Thursday, June 18, 2020

history repeats itself

Amos was a prophet in Old Testament times. The Lord spoke through him to reproach the peoples of Israel and Judah for their unfaithfulness to Him.

Here is a portion of chapter 6 from the book of Amos:

Woe to you who are complacent in Zion,
    and to you who feel secure on Mount Samaria,
you notable men of the foremost nation,
    to whom the people of Israel come!
Go to Kalneh and look at it;
    go from there to great Hamath,
    and then go down to Gath in Philistia.
Are they better off than your two kingdoms?
    Is their land larger than yours?
You put off the day of disaster
    and bring near a reign of terror.
You lie on beds adorned with ivory
    and lounge on your couches.
You dine on choice lambs
    and fattened calves.
You strum away on your harps like David
    and improvise on musical instruments.
You drink wine by the bowlful
    and use the finest lotions,
    but you do not grieve over the ruin of Joseph.
Therefore you will be among the first to go into exile;
    your feasting and lounging will end.

At the time, Zion was the capital of Israel (the northern kingdom) and Samaria the capital of Judah (the southern kingdom). By "notable men," Amos is referring to the leadership of these Jewish nations.

What came to mind as I read this particular passage? 

Congress. Our House of Representatives, and the Senate. 

Doesn't it sound like them?  They put off the day of disaster = kicking the can down the road. Look how many career politicians hold those 535 seats that govern our nation. Their collective years in politics is staggering, yet what of substance has been accomplished?  How many of the problems from yesteryear still plague us today?  Indeed, every day brings us further into a reign of terror

Maybe they don't lie on beds adorned with ivory, but you get the idea. They do live lives of luxury, so many having enriched themselves by taking advantage of the position they hold. They make laws that they themselves don't feel they have to follow.  They get generous pensions, not social security when they retire.  Their healthcare plan? Not like what you and I have. 

They live privileged lives and it seems like their first priority is not the American people that they were elected to serve, but themselves and getting reelected. 

Granted, not all of them are like that, but way too many are.  Look at the shape our country is in, and as Amos told the people back then, it is still true today - you do not grieve over the ruin of Joseph (or America).  I feel like America is the Titanic and the members of Congress are the ones pushing women and children out of the way to get on the lifeboats. 

Look at the recent pandemic and the effect it had on the economy. Many people lost their jobs, many businesses suffered. Meanwhile, the House of Representatives took a vacation in fear of the pandemic. Did they forego their generous paychecks?  Did they give up anything during this time while so many suffered?  It wouldn't surprise me if they found some loophole that enabled them to receive stimulus checks, even though their salaries should have disqualified them. 

Like I said, not all of our elected officials are like that, but too many fit the mold. And for those that do fit that mold, then will verse 7 hold true? Keep all this in mind as the November elections draw near and vote accordingly.

Also, take the time to read the remainder of Amos 6. It is dangerously close to home. The geography may be different but not the substance.

The Sovereign Lord has sworn by himself—the Lord God Almighty declares:
“I abhor the pride of Jacob
    and detest his fortresses;
I will deliver up the city
    and everything in it.”
If ten people are left in one house, they too will die. 10 And if the relative who comes to carry the bodies out of the house to burn them asks anyone who might be hiding there, “Is anyone else with you?” and he says, “No,” then he will go on to say, “Hush! We must not mention the name of the Lord.”
11 For the Lord has given the command,
    and he will smash the great house into pieces
    and the small house into bits.
12 Do horses run on the rocky crags?
    Does one plow the sea with oxen?
But you have turned justice into poison
    and the fruit of righteousness into bitterness—
13 you who rejoice in the conquest of Lo Debar
    and say, “Did we not take Karnaim by our own strength?”
14 For the Lord God Almighty declares,
    “I will stir up a nation against you, Israel,
that will oppress you all the way
    from Lebo Hamath to the valley of the Arabah.”

Tuesday, June 9, 2020

KonMari that ball of confusion

Fifty (50!) years ago the Temptations released "Ball Of Confusion (That's What The World Is Today)" which climbed to #3 on Billboard's Hot 100 chart.

Given 2020 so far, is that still an apt description?

I'm weary from information overload. So much of it is negative, angry, blaming, divisive, polarizing, etc. We're tossed to and fro and often don't know what to believe, with source A conflicting with source B and everything in between.

Seems so complicated. It's like when you resolve to clean up your house and then you look in the closet and see such a huge mess that makes you discouraged and you don't know where to begin.

In times like these, we need to apply the KonMari method and Kondo-ize that ball of confusion.

In case you're scratching your head, Marie Kondo is a well-known organizing consultant who has written books, articles, and hosted a series on Netflix about the art of tidying up. The Wikipedia description of her method, known as "KonMari," reads:

Kondo's method of organising is known as the KonMari method, and consists of gathering together all of one's belongings, one category at a time, and then keeping only those things that "spark joy" and choosing a place for everything from then on.

Let's do that with the Ball of Confusion we face.  It boils down to what Jesus said when asked to name the most important commandment.  He named a couple of things:

"Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength. The second is this: Love your neighbor as yourself. There is no commandment greater than these.”  (Mark 12:30-31, NIV)

It begins with each of us, at the simple, individual level: we are to love our neighbor as ourselves.

But what exactly is meant by "love?"

"Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. Love never fails..."   (1 Corinthians 13:4-8a)

Loving our neighbor as ourselves will "spark joy," to use Marie Kondo's words.

And examine ourselves to get rid of all the "belongings" we don't need. Some examples:

"Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen...  Get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of malice."   (Ephesians 4:29,31)

Love our neighbors as ourselves?  That's it? Seems too simple, maybe naive? Yet this came from the wisest person to ever walk the earth, the only one without sin. If it perhaps wasn't easy for Him given His human side and dealing with people every day, then for sure it will be even harder for us.  But if we stumble along the way, Jesus is there to help us up; and through Him we will persevere.

Love our neighbors as ourselves - the answer to tidy up that ball of confusion!

Sunday, June 7, 2020

seasoned with salt

You're all familiar with the old saying, "Don't judge a book by its cover." While I appreciate the wisdom it offers, in these busy times of information and social overload, all too often we don't look beyond the covers. 

There's a lot of truth to another saying, "First impressions matter." In the sales world, this is impressed on reps because without a good first impression there won't be an opportunity for another one.

As I am bombarded by headlines, captions and teasers from all sides - the mainstream media, Facebook, Instagram, YouTube and everything else, I have to make choices on where, if anywhere, I turn my attention. Everything is competing for that attention, of which there is only so much that can be given.

Something I've noticed is the abundance of media with outrageous and/or incendiary headlines/captions, especially in the political realm. 

For example, there is a video of a short speech by Ben Carson on YouTube, the caption of which says, ""THEY STILL DON'T LIKE US" - Watch Ben Carson Wipe the Floor with Nancy Pelosi and Entire Dems." On the lead-in screen of the video showing the "play" button is plastered, "THEY HATE US ALL!"  Just so you know, this video was not posted by Carson, but by some entity calling itself "House Republican," so the captions are not Carson's.

That's like the "cover" of the book. But if you take the time to read it (i.e., watch the video), it doesn't live up to its billing, and thankfully so. Ben Carson is not like that.  Calmly and rationally he makes his argument, whereas the buildup would lead you to expect some wild rant spewing forth from his mouth after which he would drop the mic and walk off stage.

On the other hand, there are plenty of "books" out there whose content is just like their cover. Political headlines and captions that sound more like the buildup to the fight of the century (or a recount of the biggest knockdown of the century) lead to articles that are designed to bring out the worst emotions in people by belittling and denigrating the opposition.

My question is, how much constructive discussion do these provocative, confrontational headlines and articles generate? Is anyone with an opposing viewpoint even going to want to take the time to listen? Or if they do, odds are they'll strike back in the same manner and it will just wind up a yelling contest.

Colossians 4:5-6 says, "Conduct yourselves with wisdom toward outsiders, making the most of the opportunity. Let your speech always be with grace, as though seasoned with salt, so that you will know how you should respond to each person."

We Christians should ask ourselves, what is our "cover" like?  That's what people see first. Our good friends may know what's inside those covers, but others not necessarily so. They'll judge us by those covers. First impressions count and there may not be a chance for a second one.

I've seen Christian covers that scream, "IF YOU DON'T BELIEVE IN JESUS YOU'RE GOING TO HELL!!!" And covers that say, "I'm listening." Even though the ultimate content beyond the cover for both may be sharing the gospel, which book do you think people would pick up from the shelf?

By the way, this is the Ben Carson video:

Monday, June 1, 2020

don't need a weatherman

In no way do I intend to minimize or demean the recent tragic death of George Floyd. I am as outraged and saddened as anyone. But what I'd like to point out is the cycle has begun again.

Every time an incident like this happens, the subject of racism jumps to the forefront. Calls for justice, calls for protests, calls for investigation into white supremacy, condemnation of white privilege, people standing up for solidarity against racism, calls for forums, symposiums, conferences, etc. Every celebrity and politician has to make his or her statement about it.

Nothing wrong with this at all. Evil and wrongdoing need to be stopped.

But after the outrage has died down, then what? We all have good intentions to condemn the act and call for solutions but what is the follow through? Is it enough that we've shown our sympathy and outrage and now our civic duty for humanity has been done?

Then there's the programs and seminars on race relations and all the calls for people to join together. People attend, nod their head in enthusiastic agreement, and then go home and...?

That's like going to church on Sunday and nodding your head at what is being preached, and saying, "Amen!" Then you go home and for the other six days of the week, what do you do? Sunday starts the cycle again.  Just like the next white/non-white incident will start another cycle.

Bob Dylan wrote a song called Subterranean Homesick Blues. One of the lyrics says, You don't need a weatherman to know which way the wind blows.  Just take a look around our nation and world. It's obvious things are not peachy keen, that there's problems that need to be addressed. The Bible is very clear on the cause - Sin. People are sinful, all of us.

So what's the cure?

Psalm 127:1 says in part, Unless the Lord builds the house, its builders labor in vain.  Solutions absent God are not going to work.

When asked what was the most important commandment, Jesus declared in no uncertain terms, and you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength. The second is this: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ No other commandment is greater than these.” (Mark 12:30-31)

It begins at the individual level. It's incumbent on each of us to prayerfully live out what Jesus commanded on a daily basis, 24/7 as best we can and be the light and example for others. Action speaks louder than words, and influence on a personal level has a greater and more lasting impact than listening to a seminar or reading some academic treatise. It's all about follow-through.

You've heard of the movie Six Degrees of Separation?  It posits that everyone is six or less social connections away from each other. So the persons you or I influence in a positive way take that and influence their own connections, and so on and so forth, gaining momentum to that sixth degree. But it all starts with each of us as individuals doing our part to build on the foundation with the Lord's help - to visibly live out Jesus' two greatest commandments in our own lives.

Not easy! I sure stumble. But do we really want to make a difference?