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A Bit of Nobility

February 15, 2014 — Leave a comment

When I went through Army basic training my eyes were opened to how much of an idealist I am.   My view of people in general is that we all want the best and do our best and have the best intentions for ourselves and for others.  Throughout my life I have started with that assumption until given a reason to think otherwise about an individual.  I still think that, as a rule, it’s a good way to approach things.

But in the military, especially in a basic training environment, people are under a lot of stress and one’s true character becomes apparent very quickly.   I learned fast that many of my comrades were self-centered, uncooperative, and swift to run towards evil.  And I know that much of the world is in the same place.

Isaiah says, “The fool speaks folly, and his heart is busy with iniquity, to practice ungodliness, to utter error concerning the Lord, to leave the craving of the hungry unsatisfied, and to deprive the thirsty of drink.  As for the scoundrel – his devices are evil; he plans wicked schemes to ruin the poor with lying words, even when the plea of the needy is right.”  (Isaiah 32:6-7, ESV)

There have always been such people – only interested in themselves and willing to hurt and even destroy anyone else as long as they get what they want.

But Isaiah also says there is another kind of person:  “But he who is noble plans noble things, and on noble things he stands.”  (Isaiah 32:8, ESV)

Those who consider themselves sophisticated are often filled with cynicism.  They believe that virtually everyone is like the fool and the scoundrel and that a truly noble person is rare almost beyond imagining.  Is there really anyone whose heart is pure?  One who plans good things, noble things?  And who builds his life only on that which is good?

The Bible shows us several, I think.   King David in II Samuel 7 had a noble plan.  He wanted to build a house for the Lord to be worshipped in.  He thought it was unfitting that a mere human being should dwell in a mansion, “a house of cedar”, while the house of God was a mere tent.   And even though God assigned the task of building the temple to David’s son,  David spent years of his life planning for, designing, and setting aside the resources to build the temple.  The house Solomon built was very much the result of David’s noble plan.

I think, too, of Joseph in Genesis 39.  Although he was a young man with the normal passions and desires of a young man, we see him able to steadfastly resist the advances of Potiphar’s wife, even when refusing her cost him dearly.  How was he able to do that?  So many, young and old, today claim that sexual urges are so powerful and uncontrollable that they just can’t help but give in to temptation when the moment comes.  Again, how did Joseph do it?  Well, he had a noble plan and was standing on nobler things than momentary physical pleasure.   I wish more of us were like Joseph – I wish that more of us thought more of ourselves and of our purpose in this world than to yield ourselves up to immorality.

Paul says, “Whatever gain I had, I counted as loss for the sake of Christ.  Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord.  For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ…  … that I may know Him and the power of His resurrections, and may share His sufferings, becoming like Him in His death, that by any means possible I may attain the resurrection of the dead.”  (Philippians 3:7-11)   What a noble plan!  What a noble deed!   Can we say that, honestly, to ourselves and one another?  Can we say that we will pay any price, lose any physical benefit, and throw away the pleasures and profits of this world, if only we can really know Jesus and be like Him?   Can we say to ourselves that there is nothing worth more than that to us?  Is it true that we will do anything it takes to attain eternal life, the resurrection of the dead?   And how much different would your life be if that were true?

He who is noble plans noble things.  And on noble things he stands.

Brad

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Joseph’s Brothers

February 15, 2014 — Leave a comment

I’ve been reading again the story of Joseph and his family in the book of Genesis.  Here are a few quick notes:

The Brothers of Joseph:

Had a brother who robbed them of their father’s devotion – Genesis 37:3

Were humiliated by their brother’s dreams – Genesis 37:5-11

Were moved by envy to murderous anger – Genesis 37:11, 18-2

…and betrayed their brother and father

Yet received grace. – Genesis 45:1-11

Raised in a self-centered, undirected family.

Jacob was busy getting over on Laban – Genesis 30:25-43, 31:7-20

Rachel and Leah were busy getting over on each other – Genesis 29:31-30:24

-the children, and the servants of each, were pawns for getting at the heart of Jacob

Aside from that, Laban, the children’s grandfather, is trying to cheat their father Jacob, Jacob has already cheated his brother Esau, and Jacob is getting ready for a wrestling match with the angel of God! (Genesis 32:22-30)

Jacob is a striver with God and man – Genesis 32:28

Is it any wonder that by the time the family gets to Canaan the sons of Jacob are conniving, deceitful, and small hearted?  Genesis 34:13     – even when they’re in the right they lie!

But, for all that, God is with Jacob and in the midst of all this He reiterates the promise made previously to Abraham and Isaac – Genesis 35:1-15.  God’s promise stands, not because of righteousness of man, but because of God promised it.   And Jacob lived by faith – Hebrews 11:21.  But that doesn’t mean no mistakes were made.  And those mistakes are at the heart of the problem we see in Genesis 37 and 39

Genesis 37:18-36

Genesis 39:1-6

God can take all the bad and make it good, but look at all the misery, uncertainty, fear, and threat that filled these years.  Wouldn’t God have found a way to preserve them even if they hadn’t acted corruptly?

It is the same with us.  We all stumble often, James says, and God can make all things work together for good anyway.  If we endure the chastening, it will afterward yield peaceable fruit – Hebrews 12:11

But let us not sin that good may come!  Romans 3:8:.  There is a better way.

A few applications:

What becomes of our children when moms and dads are so focused on their own schemes that they neglect the welfare of their children?

Or when the parents act corruptly to get their way, what do the children learn?

When adults are self-centered, and the kids are left to themselves, are they inclined to good things, or mischievous things?  Proverbs 22:5

At church, when the parents are focused merely on their own edification, do we pay attention to whether our kids are paying attention?  Or when we let the kids sit with their friends – it makes church more fun for them and it makes it easier for us to focus on the service, right?  But are the kids worshiping then?  Or are they passing notes, joking around, and spacing out?  Can we be guilty of neglecting them right here in this good place?

And then, after worship – as the adults enjoy good fellowship and conversation and the kids are turned loose, is it just clean honest fun the kids are having?  I know I sometimes come home to angry kids with bad attitudes after 45 minutes left to themselves after church with their friends.

Proverbs 29:15

It’s worth acknowledging that no matter how good your child is, and mine, the influence they have on one another is not always good.  They are children and we are parents for a reason.   We need to be wise and be aware of what’s going on.  Or better yet, include our children with us.  Let them be where we are after church or, let us go where they are.

The story of Joseph and his brothers is the story of a family run amuck.  I have no doubt that Jacob was a faithful man – a well-intentioned man.  But his weaknesses carried consequences for his family.  As do ours.  May we strive to recognize them and overcome them.

Mapping Human Emotions

Finnish researchers have found a way to map the way feelings affect the human body.

This looks like fun

Quiet Aspirations

December 2, 2013 — Leave a comment

I Timothy 2:1-2 – “I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for all people, for kings and all who are in high positions, that we may lead a peaceful and quiet life, godly and dignified in every way.”

I Thessalonians 4:9-12 – “Now concerning brotherly love you have no need for anyone to write to you, for you yourselves have been taught by God to love one another, for that indeed is what you are doing… But we urge you, brothers, to do this more and more, and to aspire to live quietly and to mind your own affairs, and to work with your hands, as we instructed you, so that you may walk properly before outsiders and be dependent on no one.”

II Thessalonians 3:11-12 – “We hear that some among you walk in idleness, not busy at work, but busybodies.  Now such persons we command and encourage in the Lord Jesus Christ to do their work quietly and to earn their own living.”

Image

Nike advises us in their commercials to Find Your Greatness.   Television shows like The Voice and American Idol have become the aspiration of multitudes of bedroom musicians hoping to find their big break and attain stardom.  And Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, and countless other social media allow us all to market ourselves and help us feel like we are bigger fish than we actually are.

When I talk to young people, and even to those who are older, most have a strong inner drive to “do something that matters.”  We like to think that we are engaged in something important; something that is going to help shape the world.

But the thing that matters is not reaching the top of the heap.  It’s not being in a position where you can control outcomes and have a great deal of influence in the lives of others.  It isn’t being “great,” or notorious, or a star.  The really important thing is living a life of personal integrity.

In the Bible, we are encouraged to “aspire to live quietly and to mind (our) own affairs.”  To seek to mind our own business, and to let others mind theirs.  It’s interesting that those words are found in the middle of a discussion on loving one another – and doing so more and more.

We tend to think of love in terms of what we do for others.  But love also consists in letting others alone – allowing them to make their own decisions, manage their own affairs, and to enjoy the fruits and consequences of so doing.

Further, our ability to do really big things is only enhanced when we focus first on finding peace, stability, and order at home.  Jesus said, “Why do you see the speck that is in your brother’s eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye?  Or how can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when there is a log in your own?  You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother’s eye.” (Matthew 7:3-5).

We grow weary of corrupt politicians who tell us how to live our lives while their own are scandal ridden.  And we rightly scoff at pastors and religious leaders who preach one thing and do another.  But the same principle applies to you and me.  First let us learn to manage ourselves and our own responsibilities.  Then we may, perhaps, have clear insight to help others.

Brad

This weekend represents one of the stranger conflations of virtue and vice on the national calendar.  On the one hand, throughout the history of the United States, we have celebrated the national holiday of Thanksgiving.   Although the dates have changed and it has only been formalized as the last Thursday in November since the 20th Century, we have nearly always set aside time to show gratitude and celebrate the good we have enjoyed.

On the other, since the 19th Century, Thanksgiving has also marked the beginning of the Christmas shopping season.  So that’s not new.  What is new, however, is the insane violence and disregard for other human beings that occurs the day after and now even on the same day that we give thanks.  While it has always been busy and stressful, only in the 2000s have reports of extreme violence become common.  Do your own Google search on “Black Friday Violence” to see what I’m talking about.

You’ll notice that the vast majority of the stories are from 2008 and later, and that they have intensified in the last couple of years – even as stores have opened earlier on Friday.  In 2011, many stores opened at midnight for the first time.  Just last year Walmart and other chains opened at 8pm on Thanksgiving Day.   Rather than reducing the stress by extending the shopping season by a few hours, opening earlier seems to have merely fueled the frenzy.

In the name of insane deals on merchandise, insane behavior ensues.  Would you be part of a mob that trampled someone to death for $50?  Would you pull a gun on someone for $25?  Or would you spray someone with pepper spray, get involved in a fist fight, or engage in a shootout for $100?  No?  All of these things and more have happened during the Thanksgiving shopping spree over similarly trivial amounts of money.

So, in the course of one day we express gratitude and indulge in greed.  Wouldn’t it be better to spend a little more time being thankful and a little less being avaricious?

Greatness

November 13, 2013 — Leave a comment

The Six Element

“It is easy in the world to live after the world’s opinion; it is easy in solitude to live after our own; but the great man is he who in the midst of the crowd keeps with perfect sweetness the independence of solitude.”               – Ralph Waldo Emerson –

I.W.W. Meeting -- Union Sq., 4/11/14  (LOC)

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The best time to plant a tree was 20 years ago…

800px-Autumn_trees_in_Dresden

The second best time is now.

Here’s a little virtuosity to start your day 🙂

“War is an ill thing, as I surely know. But ‘twould be an ill world for weaponless dreamers if evil men were not now and then slain.”

― Rudyard Kipling

A Brook In The City

November 8, 2013 — Leave a comment
The farmhouse lingers, though averse to square
With the new city street it has to wear
A number in.
 
 
But what about the brook
That held the house as in an elbow-crook?
I ask as one who knew the brook, its strength
And impulse, having dipped a finger length
And made it leap my knuckle, having tossed
A flower to try its currents where they crossed.
 
 
The meadow grass could be cemented down
From growing under pavements of a town;
The apple trees be sent to hearth-stone flame.
Is water wood to serve a brook the same?
How else dispose of an immortal force
No longer needed?
Staunch it at its source
With cinder loads dumped down?
 
The brook was thrown
Deep in a sewer dungeon under stone
In fetid darkness still to live and run — And all for nothing it had ever done
Except forget to go in fear perhaps.
No one would know except for ancient maps
That such a brook ran water.
But I wonder If from its being kept forever under,
The thoughts may not have risen that so keep
This new-built city from both work and sleep.
 
–Robert Frost