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

Knock, and It Shall Be Opened Unto You

 

“Reach high, for stars lie hidden in your soul. Dream deep, for every dream precedes the goal.”
Mother Teresa
 

Sometimes when we are in the middle of wanting something, struggling to achieve it, and seeing no results, we give up. We think, “I’ve done all I could. It just wasn’t meant to be. I’m not good enough.” Etc. So much nonsense, so many excuses, so many reasons to fail, and to give up our dreams. But, I don’t really think that this is what is supposed to happen. I think we are given dreams and goals to make life more interesting, and to help us change and grow into the people God meant for us to be.

The caterpillar starts out as a nasty little thing, sluggish, slow and sometimes very ugly. It then goes through a long dormant period where little seems to happen but where major unseen changes occur. What emerges is usually something very beautiful, something God had planned all along, and something to which the butterfly never agreed to but never resisted. It simply went along with God’s plans for its life. Humans, however, are given a choice, and with that choice comes responsibility for our actions.

Scripture says, “…knock, and it shall be opened to you.” Matt 7:7 KJV.  In related verses the Holy Scriptures talk about asking and receiving, and seeking and finding. What is key here is that we are required to initiate some kind of action, first. Then, God responds to what we have initiated. Unlike the butterfly, whose transformation is part of its genetic code, if we want to transform ourselves, change our lives, accomplish our goals and see our dreams become reality, we must undertake some type of proactive measures to set things in motion.

 Henry David Thoreau knew this. He wrote, “If you have built castles in the air, your work need not be lost; that is where they should be. Now put the foundations under them.”  Action! Accomplishing your goals, making your dreams come true, requires action on your part. The butterfly does nothing but let nature take its course and becomes what God has planned for it. God has different plans for humans, it seems, because He requires us to take action, to break open our cocoons and fly into our destinies.  Some of us never fulfill that destiny, but those that want to succeed must take the first step. They must ask, seek and knock.

As William Shakespeare said,  “It is not in the stars to hold our destiny but in ourselves.”  And, God has promised us success if we but simply take the first steps and reach for our goals. He has given us our destiny, planted the dreams, and provided us with the tools to accomplish them.  The caterpillar doesn’t dream of becoming a butterfly. It doesn’t have any goals beyond the next sip of nectar or the next mating call. We, however, can be inspired, motivated and dream.  We have the genetic code built into us that helps us build, create and succeed. All we have to do is set it free.

“What the caterpillar calls the end of the world, the master calls a butterfly.”

Richard Bach

 

 

Something To Ponder

Sept. 17, 2012

There is so much hatred and violence in the world this week, with each side thinking that their ways are the best ways, maybe we would all do well to consider the following:

“Beware lest we mistake our prejudices for our convictions.” – Dr. Harry Ironside

Judge not, and ye shall not be judged: condemn not, and ye shall not be condemned:  Luke 6:36  KJV – Jesus Christ 1-33 AD

Something to ponder this week and pray about.