Category Archives: Philosophy

Zootopia: Can Utopian Dreams Come True?

zootopiaBy now, probably everybody and their bunny have seen Zootopia, but it was so cute that I want to write about it anyway in case you missed watching because you thought it was just a Disney movie for kids. It is that, but Zootopia is much more. It’s complicated, and I think it will be a classic.

Zootopia looks into racism and stereotyping, and there’s definitely a call to understand and value everybody, whether they’re rabbits or foxes, but the overarching theme is about living your dreams, and that’s a salient topic for all of us regardless of our age. The question it raises is: Are you willing to live your dream, even though it’s going to be hard?

Am I? Are you? What is your dream? Have you thought about it lately?

Recently, I’ve being conversing with a friend who’s been dear to me for over 45 years. Not long ago, he left his wife to begin a new life. “Coming out” I think it’s called. Because this person (and his wife) mean so much to me, I’m trying to understand what motivates such behavior.

Although I might be wrong, my guess is that most of us who are in heterosexual relationships and have been married more than a few years have gone through one or more cycles of feeling like the marriage was no longer (or perhaps never) fulfilling, and that life might be greener on the other side of some fence. I’ve heard people joke that married people are like flies: Those who are in want out, and those who are out want in.

I am thankful for my marriage, and I don’t mean to disparage marriage, but I will say that I’ve struggled a lot at times in my marriage, and if I thought I could somehow (anyhow) absolve myself from my commitment to marriage, I’m sure I would have quit at some point along the way. Marriage is tough. It isn’t always fulfilling. It’s probably never “the dream” that we imagine it’s going to be before we get married.

If we want to “live the dream,” then we’d better make sure our dreams are rooted in reality, and we need to be visionary so we can recognize our dream when it’s broken and becomes a different stained glass design from what we imagined. In a zootopian utopia, perhaps a bunny can become a cop (especially if teamed up with a wiley fox), but in this world’s present dystopia, I think the only implausibly possible dreams that come true are those backed by the steady hand of God, who can actually make “all things possible.”

Got a dream? Can you open your hand and give it to God? If it’s a good dream, He can make it come to life. If it’s not a good dream, He can help you let it go and show you the dream He’s dreaming for you. His dreams are best anyway! May we search and find the place where our dreams meet God’s dream for us.

“Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God—this is your true and proper worship. Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will” (Romans 12:1-2, NIV).

 

How to Win

Rose at Rodin Museum 5.8.16So, if war and overpowering other people isn’t the way to “win,” what is?  As Zig Ziglar would say: “If you’re like me, you’ll jump at the chance to bypass all the churning and scoop the cream right off the top. And that’s what quotes are…the cream of our learning.” Therefore, today I want to  share a few quotes from people I actually know who are really winners in my book (and if you find yourself listed, I hope you don’t mind!), although I’ll end with words of wisdom from some of the world’s better known (though not better) “winners”:

“Wherever you are, be all there.”~Rick Larman, my pastor for 20 years

“The holy life, I have found, is often a moment by moment, day by day battle to choose faith of fear, trust over tears and God’s will over our own.”~Lynn Hanthorn, missionary and long-time friend

“That’s what I hunt for each day. People to love.” ~Tom Benedict Sr., friend’s husband (and yes, of course, my friend too!)

“Right, temporarily defeated, is stronger than wrong triumphant.” ~Brad Powell (pastor of my daughter and son-in-law’s church)

“Life is blessedly short…but the I’m looking in the wrong direction, huh? With all that is in me I will press hard into our Gracious God, and find my life and joy in Him!!! And look for His dreams! I’m now on one journey I wish He would end, but then, where is faith that He is making more room for Himself in our lives? And making Himself appear ever more beautiful in our understanding?? I covet fleeting happiness, when I should be searching for joy in Him everyday!!! Bless the trials!!” ~Maggie Donahue, friend

“Love God, and love everybody else; but love God the most.” ~Stephen Armstrong, son (on his 28th birthday recently, when we always ask the birthday person to provide some “words to live by”)

And, here are some winning words from world-famous sages:

“Try not to become a person of success, but rather try to become a person of value.” ~Albert Einstein

“I expect to pass through life but once. If therefore, there can be any kindness I can show, or any good thing I can do to any fellow being, let me do it now, and not defer or neglect it, as I shall not pass this way again.” ~William Penn

“Do not think that love in order to be genuine has to be extraordinary. What we need is to love without getting tired. Be faithful in small things because it is in them that your strength lies.” ~Mother Teresa

“As far as we can discern, the sole purpose of human existence is to kindle a light in the darkness of mere being.” ~Carl Jung

“Those who bring sunshine into the lives of others cannot keep it from themselves.” ~James Barrie

 “As we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same.” ~Nelson Mandela

And, this is a long one, but I think it’s terribly profound:

“[There is a] kind of all-embracing universality evident in Mother Teresa’s prayer: ‘May God break my heart so completely that the whole world falls in.’ Not just fellow nuns, Catholics, Calcuttans, Indians. The whole world. It gives me pause to realize that, were such a prayer said by me and answered by God, I would afterward possess a heart so open that even hate-driven zealots would fall inside… [My] sense of the world as a gift, my sense of a grace operative in this world despite its terrors, propels me to allow the world to open my heart still wider, even if the openness comes by breaking—for I have seen the whole world fall into a few hearts, and nothing has ever struck me as more beautiful.” ~David James Duncan

“There is no cry so good as that which comes from the bottom of the mountains; no prayer half so hearty as that which comes up from the depths of the soul, through deep trials and afflictions. For they bring us to God, and we are happier; for nearness to God is happiness.” ~Charles Spurgeon

The words of the wise are as goads, and as nails fastened by the masters of assemblies, which are given from one shepherd. And further, by these, my son, be admonished.” ~King Solomon in Ecclesiastes 12:11-12, the Bible

2016 Academy Awards: When is it Time to Say “No”?

Marilyn_Monroe_Public Domain from WikiWhen I was a little girl, Elizabeth Taylor and Marilyn Monroe were my ideal for what women “should” be. That lasted until I gave my life to Christ at age 12, and then I traded Hollywood’s Hall of Fame for the Bible’s Hall of Faith and began looking to women like Sarah, Mary, and my Sunday school teacher for modeling. However, Hollywood continues to have a huge influence on the current generation, so I’ve tried to keep abreast of what’s available to find the best that can be culled from their mammoth industry for my own growth as well as to recommend for others. To this end, I read up on films that are highly acclaimed, but this year’s list of Academy Award winners left me feeling quite discouraged. I’ve already written about Bridge of Spies, which I think is a fabulous movie, but the only other “winner” that I’ve personally seen was The Martian, which was nominated for several awards but didn’t win any. In fact, I’ve seen a number of excellent movies that came out in 2015, and I want to share some more of them with you ASAP, but this morning, I just want to grieve a little aloud and encourage you to resist the temptation to watch a movie simply because it’s “highly rated” or all the buzz. If a movie is R-rated (as almost all of this years winners are), then it contains contaminants for the mind and heart. God calls us to purity and teaches us: “ I want you to be wise about what is good, and innocent about what is evil” (Romans 16:19, NIV). According to the reviews I read, one of the winners sounds like only thinly veiled pornography. Another film, which won the academy award for best picture and is based on a true story, addresses the crucial issue of child molestation, but I would still caution potential viewers to consider that the scriptures teach us: “It is a shame even to speak of those things which are done of them [evil doers] in secret” (Ephesians 5:12). So, even if those who prosecute child abusers need to bring the facts to light (and I’m thankful they do), I believe God warns us against immersing ourselves in graphic descriptions of evil. God has given us the gold standard for filling our mind, and it’s basically what is both true and good. Let’s not lose sight of that vision, even during our times of relaxation, because anything we allow our minds to consider should definitely edify us—build up our souls and spirits—, and no amount of education and/or entertainment alone should be enough. After all, would you rather end up like Marilyn Monroe or Mary, the mother of Jesus?Virgin and Child with St. John by a follower of Andrea Del Verrocchio 1435-1488. National Gallery of Art Washington D.C.“Finally, brethren, whatsoever things are true, whatsoever things are honest, whatsoever things are just, whatsoever things are pure, whatsoever things are lovely, whatsoever things are of good report; if there be any virtue, and if there be any praise, think on these things” (Philippians 4:8).

Rise Up, My Love (117): What’s Under Your Tongue?

Palm_honey_jarSong of Solomon 4:11 “Honey and milk are under thy tongue.” The Hebrew word used here for honey is debas, and I’ve read that this term is commonly used for “palm honey” or “domesticated honey,” which was actually a syrup made from boiled-down grapes. The honey which was under her tongue was that which had been painstakingly produced by a process of boiling down and condensing many of the fruitful thoughts obtained by “abiding in the vine” until only the rich, well-preserved “palm honey” of wisdom remained.

“Honey and milk…” The land of Canaan is referred to dozens of times in Scripture as a land “flowing with milk and honey.” It was a land flowing with milk—fertile livestock producing abundant young; a land flowing with honey—lush plant life overflowing with God’s blessing of fruitfulness. This is the picture of the king’s wife! She is flourishing like a well watered land, fruitful and luscious.

“Honey and milk are under thy tongue“… not really gushing and manifest to all, but resident stores of goodness, considered, kept, and hidden away to be dispensed to those in need. “Out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaketh” (Matthew 12:34). Flowing out from the bride’s heart are honey and milk—honey to delight and milk to nourish. “She openeth her mouth with wisdom; and in her tongue is the law of kindness” (Proverbs 31:26). What a contrast to Romans 3:13-14, where Paul gives this devastating appraisal or all men without God: “Their throat is an open sepulcher: with their tongues they have used deceit; the poison of asps is under their lips: whose mouth is full of cursing and bitterness.”

Wow! What is under our tongues??? Honey and milk, or cursing and bitterness?

There is a story told of an ancient gathering of orators who took turns speaking. Gradually all the people who were listening left, and by the time the last orator came to the platform, the only person remaining in the auditorium was Plato. Still, the last speaker delivered his oration with all the grandeur he possessed. Someone who heard about his speech asked him why he hadn’t just quit, but he replied, “Who would need more of an audience than Plato?”

Who needs more of an audience than God Himself? What if, for all our labors and careful preparations, we have no one to pour out our hearts to besides the Lord? Isn’t He enough? What if there is no one who wants to hear our thoughts? If we speak to God alone, it is enough! If we worship God alone, we worship aright! If we can offer only the inaudible groans of the Holy Spirit, it is a sacrifice acceptable and well pleasing to our Beloved! He is ever longing to hear us…ever listening…ever loving! To Him, our praises and prayers are honey and milk. I cannot drink this all in. It is too wonderful!

 

 

Aside

Last Friday something very special happened in our family: Stephen received two master’s degrees!  I mean, all his older siblings have earned graduate degrees, and Jonathan does have two master’s degrees also (as well as his PhD),  but nobody else … Continue reading

Moles in the Sky

A couple of days ago I shared pictures from my 1,200-mile jaunt to South Korea while puzzling over time and eternity. But, there was something else remarkable about that trip: the fact that I was almost the only person on the entire jet who was actually looking out the window. Most people had their window shades pulled down and were busily watching 3-4 movies instead…movies they could easily rent at their local video store for a few bucks and watch any evening at home. I felt like I was in a tunnel full of moles who had no clue what they were missing…people so used to darkness and fantasy that bright reality hurt their eyes!

How have we human beings become more taken with fantasy than reality? How did we lose our way? Where is the old-fashioned joy in the journey? If we can go from Point A to Point B and get there before we leave…well, that’s sort of fun, but what’s wrong with people that they close their eyes, grit their teeth, and just wish to “be there” without having to go there? Wake up, world! Don’t miss out on all the glory and beauty along the way of life.

While in South Korea, my daughter-in-law Grace reminded me of Victor Hugo’s thoughts on how people who are blind to God tend to be like moles too…

“There is, we are aware, a philosophy that denies the infinite. There is also a philosophy, classified as pathologic, that denies the sun; this philosophy is called blindness. To set up a theory that lacks a source of truth is an excellent example of blind assurance. And the odd part of it is the haughty air of superiority and compassion assumed toward the philosophy that sees God, by this philosophy that has to grope its way. It makes one think of a mole exclaiming, “How I pity them with their sun!” ~Victor Hugo

Do you pity people who believe in God…who think they really can see a Son above and spend their time watching out the window? Do you pity people who prefer reality to fantasy? How are we spending our days? Do we really believe Jesus’ words, “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.” (Matthew 5:8)? Are we purifying our hearts and looking for God, or have we given up hope and using fantasy to medicate the quiet gnawing in our hearts?

In honor of encouraging us to purify our hearts and do some soul-house keeping, here are a few more quotes from the book I reviewed yesterday, and in hopes of blessing you with joy, I also want to share a few photos from my recent travels:IMG_4644“You must arrange your days so that you are experiencing deep contentment, joy and confidence in your everyday life with God.” Dallas Williard (note: it’s not confidence “in the remarkable adequacy of your competence or the amazingly successful circumstances of your life…but in your everyday experience of God.” John Ortberg) IMG_5191 “A person is essentially a collection of conscious experiences. Far more than just bodies or just appetites, we are our experiences. That’s why we treasure the good ones.” Dallas Willard [And, that’s why I love to travel!]IMG_4370“I began to form a new goal: I want to be as relaxed as I am on vacation while being as productive as I am at work.” John Ortberg [I’m working on this too!] IMG_4544                 “To become truly free, you must surrender.” John Ortberg IMG_4274“We’re generally quite good at doing something, but we’re really bad at doing nothing. The space where we find rest and healing for our souls is solitude.” John Ortberg IMG_4705“The Ten Commandments flow out of how we were designed, who we were meant to be. That’s why we don’t so much break them as we break ourselves when we violate them.” John OrtbergIMG_4637“Every act of wrongdoing (sin) leads to a greater likelihood of another act …Habits eat willpower for breakfast.” John OrtbergIMG_4639“The reason our souls hunger so is that the life we could be living so far exceeds our strangest dreams.” John Ortberg IMG_5033“We can only be said to be alive in those moments when our hearts are conscious of our treasures.” Thornton WilderIMG_4242“In the spiritual life God chooses to try our patience first of all by His slowness. He is slow: we are swift and precipitate. It is because we are but for a time, and He has been for eternity…” Frederick Faber IMG_4871“Hurry is the great enemy of spiritual life in our day. You must ruthlessly eliminate hurry from your life.” Dallas WilliardIMG_4540“There is a world of difference between being busy and being hurried. Being busy is an outward condition, a condition of the body…Being hurried is an inner condition, a condition of the soul. It means to be so preoccupied with myself and my life that I am unable to be fully present with God, with myself, and with other people. I am unable to occupy this present moment. Busyness migrates to hurry when we let it squeeze God out of our lives…I cannot rest in God with a hurried soul.” (Dallas Williard’s thoughts explained by John Ortberg) DSCN1951“Churches should do seminars on how to bless and not curse others…Blessing is not just a word. Blessing is the projection of good into the life of another. We must think it, and feel it, and will it…Blessing is done by the soul.” Dallas WilliardIMG_4368“Your eternal destiny is not cosmic retirement; it is to be part of a tremendously creative project, under unimaginably splendid leadership, on an inconceivably vast scale, with ever-increasing cycles of fruitfulness and enjoyment—that is the prophetic vision which ‘eye has not seen and ear has not heard.'” Dallas Williard

Ever Wonder How to Respond to Global Needs?

One of the problems I grapple with most often as an affluent Christian is how to be a good steward of the resources God has given me. My spiritual “big brother,” Bill Rudd, just passed along some really helpful scriptural wisdom on this subject, and (with his permission granted) I’d like to share it. If  you wrestle with this issue, I hope you will also find his thoughts spirit provoking and helpful:

WHAT SHOULD WE DO ABOUT GLOBAL NEED?

 40% of the world’s people have not heard the good news about Jesus.  65% of the people in Muskegon county have no affiliation with a religious congregation of any kind.  65% of the people in Muskegon Heights live below the poverty level.  3000 children in Michigan in foster care desperately hope for adoption.   300 Michigan children have no hope of adoption or foster care. Globally 19,000 children die every day of preventable diseases. 10 million children under 5 will die in the next year due to malnutrition and preventable health issues.  In light of such global and local needs, how should Christians use their resources?

  • Should we sell everything and give it away?  Should we sell most of our possessions and live very simply so we can give the rest away?
  • Should every family adopt or have foster children?
  • Should every family take in a homeless person?  Should every person visit those who are sick or in prison?
  • What is “enough?”  Enough clothes, food, toys, big enough house, new enough car or furniture?
  • Is it okay to go on a vacation?  How much should we spend?  Is it okay to go to Disneyland or on a cruise?
  • Is it okay to have a vacation home?
  • Is it okay to have an expensive hobby: golf, fishing, hunting, shopping, collectables, etc.?
  • Is it okay to eat out?  How often?  Is it okay to buy Stabucks, drink pop, buy candy, go to movies?
  • What percentage of our income should we give to the church?  To relieve poverty and suffering?
  • When are we doing too little, too much, or just enough?

These are not easy questions.  We could give away everything and hardly make a dent and then we wouldn’t be able to help anyone or even to take care of our own families as God commands.  The following observations from Scripture won’t answer all those questions but will hopefully give a context in which decisions can be made.  The following observations, one per day, could provide a month of serious Scripture study and meditation on this topic.

30 OBSERVATIONS FROM SCRIPTURE ON THE USE OF OUR RESOURCES

1)     Everything we have belongs to God and is a gift from Him, including the opportunities and privileges which arise out of where we live, our background, the abilities and health to work, etc.  (Psalm 27:1; Deuteronomy 8:17, 18; James 1:17).

2)     God gives us good things for our enjoyment.  We should receive and use God’s good gifts with gratitude and joy (Deuteronomy 8:10, 11; 1 Timothy 3:4, 5; 6:17).

3)     One purpose for working and earning money is to be able to give to those in need (Ephesians 4:28).

4)     We are encouraged to save for the future (Proverbs 6:6, 7) without hoarding more than is needed to the neglect of helping those in need (Luke 12:13-31).

5)     All material possessions and wealth are temporary and can be lost in a moment (Matthew 6:19; 1 Timothy 6:17).

6)     We should never put our trust in earthly possessions (1 Timothy 6:17) or seek the fulfillment from them which only comes from God (Hebrews 13:5; Matthew 6:24; Luke 16:13; Colossians 3:5).

7)     We are commanded to lay up treasures in heaven by our giving (Matthew 19:19-21; 1Timothy 6:17-19; Luke 16:9).

8)     We are commanded to be content with what we have and what we don’t have (1 Timothy 5:6, 8; Philippians 4:11-13; Hebrews 13:5, 6).

9)     One way to embrace contentment (Hebrews 13:5, 6) is to set a “life style cap” beyond which everything can be given to spread the Gospel and to relieve suffering – learn to say, “That’s enough!”

10)   We should not covet or what others have (Exodus 20:17; 1 Corinthians 13:4; Galatians 5:26; 1 Peter 2:1). We should not judge how others use their resources (Matthew 7:1-5; Romans 14:4-10).

11)   We are commanded and encouraged to generously and sacrificially care for our family’s needs (1 Timothy 5:8), including our Christian family (Galatians 6:10; Deuteronomy 15:7, 8, 10) but also the needs of those unrelated to us (Matt 6:1-4; 1 John 3:17, 18; Proverbs 3:27, 28; Luke 6:30; 1 Timothy 6:17-19; Luke 10:30-37, Luke 14:12-14; Galatians 6:10).

12)   Jesus said that we will always have the poor with us and that not every possible resource must be used to give to the poor (Matthew 26:6-13).

13)   Until the Restoration we will never eradicate poverty (Matthew 26:11; Deuteronomy 15:11). However, our inability to eradicate poverty is not an excuse for a lack of generosity (Deuteronomy 15:11).

14)   It probably is a realistic goal to try to eliminate poverty in our own family (1 Timothy 5:8) and church (Acts 4:32-34; Deuteronomy 15:4).  It may require our willingness to give up our attitudes of selfishness and possessiveness and to sell things so as to be able to help others (Acts 2:44, 45; 4:32-37).  This will be a wonderful witness to the lost and may bring many to Christ (Acts 2:43-47).

15)   The Old Testament law gives us examples of ways to address systemic poverty issues which could be creatively applied in culturally appropriate and equivalent ways today (Leviticus 23:22; 25:3-6; 25:10ff; Deuteronomy 15:1-18).

16)   We will all give account to God for how we used the resources  He gave us: time, abilities, possessions, and opportunities (1 Corinthians 3:10-15; 2 Corinthians 5:10; Matthew 25:31ff).

17)   How we use our resources to spread the Gospel and to relieve suffering reveals (more than any verbal profession we might work) whether or not we are truly Jesus’ followers (Matthew 25:31ff; James 1:27; 1 John 3:17, 18).

18)   Using one’s resources to help those in need reveals the reality of their relationship with Christ and therefore will result in our reception into His eternal kingdom while a failure to use ones resources to relieve suffering will result in banishment to eternal punishment (Matthew 25:31ff).

19)   All Christians are commanded and encouraged to prioritize (Proverbs 3:9, 10; Matthew 6:33) giving generously (2 Corinthians 9:6, 7), sacrificially (2 Corinthians 8:1-4; Mark 12:41-44) and regularly (1 Corinthians 16:2).

20)   The New Testament model is to give to and through one’s church (1 Corinthians 16:2; Acts 4:35; 11:29, 20).

21)   All Christians are commanded to give secretly (Matthew 6:1-4) to relieve suffering (Luke 12:33; Matthew 25:31ff; Galatians 2:10).

22)   We are to give as if we were giving directly to God, joyfully and not reluctantly or grudgingly (2 Corinthians 9:7; Deuteronomy 15:10).

23)   Some believe the Bible gives the tithe (10%) as the minimum standard (Malachi 3:8-10) along with giving beyond it in proportion to God’s blessing (1 Corinthians 16:2; 2 Corinthians 8:13-15; Deuteronomy 16:10).  God does not give us more merely so we can selfishly consume more but so that we can generously give more. God blesses us so we can bless others and expects that the more He gives us, the more we will give to others (2 Corinthians 9:8; Deuteronomy 15:14).

24)   God does not call on every believer to give or sacrifice in the same way.  All are commanded to sell some of their possessions to give to the poor (Luke 12:33) but some may be commanded to give away everything (Mark 10:21).

25)   Jesus illustrated the importance of prayer to sort out which needs God is calling them to meet (Mark 1:35-39).

26)   Although Jesus sometimes gave of Himself to the neglect of His own needs (Mark 3:20, 21; 6:31; Luke 8:23; John 4:31-33), He did not heal everyone who could have been healed or meet every need that could have been met and sometimes withdrew so as to not exhaust their ability to continue (Mark 6:31).  God does not normally call on us to exhaust all of our resources for others leaving us in need and without the ability to help anyone else.

27)   God promised to bless generosity (Luke 6:38; Proverbs 11:25; 22:9).

28)   We should respond to suffering and need as we would hope others would respond if it were us, our children, or our grandchildren who were without the knowledge of God or were starving or in great need (Luke 6:31).

29)    In the parable of the Good Samaritan Jesus revealed that “loving our neighbor as ourselves” means that when we see human need, we should be willing to sacrifice to meet it (Luke 10:23-31).  Because of media and the internet, the “neighborhood” of needs that we are aware of has grown exponentially.  At the same time, American Christians have more wealth than any generation in history.  Those whom God has given greater resources have much greater opportunity (Luke 12:48).

30)   In the “restoration of all things” everyone in the world will enjoy peace, prosperity, and health. That is a wonderful aspect  of the Gospel of the kingdom which we are to proclaim with our words and illustrate by our good deeds (Matthew 5:16; Ephesians 2:10; 1 Peter 2:12; Titus 3:8, 14), which, like Jesus’ acts of compassion are “signs” of the kingdom (Luke 4:18-19; John 20:21).

Recommended reading if you dare to have your world rockedUnfinished: Believing is only the Beginning, by Richard Stearns; Rich Christians in an Age of Hunger, by Ronald J. Sider; Generous Justice, by Tim Keller; The Hole in the Gospel, by Richard Stearns