Where I grew up, parents would be absolutely mortified if they ever heard one of their kids using the ‘F-word’.  My mom would have washed my mouth out with soap, grounded me for a month and insisted that Dad deal with me, had she heard me using it.  That would have involved the razor strap.  (He never really used it on us kids physically, but he was a master of using it to strike fear into our hearts, so that we would fall in line.)

Most of the kids I knew didn’t use that word much at all.  And almost nobody said it in front of a girl.  I would personally have  been embarrassed to do so.  I don’t think I ever did, actually. Does that surprise you?  Are you proud of your generation that you use it like it’s your best friend?  Do you suppose your familiarity with it’s use in normal discourse makes you somehow more ‘with it’, or cool?

Today girls let it fly not only in conversations with girlfriends, but put it on their facebook posts for all the world to see.  It’s sad.  It’s beyond sad, really.  And it needs to stop.  And I’m not just talking about that one word.  I’m talking about the kind of behavoir that has little respect for anyone or anything, and that might just be coming from a kind of self-loathing that can’t really find a satisfactory outlet.

Did your Mom ever wash your mouth out with soap?  Maybe she should have.  Maybe the Mom you drew in the parent lottery wasn’t so good at teaching moral behavior and decency.  But grow up, girlie girl.  Want your rights?  You’ll get a lot more bees with honey than with vinegar, mine taught me.  Why not try a different approach?

Why not try kindness?  Why not try modesty?  Women in my generation knew that being demure gave them a lot of power, especially over men.  They didn’t put them down, or overpower them, but they got them to behave.  Demure women taught men that they were of great worth, and that they valued themselves and their virtue too highly to let men have their way with them.  They set the ground rules, and men quickly learned to abide by them or leave.  Men learned that they were wife material.  The rest were nice to hang out with and maybe ‘get lucky’ with, but who would want to marry a girl like that?

Why not try love?  Love is so misunderstood by every generation after mine, it seems.  Are you a child of the 80’s?  Were you part of the ‘free love’ and ‘make love, not war’ generation?  For the most part, of course, it wasn’t love they were talking about at all – it was sex.  They wanted to MAKE love, but that was just code for having sex.  And it was just the beginning of a tsunami of change in the moral fiber of our nation and culture.  It is not producing good fruit.

The Greeks had several different words for love.  The one far too few of us are fluent in is the one they called agape (agápē).  It has to do with love that is selfless.  If you love someone without needing to get something from them in return, it may be agape.  Agape love is not so much a warm fuzzy feeling, as it is actually caring what’s best for another person.  It’s the kind of love that, as the Bible puts it, “…never gives up.  Love cares more for others than for self.  Love doesn’t want what it doesn’t have.  Love doesn’t strut, Doesn’t have a swelled head, Doesn’t force itself on others, Isn’t always “me first,” Doesn’t fly off the handle, Doesn’t keep score of the wrongs of others, Doesn’t revel when others grovel, Takes pleasure in the flowering of truth, Puts up with anything, Trusts God always, Always looks for the best, Never looks back, But keeps going to the end.”

Those who practice that kind of love toward others eventually find that many of them start to feel genuine love and affection in return.  That’s the kind of free love that seems in such short supply these days.

So from this septuagenarian to my younger friends, family members and the world in general, please, for the sake of all that is good and pleasant and noble and right, clean up your act, won’t you?  We will feel more kindly toward you, and you will stop heaping scorn on your own heads.

The Big, Big Story

Scientists now know that the universe is not eternal. It had a sudden and dramatic beginning.  For years, it was thought that it was eternal – that it just had to have always been there.  Yet today, scientists are nearly universal in agreement that it had a beginning. They call it the “big bang”, of course.  The Bible calls it the creation.  Scientists have finally discovered the truth that the Bible has been claiming for big.bangthousands of years.

Many in the the scientific community are now scrambling to find another alternative. They know that if there was a beginning, there had to be someone or something that caused it.  And that means there had to be a creator – one who is of another essence than matter, energy, time and light. And ‘he’ had to be a living being – one of unfathomable power, intelligence, and creativity. He had to exist outside of, or apart from the universe he made. We refer to the Creator as God, but many people simply can’t bring themselves to accept that conclusion, even though nothing else makes sense.

But what has He told us about himself and the things he made?  Many things – and they are contained in the writings we call the Bible.  It is referred to as the Word of God, because it reveals God’s own story.  It has been dismissed and criticized by skeptics for thousands of years, yet is has withstood every assault, and stands alone as a guidebook for all of life and all truth.

It tells us that Adam was the first man, and that he was created in God’s own image.  We don’t know exactly what that means, since God is a non-material being, but I think it refers to the part of us that’s non-material.  Human beings, alone among all living beings, are capable of complex thoughts and emotions, and can contemplate questions like “Where did I come from?”, and “Why am I here?”  So maybe the way to interpret the Bible is to see us as created in God’s non-material – his spiritual image.

The Bible also tells us that although God declared the creation as good, and the creation of man as very good, it didn’t take long for us to defy God, and to try to become gods ourselves, independent from Him.  And we’re still doing it today, over 6000 years later.  It has not been working out for us all that well.  From that ignominious beginning, we learned that the “wages of sin is death.”  Worse, we now know that the death referred to is not just ordinary death, where the heart stops and the life leaves the body.  We are not just bodies.  We are both body and spirit.  So the death referred to is far more consequential.  We were made for eternity, and the death we face because of our rebellion is not a momentary thing ending in nothingness.  It’s an eternal state of conscious death, which is horrible beyond comprehension.

So God revealed His eternal plan to save us from ourselves.  He declared that we are all guilty of violating his perfect law, and that there is no one righteous, not even one.  Therefore, God Himself came from Heaven to Earth and joined His eternal essence with human flesh in what is called the incarnation.  God became man, the God-man Jesus.  And soon he told us what his incredible plan was.  He would pay the penalty for our evil rebellion Himself!

For three years, he walked with a small group of men called the disciples, and taught them and others from the scriptures, and that all that had been written in them was about Him, and that he had come to love us, to serve us, and to give up his life to save us.  Nobody was prepared for a God who loved the ones He created so much that He would die for them.   But that’s what He did, and it changes everything.  And not only did he predict his own death, he said he would rise from the dead on the third day, and he did! This was borne out by over 500 people who saw with their own eyes, and swore to it, even though some of them were killed for saying so.

So God’s eternal plan is this: Come to Him.  Stop running away from your God, and turn to Him.  He is the healer of your heart, and the lover of your soul.  You will find rest in Him, and the meaning and purpose of your life will become clear.  He made you for himself, and your highest and best purpose and destiny is to learn from Him, to love Him, and to spend the rest of your days basking in His peace, which passes all understanding.

Sure, let’s be friends

My dear, sweet, lady.

I do want to be friends.  I don’t really want to be arguing about things all the time.  It’s just that you make it so hard to do.  It has nothing to do with your heart.  You have one of the most caring, generous and tender hearts of anyone I have ever met.  The problem is that you have constructed a view of the world and of truth based on things you have learned and seen that is — incomplete.  And you are unwilling to be persuaded.  In effect, you’re saying that you have acquired all the wisdom needed, and anything further would be superfluous.

There’s a cultural proverb that says “There is no one so blind as one who will not see.”  That’s you, at least for the moment.  It’s not that you can’t see, it’s that you refuse to.  So the problem is this.  The terms on which you want to be friends require me to make this choice: either I compromise my principles in order to agree with you, or I simply avoid discussions that may get into areas where we will disagree.  In other words, we either have a superficial relationship, or none at all.

Here’s  an alternative.  You could say, “You know, I don’t agree with you, but I can see that you have some very deeply held and well thought out ideas about things, and I’d like to hear more about them, because the truth is important to me.”

That’s hard to do in our culture, because we have a kind of “go along to get along” attitude that’s seen as the most important of our values.  Tolerance is seen as the most important of virtues.  The problem with that is that it’s unlivable.  You may have heard of the Christian couple with a small business called Sweet Cakes by Melissa.  They were absolutely hammered by the state at the urging of the gay community because they declined to bake a wedding cake for a lesbian couple.  So the state, in bending over backwards to be tolerant of the gay couple, became outrageously intolerant of the Christian couple, even to the point of taking their home, their life savings, their business and their livlihood.  The point is that we are all intolerant about some things.  The key question is this:  Am I being intolerant of the right things, or the wrong things?

I am intolerant of politicians lying to the people they are supposed to be serving.  I am intolerant of ideologies that teach people to maim and kill.  I am intolerant of evil.  Tolerance is something you should have for someone with poor social skills (like burping loudly in public), or toward someone with with slowness of mind.  It is not something you should have toward an idea that if believed could motivate one to commit the most vile and depraved acts imaginable.

And truly, I can understand how you might come to view things the way you do.  After all, I was a liberal up until about age 25.  I voted for John Kennedy and later Lyndon Johnson.  But a friend and mentor started asking me to defend my choices, and I gradually came to see some of the flaws in the liberal ideology.  And for that matter, I didn’t become a Christian until age 57!

But here’s the thing.  There will come a day when you will be held accountable for everything you have done in this life.  In fact, everyone will.  And the problem is that no one will be seen as worthy, not even one.  There is no more important decision that you will ever make than the one involving Jesus Christ.  It may come as a surprise, but good people don’t go to Heaven.  The only ones who do are ones that came to God with humility of heart and a contrite spirit and ask for forgiveness for the wrongs they have done, repent of their sinful ways and dedicate their lives to God from that point on.  It is anything but easy to do, but it is very, very simple.

So that’s where this is going.  I don’t care whether you come to my way of thinking on Muslims, or guns, or abortion or anything else for that matter.  There is only one thing needful: surrender your life to God, while there’s still time.

Here’s a good summary.

I hope you’ll want to know more.  This is one thing we can talk about that maybe you don’t have all the information you want.


On Freedom of Religion

Religion is a word everybody uses, but few have a really concise and precise understanding of what it is.  It does not mean believing in God.  Buddhists are very religious, but do not believe in a god at all.  Hindus have many gods.  Jews, Christians and Muslims adhere to a belief in one God, although their understanding of who he is, and what his attributes are differs greatly.

More importantly, some who are religious are seen to be pious, and some aren’t.  In this sense, being pious means regularly doing things like engaging in prayer, reading the holy writings and teachings, and other ritualistic practices.  All are designed to make one a better follower, a more faithful follower.

But faith is misunderstood as well.  Is faith necessary in order to be religious?  You may be surprised to hear me say that the answer is no.  Look up the Pharisees, and see what Jesus had to say to them.  Their religion was offensive to Him, and He’s the Son of God.  But here’s a different, and perhaps more meaningful question:  Is faith necessary to be part of any group of like-minded individuals?  The answer to that one is yes.  So let’s define faith.

Faith is the reasonable belief, based on all evidence obtained by an individual so far, that a thing is true.

You may want to argue with that, but if you do, you do so on faith.  Life is short, so we need to make some reasonable conclusions about how it works based on limited evidence.  The question is not so much whether you have faith, but in whom (or what) do you trust?  I believe God created man, while the Darwinian faithful believe that he evolved.  I believe the Biblical account is true, and they believe otherwise.  Neither of us have proof that we’re right.  But I come to a different conclusion, not because I have no brain, but because I see the Biblical account as more defensible than Darwinian Evolution, and because it coheres with my worldview that God created the heavens and the Earth “in the beginning”.  Atheists believe the universe popped into existence without a cause.  Or at least without a “need” for a god.  OK, they’re entitled.

But what’s the point?  The point is this:  Freedom of religion is under attack in the USA, and because it is here, it is in many other parts of the world as well.  Why should you care?  Because the very thing for which the signers of the Declaration of Independence pledged their lives, their fortunes and their sacred honors, was the freedom to believe and live according to their deeply held beliefs about life, morality and their Creator.  And even if you have no formal, recognized religion, you are free to believe as you do, and live it and express it precisely because we have the first amendment to our Constitution.

The signers called it religion, but they had a far different understanding of the word than we do.  We tend to understand it as ritualistic piety, and see it as being confined to activities inside a religious building.  We don’t think of it as affecting the way we actually live.  Some even confuse it with the things believed and practiced by those with a bent toward murderous barbarism, who nevertheless believe that they should be free to separate your head from your body to make a point.  That kind of religion should never be allowed in this country, or anywhere for that matter.  And many ignorant people say that their religion does not matter.

But nothing matters more, actually.  The framers of the Constitution went “all in” on the notion that the King of England had no right to rule them from across the sea without giving them a say in how they were ruled.  They wanted the freedom to elect people to govern them, and expressly limited the power they gave to those elected so that they would continue to be free. When Patrick Henry said “Give me liberty, or give me death”, he made it clear that he wanted to think for himself.  And he made it clear that liberty – the right to arrive at his own conclusions and worldviews – was so precious to him, that he would not trade it away for anything, not even his very life.

So that’s what we’re talking about when we discuss freedom of religion.   We’re discussing whether we want to allow any group of men or women to force anyone else to act as if they believe things they do not believe.  That’s what some Muslims do.  Once you are part of their culture, abandon hope.  There is no way out.  If you want to question aspects of the religious teachings, you are deemed an apostate, and you are enslaved, beaten, imprisoned, or raped, and your life is turned into a living Hell.  That’s what happens when there is no freedom of religion.

I do not believe that atheism is a coherent belief system, but as long as atheists do not threaten my property, by health or welfare or my loved ones, I will fight to the death to protect their freedom to believe it.

On the other hand…

If you want to force me to believe as you do, that’s not OK.  And it’s happening in the USA today, even though we supposedly have our first amendment rights.  That’s wrong, and it needs to stop.

I propose two things: First we need to start using the word ‘worldview’ in most cases where we have been using the word ‘religion’, because religion as we have come to understand it, is too narrow.  Second, we need to make two small changes in the first amendment to reflect that it is about freedom of belief, not just religion.  In addition, it should reflect the limitation that our freedom of belief is not unlimited, but is rather limited by the requirement that we all live as citizens who are free to disagree, but who are not free to coerce, force, or cause physical damage to another person or their property.

That’s the way I see it.  What about you?

Life well lived

silhouette walkerI have reached a time in life when I find myself trying to recapture some of the moments that flew by so unceremoniously and so quickly, but now seem so profound.  Yesterday I shared some memories of our childhood with my sister.  She started it off with a memoriam of sorts, just some random memories of her childhood, and even though I grew up in the same household, it was striking that her experiences were in some ways similar, but in others profoundly different.  But the sum of our remembrances gave me a new awareness of the preciousness of this gift called life.

We shared our perspective of our parents, both of whom have passed on, and found that there was much to hold on to, even though at the time it rarely seemed to be so.  And some of the memories came back with a flood of emotion.  Life is, as A.W. Tozer once wrote,

…a short and fevered rehearsal for a concert we cannot stay to give. Just when we appear to have attained some proficiency, we are forced to lay our instruments down. There is simply not time enough to think, to become, to perform what the constitution of our natures indicates we are capable of.

The following beautiful memoriam was written by Susannah Spurgeon after the death of her husband Charles. She reflects on life together and the Lord who gives and takes away. They are sweet and precious words.  I suggest reading and re-reading them.  Otherwise, they, like life itself, will pass too swiftly by.

I have traveled far now on life’s journey; and, having climbed one of the few remaining hills between earth and Heaven, I stand awhile on this vantage-ground, and look back across the country through which the Lord has led me.

A well-defined pathway is visible, but it appears devious and wandering; sometimes skirting a mountain-top, whence one could catch glimpses of “the land that is very far off”; and, further on, descending into a valley shadowed by clouds and darkness. At one time, it runs along amidst steep places, and overhanging rocks; at another time, it winds across an open plain, brilliant with the sunshine of goodness and mercy, and fanned by breezes which are wafted from the fields of Heaven.

There are flowers of joy and love growing all along the way, even in the dark places; and “trees which the Lord has planted,” give shade and shelter from too great heat.

I can see two pilgrims treading this highway of life together, hand in hand—heart linked to heart. True, they have had rivers to ford, and mountains to cross, and fierce enemies to fight, and many dangers to go through; but their Guide was watchful, their Deliverer unfailing, and of them it might truly be said, “In all their suffering he also suffered, and he personally rescued them. In his love and mercy he redeemed them. He lifted them up and carried them through all the years.”

Mostly, they went on their way singing; and for one of them, at least, there was no joy greater than to tell others of the grace and glory of the blessed King to whose land He was hastening. And when he thus spoke, the power of the Lord was seen, and the angels rejoiced over repenting sinners.

But, at last, they came to a place on the road where two ways met; and here, amidst the terrors of a storm such as they had never before encountered, they parted company—the one being caught up to the invisible glory—the other, battered and bruised by the awful tempest, henceforth toiling along the road—alone.

But the “goodness and mercy” which, for so many years, had followed the two travelers, did not leave the solitary one; rather did the tenderness of the Lord “lead on softly,” and choose green pastures for the tired feet, and still waters for the solace and refreshment of His trembling child. He gave, moreover, into her hands a solemn charge—to help fellow-pilgrims along the road, filling her life with blessed interest, and healing her own deep sorrow by giving her power to relieve and comfort others.