Archive for the ‘Philosophy’ Category

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Cures for Class Envy

March 19, 2014

envyThere is enough money in this world to go around. But being fair and equitable has never been the point of money. The idea that people will voluntarily spread the wealth around is both wrong and naive. Unfortunately, no society has successfully regulated the accumulation of money; it probably cannot be done.

In an unequal system such as the world monetary condition, there will always be winners and losers. And just as it is wrong to think that this can change, so too it is a false syllogism to believe that those who have more money somehow deserve to be rich and those with less money are getting what they deserve.

I am guessing–but I believe I’m accurate–that more than 90% of wealth and poverty is not the result of justice or rewards for effort. Most of the people in our world who work the hardest are the poorest. Many who work the least are the most wealthy.

Therefore, class envy is inevitable. The Have-nots will always stare longingly at the Haves and would trade places with them if they could. The problem is, there are few people who propose workable solutions to this condition. And it is a problem.

More and more, those who perceive they are part of underclasses–and the makeup of this group varies with every society–are rising up to demand their ‘share’ of the equity of this world. The riots in London three summers ago, the “99%”, the property crime in upper-middle-class suburbs etc. all tell us that people are suffering from a Class Envy ailment.

Economists, philosophers, politicians, writers, bankers all fail to supply answers for this disease. This is the place for religion to supply the answer. And of all the religions that addresses wealth and poverty, only Christianity has a plan that works.

When I say that Christianity has a workable plan, I only mean this plan works for individuals. Collectively, we will always have a difficulty with class envy. There will always be strife among those who do not have the bare necessities of life. But if you want to live free of this envy in your own soul, here are three prescriptions the Bible offers us:

1. Contentment: The best known set of verses on contentment is found in 1 Timothy 6:6-11:

Now there is great gain in godliness with contentment, for we brought nothing into the world, and we cannot take anything out of the world. But if we have food and clothing, with these we will be content. But those who desire to be rich fall into temptation, into a snare, into many senseless and harmful desires that plunge people into ruin and destruction. For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evils. It is through this craving that some have wandered away from the faith and pierced themselves with many pangs.

In this passage, the word for “contentment” means to have “sufficient amount“. Yet Paul ties this concept with the idea of “godliness”. How can we make that connection in practical living? The person who devotes themselves to finding out God’s priorities for their life and arranging their schedule to meet those priorities will find that they don’t have time and energy to devote to those things that don’t fit into God’s priorities.

A few years ago, I was spending a lot of time thinking about how I should dress for going out in public, for speaking engagements and for meetings I had with clients. I spent so much time on it that God had to intervene. In my regular prayer time with God, he confronted me on how important clothes were becoming. He asked me to go an entire year without buying any new clothes. At first, I resented being asked this–though I went along with it. But as I noticed my poor inner attitude, I learned this desire to have others notice me was a toxic attitude. By the end of the year, God’s input had produced a certain degree of contentment in me. I found I no longer cared much about what others thought concerning my clothes. I now buy some when I need them and usually don’t spend much time thinking about it. And I found I don’t notice other people’s clothing as much either.

2. New Supply Chain: When a person has committed to be a follower of Jesus Christ, he is expected to accept his Lordship over their lives. This means more than obeying God. It also has perks and amenities. If we are God’s children and we serve Him, then we should expect God will take care of all our needs. Paul says it this way in Philippians 4:19: “My God shall supply all of your needs according to his riches in glory.

One Christmas, my wife and I considered something we had never done before. We thought about going into debt. We weren’t getting paid very much from the church and we had four small children. We bought them each a gift from us and made one for each of them. That emptied out our meager savings. We realized we didn’t even have the money to buy a turkey. Three days before Christmas, Kathy and I spent time in prayer and asked God either to supply our needs or to cut down on them. When no money came in the mail, we went down to the store and for the first time in our lives decided to buy groceries with our credit card.

Yet both of us felt this was not the right thing for us to do at that time. I am not saying it is evil to use a credit card or to have basic food needs. But for us on that day, we felt we could not put it on credit. So we took the food back to the shelves and left the store. We drove down to the church so I could pick up something from my office. When we went back out to the car, there was an envelope on the front seat. It contained almost $200. To this day, we have no idea who put the money there. And from that day, it became a tad easier to believe God was going to supply our financial needs. And when we came to believe that, we stopped envying those who had more. The One who supplies my needs is richer than everyone else in the universe combined.

3. Live in the Opposite Spirit: Sometimes, it is not enough to just resist envy. More often than not, if we just try and gut it out, we’ll find that we aren’t that strong. Someone close to us will buy something or be given something that we want and the envy will rear its head.

No, for envy to be crushed completely, we should go on the offensive against it. This truth is painted beautifully in the Sermon on the Mount. Matthew 6:2-4 says,

So when you give to the needy, do not announce it with trumpets, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and on the streets, to be honored by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward in full. 3 But when you give to the needy, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, 4 so that your giving may be in secret. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you.

So how does giving to the needy help to do away with class envy?

Pastor Jack Hayford of Church on the Way in Van Nuys, CA tells of a time when he and his wife went through a hard season with their finances. He noticed as their bank account got slimmer, his attitude toward other people’s possessions became jaded. He resented and envied more and more.

As he was reading the passage above, it occurred to him that this is not primarily about giving in secret. It is about watching the attitude of the heart by taking care of what is happening inside. Since he was facing envy and resentment, he decided to take what money he did have and give some away. He took five dollar bills and filled his wallet with them. Every person in town who panhandled, he gave them five dollars. Every letter that came in the mail asking for money he sent them some. He found after about two weeks, his resentment was over and the envy was completely gone.

How did that work?

When we walk in the opposite spirit from a bad attribute, we are no longer in the control of that thing. If we feel like hating, loving our enemies breaks the power of hatred. When we feel jealous, being sympathetic pulls us out of jealousy’s grasp. And when we feel envy creeping in, charity will scatter it.

These three things will annihilate envy: Contentment, trust and charity.

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Ten Healthy Ideas – Day 2: The Well of Resentment

December 21, 2013

deep wellHe had married her 22 years before; and now he stood in my office in front of her and said “I don’t love her any more. I want a divorce.” I actually thought he had asked me to be there so he could reconcile with his wife. Why else would he want his counselor there for what he had to say? But no–he wanted me to be a witness to his final declaration.

I couldn’t leave it at that. I had counseled him for several months and never had any idea he was thinking about divorce. So I asked him to go through his train of thought leading up to this decision. He mentioned a number of grievances he had stored over the years. He chronicled a long line of things which hurt him, annoyed him, bothered him and made him angry. He carried a long list with him.

However, he failed to mention a single thing that most people would associate with marital failure. She had not committed adultery, been violent, lied to him, appeared on a Reality T.V. show, hit the children, poisoned his food, withheld sex, had her mother stay for a year or joined a cult. Even though he carried a laundry list of grievances, none of them were that serious.

The biggest problem he carried with him to the end of his marriage was Resentment. Resentment is the idea that someone has done wrong by us and we refuse to let it go until they apologize or give retribution. We can resent someone for a small infraction or a huge sin. It really doesn’t matter how big or small the resentment is, it has the same effect: It sucks the life out of our love.

I tried to convince him to let go of his resentment and move on in his relationship with his wife, but he was not interested. A year later, their divorce was final and their lives in turmoil. I could have saved him a lot of hassle if he had just dealt with this like an adult.

Children cultivate resentments like a farmer grows corn. They can complain if someone gets a bigger portion of dessert. They will whine if someone bumps into them. They don’t like it when their brother looks at them funny. They will hit back when hit and curse back when cursed. But we expect that out of them–they’re children.

If you want to be a mature adult and have meaningful and long-lasting relationships, then resentments have to go. But that’s a lot easier to say than to do. I believe resentment is the most prominent disease known among mankind. We do not let go of them at all and certainly not easily. But I have an exercise that helps.

In the 4th century, there were a group of men and women called the Desert Fathers and Mothers. They lived in the Egyptian desert and taught many people about the deeper ways of living as a Christian. One of these, Abba Poemen, taught a practice called “The Well of Resentment”. (Note: This is a translation…it has been called the Well of Longing and the Well of Bitterness).

He taught his disciples to do the same thing at the end of every day. He said they were to picture themselves coming to the edge of a large and deep well. As they mentally look into this well, they should consider how things went for them that day. Each person was to probe their soul and see if there was anything that happened which caused any resentment. If a person identified resentment, they were to visualize casting that resentment into the well and watch it fall into the depths. Then they were to keep doing this until all resentments were gone. At the end, they should pray the Kyrie Eliason (“Lord have Mercy, Christ have Mercy on me”).

I have taught hundreds of people to do this the end of every day. I have yet to have someone come to me and tell me it doesn’t work. Rather, I have heard from many that it has revived their love for spouse, parent, child, co-worker, fellow-Christian and others. It is a practice which refuses to allow the little or big resentments from gaining hold. The Well of Resentment is like powerful vitamins which bind to viruses and snuff them out before they get destructive.

Try it for three days and see if it doesn’t begin to change your heart toward others around you.

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Open Letter from a Christian Pacifist

July 20, 2013

This is to all of my brothers and sisters. I don’t care if you own a gun. I care if you kill someone. I care if you kill an unborn child, a thug on the street, a death-row inmate, an elderly person suffering…and I care if you live in fear of being killed. My opinion of each of you does not change one bit if you have a gun. I just wanted you to start thinking biblically instead of just thinking with a cultural rationale for everything. It is amazing how hard it is to see a biblical truth when our culture teaches the exact opposite. It is my love for each of you that propels me to show you there are people who actually don’t believe in killing at all. I have done funerals for 3 police officers who shot themselves with their own revolvers. The pain in that room for everyone was greater than I have experienced almost anywhere else. The job they do involves the likelihood of taking a life. Most people’s souls go through discernible amounts of decay when they do that. Even seasoned veterans of wars cannot stop thinking about the souls they sent into eternity with a weapon. I think it is a loving thing I am saying to all of you to do me one favor: put aside what you have always believed about lethal weapons for a few weeks and study the New Testament with an open mind. After studying it and you are convinced your lethal weapon is what God wants you to have, so be it. I love you and wish the best for your soul and prosperity for those you will meet. Selah.

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Does God Pull Away or Do We?

October 25, 2012

I have heard it said many times that God hates sin so much that he cannot have anything to do with people who have sin. God is often pictured as distancing Himself from sinners, retreating to a holy conclave where He is not affected by our sin. Jesus’ death on the cross, which legally pays for sin, allows God to have fellowship and friendship with the believer.

Or so we’ve been told. There are certainly verses throughout the Bible that suggest this and even state openly that because we are all sinners we fall short of the grace of God (Romans 3:23). The Bible says that when we sin we negate the effectiveness of our prayers (Micah 3:4), we bring spiritual death upon ourselves (Ezekiel 18:20, Romans 6:23), and we lose a place in the Kingdom of God (1 Corinthians 6:9-10).

But nowhere does it say that God cannot stand to be around us when we sin. Nowhere.

Here is what it does say: Isaiah 59:1-2:

Surely the arm of the Lord is not too short to save,
nor his ear too dull to hear.
But your iniquities have separated
    you from your God;
your sins have hidden his face from you,
so that he will not hear.

Look clearly at v. 2. It is not that God pulls away from us; we pull away from God. Sin, by definition is selfish living, living without regard for Creator, other people and consequences. When we live in such a self-absorbed condition, it is hard to be close to anyone, let alone God. The more we sin, the less we are like God and the less we share values in common with God. When you do not share the values of another person, it is so hard to get close to them. In counseling over the years, I have seen many married couples grow apart because they do not share a common set of values.

In the Garden of Eden, after Adam and Eve disobeyed God, we read that God went looking for them. THEY HID FROM GOD, not the other way around. God is not afraid of sin and neither does God reject the sinner. Jesus is God and he liked to hang with sinners. Holy Spirit is God and he speaks to sinners about sin, righteousness and the afterlife. You don’t speak to people you abhor.

There is not a person in this world that God willingly pulls away from. But He will allow us to pull away from Him. Keep that in mind next time God feels far away. God didn’t move away. God didn’t change position at all.

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The Cry of our Hearts

June 25, 2012

The reaction to a crying baby changes by location. It’s true if you reflect on it.

When you lift a newborn in your arms for the first time, and it begins to cry, you may cry along with it. It’s like a shared Weltgeist that all mankind can enter; the experience of bursting into the world outside the womb, where all is unknown to you and you are helpless. Any of us can enter that; and so we share the emotion with the child.

A fevered baby evokes concern. As their cry vacillates between pain, fear and annoyance, we have indulgence, patience and empathy. Those of us who have gutted out our own illness and fever (which is all of us, except the Superimmune) can identify and relate. There is no problem at all with listening to that cry. As a parent whose children spiked temps of at least 104, I can tell you that cry is a welcome relief at 2 a.m. It means they are still alive and perhaps have the energy to fight the virus off.

Counterpoint. A baby’s cry in the airport, behind you in church, travelling via stroller in the supermarket – just about anywhere that your brain minds being assaulted by noise – garners very little sympathy. We understand that this kind of crying happens. We just feel annoyed it is happening around us. Usually, babies cry in public because they are angry, bored, competing, hungry, tired or innately selfish. Though we all have those emotions, we are not proud of them, and we tend to cover over our own failings by resenting that crying baby.

A baby wailing in a movie theater almost demands violent reactions. Everyone is thinking “What idiot brings their child to a showing of The Avengers?” Instinctively, parents seem to  know they are the focal point of vengeance in the theater and they usually clear out as the sniffles turn to shouts. None too soon, as the mob is looking ugly.

When I was six, my brother got lost at an amusement park. He was four. When we later found him, the park attendant hovering over him told us he was brought in by four adults, all of whom were distressed that he couldn’t find his parents. They were moved with compassion at the utter helplessness of a child’s sobs.

I say all of that to make this point: No matter what causes our tears as God’s children, He cares. He may not care the same way with every cry of our heart, but the intensity of his caring never flags.

That comforts and challenges my soul. When others waffle in how they feel about me and my personal struggles, there is One who never changes.

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The Hardest Prophecy ever Given by God

May 29, 2012

When we think of the Love of God, it is very possible to slip into a motif of sentimentalism. Be assured of this: God is not sentimental. His love does not drip of syrupy platitudes and pictures of little puppies. He loves the old gnarly dogs just as much as the cute youngsters.

But most people don’t define love the way God does. That makes it more difficult to understand some of the things God does and says. There may not be anything more difficult than Ezekiel 24:15-18. Here’s what it says:

15 The word of the Lord came to me: 16 “Son of man, with one blow I am about to take away from you the delight of your eyes. Yet do not lament or weep or shed any tears. 17 Groan quietly; do not mourn for the dead. Keep your turban fastened and your sandals on your feet; do not cover your mustache and beard or eat the customary food of mourners. ”

18 So I spoke to the people in the morning, and in the evening my wife died. The next morning I did as I had been commanded.

God tells the Prophet Ezekiel that his wife is going to die that evening and he is not allowed to outwardly mourn her in any way. This may be one of the most incomprehensible things God has ever asked anyone to do. Leaving aside for a moment that God is telling someone their loved one is about to die. Leaving aside for a moment that, from the way it is worded, it appears that Ezekiel and his wife were very close and loving.

Actually, we can’t leave those things aside. He is not asking this of a divorced prophet or of a man whose wife was a shrew. This is the love of his life. Not only is she about to die, but he is not allowed to grieve and he has to talk to people about why he is not speaking.

Why would a loving God do this to one of his best people? The love of God compels God to do the best thing for the most amount of people while keeping two truths in mind:

1. That people have freedom of choice over their own lives.

2. That sin is powerful and if allowed to go unchecked will destroy every person on this planet. God’s purpose is to deal with this second truth without completely violating the first truth.

The entire nation of Israel has wandered away from God and is practicing witchcraft, rampant immorality, idol worship, child sacrifice and war cult activity. God has given Ezekiel and a handful of other prophets messages to pass on in warning about where these actions are leading. No one is paying any attention to them. But as the days before consequences for their actions get closer, the messages of God become sharper. Finally, God uses a metaphor that will drive home the point. But it requires a picture that will not easily leave people’s minds.

Several things to remember. First, we all die. And death is in itself not a curse. The cross of Christ has removed sin from death and therefore taken away its sting. Second, we will all die when it is our appointed time to die. Nothing anyone else does or says can change that. Third, those of us who believe in God do not see death as a final moment. Fourth, sometimes for many of us, grieving has to be postponed due to other critical issues.

The nation of Israel are about to be attacked and attacked and attacked by their enemies. This time, God is not going to stop the attacks. People will die by the thousands, not because God is unloving, but because the nation didn’t want to acknowledge God any longer. This prophetic action God is calling Ezekiel to (i.e. not mourning his wife’s death) will mirror the coming days when the chaos and confusion of being attacked will leave people no time to grieve as they run for their own lives.

God gave them this picture to warn them and perhaps shock them into seeing what their actions would cause. They could have changed their minds and their ways and turned back to God. It may not have prevented everything from happening, but God is a forgiving God and will help us when we turn to Him.

We ought to remember the words of C. S. Lewis in “The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe” when describing Aslan, a figure of God Himself: “He is good, but He’s not safe”.

Not safe indeed. But He is loving, good and forgiving. And just so you know, God did comfort the prophet after he gave this word. At the end of that chapter he does tell him there will be a time he can openly grieve and God will help him.

What we all need to know is that when we think God does not care about the smallest things in our lives, we can be assured He does. But there are moments when God’s actions tell us He has bigger fish to fry. If we know he loves us fiercely, that can help us get through the tough times.

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How to be a Bad Parent – in One Easy Lesson

February 10, 2012

I almost never do this, but I am going to react to a video posted online. I am doing this because over a dozen of my friends posted this on Facebook and most of them (excluding my good friend Ken and one other person) paraded this around as an example of great parenting. It is not.

This is the opposite of great parenting. 

Here is the video. Watch it and come back for my “expert” analysis.

There are at least six things wrong with what he does here…and what is behind what he does.

1. He is Escalating the Confrontation. In family therapy terms, he is “stair-stepping” emotionally. This means he is reacting to her emotional fit on Facebook with a video that shows an even more dramatic display. Believe me, a handgun trumps an opinion expressed to friends every time. If you want to show a teen they are being disrespectful, you come down a notch emotionally and refuse to enter into their histrionics. Police officers will tell you that domestic disputes get out of hand when one person feels they have to “top” the emotions of the other person. What does the daughter do now in this family? Either she will do something even more dramatic than the dad, or she will feel cowed by his antics and shut down completely. My guess is that he has not earned her respect but her loathing.

2. He teaches “do as I command, not as I model”. He tells her to refrain from profanity and his speech is laced with profanity. This is like the parent who keeps preaching respect while showing no respect. I understand that parents aren’t perfect either. But this dad just wants to be the “boss” so much that he thinks his profanity is justified because “she started it“. My guess is she is simply mirroring what Cowboy Dad does every day; and he doesn’t like having a mirror held up to his soul.

3. His Anger is Not Focused: Generally in working with anyone, you must stick to one (or at the most, two) things that anger you. If he had just stuck with the “why did you have to shame us publicly” message, that would have more powerful. But he brings in the cost of the software, the language used, the disrespect for Linda, the “cleaning lady”. (It appears Linda is one of his clients who is paying for his services by cleaning their house. Why on earth does he allow Linda to clean this girl’s room in the first place?) He is one of those parents who stores up the grievances and then lets them all out at once.

4. A Handgun? Seriously? Telling the world that mom wants him to take a shot for her? This is what we tell our friends we wanted to do to the laptop. Adults don’t do this. Felons do this. No wonder this is such a wonderfully respectful family. This says to the kids “when you reach your boiling point, shoot something.”

5. If you strip out the profanity, his daughter actually does have some valid points. At least, she has every right to express her anger. What she does wrong is tell the world on Facebook and lace it with angry invective. If this is dad’s approach to dealing with his children, I can see why she feels she needs to take this to the masses. She isn’t right by any stretch of the imagination, but I can understand her. A good parent needs to keep the conversation going and enact consequences when kids won’t listen. Take away the laptop. Ground her until she moves out. But keep talking. The old adage “keep talking, I’m reloading” makes for a funny bumper-sticker. It is not good parenting.

6. In all Mr. Gun-toting Cowboy’s stream of anger, what he really is telling her is “don’t disrespect me”. I have a gun, I am in charge and you will tow the line. I have seen parents take this approach a lot and I can guarantee you it only alienates children. A good parent models respect by showing it, not by demanding it.  As an example, look at the book “To Kill a Mockingbird”. Can you imagine Atticus Finch demanding his children respect him? When Jem and Scout sneak out to watch him on the steps of the jail (without permission), he seeks to understand, not to alienate them. The whole town respects Atticus because he has shown them respect. It is the father of the supposed rape victim that demands respect. And he never gets it. I wonder why?

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