Category: Convictions


dropDescarte concluded that literally everything was open to doubt. It may, at first, seem silly, but really,…how can we say for certain that we know anything for sure? Opinions can be strong—even militant—over certain ideas. Yet, with just as much fervency there are as many others who oppose. Given practically any topic, there will be a wide disparity in points-of view concerning that topic. The conflict emerges, really, over the question of “truth.” What is truth?

Many have concluded, given the conflict and the uncertainty—that there is no such thing as truth—or that, even if there were, we would have no way of knowing it.

Al Yankovic (one of my favorite philosophers) comically sang, “Every thing you know is wrong.”  I get a kick out of the absurdity of…

“Everything you know is wrong
Black is white up is down and short is long
And everything you used to think was so important
Doesn’t really matter anymore
Because the simple fact remains that
Everything you know is wrong…”

Given the differences we all have, it’s doubtless that were the truth incontrovertibly established a lot of people would be surprised (if not all of us) by how little we really knew, and how badly wrong we were about some things.

If we think reason will bring us to truth, there is scant evidence of that. Religious belief is literally “all over the map” regarding what is true. Education will lead us only to learn things others have learned and are passing on to us—which may or may not be true at all.

Then there are those who satisfy themselves with the notion that lots of things are true and what really matters is “what is true for you.” The suggestion here, of course, is that truth is not absolute and applicable to all—rather truth is relative only to the individual. Kinda like “corned beef is delicious!” a statement of “my” truth to which many others will not concur.  Somehow, though, we did sit down and agree to go when the light turns green and require people to stop when it’s red. We set aside the relativism in that case at least so we could safely drive our cars.

JesusBirthI know that I don’t know much. However, I have become convinced of something nevertheless. I have come to believe that the Bible is true and that even though interpreting it is sometimes difficult—it is not impossible, and it’s well worth the effort. I’m more and more amazed by how what it says bears out in real life. How prophecies spoken hundreds of years ago come to pass today. How, for instance, the Bible would tell of a star that men saw in the east, a portent of the birth of a king. How, from where they were they could see the king star Regulus and king planet Jupiter brightly meeting in the sky at the foot of the constellation Leo. A rendezvous set into clockwork motion from the very beginning of this solar system. www.bethlehemstar.net.

It seems to me that a God who would claim to love us, would also speak to us. It seems reasonable, furthermore, that were He to speak He would speak truly. I believe He has.

One of the things He says to us is that “there is a way that seems right to us” —but it’s not, it doesn’t end well. He tells us that the so-called “wisdom” of men is foolishness to Him. Could it be that so much of what we come to believe will be found to be a lie? God doesn’t want us to believe lies. He tells us the truth. He IS the truth. That truth has dwelt among us and provided for us. My money’s on God and the reliability of His word. That’s why I fully intend to have—and wish with all my heart for you—a very Merry Christmas!

 

 

Caricature of a some young friends of ours who recently married.

Caricature of a some young friends of ours who recently married.

dropIlike to try to capture the essence of a subject in a humorous way, using exaggeration of certain prominent features. It’s what we call a “caricature.” We all know it doesn’t really look like the subject, but you can tell who it is nonetheless—and in the recognition perhaps enjoy a smile.

I’ve observed too, that we all do this sort of thing, if not with pictures, with words. We “characterize” a subject or person in a particular way in a particular light. People know what we’re referring to because there’s a lot of “truth” and “likeness” to our characterizations. However, they remain only a caricature—highlighting certain features, but not really a true likeness. We do this in debate and argument all the time. Our “caricature” of the subject under discussion often tells our listener more about us than it does about our subject. In debate we call this fallacy a “straw man.” A verbal effigy of our target set up before our counterpart and decimated with our superior wit and intelligence. Of course we have really only destroyed our own creation.

I’ve found that subjects and ideas and philosophies and people are all far more complex than the little caricatures we make of them. I’m not disparaging having ideals and convictions—I’ve got a bunch of those myself. I am, however, suggesting that we recognize this tendency we all have, and back off from some of the divisive intensity we start generating in all our zeal to be “right.” The other guy thinks he’s right too. For all we know, neither of us are. Perhaps we both have a cherished caricatured picture of what we oppose that really isn’t all that accurate. We’ll need real dialogue and willingness to redraw the thing if we’re to get to the truth.

Oh, now I’ve done it! I’ve suggested there is in fact something called “truth.” People define that term in so many ways. More caricatures I suppose. In all our groping for the light—to find what’s right, I like to keep in mind what Jesus said to Pilate:

“For this reason I came into the world—to testify to the truth.”

Surely One Who called Himself “God with Us” would not draw us a caricature.

dropThe lyrics from Gary Jules’ rendition of Mad World are eerily haunting. The second verse sadly intones the plight of “worn out faces” of people “going nowhere”—of “children waiting for [their birthdays]—the day they feel good…”. This lamentation resonates with so many. Who hasn’t often declared, “I can’t wait till…”, or “just a couple more days, then…”? We can’t wait to be 16 and get our driver’s licenses. 10 more minutes till break. 47 days till Christmas. We long for the workday to be over. We eagerly anticipate the “special” event. We would forfeit this particular measure of our lives to “fast forward” to something better. Why? Because the present tends to be tedious. Even in an unprecedented age of electronic, digital entertainment and a proliferation of countless pastimes and amusements, “boredom” seems to be a disease that is epidemic—especially among the young.


Thoreau said that “The mass of men lead lives of quiet desperation.” If this be true, what is it that makes us so desperate? Is life so unappealing and meaningless that we feel compelled to hasten through it to moments of pleasure that can make us feel, and give our lives some measure of significance?

It has been said that people live their lives as either a tourist, or a traveler. It appears to me that most are tourists. A tourist is not interested in the space and time between where they are and their destination. Vacation hasn’t begun till they’re there. The trip there is only a necessary evil. The potential destinations along the way hold no interest.

The traveler, on the other hand, also looks forward to the “main event” destination—but they are also interested in the process of getting there. These might steer clear of the airport non-stop in favor of a many-stop trek over an old state road, populated with diners, old town squares, gravel roads, and regular people. These are more likely to notice things and people that others miss because the rest are in a hurry to “get there.”

The same observations may be made about life in general. We seek for something yet to come. To live in the moment is insufferable. Because the quality, reward, stimulation, and meaning of our days is so wanting, we yearn for the “specialness” of vacations, holidays, events, and the like. Nothing makes product fly off the shelves better than the accompanying promise: “New and Improved!” We want that. We like that—and we’re willing to pay for it. Discontent in the present and longing for better days sells lottery tickets and attracts people to countless religions and “self-help” gimmicks.

I am learning how to be a traveler. I don’t want to “wish my life away.” “Now” is where I want to be. If, as John Lennon said, “Life is what happens to you while you’re busy making other plans”, we’re really not engaged with our lives. This “disagreeable” thing may contain a priceless value and we won’t see it because we were anxiously looking past it to a future we really can’t know and over which we have little to no control.

It isn’t only in the “sweet-bye-and-bye-apple-pie-in-the-sky” that a person may experience the longed-for joys. Jesus Christ told us that “the kingdom of God is in your midst.” —Luke 17:21b

What is necessary is the change, not of circumstance, but of us. To have the eyes to see and the ears to hear what has been near all along.

Some years ago I created this art as an expression of this lesson applied.

A Tangled Wood Something beautiful to me, that I almost missed!

A Tangled Wood
Something beautiful to me, that I almost missed!

Tangled

I walked along a shrouded path
remote from all my pain.
‘Neath canopies of verdant green
washed clean by recent rains.

I almost missed a tangled mass
of wildly groping wood.
Whose aimless chaos well bespoke
confusion where I stood.

Yet, looking closer through the veil,
a beauty there I see.
The tangled wood emerged in time
a work of art to me!

—T.A.Pack

dropwe spend so much time in our developing years in efforts to lose our innocence. It’s believed, apparently, that maturity and sophistication requires it. We must never—at any cost—be perceived as being naïve and gullible. This is a social stigma we rarely live down. So we rush to the gathering of “the cool” hoping that we don’t fall out of favor with these hipsters by displaying the slightest

Josiah and the horse he rode in on

vestige of innocence before their judging eyes.

Strangely, however, once our “eyes have been opened” and we have “arrived” in spiffy chic company, we find a deep longing for what we were so eager to rid ourselves of. The producer and singer, Steve Taylor, once wrote the lyric:

“Innocence, innocence, innocence lost. All souls want it back, some uncover the cost.”

Perhaps this longing—this desire to return to the simplicity of the garden—accounts for the peace we often feel in the presence of the yet-unspoiled purity of children. Perhaps it accounts in some way for the fact that something in the sweet strains of music has the capacity to charm even “the savage breast.” Why were we so eager to lose our innocence?

“…prove yourselves to be blameless and innocent, children of God above reproach in the midst of a crooked and perverse generation…”  from Paul’s letter to the Philippian believers—2:15

As a father, I remember so fondly the intimate sweetness of my innocent little boys. There were countless delights in the presence of their sincere, unsuspicious, and unabashed love. Wide-eyed and guileless, they gave me eyes to see things I had become blind to. No wonder the Messiah told us that unless we become (again) like children, we will never even perceive the kingdom of God—much less enter it.  (Matthew 18:3)

I miss these little guys,…though I love the young men they’ve become! May they never despise innocence.

This Week’s Message from God’s Word

 

 

The Color of Grief

The Color of Grief

dropThe sweet little girl at her great-grandmother’s funeral had just asked me why the funeral people drive those “funny looking cars.” After I made a stab at answering that one, she proceeded to another query. Looking intently at my dark suit she asked, “Why do you wear black?” Her mother stood behind her clad in the same grave color.

I don’t remember exactly how I attempted to answer her color question, but it had to do with undertaking an explanation for the term; “tradition”, and that we sometimes wear the color of how we feel—to show our respect, and that we’re sad for our loss.  I don’t believe that any of that computed for this little cherub. In contrast to us, this little one stood there brightly in her cheerful, colorful, spring-like floral dress as she proudly announced; “I like color!” “What if the sky was the color of my dress?” she continued…

Always, it’s out of the mouths of babes…

Indeed,… what is the color of grief and death? Depends, doesn’t it? For some, when death enters there is not a color black enough to express their heart’s despair. For others death seems only an inconvenient annoyance, barely given any respect at all—while that bright soul fixes on flowers, butterflies and blue skies.

They say nobody knows what happens when we die. I say if we don’t know, then,… keep wearing black. They say, “No, everybody goes to heaven, or when you die you just cease to exist, or you’ll go to the “Big Rock Candy Mountain”,  or they make some other statement of faith. But I thought we couldn’t make any statements like that, cause nobody knows what’s beyond? Of course, that too, is a statement of faith. An unprovable opinion. The only way, I guess, we could actually know anything would be if somebody died, went beyond, and then came back to tell us about it. Oh wait,…somebody did!

The Bible says, in 1 Thessalonians 4:13 “Brothers and sisters, we do not want you to be uninformed about those who sleep in death, so that you do not grieve like the rest of mankind, who have no hope.”

Since there is a Savior, we don’t grieve like the rest. The grief is all laced with grace. Hope is no wish. It’s a settled fact that we anticipate. The hopeful fact is, to turn a phrase—”dead men may tell tales”. They may live again. There is a Redeemer. There is hope.

Perhaps my little friend at the cemetery is on to something. Maybe next time one of my trusting friends makes their departure, I’ll ditch the black suit and choose my floral Hawaiian.

Proof

clariceIf you have never known someone like Clarice King you have missed one of the most compelling proofs, that there is a God, and that He is good. It hurts my soul to think that so many haven’t met such fine human beings. If I had never seen them, and known their kindness, and marveled at their patience, and “kicked my shoes off” in the comfort of their love, I don’t know if just the stuff I read in a book would have done it for me.

If I had not seen such a wonderful parallel in real life with what I read on the written page it would be virtually impossible to believe what was on the page alone. It would be just too much for my already small and often anemic faith. There would be just too much incongruity between the claims of the Christ and what may actually be lived.

I am so thankful for the ones in my life, however few they be, that looked like, acted like, and talked like the One Who made all that character possible. I hope you know the kind I mean? Patient in adversity. Kind to everyone (even the most undeserving). Always encouraging. Always quick with a smile. Always serving others. They come from all walks of life, all sizes, and races, and nationalities, and ages. They are sometimes the one you least suspect will possess these qualities. You might not see them at all because they care nothing for coming into the spotlight so you can even notice them—much less admire them.

They likely won’t be interviewed on the news. Moral failure, hypocrisy, greed, and illegal behavior make better press. Too many would prefer to believe there is no such thing as a real Christian. I guess I can’t blame them. If they’ve never met one, what else would you conclude?

 

Two Crowns

Some years ago I saw this image in my mind and tried to make my pencil record it. I had been reading in the Epistle to Philippi, where it’s recorded that the Messiah laid all self-concern aside to do what He was born to do. The suffering this love required included a crown of needle sharp thorns thrust into His scalp. It was utterly humiliating and painful and was all endured and overcome in love. Because of this accomplishment, we’re told, The Most High raised Him up,…to the highest splendor.

Two Crowns - The Tee Shirt

Amazingly, though, the passage then spells out that we are to follow in that same kind of “attitude.” Preferring others and the will of a wonderful God, we too are called to empty ourselves of vain and selfish attitude and pursuit. As we do, we experience more and more of the God we were formerly ignorant of. At last we will be like Him.

The Bible says that God is actually opposed to the proud, but that He is attracted to humility. If we will humble ourselves before Him in this life we will be honored by him both in this life and in all the living to come. If we are humble, He will lift us up.

“But we see Jesus,…now crowned with glory and honor because he suffered death, so that by the grace of God He might  taste death for everyone.”  Hebrews 2:9