages 70-71

KRUPP Every once in a while I catch myself being mean, hating people just because they’re down and out, broke and hungry, sick or drunk. And then when I’m with the stuffed shirts at headquarters, all of a sudden I’m nice to them, trying to make an impression. On who? People I don’t like. And I feel disgusted. (with finality) I’m going to quit. That’s all. Quit. Out. I’m going to give them back the uniform and the gadgets that go with it. I don’t want any part of it. This is a good world. What do they want to make all the trouble for all the time?

ARAB (quietly, gently, with great understanding) No foundation. All the way down the line.

KRUPP What?

ARAB No foundation. No foundation.

KRUPP I’ll say there’s no foundation.

ARAB All the way down the line.

KRUPP (to Nick) Is that all he ever says?

NICK That’s all he’s been saying this week.

KRUPP What is he, anyway?

NICK He’s an Arab, or something like that.

KRUPP No, I mean what’s he do for a living?

NICK (to ARAB) What do you do for a living, brother?

ARAB Work. Work all my life. All my life work. From small boy to old man, work. In old country, work. In new country, work. In New York, Pittsburg, Detroit, Chicago, Imperial Valley, San Francisco, work. No beg. Work. For what? Nothing. Three boys in old country. Twenty years, not see. Lost. Dead. Who knows? What. What-not. No Foundation. All the way down the line.

KRUPP What’d he say last week?

NICK Didn’t say anything. Played the harmonica.

ARAB Old country song. I play. (He brings a harmonica from his back pocket.)

KRUPP Seems like a nice guy.

NICK Nicest guy in the world.

KRUPP (bitterly) But crazy. Just like all the rest of us. Stark raving mad.

* * *

Act 5, page 79

(Nick is on his way out. The ARAB enters.)

NICK Hi-ya, Mahmed.

ARAB No Foundation.

NICK All the way down the line. (He goes.)

(Wesley is at the piano, playing quietly. The ARAB takes out his harmonica, and begins to play. Wesley fits his playing to the ARAB’s.)

* * *

page 80

(The newsboy goes to the ARAB.)

NEWSBOY Paper, mister?

ARAB (irritated) No foundation.

NEWSBOY What?

ARAB (very angry) No Foundation. (The newsboy starts out, turns, looks at the ARAB, shakes head.)

NEWSBOY No foundation? How do you figure?

[The ARAB gives him no response.]

 

William Saroyan was an American playwrite who was the son of Armenian immigrants. Armenia is sandwiched between Turkey on the west, Azerbaijan on the East, Iran to the South and Georgia to the North. Although Armenia is in close proximity to a high concentration of Arabs and Muslims, their primary ethnicity is caucasian and the dominant religion is Christianity. In fact Armenia was the world’s first nation to adopt Christianity as its official religion.

Interestingly, Willam Saroyan’s father was a Christian preacher. But when William was only 3 years old, his father died. For the next 5 years, William and his brother and sister were placed in an orphanage in Oakland, California, while their mother scrambled to find work to support them.

The fact that he was buried in Armenia indicates Saroyan’s ancestral roots were important to him. As an American author he wrote from an American perspective, while never totally forgetting where his family came from. Imbedded in that perspective was the drama of the human psyche, struggling to keep its footing.

Saroyan was a heavy drinker. The loss of his father at a very young age had stripped his life of the kind of foundation his father would have prepared for him. And I think that he struggled with that loss of foundation his whole life.

The Time Of Your Life, opened on Broadway, and was the first play to earn both the Pulitzer Prize for Drama and the New York Drama Critics Circle Award. It is set almost exclusively in a run-down dive in San Francisco, which Saroyan based on an establishment that he himself frequented.

The several characters in this play are predictably types one would expect to find in a honky tonk bar, although as their stories unfold you discover that despite their apparent foolishness, they share a universal need for meaning and significance. The resolution of the play for me is that through the struggles and unique predicaments of their lives, they are shown to be deserving of sympathy and even forgiveness.

An unassuming character in this play that jumped out at me was the ARAB. He is listed in the dramatis personae as “An Eastern philosopher and harmonica player,” and further described on page 41 as “…a lean old man with a rather ferocious old-country mustache, with the ends twisted up. Between the thumb and forefinger of his left hand is the Mohammedan tattoo indicating that he has been to Mecca. He is sipping beer. It’s about eleven-thirty in the morning.”

This brief description actually speaks volumes. A Muslim who takes his religion seriously doesn’t drink alcohol at all. Drinking at this hour of the day is a sure sign of a drinking problem. Obviously, the ARAB was the backslidden sort – identifying with Islamic culture, but not its religious strictures. While making a hadj to Mecca is an obligation for all Muslims, tattoos are considered an offense by many main-stream religious Muslims, so again, we see this character is somewhat conflicted.

It is clear that the ARAB is not a religious man, but a man of the world who came out of a religious background. This seems to represent the conscience of the author, who himself was a man of the world, despite being born into a religious family.

The fact that this character is called the ARAB, not the ARMENIAN, exemplifies how Americans tend to view people from the Middle East, the Mediteranean, Eastern Europe and even India. Put an “old-country” moustache on a white Armenian and voila! You have an ARAB. In the present era we have seen this kind of ignorance directed toward Sikhs, who are often mistaken for Muslims or Arabs, simply because they wear turbins – despite the distinctive appearance of a Sikh turbin.

When I worked for the Postal Service, a carrier who had originally come from India was nicknamed “Ghandi” by some of our fellow workers. I often wondered if that offended him, since he was a Sikh and Ghandi was a Hindu. In any case, I imagine that Saroyen’s “ARAB” was a calculated mischaracterization intended to reveal a common American attitude toward people from “the old country”.

No doubt Saroyen had encountered that kind of thing in his own life, and using the character of the ARAB, he wove it into the fabric of his play. What struck me about his character was that without elaboration, his single message was that there is no foundation. He responded to the people and situations around him and made his universal commentary on the human condition: that in the whole world there is no foundation.

This could be taken as a repudiation of the Christian foundation that Saroyan had lost, or some might interpret this to be a type of Nihilism that regrets the lack of intrinsic meaning to life. I doubt that because of the positive moral statements that begin the setting for the play, which includes, “Seek goodness everywhere, and when it is found, bring it out of its hiding-place, and let it be free and unashamed,” and “Discover in all things that which shines and is beyond corruption.”

It is my opinion that the ARAB represents Saroyan’s personal sense of loss in the lack of foundation for his own life, and that the inhabitants of the fictional world he created reflect that same lack. These are just my own impressions and suppositions. I have not made of study of William Saroyan. But there is something in his writing that reminds me of my own father, who was born around the same time and was also a heavy drinker. So, if in my own ignorance I have made some egregious misrepresentation, I appologize – particularly to those who love the work of this author.

While, much of the dialogue is written with comedic intent, comedy only works when it is based in truth. And I find a lot of truth represented by what is said by the ARAB, even taking into consideration that being loaded on alcohol can make things sound more profound than they really are.

All in all, the ARAB is more than just an odd character or even a sympatheic character. I feel he is pivotal to the play’s meaning. I hesitate to use the term, “message” because rather that trying to sell an idea, I feel Saroyan was offering his ideas as one might extend his hand for another to accept.

The ARAB’s mantra-like refrain, “No foundation. All the way down the line” represents a sweeping moral dilemma deeply important to him, while those around him are hardly aware of it, never mind able to understand what he’s talking about. The major exception to this is JOE, who seems to understand things better than just about everyone, and yet his understanding doesn’t really impact how he lives his own life. Even JOE doesn’t have a foundation.

He spends his days drinking in a bar, looking for meaning with the yearning of a poet, only to laugh at human foibles and frailty – with the help of some champaign. But when tomorrow comes, it will be a repeat of all his yesterdays. And that will be his life. This is the result of having no foundation to your life.

An old philosopher would say this because in his life he had observed how people try to use any number of things as foundations upon which to build their lives, only to see those ersatz foundations crumble when problems arose and attacked them. But recognizing the fact that there is no foundation isn’t the same as telling people about the true foundation to life. Even an old philosopher might not know what that true foundation is.

In Isaiah 28:16 we read, “therefore thus says the Lord GOD, Behold, I am the one who has laid as a foundation in Zion, a stone, a tested stone, a precious cornerstone, of a sure foundation”.

1 Samuel 2:2 says, “There is none holy like the LORD: for there is none besides you; there is no rock like our God.”

Matthew 7:24-27 records the words of Jesus, “Everyone then who hears these words of mine and does them will be like a wise man who built his house on the rock. And the rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat on that house, but it did not fall, because it had been founded on the rock.”

The true foundation is Jesus Christ.

Posted in Literature, Theater | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

The Value Of Free Will Is Choosing To Do The Right Thing.

Reading a passage in Jeremiah this morning, I was reminded that God gives us freewill and that the onus is on us to choose to do the right thing.

Let the prophet who has a dream tell the dream, but let him who has my word speak my word faithfully. – Jeremiah 23:28

We might cite this as an example of freedom of speech under the LORD’s authority. Because God is willing to permit anyone to say anything, it behooves believers who have been given his word to speak it faithfully.

The fact that our free will is recognized in Scripture is evident. In addressing the consequences of the blessings and curses of God, Deuteronomy 30:19 makes it clear: we have the freedom to choose life. Joshua 24:15 speaks of choosing whom we shall serve. John 7:17 mentions a person’s will to do God’s will. In fact that is what obedience to God is all about: freely choosing to do God’s will. It doesn’t mean God forces you into submission to religious laws.

God does not force obedience on anyone. But no one can exercise freedom without assuming responsibility for their choices. For every choice we make, according to the exercise of our free will, there are predictable consequences – predictable because God has created an ordered, balanced universe. For every action there is an equal and opposite reaction. Reality is not arbitrary, but rational and characterized by cause and effect.

So, those who choose to rebel against God will accordingly pay the consequences for what they have done.

There are two seductive arguments against this statement. First, as recorded in Genesis 3, Satan was able to entice Adam and Eve to sin (rebel against the authority of God) by using doubt (skepticism). He asked rhetorically whether or not God really commanded them not to eat the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. And once doubt had been introduced into their thinking, Satan appealed to their human pride, suggesting that God had ulterior motives to telling them not to eat from that particular tree. And this argument continues to be used today.

Secondly, is the foolish denial that God is real, relegating God to a position of merely being a product of Man’s creative imagination. There is no exuse for this argument because what can be known about God has been made abundantly clear from the beginning (Romans 1:20). Those who use this argument willfully cover their eyes and only see what they want to see. They particularly refuse to regard holy Scripture, the God-breathed word that reveals himself to all who are open to receive it.

Since doubt and pride are very real things that we human beings experience, it is understandable that those states of mind might lead a person to sin (again, keeping it clear, sin is rebelling against God). But to insist that God is not real, in order to rationalize not recognizing his authority over you, requires a significant presupposition of the will in which the individual assumes god-like authority over his own life.

Once this presupposition is made, the individual has no cause to examine the evidence. Such a person makes himself out to be a god whose mind is made up. And that’s all that matters.

The error of this kind of thinking is that those who are enticed by it will suddenly, in the end, be confronted with the reality that God has authority over them, regardless of their denials. God doesn’t need their permission. He is the One – the only One – who is in authority.

That is what the Bible says. Jeremiah’s prophecy said, “…let him who has my word speak my word faithfully,” which I have tried to do here. The reader has the freedom to accept it or reject it, but there will come a time when we all “reap what we sow” (that means deal with the consequences of our own actions). Galatians 6:7 instructs, “Do not be deceived: God is not mocked, for whatever one sows, that will he also reap.”

God gives us freedom. But don’t think your freedom means you are not responsible for your choices. Consequences will come. They are inevitable, unavoidable. For the sake of your own eternal destination, pay attention to God’s revelations. Don’t ignore them. Jesus said, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me” – John 14:6.

Choose life. Serve the LORD. Do God’s will. Receive Christ.

Posted in Bible, Christian Faith, the gospel | Tagged , , , , | 3 Comments

‘Recollections’

This particular post is neither religious nor political. From time to time I like to take a break from the usual format of my blog, and simply share things from my life that hopefully everyone can appreciate.  This is how I came to be (in a very small way) “in the movies”, as they say.

One day in the early 1960s when I was still in high school, my friend Jim and I spent the day at my older brother’s beach apartment in Del Mar, California. My brother had a then state-of-the-art stereo system and we listened to some Cal Tjader, and then Primitiva, by Martin Denny, featuring instrumentals with jungle bird calls. It was the album cover that had grabbed our attention.

Screen Shot 2016-08-11 at 12.47.04 PM

This, by the way, has nothing to do with the rest of the story.

After we had our fill of listening to music, Jim suggested we revisit one of his childhood haunts — a private beach not far away. He regaled me with recollections of many happy times he had spent there, and as we walked around the now-deserted grounds he reminisced about his childhood summers.

What made our brief tour into Jim’s past fascinating for me is that the old buildings that remained were in a state of disrepair, the landscaping was no longer maintained and what I saw was a world totally alien from that which Jim recalled.

I was fascinated by the contrast of the state of things simply as a result of the passage of time. After returning home, I wrote a fictional short story contrasting what Jim had told me with what my eyes had seen. One of the contrasts in that story was of the smooth concrete of the poolside that had felt so “permanent” back then, with the walkways now, which were cracked and rippled by roots.

I shared the story with Jim, we talked about it, and then we both turned our attention to new things. And for a while, those recollections became forgotten, as time continued its passage.

Jim and I had a mutual friend, Wes. In both high school and college the three of us would serenade girls with our own variation of “Oh Dora Dear”, a song near the end of the 1942 cartoon, “The Dover Boys”.

So, naturally, we called ourselves The Dover Boys, a moniker that stuck with us over time.

Doverboys re do 2

That’s me on the left, Wes and Jim.

This was our version of “Oh Dora Dear”:

Oh (insert name of girl) dear,

Sweet (insert same name) dear,

Keep courage up and do not fear.

The Dover Boys from old P.U.

Will soon be there to rescue you.

P.U., P.U. We’re all for you!

Yay! Boo!

(Watching the cartoon will give you an idea of how this sounded, and also will explain that P.U. stands for Pimento University. It’s all just very silly, but that was the whole point.)

To the best of my…ahem…recollections, it was sometime in 1970 that the Dover Boys reunited. Wes and I had both returned from Vietnam and Jim was in the National Guard. I believe it was Jim who sugested we make a film based on the story I had written about his Del Mar childhood memories, especially since Wes had a camera and technical expertise. So, we went down to the old beach and started filming.

Jim did the credits and wrote the theme song. Wes and I came in separate sessions with Jim to record it. It was a fun project, and a labor of love. But we hadn’t planned to “do” anything with it, in terms of finding an audience for it. Then in 1972 a local San Diego film festival provided the ideal setting for showing off our efforts to the public, so Jim entered our film, appropriately entitled, ‘Recollections’ into the festival.

The film festival (Filmmaker’s Fiesta) was produced by KDEO Radio and the Acadamy Theater, where ‘Recollections’ was shown. It was also aired on Public Television station, KPBS. It took 3rd place in the Independent category and received an award from KPBS for “most effective film for television”.

The film in its entirety has a run time in excess of 9 whole minutes. It’s G-Rated, inoffensive, unopinionated and has no hidden “message”, unless you consider family recreation at the beach morally reprehensible.  So, enjoy!   

 

Posted in Life | Tagged , , , , | 2 Comments

The Heart Of Disbelief

A new movie has been recently released, entitled, “The Atheist Delusion” http://www.atheistmovie.com . I haven’t seen it, but the trailer is quite intriguing and got me to thinking.

Reading holy Scripture makes it obvious to me now that everything that can be known about God has been clearly shown, so that those who deny the existence of God are without excuse. And also, because Scripture reveals God’s truth, there is no excuse for those who, while they may believe in God, place him into a box of their own understanding. Yet, I did not always see it that way.

Despite the confused and deconstructed thinking of postmodern secular world views, truth is not relative. It is absolute — not because I say it is, but because the Creator of the universe says it is. The gospel of John begins,

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things were made through him, and without him was not any thing made that was made.

This was the “knocking on the door” (Revelation 3:20) that led me to open and allow Christ to enter my life. That’s symbolic language, because it attempts to express what is essentially a mystery. John 1:12 says,

But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God.

Again, the mysterious symbolism of being born again. When the disciples of Jesus asked him why he spoke in parables, instead of speaking plainly, he said, “This is why I speak to them in parables, because seeing they do not see, and hearing they do not hear, nor do they understand.” and “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.”

In order to be receptive to the truth of Christ, a person’s heart must be right with God. It is the honest, sincere condition of a person’s heart that allows him to see, hear and understand the truth. It isn’t simply a matter of their physical eyes, ears or brains. That is why when Jesus was before Pilate, he said, “You say that I am a king. For this purpose I was born and for this purpose I have come into the world—to bear witness to the truth. Everyone who is of the truth listens to my voice.”

Here is the truth:

Nothing made God — certainly not the creative imagination of any mere human being.
He is self-existent and eternal, beyond human understanding, beyond human control, higher and greater than I am.
No, I did not make God in my image. He made me in his image.
All that I am able to do comes directly from his intention and design.
He is the potter. I am the clay.
I am subject to his authority and judgement. He is not subject to mine.
He is the Creator, not me.

When humanity was first created, we were free — free to love God and the beauty of all his creation, free to love one another, and have open fellowship with our Creator because he first loved us. But we fell into sin, causing the entire world to fall with us, because of our childish, self-centered disobedience. In our foolishness, we chose rebellion against God over submission to his perfect wisdom. We brought sin into God’s perfect garden, and so it is our sin that pollutes the world.

Because of his infinite compassion, mercy, love and forgiveness, God invites us to leave that sin behind and return to him. He invested centuries with Israel, establishing a covenant with them designed to overcome the sin that separates us from him. But Israel continually violated their covenant with God. They proved that because of our sinful nature, human beings will never live up to God’s righteous standards. Thus 1 Corinthians 10:11 tells us, “Now these things happened to them as an example, but they were written down for our instruction, on whom the end of the ages has come.”

Sin separates us from God, and separation from God is death — eternal death. So God gave us the perfect sacrifice for all sin — the perfect fulfillment of his covenant with Israel. Instead of endless sacrifices being made for endless sins, without any real change in us, God offers his perfect sacrifice for our sins so that we shall no longer be separated from him, but reunited in fellowship with him and alive in him (and he in us) forever.

God has done this to save us from the consequences of our own sin, and yet many in their foolishness refuse to admit to their own culpability and continue to blame God for every bad thing that happens in this fallen world. They either blame God for evil or use the presence of evil as evidence that God does not exist — anything to avoid their own accountability to their Creator. The flip side to this blame game is utopian thinking, which makes the basic assumption that humanity can not only fix the problems of the world, but make life perfect on our own, without God’s intervention. This is the ultimate delusion of self-determinism.

God loves you. He created you. He desires fellowship with you. He has gifts he wants to bless you with. It was for freedom that Christ has set us free. Jesus said, “I came that they may have life and have it abundantly.” This truth is not hidden. God reveals it in his holy Scripture to anyone who is open to read it and study it. His word says that he is calling us and even knocking at the door of our hearts. He does not desire to remain separated from us, but offers communion with all who will receive him — the Creator of the universe desires a personal, loving, forgiving relationship with you.

It has been said, “Wise men still seek him.” Will you seek him today? Will you stop ignoring him and read his word? Try starting with the Gospel of John in the New Testament. That’s the door that opened the kingdom of heaven for me. Jeremiah 29:13 says, “You will seek me and find me, when you seek me with all your heart.” 2 Chronicles 15:2 adds, “…but if you forsake him, he will forsake you.”

God wants to bless you, but he’s waiting for you to act because he gave you free will. Seeking him requires an act of your will. You can either seek him or find any number of ways to resist him. What will you do?

Posted in Atheism, Belief in God, Bible, Christian Faith | Tagged , , , , , | 5 Comments

Remembering JFK

A comment to my last post about the Kennedy commencement speech got me to reminiscing about JFK. This morning I listened to the speech he gave at San Diego State. It was strong on education, backed up with a lot of statistical data, and granted, came with a political slant. What struck me was that in those days there was an almost universal love for the man, a palpable pride in him because he was our President who represented commonly held, achievable, American ideals.

Another video I watched was the news coverage of his visit to San Diego by channel 8 TV. What astounded me was how informative the news used to be, compared to the dreck they serve up today. I was blown away by the fact-filled, descriptive narration of the news commentator. It dramatically illustrates the reality that we as a nation have truly been dumbed-down in the most egregious sense. That fact is a poignant wound in the American psyche, particularly in light of Kennedy’s vision for better education.

But my memories of JFK weren’t really political. In 1962 Vaughn Meader came out with The First Family comedy album  th

which I totally loved. I played it over and over, memorizing the bits and aping the accents of all the characters. I particularly enjoyed doing the JFK parts, and was known for saying, “Jackie’s fine right here!” and “No pregunta que su patria puede hacer para usted. Pero pregunta que usted puede hacer para su patria.” A group of us in the Thespian club actually staged our own version of The First Family for a school assembly, acting out some of the vignettes from the album. It was great fun and represented a commonly held attitude toward the President in those days, that he was authentically personal and even fun. From my high school annual of 1963 is this photo of one of the sketches. I’m playing JFK in the rocking chair.   Scan 8

My high school graduation was exactly one week after the SDSC commencement (it wasn’t a ‘U’ yet). I don’t remember the speeches given at my own commencement any better than I remember Kennedy’s speech. I was young, and my main memory was one of, “Gosh! It’s the President!”.

My next memory of JFK was 6 1/2 months later. I was a freshman at San Diego State and had been using one of the practice rooms in the old Music building, lost in some song I was trying to learn. I came out of the room and saw a friend of mine in the hall. His face was ashen. I asked him what was wrong. “Mike,” he struggled to speak, “the President has been shot.”

For some odd reason, I thought he meant the president of the college, Dr. Malcom Love. That would have been tragic enough. But as I walked downstairs and exited the building, I saw a crowd of students silently and motionlessly standing around a TV that had been set up in the quad. Going over to it and watching the news being reported on the shooting in Dallas, it was as if I had awakened from a dream, only to find myself in a nightmare. The president who had been shot was JFK.

I don’t know how long I stood there, hanging on every reporter’s word, but at some point we heard that the President was dead. Everyone was dumbstruck. With no concern for any of my classes (they were surely all cancelled anyway) in a daze I just walked the two miles back to my house. When I got home, I think it was my mother who first saw me and asked, “What’s wrong?” I sat on the couch without knowing what to do, and said, “The President has been shot.”

I think that marked a major change in American history and culture — at least it changed how I looked at the world. Politics and social issues became less idealistic, less noble and grew to be harsh and even deadly. Politics was no longer a matter of intellectual debate, but one of violent force and confrontation.

Less than 4 1/2 years later, Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated. I was in the Army, finishing infantry training at Ft. Polk, LA. Then, when I was home in San Diego on leave, shortly before shipping out to Vietnam, Bobby Kennedy was assassinated during his campaign for the presidency. That was June 5th, 1968 — almost 5 years to the day when we heard JFK’s commencement address at San Diego State. Then in less than two weeks, I landed in Vietnam.

Throughout all this time I hoped things would get better. I was definitely part of the youthful idealism mentioned in the comment to my previous post. But now, after more than half a century has passed, just as I felt that terrible day when the President was killed, I feel like I have awakened from a dream, only to find myself in a nightmare. Things have only gotten worse. Those who were there, back in those days, know it’s true.

Posted in American History, Historical perspective, Politics, Violence | Tagged , , , , | 2 Comments