Category Archives: Philosophy

Moral Equivalence and Becoming a Moral Racist

“If certain acts of violation of treaties are crimes, they are crimes whether the United States does them or whether Germany does them, and we are not prepared to lay down a rule of criminal conduct against others which we would not be willing to have invoked against us…We must never forget that the record on which we judge these defendants is the record on which history will judge us tomorrow. To pass these defendants a poisoned chalice is to put it to our own lips as well.” (Justice Jackson, spoken at the Nuremberg Trials)  There’s been a lot of commentary in the news lately about “moral equivalence”…or a lack thereof. For example, I’m morally superior to a racist, because the racists are wrong. Right? And, I can break the laws in order to stop the racists from their immoral behavior. Right? Wrong!  The world around, one of the greatest causes of war is racism and believing that one race or group of people (“mine,” no matter who “mine” is) is superior to another. Those of us who profess to be non-racists may get caught in the trap of becoming moral racists…myself included!  It’s all too easy to believe we’re better than someone else. As Christians, do we think we’re morally superior to other religious groups because we keep the Ten Commandments or follow Christ? Those of you who are atheists, do you think you’re wiser than religious people because you don’t believe in “superstitions” about God? Those of you who are agnostics, do you think you’re intellectually superior, since no one can really prove or disprove the existence of God through philosophical debate?

I heard a message at church last Sunday about the fact that we need to discern between good and evil. Our culture’s moral relativism  has euphemized “evil” into “poor choices” or taken away the blame for sin altogether by labeling it mental illness. (There is true mental illness, but not all inappropriate and/or sinful behavior can be excused as simply mental illness.) We need to be willing to recognize evil for what it is and stand against it. I totally agree.

The Bible is crystal clear about two things:
1. God individually created and loves every person. We have different gifts and weaknesses, but we are all equal in our person-hood and needs. We have all descended from one source: G0d, who created Adam and Eve, from whom the rest of us descended as blood relatives. We can fuss and fume over who’s “best,” but the fact is, regardless of our race, we all share the same blood line!
2.  Each of us has a selfish, sinful nature, also inherited from Adam and Eve.  Regardless of our religious convictions and desire to be and do good, we all stand before God as sinful, morally inadequate, and in need of a Savior: What then? are we better than they? No, in no wise: for we have before proved both Jews and Gentiles, that they are all under sin; As it is written, There is none righteous, no, not one” (Romans 3:9-10). For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God: Not of works, lest any man should boast” (Ephesians 2:7-9).  So, are any of us morally superior to others? Not in the ultimate sense. Some people have character as stalwart as Job…like a mighty mountain! Others are probably as devoid of moral fiber as the vast emptiness of the Grand Canyon. But, none of us compare to God in moral perfection. Job’s mouth was stopped when he caught a glimmer of God’s majesty. It is only through Christ, the God-man who alone lived a sinless life, that we can be reconciled to God and have true brotherhood restored: But now in Christ Jesus ye who sometimes were far off are made nigh by the blood of Christ.  For he is our peace, who hath made both one, and hath broken down the middle wall of partition between us (Ephesians 2:13-14).  In all the debates over moral equivalence, let’s remember that at best we are all only sinners saved by grace. Even if our cause is right and just, we are never above the law; we always need to obey the laws of God and government, working humbly within the system to honor God and serve man. I think the prophet Daniel is a worthy example for us. Jesus is our perfect example. May God be honored by all we do and say. Let nothing be done through strife or vainglory; but in lowliness of mind let each esteem other better than themselves. Look not every man on his own things, but every man also on the things of others. Let this mind be in you, which was also in Christ Jesus: Who, being in the form of God, thought it not robbery to be equal with God: But made himself of no reputation, and took upon him the form of a servant, and was made in the likeness of men: And being found in fashion as a man, he humbled himself, and became obedient unto death, even the death of the cross” (Philippians 2:3-8).

(All photos taken on my last trip to Berlin, although the one inflammatory banner was related to the Charlottesville debacle.)



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!




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