The six most powerful words (part one)

“I love you” is universally considered by most people to be the three most precious words they could hear from someone they love, or, in turn, say to someone else.

But as wonderful as “I love you” truly is, and as much as I have appreciated hearing and saying them to others, I do not believe, in my opinion, they are either the most important or the most precious. The six words I would rather hear from the mouth of anyone is “I am sorry, I was wrong.”

These six words have the power to bring heaven itself down to a troubled earth, to heal fractured and broken relationships, and to restore to wholeness bonds that have been ripped asunder due to selfishness, pride, and all other categories of sin. “I am sorry, I was wrong” allows the divine gift of forgiveness to begin its heavenly healing process of rehabilitation to oftentimes tortured souls wounded and even obliterated by the sins of others.

In essence, these six words begin the critical yet often overlooked process of repentance, the necessary ingredient of the healing process necessary to bring fractured lives back into harmony with each other, to the state of bliss that previously existed between them.

The word repentance is not common in our society today. In fact, think about the last time you heard the word; can you remember, or has it been so long ago that it has passed out of your memory? Worse, you may have never heard the word used even once in your lifetime. That would be unalterably tragic.

Repentance is defined as, “Sorrow for any thing done or said; the pain or grief which a person experiences in consequence of the injury or inconvenience produced by his own conduct.” I have taken this definition from the 1828 Webster’s dictionary. Please click on the link above to read the complete definition as it is illuminating.

Humans are not perfect; far from it. Our imperfect natures, our default modes, we might say, is to treat others in a less than perfect manner. We say and do things that are hurtful that cause other people pain because of our stupidity, insensitivity, callousness, pride, and general ignorance of the terrible power of words and actions to bring anguish and suffering to others.

When we say or do something that genuinely hurts another, a rupture occurs between us. This rupture is all the more pronounced if what we said or did to cause the rupture was done intentionally, with full knowledge of the consequence of our words and actions, and not due to simple stupidity or carelessness on our parts. In other words, we can behave in a hurtful manner toward a loved one without the intention of causing them harm, and the hurt resulting from this is much easier to deal with than experiencing hurt from someone who wanted to hurt us intentionally.

Regardless of our intentions and motives, these ruptures between people leave raw wounds on the souls of individuals that require healing to bring the shattered pieces of the relationship back into harmony. This restoration can only be accomplished through repentance and forgiveness, and “I am sorry, I was wrong” begins this oftentimes difficult and complicated process of bringing the frayed ends back together.

What is astonishing to me is this disturbing fact of human behavior: many people have never had these six words of healing pass across their lips. Like the proverbial bull in the china shop rampaging through the lives of others, these unenlightened souls run riot through the fragile existence of other people, both loved ones and strangers, oblivious to the carnage they leave in their wakes of selfish, self centered and destructive words and behaviors.

Loving someone who rarely—if ever— utters these six vital words, or worse, is unable to utter them, is hell on earth. You and the other members of your family living under the same roof with this individual are guaranteed to exist in a world of pain and suffering.

One of the most disastrous and untrue statements in fashion when I was a child was, “Love means never having to say you’re sorry.” It was popularized in a famous movie in 1970 called “Love Story.” To this day, I can still remember this tragic line from the movie; worse, I was brainwashed by it, believing it to be true.

Think about the above statement for a moment, trying to grasp its ramifications and meaning: if true love is practiced between two people, lovers for example, each one behaves in a manner that nothing they say or do is reprehensible enough to cause pain to the other, thus, no need to ever apologize. “I love you so much I will never say or do anything to hurt you.” At least this is my interpretation.

In a perfect world with perfect people this might be true, but not in the world we occupy. And I’m sure there is a minuscule percentage of the population that are so spiritually advanced, so mature in their emotions and behaviors, so overflowing with true love, they might be able to act in such a manner that never requires them to say, “I’m sorry, I was wrong.” If so, we need to put these advanced souls in a living museum so all may come, study, learn, emulate, and marvel at their perfection.

Reality, of course, tells a different story: a broken world is populated with broken people who hurt one another in countless ways. Even well-meaning people slip up on occasion, unintentionally doing and saying hurtful and stupid things to one another that cause pain and emotional angst. And for all of these things, each one causing some type of injury to the other’s soul, fraying or breaking the once solid bond existing between the couple (or child, family member, friend, etc.), there needs to be a healing, a restoration, a mending of the broken hearts and wounded souls. This begins with those six words said in sincerity and a willingness to do whatever is necessary to heal the wounds of the suffering other.

Thankfully, my walk with Christ and desire to live a holy life and be reconciled to the Creator of the Universe necessitated a deep dive into repentance and reconciliation. The pages of the Bible, both Old and New Testaments, are full of this divine process of sinful men and women arriving at a point in their lives of awareness of their sinful, fallen conditions and separation from God, and what He requires for His people to come back into intimate fellowship and relationship not only with Himself, but one another, human to human.

Interestingly, the more I learned of the divine process for reconciliation with God, the clearer my spiritual vision became to exposing the lie of “love means never having to say you’re sorry.”

This process has not been an easy one and is perpetually ongoing. One of the requirements necessary to come to the place in our soul life where we can even say to another we are sorry is humility and a degree of self awareness that we are flawed individuals prone to making lots of mistakes. Proud people, lacking sufficiently developed souls, can not admit they are wrong.

One begins to understand there is a transformational process that must occur in the spiritual, inner nature of anyone before they can say to someone else, “I am sorry, I was wrong.” Our innate pride, often hidden and lurking unexposed in the shadows of our personalities, must be recognized and brought to the surface to be decisively dealt with, a high bar to clear for many people who walk around believing they are the greatest things that ever walked on the planet.

The ability to admit to someone that we have wronged them is not “arriving at first base.” On the contrary, first base is reached when a man or woman begins to realize they are full of pride, selfishness, self-centeredness, and arrogance. Once this personal revelation is reached (and the process of getting here can be traumatic, complicated, and requiring much time), we begin to view our behavior and the things that come out of our mouths through this enlightened lens.

For example, how many times have you woken up in the morning and made coffee for yourself? No big deal, right? But what if you are married, have adult children living with you, or guests over at your house, or other relatives…have you ever thought, “Let me make enough coffee for them as well” (assuming, of course, they are coffee drinkers)?

Think about how easy it is to, instead of making coffee just for yourself, you also make some for others. All that is required is to pour more water into the coffee machine and add more coffee. Simple, yes? Absolutely, and your loved one(s) whom you made it for will be thrilled that you thought of them and saved them the time to make some for themselves.

But some people are clueless about this. I know a “friend” who I’ve went camping with once or twice and he would get up, make himself a cup of coffee, and never consider that maybe I would want one as well. And the effort required by him to simply add more coffee and water to the pot was nothing. But he is so out of touch with thinking about others and so consumed with himself that he doesn’t even see it.

Now, is this a big deal? Of course not. I’m a big boy and can make my own coffee, but do you see my point? It takes self awareness of others and their needs and how something as simple as making enough coffee for both of us (blessing me and/or others in the process) can pull us out of our own self-centered, “it’s all about me” mentality. But “first base” of this process is first understanding how clueless and selfish we naturally are to the people around us.

I hope to explore more of this in a future post.

Money

“For the love of money is a root of all sorts of evil, and some by longing for it have wandered away from the faith and pierced themselves with many griefs.” 1 Timothy 6:10 (NASB)

My relatively long life has proven at least one thing to me: the love of money is pervasive in our culture and can be a deadly, soul-robbing desire that has ruined—and will continue to ruin—countless lives.

I have read and reread 1 Timothy 6:10 many times throughout my life; it offers, in a few words, a profound and dark truth about the inordinate love and desire for money.

Americans are obsessed with making money. It fills virtually every waking hour for so many people and the pursuit of money and gain is the central focus of hundreds of millions of people.

I admit, like most Americans, I pursued money, most notably in my younger days when I first started my business. Like most Americans, I was deceived by the constant drumbeat of materialism that permeates virtually every single aspect of this society, from stupid television and media commercials glorifying the pursuit of wealth, materialism, gadgets and gimmicks, to hobnobbing with friends (including fellow Christians) and customers in the never ending discussions of money and its accompaniments.

Getting married and having children only increased both the desire and need for making money; since I wanted the best for my family and did not want them to lack for the good things and comforts of life, I worked hard and long in a business that well provided for their needs.

I could write a book about money and all the traps and snares I and those I personally knew fell into during mine and their deluded pursuit of it. Now, drawing near the end of my life and looking back, I can almost say I hate the very thought of money and greed and what it did, not only to my life, but to those I loved.

Don’t get me wrong; I understand we have to have money to survive. I have worked hard my entire life to be self-sufficient and not have to rely on family, friends, or the government to put food on my table and a roof over my head. I grew up in a very poor family and was blessed to be able to break free because of my business and some halfway decent wise financial moves from the bonds of that poverty to a somewhat comfortable lifestyle.

My business helped shape me into the man I am today, and though I would have never chosen the occupation I ended up in—a contractor working outside in the extreme weather conditions in Tucson with his own hands—I do not regret my career. It was an honest, oftentimes brutally hard living, but one that provided well for myself and my family. Through my business I learned responsibility, diligence, how to work with customers (not always an easy thing to do), how to manage employees, save, manage and spend money, understand how money works, time management, the wisdom of “early to bed, early to rise,” etc.

And I’ve seen the dark side of money, the greed that motivates so many people in this country for making more and more and more money, never being satisfied no matter how much they have in their bank accounts. I’ve learned people will sell the soul of their own mothers to the devil as long as they realize a sizable enough profit on the sale.

I recently watched a true story based on the very depths of depravity a man will stoop to in order to make money. It is a three part series on Youtube called “Riphagen.” Part One is here:

I’ve watched this several times and it is horrifying, breaking all bounds of decency and normality of human behavior. And it is a warning to all of us that, if we allow our greed and love for money to get the best of us, we can become like Riphagen, and perhaps worse.

Ethics of the Fathers” is a Jewish text. The following is taken from the linked page:

“Pirkei Avos / Ethics of the Fathers contains timeless wisdom. It is a collection of ethics, honesty, and advice…”

From Chapter One, we find this profound word of wisdom: “Who is rich? One who is happy with his lot.” This is so exquisitely wise and profound that it should be committed to memory and often taught to our children. I have meditated over it many times and have adopted it as a part of my life: to be content with my lot, my small portion in life, however humble it might be, living in an attitude of gratefulness and contentment with what God has blessed me, instead of the constant grasping and striving for more and more, never able to stop and “smell the roses.”

Let me close with this profound quote from Albert Einstein:

“Possessions, outward success, publicity, luxury – to me these have always been contemptible. I believe that a simple and unassuming manner of life is best for everyone, best for both the body and the mind.“

kyle rittenhouse trial and Verdict

The importance of using critical thinking skills in a highly sensationalized case like this one to counteract the misinformation by major news agencies in their attempt to skew the facts.

I never heard of the incident in Kenosha, Wisconsin on August 25, 2020 until the trial began with much publicity surrounding it. I had no knowledge of the details, nor remember hearing much, if anything, about it in the year since it occurred.

But when I watched the following segment from Tucker Carlson, I was prompted to write this latest post for my blog:

Tucker Carlson: “Rittenhouse trial taught us this”

I have much respect for Carlson and have probably watched him for about two years or more. As noted above, since I was not familiar with the Kenosha incident until Rittenhouse’s trial began, I have to take Carlson at his word concerning his critical allegation of the unfair manner in which most of the media portrayed this explosive incident.

I was trained as a journalist during high school, starting out as a reporter in my junior year and ending up as the editorial page editor in my senior year. When I lived in Rio Rico, AZ, I wrote several articles for the Nogales International, the local paper in the border town of Nogales, south of Rio Rico. At one time I seriously considered a career in journalism, and several people during my high school years encouraged me in that direction as well, believing I had talent and promise for the craft.

There is no question in my mind that the once noble field of investigative journalism has taken a nose dive. Traditional reporters whose job is to fairly and accurately report on newsworthy stories are ethically obligated to put aside their own prejudices, and biases and draft their stories based on facts alone; they leave their personal opinions out of the story.

There is a place for opinion, of course, in any newspaper, magazine or other type of journalistic outlet, in the “editorial section” where people’s individual takes on a particular issue is featured. This was what I did when I was the editorial page editor on my school newspaper, but one must not confuse reporting with editorializing. The two are as different as night and day.

Both have their important place in a news gathering organization like Fox News, MSNBC, CNN, etc. But today, especially in those news outlets like CNN, traditional reporting (accurately gathering and then unbiasedly reporting the facts on a notable event without injecting one’s opinion into the piece) is now conflated with editorializing and/or reporting on the story with a particular agenda, political persuasion, personal opinion, or pet bias in mind.

For example, if a major news organization is made up of people from a particular political persuasion, say, left of center Democratic, and if the owners of CNN, the “boots on the ground” reporters, and all the talking heads positions are the same, and if the owners wish to make a political point for their worldview using CNN as their personal megaphone, this would be a betrayal of what a traditional news gathering and reporting organization has always stood for.

And this is what is happening with so many once trusted, traditional news agencies: they are becoming not “news reporters” but “news shapers,” spinning almost everything to either find criticism with positions they disagree with or find bias support for their pet agendas by slanting the news in the direction of their favored positions. In other words, they become propaganda machines masquerading as news organizations.

Most thinking people see the obvious danger in this, and if Tucker Carlson is accurate in his opinion piece mentioned above, what America witnessed in the run-up of the trial by most “news” organizations was a highly editorialized and biased version that was purposely inaccurate when the it was presented (packaged) to the general public.

Kyle Rittenhouse, according to Carlson, was presented to the public in a false light by the major news outlets using sketchy “facts” and outright falsehoods to sway their viewing audience of their preconceived narrative. And what might be part of this preconceived narrative? That seventeen year old Republican, white, male militia members and Trump supporters should not be allowed to attend and foment violence against “peaceful” BLM rallies armed with illegal and violent AR-15 assault rifles.

Rittenhouse appears to have been tarred and feathered as a domestic terrorist who crossed state lines with an illegal assault weapon, intent on causing trouble and mayhem with other domestic terrorists (loyal Trump supporters being the only kind of individuals who can qualify as domestic terrorists). I’m not a huge fan of Donald Trump, but I do see how those in the anti-Trump camp like to lump all his supporters into one crazed, violent, assault rifle carrying mob intent on making sure America remains WASP (White Anglo-Saxon Protestant).

But facts can be stubborn things, and the facts, as the trial unfolded, proved the liberal media’s preconceived narrative couldn’t pass the sniff test. And the jury evidently agreed as they found him innocent on all charges.

Why do I write this particular post? To emphasize once again that “every story has (at least) two sides,” and if you and I want to be men and women who think correctly and wisely, making sound, fair and judicious decisions as we confront the myriad of often complex scenarios that each of us face on a seemingly continuous basis, we must develop our critical thinking skills, never rushing to judgment on issues until we have calmly and dispassionately viewed them from all relevant perspectives. And realizing we must hear and listen to both sides is fundamental to the thinking process and coming to the correct conclusion of any thorny issue.

Thinking correctly does not come naturally; our minds must be properly and expertly trained. Being emotional beings, our first responses to unfolding events is to view them from our “gut reactions” and from our particular world views. Unfortunately, too many of us come to the table of events armed with personal prejudices, religious persuasions, emotionalism, cultural leanings, and a simple ignorance bred from not understanding what it means to “think correctly.” We do not know that we don’t know what we should know—and this is a dangerous position to be in. There are few things in life more dangerous than a person who knows just enough to be dangerous.

No one is shot out of the womb fully equipped to think correctly. If you believe you are, you are woefully mistaken. Excellent and wise thinkers are not born, they are made, and often helped along and shaped by passing through the crucible of the furnace of life’s trials and tribulations.

In drawing this post to a close, my hope is that my words and thoughts will be taken to heart by some people to reexamine their thinking processes and at least consider they need help in this area. Oftentimes we have no idea we are on a wrong path until someone comes alongside us and points out we are in error. This kind of personal revelation can be shocking and jarring to our souls because we naturally believe we are always right, and to discover we are “off the path,” sometimes far off the path, can be humbling.

But having our eyes opened is a blessing, and sometimes, the path forward is going backward and pinpointing where we went off the track or where we failed to develop the necessary skills to become better people by becoming better thinkers. And it is never too late to learn if we posses the requisite humility to admit we were wrong.

Know thyself

This is a quote by the great Greek philosopher Socrates, a very wise man. The entire quote is, “To know thyself is the beginning of wisdom.”

Many years ago, I read about a conversation a great preacher (he was, I believe, either George Whitefield or Jonathan Edwards) had with a servant girl just before he was going to leave on one of his many evangelistic preaching tours in early America.

According to memory, this servant girl asked the great preacher for some advice before he left. He suggested, “Ask God to show you who you really are,” and then left for his preaching mission.

When he returned to this same house after an extended period of time, he remembered the conversation he had with this young woman and asked one of the other servants where and how she was.

“Oh, sir,” one of the servants replied, “Not very well. God has shown her who she truly is and she has not been the same since.”

Deeply concerned about the state of her condition, the preacher made inquiries where she was, soon finding her. She was in a terrible state of anguish and suffering, having realized for the first time in her life the type of wretched, wicked person she actually was, long concealed underneath her false facade of respectability and outward goodness.

The preacher, finding her in this condition, encouraged her to “Now ask God to show you who He really is.” The story concludes how she found mercy and salvation through the shed blood of Christ and became a new creature in Him after receiving forgiveness for her sins.

I have never forgotten this story, though I read it perhaps as long as 10 years ago. Over this long expanse of time I have tried in vain to locate exactly where I heard it, doing multiple internet searches and always coming up empty.

Why this story affects me so greatly is because it touches at the heart of so much of what is wrong in modern Western civilization: this false notion that we are all such good and noble people.

I wish to be careful in my Choice of words here: I’m not saying that each and every human on this planet is a wicked and depraved individual. We all know wonderfully kind, generous and compassionate people who would do almost anything to help their fellow man. None are individually lacking some degree of goodness, compassion and kindness. There is in most of us an innate degree, differing in quality and strength, of goodness and love that separates us from the brute beasts.

On the other hand, legions are the examples of the gross depravity, selfishness, self-centeredness, and criminality that makes up such a significant portion of our population. I would be amiss if I did not remind people of the utter depravity of people like Adolph Hitler, Joseph Stalin, Pol Pot, mass school shooters, serial killers, genocidal maniacs, etc. We all are guilty of having a depraved, sinful nature that resides deeply within the core of our being. Watch this video and you will understand what I mean:

A brutal murderer tries the “insanity” plea to escape justice

Most would agree that America finds itself in the unenviable position of being a post-Christian nation. One of the marks of early America was the influence of Christianity on the young nation, and one of the most prominent messages was the constant drumbeat that people, outside of Christ, are sinners in need of salvation.


In driving home this message of the need for your average American Joe and Jane’s dire need of repentance, much preaching centered on the incredible moral darkness that made up so much of your common, everyday people who one regularly rubbed shoulders with. There was an emphasis on this latent moral depravity that everyone possessed and the imperative that this evil nature should not only be recognized, but brought to the foot of the cross of Christ for forgiveness and cleansing.

I wrote about my Roman Catholic upbringing in another post (yet to be published on this blog). In Roman Catholicism and in most Protestant faiths, the concept of sin and the fact that we are all sinners in need of salvation is not only a common, but a foundational, theme.

Looking at this another way, it was unheard of for me growing up as a child in the 1960’s and early 1970’s with this modern day emphasis of “loving yourself” with the corresponding message that everybody deserves a trophy, aka “participation trophies.”

In other words, unlike when I was growing up and unlike what was standard teaching for most of America’s history from well before our founding as a nation in 1776, this current emphasis that every child is to receive unceasing heaps of praise for being such wonderful people and that all children, no matter what, are all considered equally wonderful, is a relatively recent phenomena. And the obvious question is, “Is this healthy for America to now be emphasizing this exact opposite message?”

I find myself drawn to the middle position, for having experienced first hand both extremes (first as a child raised in Roman Catholicism and later as a parent where I witnessed the “participation trophy” and “self-esteem” mentality in its infancy), and witnessing what has happened to children raised in the latter philosophy, I see the weaknesses in both camps.

Our children, of course, need legitimate praise and encouragement to grow up healthy and balanced; every loving parent understands this and acts wisely and accordingly in striking this healthy balance.

The Wiki article I linked to above has an interesting statement:

“The use of participation trophies has caused some controversy:

  • Critics argue that they promote narcissism and entitlement among children to whom they are given, and are based on incorrect assumptions regarding supposed psychological benefits of self-esteem. Critics also note that some children also do not value them as much as they do “normal” trophies that are given to winners.”

And if I was to judge which of the two extremes cause the most damage to children, and if I had to choose between the two and adopt one or the other, I’m convinced the former is more healthy for the child and society at large than the emphasis on “self-esteem” and the constant, over the top, incessant drumbeat telling children how wonderful, brilliant, marvelous, and infinitely talented and uniquely special one in a trillion each and every one of them is.

What I have experienced firsthand is children, raised by the “self-esteem” brand of child rearing, have grown up in the excesses listed in the Wiki article: narcissism, a sense of entitlement, and also an arrogant and proud attitude displayed by so many children today. It’s darn right frightening.

We have reared at least two to three generations of children who are so lacking in self-awareness of the kind of selfish, self-centered and narcissistic personalities they actually are that it is almost impossible to wrap one’s head around how wicked some of these children can be, only becoming increasingly worse as they enter adulthood. And all the while, they think they are the greatest things on the planet. It is simply astonishing.

“To know thyself is the beginning of wisdom.”

The Bible has some fascinating insights into this kind of behavior, and in particular, the kind of depraved conduct that will be prominently displayed during “the last days”:

“But realize this, that in the last days difficult times will come. For people will be lovers of self, lovers of money, boastful, arrogant, slanderers, disobedient to parents, ungrateful, unholy, unloving, irreconcilable, malicious gossips, without self-control, brutal, haters of good, treacherous, reckless, conceited, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God, holding to a form of godliness although they have denied its power; avoid such people as these.”  2 Timothy 3:1-6

The Greek word for “difficult” means “savage, hard to endure.” We can then read this verse as: “But realize this, in the last days savage times that will be hard to endure will come…”

Though the exact meaning, time and duration of these “last days” is unclear, one can look at what has been happening in America since the 1960’s and readily see all of the characteristics listed in the verses above are in full bloom in a degree and capacity that has never been witnessed in America before.

“The unexamined life is not worth living.”

Socrates

But the problem is, ever increasing numbers of deluded, lacking in self-awareness people cannot see that their personalities are consumed by many of these ungodly, even satanic, characteristics. On the contrary, they think they are the cream of the crop when they compare themselves with others. Again, their lack of self awareness to their true condition is astonishing.

There is perhaps no greater deception a person can be guilty of than spiritual delusion, the state many religious and “spiritual” people occupy where they think, by reading the Bible, meditating, practicing yoga, reading spiritual books, quoting spiritual masters, engaging in soul cleansing rituals, burning incense to clear away negative energies, etc., they are drawing close to God and becoming more and more like Him, when all the while they are living in sin and are not cleansed from their own spiritual putrefaction. They fail to recognize the central issue: the core of our inner personalities, our inner beings, are depraved. We do not need a superficial touch up to solve this problem but a complete spiritual regeneration of our natures. As Jesus said, we need to be “born again” (John chapter 3).

For example, there are countless stories of famous pastors and faith healers that, behind the scenes, away from the bright lights of the television/cable productions, are committing adultery, visiting prostitutes, skimming donation money, using their wealth to fund grotesque lifestyles of comfort, material excess and hedonism, and all sorts of other hypocritical behavior contrary to their professed beliefs in godliness.

And this type of disgusting behavior is not limited to these high profile charlatans but reaches down to the rank and file. How many single university and college “campus ministers” or bible students are sleeping with their girlfriends or boyfriends, holding their Bibles in one hand and a condom or birth control pills in the other? I have spent decades on university and college campuses and have experienced these levels of hypocrisy firsthand. And in all honesty, I must confess, in my younger years, I was guilty of some of the exact behavior, to my shame and grief. My own flimsy defense was I was consumed by grief and lived a life of overwhelming guilt when I was in these life stages because I knew I was wrong—deadly wrong and was betraying my beliefs with my spiritual hypocrisy.

Such honest introspection seems to be lacking in today’s religious communities. How many guru’s or self-proclaimed “teachers of wisdom” are making videos of themselves shrouded in cleansing incense smoke, chanting with gongs, and all the while sleeping with their unmarried “spiritual mentors” or teachers? Or smoking weed or consuming other drugs in their pursuit of enlightenment without even a thought of their obvious hypocrisy and the betrayal of their own spiritual values, histories, examples, ethics, and teachings? Or dishonoring one or both of their parents in violation of one of the Ten Commandments? The examples are endless and the most egregious examples come out of the very people and groups that claim to be the most spiritual and knowledgeable concerning the things of God and spirituality.

This is why that wise preacher’s advice to the servant girl was so powerful; somehow he must have known, or sensed, or experienced firsthand, that her behavior—her nature, her inner being, the way she typically behaved, the nuances of her speech—was contrary to what she so self-deludedly thought of herself. Evidently she was so blind and deaf to her own wickedness that this preacher seized upon the opportunity of her question to attempt to have her placed in an attitude where she might be opened to spiritual enlightenment concerning her evil behavior and/or attitudes.

It takes sincere soul searching, a move of God Himself, to peer deep inside our own hearts and see the spiritual rot that is festering there. Our godly ancestors and the general atmosphere prevalent in our country in bygone days was the opposite of the times we now live in. Then, the attitude was people were born in sin and it required a no-holds barred degree of introspection into one’s soul to come to the self-awareness that a complete regeneration of our beings was necessary. This way of thinking is virtually unheard of today.

“When men and women are unlimited and unrestrained, the evidence of history shows clearly they are all liable to become monsters of self-indulgence.” H.G. Wells

The quote above is out of a book I read years ago; I was so moved by it I committed it to memory, and I believe I am quoting it accurately. What struck me the most is the phrase “monsters of self-indulgence,” accurately and frightfully describing so many living in America for the past 60 or so years.

I believe at least some—maybe even most—of my readers would similarly benefit from asking themselves the same question presented to the servant girl. Get away to a quiet place where you can ask the Lord, “Show me who I really am.” Have the Bible with you, turned to 2 Timothy 3:1-6 and slowly go through that list, one at a time, and honestly inquire, “Am I like this?”

“How many are my iniquities and sins? Make known to me my rebellion and my sin.”

Job, from the book of Job 13:23 (NASB)

It might take you days, weeks or even months to plumb the depths of your own unrealized depravity. It will also require great courage and more than a little bit of honesty to peer inside your behavior, actions and attitudes and take this fearless moral inventory of the kind of person you might truly be, but have kept hidden in your self-made darkness of ignorance, self-denial, and pride.

We have another problem, perhaps more serious than not possessing the self awareness to “see” how we truly are: most lack the will or the requisite need for the all important self examination required to discover the innate evil in each of us. In other words, a person must want to discover the oftentimes ugly truth about their authentic, deeply buried selves before they have any hope of peeling back the onion layers of hypocrisy and self delusion that keeps us from properly diagnosing and exposing our spiritual illness.

But this required self-examination is not something that everyone desires; many people are more than content to live in lies and deceptions concerning their true natures and are not interested in correctly “knowing themselves.” This is baffling to me and I don’t believe I fully understand this phenomena.

Getting to “know thyself” is not for the weak and cowardly. It requires oftentimes brutal self-examination and courage to face the reality of who we truly are, and seeing ourselves unmasked of all our self-made trappings of respectability, false love, selfish compassion, disrespect to our parents and elders, phony spirituality; hypocrisy can, like the servant girl who finally discovered she was not the little angel she had deceived herself that she was, can break us and cause genuine pain and suffering.

I believe one reason for this blithe indifference to truly wanting to know who we authentically are is the lack of a properly developing and healthy soul. This might be due, in part, because the people in our lives we hang out may also be lacking in the proper development of their souls. “Birds of a feather flock together” is a helpful adage. People of shallow character feel the most comfortable around those like themselves.

But if we seek out and are drawn to souls of nobility, men and women of godly character, high moral standards, those that aspire to moral greatness and who seek to achieve holiness in their daily lives and thinking, we will be challenged and inspired by their spiritual characters and seek to emulate them. Standing next to them, their light might cast us into shadow, causing us to cringe in our immaturity, littleness of character and stunted spiritual development (see Luke 5: 1-11). If you want to soar with eagles, you will never do so while feasting on roadkill with buzzards.

Please don’t think I am encouraging you to do something that I myself have not done; I have spent a lifetime in continuous self-reflection, understanding perhaps only a fraction of the immense depravity deeply embedded within my own heart. And the best part of this journey to “knowing thyself“ is the results that occur after sincerely asking the second question of the preacher to the servant girl: “Now ask God to show you how He truly is.”

What I have found is great mercy, forgiveness and healing as I have sought to make amends through my own sincere, deep repentance. I have learned the deep and abiding love of God that has blessed my troubled life in unfathomable ways and brought healing and restoration to my soul. I hope the same for you.

Update on “The big lie”

I wrote a post on “The Big Lie” in September of this year. My fascination with discovering whether or not Donald Trump had the election stolen from him continues with me to this day.

I often return to Dominion Voting’s website to discover if they have updated new information concerning the many lawsuits they filed against people and companies that were part of spreading many of the baseless conspiracy theories surrounding this extraordinary claim of election fraud.

A couple of days ago, after logging into their website and clicking on the “Legal Updates” tab, I read they filed yet another lawsuit against the Fox Corporation. This legal filing is a whooping 468 pages, the longest of any lawsuit I have ever read in my life.

Today, as of this post, I have read most of what is written up to page 68; it is stunning information that everyone who believes that Donald Trump should now be into his second term should read and take to heart.

I have to admire Dominion; these people are relentless fighters and they are seemingly going after every person, company and news agency that played any major role in spreading lies and baseless conspiracy theories about them. I applaud them and hope they win billions.

Music speaks to the soul

James Taylor, “You’ve got a Friend.”

Certain kinds of music, different for each person, reaches us at mystic levels difficult to accurately and completely describe.

Unlike subjects such as mathematics or physics, music is subjective and touches deeply profound spiritual levels in our inner beings which cannot be weighed or analyzed by scientific methods. Certain music is in the realm of the divine, the spiritual, that which speaks and ministers to the soul.

James Taylor is a music legend who may or may not be familiar to many people today, but for music lovers who were fortunate to have lived through the 1970’s when a certain “sound” and style of music swept the USA and Europe, Taylor was a guru and inspiration.

Music occupies an interesting segment of my life. When I was younger, in my teens, twenties, and a portion of my thirties, music was a major part of my weekly or even daily aspect of my life. Though I still listen to music, its importance is not what is once was and the time spent on listening to music is nothing like before.

Like most people, I go through phases when things become important for a stretch of time, then I lose interest and go onto another topic of interest. This has been a constant and regular pattern in my life.

Revisiting and listening to some of the songs when I was much younger, in my teens, is a phase I will pass through. What brings this on might be a snippet of a song I heard somewhere, or a song suggested to me by some random Youtube algorithm while searching for something else, etc. Or, a friend will email me a song they just listened to and wanted to share it with me.

In this same vein, the old familiar song, “You’ve got a friend” by James Taylor, like some long ago ship from my past, sailed back into the harbor of my life. Here it is (and to fully appreciate the beauty of this song, please listen with some quality headphones or ear buds):

“You’ve Got a Friend,” sung by James Taylor

This song, written by Carole King, was recorded by Taylor in 1971. I was eleven years old, and though I don’t exactly remember when or where I was when I first heard it, my memory seems to place it when I was living in Crystal Lake, Illinois, with my sister Mary. We were living with our dad at this point.

Again, if memory serves me correctly, this was a song that was loved by Mary, and hearing it again after many years brings back very powerful and meaningful feelings.

For example, the acoustic guitar that plays in the first nine seconds immediately before Taylor begins to sing evokes powerful feelings that I’m unable to fully explain. They trigger some memory of familiarity and comfort that penetrates deep into my soul that is almost beyond explanation.

At approximately ten to twelve seconds into the song as Taylor begins to sing the opening stanza, drums, bass, and another instrument join in. The rhythm, timing, and volume of these instruments are seemingly perfect: slow, smooth, easy, not jarring and not missing a beat…perfection.

Taylor’s voice is unique as well, adding to the power of the song. How can I describe it? A bit nasally, perhaps? Higher pitched than most male voices, maybe? Whatever the unique characteristics are that set his voice apart from most other artists, it imparts something unique, special and meaningful to this song.

At approximately 2:26, Taylor’s voice is joined by some female harmony, adding another dimension of sweetness and innocence. At 3:25, this harmony only reinforces this sense of freshness and innocence, reflecting a time and moment of simplicity of life.

Of course, the lyrics themselves are wonderful, full of meaning, hope, love, friendship and loyalty. Who would not want to have such a friend as depicted in this song? Such a treasure is simply difficult to find, and blessed is the man or woman who can honestly say, “I have such a friend.” Better yet, to be able to say with absolute truth, “I am such a friend.” After all, it is better to give than to receive.

I’ve noticed that the music itself during the 1970’s is also unique. Again, I can’t precisely put a finger on what I mean, but there was a certain “sound” that this era had that, for some reason, seems to be impossible to re-create today.

Maybe it was the vintage microphones they used, or the old sound recording machines they used to record the voice and instruments, or maybe it was the acoustics in the recording studios where these songs were recorded, or the instruments themselves; in other words, a distinct “sound” and “feeling” captured by this era that, in my experience, has never been replicated or perhaps cannot be replicated.

I’ve noticed something else as well: the singers themselves cannot replicate their own voices or “feeling” from those times. James Taylor, now in his seventies, can sing this exact same song now and it is nothing like he sang it in 1971. Something is missing. Is it because he is old now, out of his prime, and, in the same way his body has aged, so has his voice? Can anyone expect Taylor’s voice, a man in his 70’s, to be as rich and strong as it was in his 20’s? Of course not, and perhaps this is the reason…who knows?

I will occasionally search on Youtube for these older songs of my childhood and teen years. It is amazing that Youtube will have songs that were song by various artists from the 1970’s. Many of these artists were in their early twenties, some in their late teens, when they become international stars and recorded some of their greatest and most popular hits.

But when I listen to them now, or from ten or twenty years ago, and they sing the exact songs from when they were in their teens or twenties, the “magic” is gone. Again, something—some necessary ingredients—are missing.

I can’t figure this mystery out. It’s beyond dispute that the same people are singing the same songs, but are they? What has changed…them, the instruments they now use, the microphones, or what?

Here is Taylor singing this same song, but in 2009:

Taylor singing the same song, but to my ear, something is definitely missing.

I think it’s a combination of many factors, but maybe the heart of it is this: that special something that our country was blessed with, that age of relative innocence that America was known for, the relative innocence and unsullied nature of the singers themselves, has all been transformed, disappeared, replaced by the hard edge of reality and the jadedness of life itself.

It’s like little children. When they are young, before the age of, say, ten or eleven (definitely before the age of puberty), they are so innocent. A child four, five, six years of age is one of the most precious, fresh, loving, joyful, curious, trusting, and innocent of human beings on the planet. I’ve often thought that looking upon the sleeping face of a one year old child is like metaphorically looking at the very face of God: pure innocence and goodness.

Then, that same child grows up, become a pre-teen, then a teenager. On some levels, this is a horrible transformation, for what this once loving child can unfortunately become is an individual whom the parent may never recognize as the sweet, loving and obedient child he or she once was they rocked in their arms and held close with seemingly inseparable bonds.

It might be possible that a similar situation happens with singers. As their talent brings them world-wide success, fame and fortune begin to work their inevitable process of corrupting, polluting and hardening of their fresh and somewhat innocent mindsets and they begin to lose their unique “presence.”

Maybe they also lose their youthful idealism, and the values they once believed in and expressed through their music and voices is lost to the brutalities and cruelties of this world. If the “eyes are the windows of the soul,” perhaps the voice is a mouthpiece to express what that soul believes in; if the soul becomes jaded and hardened, perhaps the voice might reflect that transformation in some way. Who knows?

Turning an important corner in this discussion, I come to the meat of this post: the meaning of the song itself, in this case, friendship and loyalty which is the most important part of this song and not the mechanics.

Taylor, like many successful musical artists both then and now, struggled with addiction to drugs and alcohol. Such dark times can make one feel separated from the rest of humanity, and Taylor seems to have went through this phase in his troubled life.

There is an interesting portion of a Wikipedia article about this song:

“You’ve Got a Friend” was written by Carole King during the January 1971 recording sessions for her own album Tapestry and James Taylor‘s album Mud Slide Slim and the Blue Horizon. King has stated that “the song was as close to pure inspiration as I’ve ever experienced. The song wrote itself. It was written by something outside myself, through me.”[1] According to Taylor, King told him that the song was a response to a line in Taylor’s earlier song “Fire and Rain” that “I’ve seen lonely times when I could not find a friend.”[2][3] King’s album was recorded in an overlap with Taylor’s, and King, Danny Kortchmar, and Joni Mitchell perform on both. The song is included on both albums; King said in a 1972 interview that she “didn’t write it with James or anybody really specifically in mind. But when James heard it he really liked it and wanted to record it”.

Whatever is the most accurate recollection of the reason why this song was composed, the facts seem to support the truth that Taylor, by recording it, found the song striking a chord in his own sense of loneliness and the importance of having a friend one can rely on.

I’ve never had a great problem with loneliness, preferring, for the most part and much more as I became older, spending time alone. Being alone is the best way I have found to achieve what I believe are two of my favorite words in the English language: peace and quiet.

The Covid lockdowns only reinforced this aloneness for me; in fact, it gave me an excuse to separate more from society than usual and I found the forced aloneness required by social distancing a welcomed event.

A sentence I read in a book by Alistair Maclean decades ago, when I was a teenager living at home with my mom, sisters and step-dad here in Tucson, has stuck with me my entire life. It was written about a certain character (I’ve forgotten the name of the character and the particular book I read it from): “he was not afraid to be alone.” I believes this describes myself accurately.

Of course, having meaningful and lasting friendships is part of life and having authentic friends to share life experiences with is a true treasure. Unfortunately, as I got older, the harsh reality of life proved to me that a true friend is a rare gift. I don’t believe I’ve ever had a true friend; many acquaintances but no true friends. Perhaps my standards are unnecessarily high…

I often find much insight reading the comments in various Youtube videos; this one is no exception. Here is one comment that struck me:

LIGHT IN THEART

My dad was in the emergency room before he went to the ICU. I played this song on my phone and put one ear bud in his ear and the other in mine. He had a stroke and could no longer communicate and I held his hand and cried while the song played. My dad showed me this song and it will always be our song.

This comment from “Light in the Heart” moved me nearly to tears; there is so much in this short comment. One, the obvious love she (I’m assuming) has for her dad and what seems to be a strong connection between this daughter and father that clearly extends back decades.

I think of this father, in ICU, perhaps at the tail end of his life and soon to pass to the world beyond, but held in the bond of inseparable love of his daughter as she reaches back to some distant memories, remembering how much her dad loved this song and wishing to reconnect both her and him to that special time in their past when they shared this song and the memory together. And that message to her dad? I’m here for you, dad, I’m that friend to you that James Taylor sang about decades ago. And I’m here for you now, in your time of need when you can no longer speak and may be at death’s door.

That father is a blessed man to have such a daughter in his life…a blessed man, indeed.

In the thread that followed this comment, I read this one:

Amadeus Smith

Musetoit my father died in my arms to this song few days ago…i dont know you but i just felt saying you something..

Another blessed father to have such a loving son or daughter in his life, especially with him at the very end of his journey.

May James Taylor, whose music and this song in particular which has brought untold comfort and meaning in perhaps millions of lives, experience the same love and care from at least one of his children when he also comes to the end of his days.

love of poetry

Poetry can move the soul

I have been a reader, lover and writer of poetry for virtually my entire life. My earliest recollection of reading poetry was when I was in third or fourth grade, when I was a student at a Catholic parochial school while living in Illinois.

Evidently I showed promise for reading; one of my teachers, a nun, placed me in an advanced reading class with a handful of other students who she thought would benefit from this special class.

We read poetry and short stories from famous authors. I remember reading “The Raven” and “The Cask of Amontillado” by Edgar Allan Poe, dark writings that, at such a young age, frightened me. Later, I appreciated their artistry more.

We also read “The Midnight Ride of Paul Revere,”; I can still quote parts from memory. This exposure to poetry when I was a child made an indelible impression in my mind that I have nurtured and returned to throughout my life.

When I attended the University of AZ, I always gravitated toward the “greeting cards” section in the bookstore housed in the Student Union. Back then, my main interest was for syrupy love poems by modern poets like Susan Polis (now Susan Polis Shutz). She started the famous “Blue Mountain Arts” card company with its distinctive look, fonts, and genre:

A typical style of the cards made by Blue Mountain Arts.

Poetry is a vast ocean of different styles, subjects, artists, tastes, etc. For myself, if I can’t understand the poetry, I won’t read it. And a lot of poetry is difficult to read and understand; I’ve never had much interest in this kind of poetry and rarely have taken the time and energy needed to read some of the author’s who wrote in more difficult styles, like Shakespeare.

One of my favorite poetry books is “One Hundred and One Famous Poems.” Here is a link. I have a paperback copy that is ragged and dog-eared, with missing pages held together by scotch tape. I can’t remember where and how it came into my possession, but I believe I’ve had it close to thirty years—maybe longer— and still read it to this day.

Some of my favorites from this book are “The Eternal Goodness,” “The Barefoot Boy,” “Trees,” “Mercy,” “Mending Wall,” “The Fool’s Prayer,” “I Shall Not Pass This Way Again,” “Maud Miller,” “In Flanders Fields” and many others from this great little book. I especially like the “Prose” section at the end of the book.

My love and interest in poetry is why I particularly like the movie, “The Dead Poets Society” with Robin Williams. He played a memorable role and the movie captured the ability of poetry to move, shape and influence minds.

Another favorite movie of mine is “Interstellar,” by director Christopher Nolan. A poem written by Dylan Thomas, “Do not go gentle into that good night,” was a cornerstone of this excellent movie, showing the enduring power of poetry to move and influence people even in our modern era.

Poetry for me ebbs and flows; I take in little chunks, reading a poem here and there. Long lengths of time can pass between poetry readings and I’m not constantly reading it. Like everything in life, poetry has its seasons.

My tastes in poetry has changed over the decades; the kind of poetry I liked when I was a young man is not the same kind of poetry I like now. For example, romantic poetry, so important in the early part of my life, is not important and I no longer read hardly any of it. Certainly I no longer actively seek it out like when I was younger and making bee-lines to the greeting cards sections of bookstores and supermarkets. I’ve jaded on love and romance. Again, different seasons…

And not all poetry is created equal. There is some really terrible poetry out there, written by well-meaning individuals who have utterly no talent for the craft. But since modern poetry is usually written without adherence to any sense of rhythm or meter, “poets” are everywhere and anyone is considered an poet who puts words in short lines on paper.

Poetry can nourish the soul and rouse the passions in our lives. When my children were small, we watched the “Anne of Green Gables” series together: good, wholesome movies, especially for little girls. Anne Shirley was enamored with Arthurian poetry and often recited it. In fact, it was Anne’s oft reference to Camelot that prompted my interest in discovering what she was referring to.

Recently, for the first time, I read the poem written by Lord Alfred Tennyson on the death of King Arthur. It is excellent and is an example of what I consider first rate poetry.

Poetry is somewhat like fine art or classical music: the more you study it, the larger your understanding and appreciation grows. After a lifetime of being a casual reader and writer of poetry, I can attest to the truth of this and encourage all to do the same: your soul will be nourished and lifted up to wonderful, new heights of wisdom and beauty.

The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom

I have been fascinated for virtually all of my adult life with the concept of wisdom, a topic I continually return to and study.  This pursuit of what wisdom is—and isn’t—has been one of the controlling interests of my own earthly pilgrimage. 

My pursuit of wisdom stems from an equally life long desire to be a good man.  An upright and moral man.  A man of integrity, dignity, and  compassion; lofty goals for myself who has valiantly struggled with my own personal frailties, sins, weaknesses, bad choices, moral failings, and stupidity. 

I had a rough childhood.  Real rough.  I ran away from home when I was fifteen years old and never returned.  The abuse was too much and, at fifteen, I said, “I’m done.”  Nothing would cause me to ever return to live at that house of horrors again. 

I had enough self-awareness in my late teens to realize I was screwed up.  You cannot have intense hatred and anger brewing in your heart and soul and expect to act like a normal human being.  Since I understood so clearly I needed help, I sought for truth, wisdom, and healing of soul in Christianity and in the person of Jesus.

There is a great emphasis in the Bible, particularly in the Old Testament book of Proverbs, on wisdom.  Since I knew I needed guidance on how to be normal, I was particularly attracted to the wisdom literature and concepts found throughout the Bible.  

Wisdom is a surprisingly vast subject, and there are several types of wisdom; my interest lies predominantly in biblical wisdom.  One of the most profound principles in the Bible is:  “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom, and the knowledge of the Holy One is understanding.” (Proverbs 9:10 NASB)

Unfortunately, this word “fear” has been ill-defined in most commentaries, bibles, and Christian books dealing with this specific subject to reflect only its partial definition, gutting its main meaning.

An example:  one of my current study bibles is “The Reformation Study Bible,” published by Ligonier Ministries.  In the comment section for Proverbs 1:7, it states:

“The fear of the Lord.  This idea is the controlling principle of Proverbs, and is ancient Israel’s decisive contribution to the human quest for knowledge and understanding.  The fear of the Lord is the only basis of true knowledge.  This ‘fear’ is not distrustful terror of God, but rather the reverent awe and worshipful response of faith to the God who reveals Himself as Creator, Savior, and Judge.”

Note that fear is defined as “the reverent awe and worshipful response of faith…”  But most educated people—and I would say virtually all educated people—who read the word fear would define it this way:  “an unpleasant emotion caused by the belief that someone or something is dangerous, likely to cause pain, or a threat.”

Or this:  “be afraid of (someone or something) as likely to be dangerous, painful, or threatening.”  Put simply, the word fear is straightforward:  “to be made afraid of something or someone.”

But the only place I see fear redefined to mean something different from the plain meaning of the word is in the Bible, bible commentaries (as noted above), or when the word is discussed in a sermon (rarely, if ever, attempted due, in part, to the subject being politically incorrect).

Typically, if fear is defined in a bible in the margin notes, in a bible commentary or preached from a pulpit, reverence is one of the top choices.  Another definition is often reverential awe or trust, both definitions that reveal only part of what the word actually means.

As discussed above, my “Reformation Study Bible” categorically denies that fear “is not distrustful terror of God…”  This is astonishing for the compilers of this particular bible to assert this because of the audacious falsity of their position, as will be shown below.

Here is what the word fear means (bear with me…it is a bit wordy, will take patience to get through it, but will be well worth the effort):

Heb “fear of the Lord.” The expression יְהוָה יִרְאַת (yir’at yÿhvah, “fear of Yahweh”) is a genitive-construct in which יְהוָה(“the Lord”) functions as an objective genitive: He is the object of fear. The term יָרַא (yara’) is the common word for fear in the OT and has a basic three-fold range of meanings: (1) “dread; terror” (Deut 1:29; Jonah 1:10), (2) “to stand in awe” (1 Kgs 3:28), (3) “to revere; to respect” (Lev 19:3). With the Lord as the object, it captures the polar opposites of shrinking back in fear and drawing close in awe and adoration. Both categories of meaning appear in Exod 20:20 (where the Lord descended upon Sinai amidst geophysical convulsions); Moses encouraged the Israelites to not be afraid of God arbitrarily striking them dead for no reason (“Do not fear!”) but informed the people that the Lord revealed himself in such a terrifying manner to scare them from sinning (“God has come only to test you and to put the fear of him in you so that you do not sin”). The fear of the Lord is expressed in reverential submission to his will – the characteristic of true worship. The fear of the Lord is the foundation for wisdom (9:10) and the discipline leading to wisdom (15:33). It is expressed in hatred of evil (8:13) and avoidance of sin (16:6), and so results in prolonged life (10:27; 19:23).

http://classic.net.bible.org/bible.php?book=Pro&chapter=1#n30

When you click on the above link, find the word “Lord” in verse 1:7, and you will see the small number “38” next to it.  Click on this and you will be taken to the definition.

I can’t emphasize enough how much time over the decades of my life I have pondered this concept of “the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom.”  The subject matter that surrounds both the word “fear” and its relation to wisdom is beyond measure and has required a lifetime of personal study, meditation, and circumspection.  Honestly, I do not think I fully understand or grasp the concept even at my advanced age.

I can confidently say this:  this word fear—as far as biblical wisdom is concerned—is like a three legged stool; you need all three legs in order to sit comfortably and safely on this stool.  If one of the legs is missing, you do not have a functioning piece of furniture. 

So is this word fear.   One needs all three legs of this particular stool in order to have a functioning concept of its meaning.  

In quick summary, the biblical word fear has three distinct meanings:  1.  dread, terror 2.  to stand in awe 3.  to revere; to respect.

These three meanings of the word are what comprises the three legged stool.  Removing just one definition of the word guts the fullness of the concept and, like a stool missing one of its legs, causes it to malfunction or unable to function as intended.  Perhaps a stool with only two legs can still function if you prop it up against a wall and steady it with your body in a certain position, but you get the allegory:  you need all three definitions to derive the full meaning and impact of the word.

But in American Christianity today, the word fear is, at best, defined with only two of the three legs needed to make a proper stool.  The first meaning, that of “fear and terror,” have been completely excised out of the definition, resulting in an unbalanced, almost useless stool to sit upon.  Possessing some value, just like a three legged stool missing one leg might have some value, nonetheless, the stool cannot be used as intended.

The missing definition of fear, that of terror and dread, is deeply troubling, for it robs the concept of one of its main strengths.  This is understandable, of course, because in our modern society, the idea of a God whom one has to be in terror or afraid of is never emphasized.  Such a God is thought cruel, tyrannical, and not worthy of love and respect and harkens back to an age when people were allegedly stone age apes that were running around in nature, clothed in animal skins or naked, eating raw meat whose language was limited to grunts, groans, and screams. 

We moderns, of course, are more advanced; such primitive thinking has been supplanted by the age of Enlightenment and modern science.  A race of intelligent beings who can now send robots to Mars to explore the planet autonomously has passed far beyond such childish, silly, and harmful notions.

Unfortunately with this kind of thinking, we forget that people don’t seem to change that much over the millennia of time of our presence on Earth.  The sad fact is that we are still quite primitive in at least some of our thinking and behaviors, and unfortunately, “the pot that burns the hand is often the most effective teacher.”

How many have learned that those events in our lives that cause us the most pain and suffering are usually our best teachers?  That loss and suffering change our bad behaviors and destructive thinking patterns faster and more thoroughly than well rewarded accomplishments, gifts and “good times”?

For example, what would motivate a selfish, lazy and unambitious husband to change his bad habit of going to his local bar on payday and blowing most of his check on booze:  his wife divorcing him or his boss giving him a raise?  “Pain is gain” as the old saying goes.

Understanding this peculiar (and I would add unfortunate) tendency of human behavior where we respond more to calamity than pleasure as far as reforming of bad behavior and character traits is concerned, this provides guidance as to one possible reason we should be in fear or terror of the Lord:  our sinful behaviors may bring down His wrath and displeasure upon our lives, a divine deterrent to keep us on the “straight and narrow path.”

I was raised by a vicious and violent father.  I feared him and walked on eggshells when he was around.  He was a bully and tyrant, and I feared his wrath, fists and acts of violence against my mom, myself and my other brothers and sisters.  

If we did something wrong when he was at work, we trembled with fear and dread when he came home because we knew the consequences of our disobedience.  And let me tell you:  many acts of stupidity, rebellion, disrespect or wrongdoing on my part was quenched in its infancy because of the always looming presence of my father.  In a perverse way, his evil nature and hotheadedness, his prone to violence over the most minor of infractions, made me and my siblings far more obedient and law abiding children. 

Twisted?  Of course, but fear is an effective motivator of good behavior, and it is a sad commentary on human behavior that makes this so.

Being a man and prone to pride and arrogance, to get my attention in certain circumstances, a well aimed punch in the mouth  (proverbially speaking) was often the best way to cause me to “see the light.”  In other words, I was the kind of man where soft words and gentleness did not often garner the kind of behavior changes I needed to undergo to become the kind of man I’ve always desired and longed to be.

Which brings me back to the “fear of the Lord.”  I’m convinced the Lord prefers to deal with His people in love and gentleness.  For those of us who error, His preferred method for bringing us back to the right path is with compassion.  Unfortunately though, most of us fail to respond to such gentle means of correction and only respond to pain, suffering, heartache and loss. 

It must be the same for our Heavenly Father as well, or at least I think so. Like I mentioned above, He prefers gentle and loving means of persuasion for His erring and disobedient children, but He also knows the depth of our depravity and hardheartedness; in many cases, we are no better than the brute beasts who seem only to respond to physical correction to either avoid danger or stop destructive/disobedient behavior.

Moses said to the people, “Do not be afraid. God has come to test you, so that the fear of God will be with you to keep you from sinning.” Exodus 20:20 (NIV)

I believe this verse above epitomizes what I believe is the main reason why we should fear (be in dread and terror of) the Lord: is provides a one, sure and certain safeguard from any individual from entering into a sinful lifestyle, either as a momentary lapse of judgement, temptation or weakness, or a regular, ongoing and continuous pattern of repeated sin.

Though fear is not the best motivator to holiness of life and avoidance of sin, it is, unfortunately, the main, and perhaps only true motivator for many disobedient humans. Like a painful spanking, it is not the preferred method of correction a parent desires for their child, but an unfortunate one resorted to by the loving parent toward a stubborn, willful, and disobedient one who refuses to reform their unruly behavior by gentler, kinder methods.

Philosopher and theologian Francis Schaeffer was a man I greatly admire. Here is one of his talks that I have listened to several different times due to its insights (interestingly, I believe he gave this speech only one year or so before his death in 1984) :

An accomplished author, one of his books was titled, “How should we then live?” Adapted into a film by the same title, I believe it asks a profound question…how should each of us then live? What is the kind of life we each should live in order to achieve maximum happiness, contentment, and meaning in life? Wisdom gives us these and many other of life’s most profound questions, but in a nutshell, I would assert that the kind of life each should live in order to achieve our maximum potential is a life most closely aligned with holiness as one of our ultimate and most cherished goals. Lives lived for the glory of God with the aim of having His character reproduced in our moment by moment existence on this planet is the highest of ideals.

And this is where the fear of the Lord intersects with a wise man or woman’s goals of determining the best path to achieve and realize the goal of “living life to the fullest.” What mars and derails so much of our lives from reaching their full potentials is sin, an ancient idea that in both word and thought has been derided and scoffed at by most people today.

Yet the facts speak for themselves; lives lived in habitual sinful behaviors (greed, lust, lying, immorality, crime, drunkenness, illegal and recreational drug usage, marital unfaithfulness, etc.) are all things that shorten and bring ruin and misery into our lives.

But the interesting thing is this: while so many of today’s intellectuals scoff at the idea of sin, and at the same time scoff at the existence of God, they simultaneously deny the thing that keeps us from engaging in the sinful acts that bring so much destruction into our lives: the fear of the Lord.

Obviously, one must have a belief in the existence of God in order to believe in the concept of the fear of the Lord. By default of this reality, there is the supposition of the existence of sin that mysteriously unites the concepts together. Since all three are routinely denied today—sin, God, and the fear of the Lord—wisdom is almost impossible to obtain. Thus, as Thoreau so eloquently wrote, “Most men lead lives of quiet desperation.”

I hope this post may lead someone into their own search for wisdom, or spur them on to an even deeper interest they may already be in pursuit of. It is a noble goal, this life of divine wisdom, and one infinitely worth all the time and energy required to invest in such.

I believed “the big lie”

My journey to find the truth.

“The Big Lie” was coined to describe the belief that the 2020 Presidential election was stolen from President Donald Trump because of alleged massive election fraud.

I was never a big fan of Trump. When I was ministering to University of Arizona (UA) students during the presidential debates before the 2016 election, my opinion was this on who I felt would be a better president: though I did not like Trump, I felt he would be the better choice to run the country than Hillary Clinton.

My opinion of Trump rose when he took office. I appreciated many of his strong stances: illegal immigration, secure borders, that he was tough on crime, was pro-life, pro Israel, pro police, pro business, etc.

I wasn’t a fan of his inflated ego or emphasis on money and obvious materialism. I did like his successful business experience which suggested he understood the important subject of economics and what made a country tick.

As his first term waned, and I learned more of Trump, I began to sour on him. Many compared him to Ronald Reagan, and though there were similarities, Trump is nothing like Reagan.

Reagan did not have the obvious pride (a better word is “arrogance”) that Trump is known for. Reagan had a wonderful sense of humor and used that gift to bring people together and lighten things up. And if politics need anything, it needs to be taken less seriously.

Immediately after Biden was declared the winner, the allegations of election fraud began circulating by Sidney Powell, the one-time attorney of Trump. I never heard of Powell, but when I did a quick google search and learned of her impressive credentials, I threw caution to the wind and believed every word she said.

Here’s a sample:

“[T]he flipping of votes by Dominion is even advertised; their ability to do that fraction, to make a Biden vote count 1.26 and a Trump vote count only .74. They’ve done it before. They’ve done it in Venezuela. They’ve done it in other foreign countries. They’ve done it in this country. We have evidence even that it was done in 2016 in California to benefit Hillary over Bernie, and it’s been done in other local elections and smaller elections, different places . . . . It’s absolutely the most appalling criminal operation in the history of our country.” (Page 8)

I devoured the news of, as Powell stated, the “greatest crime of the century if not the life of the world,” listening to, and reading, information from various right wing sources. I was stunned, trusting Powell because she was an experienced attorney and attorneys simply cannot make things up…they are held to the highest of standards for reporting the facts on any matter. It is what they are trained to do.

Slowing but surely, fact checkers and skeptics of Powell’s claims surfaced. The many lawsuits she filed in various courts were systematically dismissed. Knowing a bit about how courts work, I understood the ramifications of her cases being tossed aside so quickly: she had done something wrong and her facts could not pass the muster of strict evidence standards.

My faith in Powell began to crack, though I remained convinced that the election was stolen. After all, we had videos, did we not, of election workers pulling unauthorized and illegal bins of ballots from underneath tables? And just as damaging, we had multitude affidavits from allegedly reliable sources who swore under penalty of perjury that they witnessed election fraud happening…how could this overwhelming evidence be wrong? In my mind, it couldn’t be; Donald Trump had the election stolen from him and we had a usurper in office.

I thought, “It’s impossible that Trump lost the election. Look at the huge rallies he consistently held throughout the country. Biden hardly campaigned! There is no possible way Biden could have won…” Such is the power of brainwashing, expert lies, fake news, the manipulation of facts by experts, confirmation bias, and not being privy to all the facts.

In my quieter moments of reflection, months after the election when my mind settled and my outraged emotions subsided, I realized I had violated my own standards of thinking. To my embarrassment and shame, I joined the knee-jerk, emotional reactions of other conservatives and failed to perform my due diligence, relying on hype, Sidney Powell, and my natural distrust of liberal progressives and the mainstream media.

Confirmation bias is “the tendency to interpret new evidence as confirmation of one’s existing beliefs or theories.”

I failed to incorporate into my decision making process concerning this important issue the necessary tools of “critical thinking” and “rational skepticism.”

An example of what I mean by critical thinking can be briefly summed up with the ABC’s of forensic science: “Assume nothing. Believe nobody. Check everything.” This is the mantra of British crime scene manager John Cockram.

It’s hard to admit, looking back, how foolish I was and too trusting of people I never heard of before, like Sidney Powell; a high profile attorney like Powell would have thoroughly vetted her witnesses and triple checked her facts. How wrong I was in trusting her without performing my all important “due diligence”; an amateurish and unacceptable mistake for a man my age.

I have great respect for the rule of law, and though I no longer feel American jurisprudence has maintained its once lofty standards of justice and fairness, I still respect the honorable and vital position the courts occupy in this country.

It’s amazing how easily humans can be duped and the absurd beliefs we can be conned into believing. Because most of us are never taught how to think critically, we are prey to all stripes and sizes of con men and women…many, unfortunately, carrying bibles and other “holy” books and quoting scriptures.

My interest in the study and practice of law, my involvement in numerous lawsuits and legal actions, representing myself as my own attorney, has helped me. I can’t count how many Supreme Court and lower court decisions I have read, and this has sharpened my thinking abilities.

So it was with interest when I read Dominion Voting Systems began filing billion dollar plus lawsuits against many of the people and organizations involved in perpetrating and advancing the “Big Lie.” Here was familiar territory, and I began reading the many legal filings with great interest.

My eyes, to coin an old phrase, were being opened.

I have spent hours reading the legal filings submitted by Dominion and those they sued, along with the court’s various decisions on filed motions. Though the jury is still out on my final decision regarding whether or not Donald Trump should be sitting in the seat of Joe Biden, waiting until the legal process for all of these lawsuits are resolved, I’m convinced the “Big Lie” was precisely that: a big lie. The American people were subjected to one of the greatest frauds of all time that shook the foundations of our democratic republic. It has been nothing short of remarkable and caused me to dive deeper into the shadowy world of conspiracy theories and how a sitting president, Donald Trump, had fallen into this bottomless abyss.

People who make wise decisions in their lives are those who take the needed time to properly discern and weigh truth from error. They know there are at least “two sides to every story” and that we are all prone to immediately choose sides in any conflict and that we are naturally inclined to make emotional instead of rational observations and decisions. “Knee jerk” reactions are—unfortunately—par for the course for emotional beings.

I was taken in by the “Big Lie” and I’m now ashamed to admit this. Swept aside by emotion and the lightning fast pace of Sidney Powell’s and her other co-conspirators (including Trump) in presenting their “facts” to the public, I was duped. Again, I’m embarrassed and ashamed by this.

We all have “Big Lies” that come into our lives that require critical thinking in order to discern truth from error. I believe one of the first steps we all must take before we can become better thinkers is to admit that we are unschooled in the proper way of decoding difficult cases that regularly come into our lives.

Another necessary step is to admit we are prone to making mistakes; this takes humility and a fair degree of self-awareness, necessary for being able to accurately recognize our inherent weaknesses to be biased and emotion driven when it comes to decision making.

For many, being able to say, “I’m sorry. I was wrong” is almost impossible. We have such pride in ourselves and in our own abilities that admitting we make mistakes seems beyond the reach of many. This results in leaving behind a trail of hurting, wounded and offended people in our wakes because our arrogance has caused us to wrongly view life’s peculiar circumstances.

Learning the skills and art of critical thinking, then, is a stepping stone to a richer, more fulfilled life that will not only benefit ourselves, but others around us, including those we love the most.

Life can be short

My sister Mary died a gruesome death from Lupus at the tender age of 15, in 1973. She was born in 1958.

Almost fifty years later, the pain of her loss still brings tears to my eyes and a sob to my soul. I was 13 when she passed away and lost my closest friend. It was, and remains, a horrible memory of devastation and loss.

Mary’s high school picture when she was around 14 years old.

Most of us have lost loved ones, and if you live long enough, all of us will lose someone we love; their parting will bring such anguish into our lives that, at times, will be unbearable.

Mary’s story is a tragic one. The last nine months or so of her young life were unspeakably brutal as this deadly disease ravaged her body; words cannot adequately describe her suffering. Almost fifty years later it is still impossible for me to comprehend it, the unfairness of it all, the devastating loss of losing my closest and best friend; a scar I bear to this day.

But faith brings hope of reconciliation with those loved ones who have already departed and left this world and the often brutality of life. I wonder if perhaps Mary was given the better lot; she was spared so much of the horrors that living on Earth often brings to those who are destined to bear its agonies and cruelties. Certainly she bore her own unique hell as this cruel disease ravaged her young body, but who can say if what she may have faced later in life seemed—in comparison—even more agonizing against her unbelievable sufferings from Lupus?

One of the many reasons I must reject atheism is that it offers no hope of eventual reconciliation with our departed loved ones. This fact alone makes atheism untenable to me and most people who long and yearn to be reunited with those who have passed before us.

Atheism is a cruel belief system that robs all people of the hope that the afterlife will bring meaning and closure to the untimely death of those whom we have lost. It makes death, unbelievable as this might seem, worse and crueler than it already is.

Are you familiar with the song “I can only imagine”? And if you have listened to the song, do you know the story behind it? Stephanie Gray, a pro-life advocate who I have worked with, writes this on her blog after she lost her first child to miscarriage:

“It tells the true story of musician Bart Millard who wrote MercyMe’s song, I Can Only Imagine. Bart had been brutally abused by his father growing up, but before his father’s death his dad became a Christian and reconciled with his son.  After his dad’s death, Bart composed, ‘Surrounded by Your glory, What will my heart feel? Will I dance for you, Jesus? Or in awe of You be still? Will I stand in your presence, Or to my knees will I fall? Will I sing hallelujah? Will I be able to speak at all? I can only imagine.'”

I urge you to watch the Youtube video above because it shows, throughout it, various people looking through empty picture frames and also holding up pictures of their departed loved ones. Part of the message is that, for believers in Christ, we have the blessed hope of one day being reconciled with our departed loved ones.

I’ve talked to many atheists throughout my life, especially on college and university campuses where I seek to minister to them. Being young, many have not yet had to face the sting and agony of death; therefore, they carry with them an arrogant, know-it-all attitude that evolution is true and a belief in the afterlife is nonsense.

Some of them, when I ask, “What happens to you when you die?” will reply with a dismissive, “Worm food. We become worm food.” They deceive themselves they are being so clever when they spout such shallow foolishness.

Being pampered Americans who have been spared the brutalities of life in general, and death in particular, they parrot quaint phrases they picked up from late night philosophical dorm parties or from listening to atheist professors who mock and denigrate the Christian faith and hope in a resurrection.

I long to see Mary again and believe with all my soul that she is waiting up in heaven for our eventual reunion. Could I be wrong in this belief? Yes, I certainly can, because like the atheist who believes we all become worm food when we die, I’ve never been to heaven nor met anyone who has; I simply have faith in the words of Jesus:

“Jesus said to her, ‘I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in Me will live, even though he dies. And everyone who lives and believes in Me will never die. Do you believe this?” (John 11:25-26)

I can only imagine…