Fighting Fire With Fire

abstract fire on black“Facts do not cease to exist because they are ignored.”

Aldous Huxley: Complete Essays 2, 1926-29

One of the most important things to a Christian is spreading the “Good News” of the Bible, or the Gospel if you prefer. However, it seems to me that many Christians go about this all wrong.  Instead of showing how Jesus is the answer to their questions about life and its meaning. They attempt to show how what others believe is wrong instead of showing how what they believe is right, complete and the whole truth and nothing but the truth. Instead of fighting fire with fire they attempt to fight fire with the inept smothering of the facts with Scripture verses, dogma, doctrine and tradition which for those that don’t believe in them in the first place is totally ineffective at best and totally offensive and repellent at worse.

I remember having lunch one Sunday after church with a group of my church friends and a visiting missionary-in-training. We were at the only Chinese restaurant in town, enjoying our meal, when the missionary, related a story about how he had visited another Chinese restaurant and had been highly offend by their Buddha statuettes.  He stated how he had just wanted to throw them on the ground and stomp them into dust. He then related a story about a group of missionaries in India who had taken all the idols from the local temple and made a huge bonfire out of them.  I was both appalled and disgusted. To me this was not only disrespectful but downright rude and not representative of God’s love and compassion toward all His creations.

The great Indian liberator and pacifist Mahatma Gandhi, said, “I like your Christ, I do not like your Christians. Your Christians are so unlike your Christ.”  And, I believe that it is actions like the ones listed in the previous paragraph that caused him to make this comment.  So then how are Christians supposed to spread the “Good News” how do we tell others about God’s great love for us and the eternal life He has planned for us? It’s really very simple, you fight fire with fire.

One of the greatest teachers in the Bible the Apostle Paul knew this and he put it to practice when he preached to the ancient Greeks. He did not go to Athens and throw down their idols and make a bonfire out of them. Instead, he showed the Greeks how the god they had been worshipping, the one they called “the unknown god” was in actually our God, Jehovah, the god of the ancient Hebrew children, the god of the New Testament in His son Jesus Christ, and our same God today.  This not to say that he was not disturbed by their beliefs, rather he used their beliefs to show them how the Gospel fulfilled and perfected those beliefs.  He did not shove Scripture down their throats which they would not have believed in anyway. Instead, he took their beliefs and compared them to what had been written throughout Hebrew history. (Acts 17: 16-22) He fought fire with fire.

Jesus said this of His own nature when He stated, “Think not that I am come to destroy the law, or the prophets: I am not come to destroy, but to fulfill.” (Matt 5:17) It is interesting that some of the meanings for the Greek word “fulfill” used in this translation mean: to complete, to consummate, to accomplish. And some of the meanings for the Greek word used for “law” mean any precept or injunction. Now, we have the natural law that which concerns the physical world and how it operates, and we have God’s law concerning how we act in the natural world, and most non-Christians frequently see these as being diametrically opposed to each other. But if Jesus came to fulfill the law, did He come only to fulfill the Judaic law of the Old Testament, or did He come to fulfill all law both natural law, the law governing all of creation and Judaic law? It seems to me that since all things came into being through Jesus, see John, Chapter 1, then Jesus came to fulfill natural law as well as Judaic law since He is the source of the first and the solution to the second. That being the case, then in order to spread the Good News we need to show non-Christians how Jesus is the answer to life’s physical riddles as well as spiritual ones.

Therefore, instead of quoting Bible verses to non-believers show them those things in nature that point to and verify God’s existence. We live in remarkable, amazing and wonderful times where a world of scientific evidence, daily discoveries and experiments, and an abundance of knowledge is available to each and every one of us with a few computer mouse clicks. Once you are armed with facts that they will believe then quote the Scriptures and show them how God is the reason for this world, its creation and its continuing existence. It will take a little time and effort. It will take some restraint and patience.  But, it will be much more effective and achieve greater results.  But above all preach with your actions first. Walk the talk because that will open the door for of reasoned discussions which will be based on mutual respect, admiration and understanding.

“I do not feel obliged to believe that the same God who has endowed us with sense, reason, and intellect has intended us to forgo their use.”

Galileo

abstract fire on black

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A Ticket To Ride

Gregory Buck Welch

Gregory Buck Welch

“We may be surprised at the people we find in heaven. God has a soft spot for sinners. His standards are quite low.” 

 Desmond Tutu

I always wondered why, at funerals, they preached at you about accepting Jesus. It really irritated me. I didn’t want to hear it. You know, I still don’t want to hear it, but now I understand. And, now, I know why it is important. You see there is one fundamental difference between Christianity and the other major religions in the world, and this one difference is what makes Christianity so important, but it’s an importance that you’re not likely to discover unless you experience the tragedy of losing someone you love.

On Valentine’s Day of 2013, just last week, my 18 year-old nephew was killed in a tragic car accident. And, although I have been a “believer” for many years, the real truth of Christianity – the bottom line, the “Good News” escaped me.  It wasn’t until I lost Greg that the importance of the Christian faith became a reality to me.  I will see him again, he is in a better place and I don’t have to do anything to get there. I don’t have to be anyone I’m not.  I don’t have to do anything in particular. I don’t even have to love God, although we are told we must. He loves us anyway even if we are incapable of returning that love. His love is not conditional and has given me a free gift.  He gave me a “ticket to ride.” And, He has one for you too.

In the other major religions of the world, the afterlife is conditional. In the Hindu and Buddhist faiths you are born into an endless cycle of reincarnation with each new birth position conditional on your performance in the previous life. If you had been a good boy or girl you moved up the ladder with the eventual reward of achieving Nirvana. Yet even that state of being is not Heaven it is merely assimilation into the great “cosmos” of being like being a rain drop in the great ocean of creation. If you do not use your earthly life for good, well…you could end up in some not-so-nice reincarnation like maybe living life as a cockroach or a flea-covered rat.

If you are Muslim or Jewish your position in the afterlife is also conditional on your behavior in this life. You will either end up spending your life in Paradise or in Hell depending on how well you followed the Seven Pillars of Faith or the Ten Commandants (respectively). Only in Christianity is a place in Heaven guaranteed, free of charge, free for the taking.  Jesus came, He died and He rose again and this is what He offers to anyone who wants it. It is free. It has no strings attached is not conditional on behavior or performance, or even your ability to return His great love.

However, this does not mean that you can live your life like Hell on earth and expect to get away with murder in the afterlife. Christians are expected to obey the same Ten Commandments and live up to even higher standards than other faiths in order to draw others to the faith. Unfortunately most do not do this and therein lays a major problem with Christianity. People preach one thing and live another, and people who see this behavior don’t believe the real truth that they are forgiven and free. I mean, how can you live like hell on earth and expect a reward in Heaven? It doesn’t make sense to our limited ways of understanding. But, it doesn’t have to be logical to be truth in God’s world. It just is.  Because God who is love, loves us enough that He sent His son to resolve the problems, to answer for our inherent inability to live good lives; to pay the “ticket’s” price.

Another major problem with the Christian faith that prevents people from believing its message are its missionaries; people who have done much damage to the world and its cultures in the name of Jesus. It is not necessary to live, talk, walk and dress like the “white man” to become a Christian. But history is replete with bad examples of missionaries who have forced their way of life on others without regard or respect for the beliefs and traditions of those they were “ministering” to. I am sorry, this is just wrong, very wrong, and I apologize for all the harm done that can never be undone. Unfortunately, it continues to this day.

For example, my church sponsored some missionaries to Mongolia. We sat at dinner one night as they were visiting and sharing some stories about the native peoples. They were laughing and making fun of their customs and culture. Then the man said, “They only want what we can give them. They don’t want to hear about the Gospel.”  I could only shake my head in disbelief. Of course, the native Mongolians don’t want to hear the Gospel – the Good News – from you. You don’t love them. You don’t respect them. You don’t have anything they really need. They don’t want to hear about “the ticket to ride” because who wants to ride with someone who makes fun of them, who does not respect them and who only wants to change them. Not me, not ever!

You probably have some questions by now. Like why do they do this? Why would they treat others this way? Well, it seems to me that they have lost sight of the true message of the Gospel. They have gotten trapped in the rules instead of the love. God, the Creator, is our Father. By His loving thoughts we were created. He loves us and like any good parent He wants our happiness and doesn’t want to see us hurt. So, like any parent, He laid down some laws. Don’t steal it will make someone mad and you will get hurt. Don’t cheat on your spouse. It will make someone mad and you will get hurt. Don’t kill. It will make someone mad and you will get hurt. Don’t put your hand in the fire. It will hurt.

It is easy to focus on these rules. They are concrete. They have answers. Don’t do this and you will be good, you will have a good life. You will be secure because you are now in control. It is harder to focus on God’s free love. It doesn’t make sense. It is not conditional, cannot be earned. It is out of our control and thus harder to accept and deal with. It is much easier to think that we can control God’s love by our behavior, i.e. if I obey the rules, I will have a good life, I will be blessed. The Gospel – The Good News – is that God loves us regardless of what we do here on earth. Our “ticket to ride” is not based on our actions but on the actions of Jesus on the cross. He paid the price and gave us a free ticket to heaven.

I want to see my loved ones again. I do want to spend eternity living with them in true peace and happiness with no more tears or pain. I want that “ticket to ride.” So I go on believing and accepting my faith as gospel, as the “Good News” of life after death, and I will gently tell anyone who wants to listen about it so that they might also share in the “Good News” of life after death in Heaven with their loved ones for eternity.

If you want to live forever, in freedom, in love with life and all its wonderful mysteries and with all those you love, there is a free ticket waiting for you. The price has been paid and all you have to do is accept it.

“I am still in the land of the dying; I shall be in the land of the living soon. (his last words)”
― John Newton

(Dedicated to Gregory Buck Welch – 6/30/94 – 2/14/13)

Somewhere Over The Rainbow

Blond woman lying in fieldOut beyond ideas of wrongdoing
and right doing,  there is a field.
I’ll meet you there.” – Rumi

I have always liked poetry, but I am particular about the types I read. I am not a fan of Sylvia Plath, but I do like Robert Frost. I also have recently discovered Rumi – a poet from ancient Persia, and the above quote caught and captured my attention.  The more I pondered it, the more meaning it seems to hold.

I may not be interpreting it correctly, but it seems to me to offer a sense of freedom, a freedom to be who you are, to believe what you believe and to allow others to be themselves as well.  It made me wonder what the world would be like if we could set aside our thoughts about what was right and what was wrong, and just accept people as they are.  If we weren’t so set on insisting that others view the world in the same way that we see it, would the world be a more peaceful place? Would religious wars cease when we quit enforcing our particular worldviews onto others?  Would we finally be able to accept others as they really are?

This does not mean that I believe that right and wrong are relative. It does not mean that I do not hold concrete beliefs in absolute values of the nature of good and evil. It does not mean that I do not firmly believe that there are some things that are simply wrong and some things that are simply right. It also does not mean I can be swayed from these positions on wrongdoing and right doing. Quite the opposite! I have a solid foundation in my faith of what is good and what is evil. However, what it does mean is that I will not judge others by my standards. And this is what Rumi’s poem means to me.

Whether you consider Jesus as the Son of God and humanity’s Savior, or you consider Him just to be a good teacher, or maybe you don’t consider Him at all, He did make an excellent point. He said: “Judge not, and ye shall not be judged“  Luke 6:37 KJV.  It seems to me to be the same point that Rumi is making in this poem. Don’t judge right and wrong and it will set you free from having your own actions as being judged right or wrong.  In that freedom, you can accept others as they are even as they accept you as you are. You can meet them in a field of love, joy, peace and freedom.

It doesn’t mean that you are free to do as you please. You still need to adhere to your own standards and morals. It just means that you allow others to hold to their personal morals and standards without judging them. Jesus also said, “For with what judgment ye judge, ye shall be judged: and with what measure ye mete, it shall be measured to you again.” Matt 7:2 KJV;   meaning that if you judge someone by your standards then those same standards will be applied to your own behavior.  I don’t know about you, but I frequently fail to live up to my own moral goals and aspirations, and I would hate to be judged for these failures. However, it does seem only fair that if I hold others to these standards, then I should also be held accountable to them.

“Because one believes in oneself, one doesn’t try to convince others. Because one is content with oneself, one doesn’t need others’ approval. Because one accepts oneself, the whole world accepts him or her.”  – Lao Tzu

The Storms of Life

Photo By;
Andi Chewning – Norway 2012

“We are all drifting reefwards now, and faith is our only anchor.”
―  Bram Stoker, Dracula

I am not really sure where I am going with this today, my anchor has been lifted and while I am not adrift, I have not really navigated this course before. I want to write what is in my heart without censoring it the way I usually do. I censor my thoughts in an attempt to please others, to impress others and/or to avoid offending someone. Today, I just want to write what is on my heart.

I saw a picture on the news in the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy of a seven ton cargo ship that had been tossed on shore a mile inland. The ship was huge, and it was beyond my ability to imagine what kind of force it must have taken to move it a mile away from the shore. I knew its anchor must have been tremendous yet it was not sufficient to save it, and I got to wondering about anchors and their purposes.

Storms come in many shapes and sizes from super storms  like Sandy to a cooling shower on a hot, humid day. They can cause great physical damage or emotional upheavals. They frequently bring death, destruction and pain.  And, anchors, those things which we use to negate some of that damage are not always sufficient.  That tanker’s anchor certainly didn’t protect it very well, and while a storm shelter may provide protection from a tornado what happens in its aftermath? How do you survive, cope and rebuild? How are all those people on the East Coast of the United States making it through the long, dark, cold days and nights without food, lights and heat? What keeps them going? What keeps any of us going when we lose someone we love, when we get divorced, when our friends betray us, when “life happens?” For me it is faith. Faith is my anchor and without it I just drift through life without purpose or direction at the mercy of the whims of fate.

I have raised five children and not all of them had he benefit of a strong faith, but I have noticed that the ones that I raised with a belief in a power greater than themselves had less traumatic teenage years than those that did not. They had an anchor that steadied them against the floods of peer pressure, drugs, low self-esteem and the Hollywood stereotypes of success.  Their faith, I believe, steadied them, and provided them with a secure knowledge of a power greater than themselves and their peers, and a larger worldview than their narrow, short lifespans provided them. This empowered them to stand firm and fight against the storms of life.

So too, in my own life, as I have battled depression, anxiety and stress, my faith – storm mangled as it is – has seen me through, provided me with an anchor and kept me safe to journey on toward new horizons in my life. It is my hope that all of you find a faith with which to anchor your lives and souls, a faith that will lead you to new adventures, larger horizons and more glorious manifestations of the Creator’s love in your lives.

“None of us knows what might happen even the next minute, yet still we go forward. Because we trust. Because we have Faith.”
―  Paulo Coelho, Brida

Putting The Pieces Together

Photo: by David

 

“Do not believe in anything simply because you have heard it. Do not believe in anything simply because it is spoken and rumored by many. Do not believe in anything simply because it is found written in your religious books. Do not believe in anything merely on the authority of your teachers and elders. Do not believe in traditions because they have been handed down for many generations. But after observation and analysis, when you find that anything agrees with reason and is conducive to the good and benefit of one and all, then accept it and live up to it.”

Buddha

It’s been said that faith is blind, but I disagree. Real faith is not blind; it thoroughly inspects reality, examines all its components, determines what is real and what is false, and finally accepts what it cannot know or rationally explain. Many wiser philosophers and theologians have attempted to explain this process, but they all seem to swing from the left side of the pendulum to the right and back again. There does not seem to be any acceptance that the process of knowing is a process of faith without which real understanding cannot take place.

One of the early doctors of the church, St. Augustine, 354-430 A.D. is credited with the philosophy of “faith seeking understanding.” This is an attempt to rationalize why we believe what we believe.  This approach to religion and religious belief opened the doors to Catholic doctrines that has resulted in both some advances in thought and faith such as the doctrine that the individual has the moral obligation to follow his/her conscience as directed by the Holy Spirit. However, the Church puts qualifications on its own doctrines by insisting that the final authority in all manners of faith and morality is the Church itself. It has also led to its own ultimate demise.

This philosophy of “faith seeking understanding” is a foundational methodology of modern Christian thought as, at one time, the only authority in Christianity was the Catholic Church, and as such, established not only what was to be taught but how it was to be taught.  What began as a simple thirst for understanding progressed into a brutal examination of reality that eventually became devoid of mystery as “scientific methods” of understanding and learning replaced faith-based principles. This, in turn, has led to such extreme views as those presented as “scientific” analyses of the Gospels and Jesus’ life by the participants of the “Jesus Seminar.”  These views include the belief that only 18% of the sayings of Jesus were really His own words, that Jesus was not God and man, and that the Gospel of Thomas is more accurate than the Gospel of John. Other, opinions that have then been birthed by the Jesus Seminar are the views that Mary was raped by a Roman solider, married Joseph for protection and gave birth to Jesus. That Jesus did not really perform any miracles, he was simply a talented magician, and that there was no resurrection. It was simply an invention foisted upon the world by desperate believers.

So then, where does that leave us. Are we to blindly accept everything that is fed to us? Are we to never doubt, question or search for the truth? Not at all. Scripture tells us that  we need to ” And be not conformed to this world: but be ye transformed by the renewing of your mind, that ye may prove what is that good, and acceptable, and perfect, will of God.”  Rom 12:2 KJV  The word renewing is critical here as it means a renewal, a completion brought about by the Holy Spirit. It is both a process and an accomplished act. It is not an either or proposition.  It is a combination of both, and it is to be done on a daily basis. It is faith and reason together working to both accomplish and enhance what was started with belief and accomplished on the cross. I know this sounds confusing, and I admit to getting lost in my own logic at times, but the distinction is important because if it is not understood it can lead to errors, errors which can then lead to false beliefs and apostasy.

God said, “For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways, and my thoughts than your thoughts.” Isa 55:9 KJV That being the case is there really any hope for us in coming to know Him better? Of course there is because God also said, ” And ye shall seek me, and find me, when ye shall search for me with all your heart. Jer 29:13 KJV However, we must also realize that, there are things which we must simply accept on faith. Things that we cannot possibly understand and are not given to understand. There must be a balance between seeking, searching, learning and simple faith. In Deuteronomy 29:29 it says, ” The secret things belong unto the LORD our God: but those things which are revealed belong unto us and to our children for ever…” KJV This means that we will find answers but we will also be faced with puzzle pieces that simply don’t fit and trying to make them fit leads to the type of mental gymnastics such as those performed by the members of the Jesus Seminar. We must simply accpect that in this life there will be things that simply cannot be explained, understood or known.

This concept of things being unknowable is not a simple Christian teaching. Lao Tzu, who wrote the Tao Te Ching, wrote about this aspect of eternal goodness that:

The tao that can be told
is not the eternal Tao
The name that can be named
is not the eternal Name. Lao Tzu

The bottom line, then, is that we are to search, question, learn and renew our minds. We are not to blindly accept what is given to us like a baby accepting a bottle. Like our four-legged friends who always seem to be on the look-out for a treat or a meal, we are to be constantly on the search for new sources of spiritual manna so that we might continually grow in Him. However, we need to balance this thirst for knowledge with faith, a faith given to us by God, sustained by God and which ultimately will led back to Him. 

“If God were small enough to be understood, He would not be big enough to be worshipped.”

Evelyn Underhill