Archive | February, 2009

The Christian’s Secret to Living With Abandon

8 Feb

This post is a follow up to a previous post. To locate that post, simply click the title “The Christian’s Secret to Living With Abandon” above.

Only a few short months before the death of Dr. Jerry Falwell, founder of Thomas Road Baptist Church and my alma mater, Liberty University, the seminary at which I teach invited Dr. Falwell to our campus.

In the way that only he could, he unleashed a powerful torrent of ideas and perspectives in a packed house. Having been around him numerous times and, again on that day, being able to have a conversation with him, I was struck at the freedom of spirit he enjoyed– and the unmistakable sense of liberty in his life… He truly lived with abandon.

You could imagine my shock as, only a few months later, the 74 year old leader was felled by a massive heart attack. In the days that passed, I was able to spend intimate time with some people who knew him much better than I– people who were close personal friends with Falwell– who traveled with him regularly and, the real test of closeness, had his personal home and cell phone number.

That’s when I learned that Jerry had struggled with a long history of physical problems, particularly with the “granddaddy of them all,” his heart. In fact, I learned that on perhaps two separate occasions, Falwell had been taken in and had emergency heart operations- and that, at least once, he had to be revived from death (that took place some two years before his final demise). Now, it’s one thing to have a hang nail or some other minor health issue– that’s par for the course… But living with a condition of major heart disease is another.

That led me to wonder… “How can a man (person) facing such known physical threats like heart disease, not only function so powerfully in leading a movement and an empire of sorts– but also, do it while living with such abandon, in the face of it all?

So I sought to discern how this principle worked, and now I want to share what I’ve learned. Now, I’m the first to say that there is more to be said and that I need to work on how to articulate some of these ideas, but I at least have enough understanding that I want to share what I’ve come to believe and understand, in hopes it can help someone.

How It Works for Christians

First, I strongly believe that being a devoted follower of Christ makes all the difference in this area. Note that I’m not talking about outwardly-pious religionists– I’m talking about people who are normal, like you and me, but who happen to wrap their existence around the teachings of Jesus and seek to live consistently with what he said to do.

Why do I think it’s different for these people? Predominately because they sense an absolute calm when it comes to the ultimate problem of death and destiny. Because they believe (know) that their eternity is covered, and that the “worse that can happen” is leaving an imperfect world in order to enter a perfect eternal existence– that lowers the threat level of death immeasurably.

So, in that case, death is not something to be “avoided” per se– even though it’s not something to be ‘pursued’ either. It is what it is, it happens when it does, and though one might seek to take necessary precautions to avoid stupid (e.g., driving drunk on a motorcycle at 120 mph) or unwise (trying to break the world record for chain smoking) decisions that lead to what might be called a “premature death,” otherwise, little concern or thought is given to death as an event.

The only exception might be allowing the sobriety of one’s/another’s death to raise one’s awareness of the importance of living one’s life wisely, since time is a gift that, once used, cannot be regained. So death teaches and reminds the devoted Christian believer of the importance of how time should be invested, but otherwise, it’s essentially a non-issue.

Other Faiths and Their Solutions

One might ask, “Sure, but what about people of other religions? Isn’t it the same with them?” No, not really. Christianity alone offers confidence towards death for the believer. Were Hinduism or Buddhism to be true, the only real ‘hope’ of those faiths is to re-enter a world of suffering (their words, not mine) and hope, ultimately, to be drawn into the ultimate reality of an impersonal force– where one’s identity and personhood is extinguished (Nirvana or Moksha). This is hardly any real hope, and there is no concept or assurance in those faiths as to if or when this might occur. Similar, but different concepts, are shared by different animistic religions around the world who hold to a “cyclical” view of reality– unlike Christianity’s linear view of truth and time.

One could refer then to Islam or even Judaism. But even in these, there is no sense of absolute certainty as to one’s salvation. Though some overtones and similarities exist between Judaism and Christianity, Judaism has no sense of a system of teaching with regard to salvation in the way Christianity does. Their faith is based largely on their own efforts, hoping they are sufficient for making the cut. Islam is even less hopeful. They believe God is a sometimes-capricious deity who may or may not allow the faithful to join Him in His eternal abode.

All of that to say, the beliefs of these religious traditions offer no certainty to their adherents about the probability or certainty of security in eternal life– and I believe the consciences of those religions’ followers also bear witness of this uncertainty. They generally have a fear of death and, as a result, live with reticence. Frank discussions with people of these faiths about these issues easily prove my point.

Now, all of that could be perceived as amounting to ‘religious pride’ but anyone who knows me knows that’s not where I am coming from. First of all, all persons have freedom to acknowledge any (or no) faith, and though I am concerned about those who live without a confident faith– I am not responsible for their choice of a faith that doesn’t provide any confidence or security about the afterlife. That’s on them. My obligation is to communicate the truth of Christianity to them, in hopes they will be convinced and acknowledge for themselves what truth is– and enter into the same peace and eternal security that I enjoy moment by moment.

But back to the main issue– this idea of living with abandon.

The primary point I was making is that a main pre-condition of living with abandon in life is the undergirding confidence that one’s afterlife is secure. That is one great piece of this puzzle. And without that piece in place (feeling secure about the life after this life), I believe that fear and uncertainty and insecurity and a sense of threat is inevitable to every person who seriously thinks about their mortality. What can I say?


What Else Is Required To Live With Abandon?

But then, one may say “I have known Christians who did not have this sense of living with abandon, and were uneasy about death.” I have too. This includes people who were close to me– and that’s horrible. I regret and grieve over the fact that they felt insecure in an area that God never intended for them to feel insecure. However, it wasn’t that this peace and security I’ve described were not available to them, but that they failed to understand and practice the other insights that I have gained in this search of mine.

Loving Obedience

I have also found that, when people are not walking (living) in intimate obedience to Christ trying to appropriate his teaching to their lives, they nearly always live fearfully. They live (ironically) in fear that includes feeling threatened in their relationship with God, as ironic as that may sound. But I’ve been there too, at times. What I mean is that, when people live in obedience to Christ, they know that life is completely in His hands and, because they are fully and completely trusting Him and living consistently in His principles, they do not live fearfully or threatened. But when people are resistant to fully trusting in Christ, because all things (including death) are subject to him, they begin to fear death and all manner of other maladies that could befall them.

Why? This is key. Because when people know they aren’t intimate with God, living close to Him, they are naturally uncomfortable with where they stand with them. They know that they have betrayed themselves and violated their consciences. They know that they cannot be trusted– and as such, they don’t trust God, because they know that whatever may come– their lack of obedience makes them unguarded and the fear of getting what they deserve, and enduring it without the sweet confidence of God’s soothing presence and intimacy is too much to bear… So they are naturally afraid. Who wouldn’t be? Again, I’ve been there– but understanding this is keeping me from going back.

Let me try to wrap this up…

Surrendered Submission

When a person lives in surrendered submission to God, they learn to live with fearless abandon. Fully and cheerfully submitting to the sovereign and benevolent God… regardless of what befalls them. That’s because they know that regardless of what befalls them, since He commands and controls every detail of their lives, and (whether directly or indirectly) that nothing can happen outside His ultimate permittance.

And even though people can appear to be carefree, deep within there must be a sense of reservation and uncertainty. We can either try to live in avoidance of our Inner Voice and coax a superficial confidence, but that doesn’t protect our hearts and minds from the unguarded moment when our hearts are prone to fear.

On Government and Politics

2 Feb


The Direction of Our Country

After a serious conversation with some friends earlier this evening about national and world events, I became even more convinced than ever about the fact that America is in clear and present danger.

Government=the People

Part of the reason our country in in turmoil is because of the condition of our government. But then, the government is essentially nothing more than a microcosm of society at large. Meaning– one cannot separate a government from its people… In the United States, the government IS the people– it is “of” the people and “by” the people. (Whether or not it is “for” the people is another question).

Government and Politics Explained

Government
is essentially which particular system (controlling political theory and people) rules and exercises control over the people, territories, and structures (businesses, organizations, etc.) in its purview. Politics are the specific political theory a group has ABOUT government– and the actions those people take to make their views and positions the law of the land or the primary controlling perspective. Different nations have different political systems and, in America, we have a democracy.

People sometimes rail on Democracy, because (in a democracy) one party rules over all others. Of course, the alternative is a Monarchy (where one FAMILY rules over all others), or a Dictatorship (where one PERSON rules over all others), or an Oligarchy (where on GROUP rules over all others, like a tiny communist party or a powerful band of government thugs)– so, I’ll stick with a Democracy, thank you very much.

But every human government is flawed, because every human is flawed. Even so, just because no human government is morally perfect does not mean that one political philosophy is not better than all others. That’s why, in spite of its limitations, I prefer and believe that Democracy is the greatest political system on earth. In a pluralistic society, people are allowed the freedom to believe what they want, but government is still designed to protect the rights of the minority population and protect the general public as well. This is done by (a) ensuring that laws are morally and ethically sound, and (b) by government punishing those who break the law and by government also upholding the law.

Understanding How Democracy Works
: The Representative Form of Government

In a democracy, since free voting elects representatives, by the very act of choosing elected officials, those who hold office are “representative” of the people who elected them. In other words, the people, character, decisions, and values seen in our communities’ and nation’s government are nothing more than a representative sample of the voting population. Think about that, if you want to see what America is made of.

So, when America votes a candidate or political party “in” or “out” of office, that represents the collective opinion of the nation’s voting public (we, the people) concerning our values, ethics, opinions, perspectives, mores, and convictions about life. As such, the person who is elected assumes that, since he or she has been elected, he may freely vote or promote his views within the area of government to which he is assigned. And we live with the consequences.

Ironically, we often don’t like the consequences of the decisions of elected officials who hold office. This leads me to a few observations: (1) The problem could simply be that we didn’t vote in the first place and our lack of exercising the right to vote led to the lack of a voice in the selection of who would lead our government, rendering us powerless in the political process (and partially to blame through our apathy about voting in the first place), OR (2) We voted but our candidate lost– which would reveal the need for greater involvement and effort to get the candidate of our choice elected, OR (3) We elected who we wanted– and that person had similar values to us– but the decisions they made (which were the same we would have made) had unexpected and unintended consequences… which may cause us to reconsider our political views and vote differently in the future.

Political Parties and What They Mean

People who vote do so according to “Party Affiliation” (Green, Independent, Republican, Democrat, Libertarian, etc.) AND/OR according to personal values or convictions. It’s funny that even “Independents” who want to be known for being “independent” are themselves even represented by a party– the irony.

And what is a Political Party? A “party” is a body politic that represents a core constituency (a group of people) who hold similar views about a number of issues that influence politics. Each party identifies with certain views on issues– and these party views are called “planks.” Each political party (and candidate) has a number of “planks” or positions on specific issues. That said, being a member of a political party does not mean a person agrees with every major position of that party… it just means that, for the most important positions for that person, a specific party seeks to advance their perspective in society.

So, for example, a person who is a pacifist or a pro-choice or for capital punishment would typically vote with the political party that is most likely to push that agenda through the various parts of government, in order to enforce that particular value. So, contrary to popular opinion that holds that ‘you can’t legislate morality,’ the truth is that ALL LEGISLATION is seeking to legislate morality– that’s the WHOLE POINT OF POLITICS— to advance and codify and to enforce a certain set of values and behaviors… and to make illegal and punishable doing otherwise. Think about it!

But I regress…

The main point I am making is that America’s representative government is a mirror of who and what the voting American public is. Those who don’t/didn’t vote voluntarily choose to have no voice about what their government does and how they will be governed— they are at the mercy of others’ whims.

People Choosing Who Govern Us Are Often Ignorant of What Government and Politics Are (**and what government is supposed to do**)

The frightening thing I realized through some close listening and thinking I’ve been doing lately, however, is that the direction of our nation is being dictated by people (voters) who may or may not even understand what government and politics are “about” in the first place. Especially critical regarding this situation is that I fear (as a Christian) that many Christians are ignorant of this as well. As a result, Christians may be complicit in allowing our nation to move in the wrong direction (farther from God and away from the best solutions for a better society) because of this ignorance.

One may ask, “Why is having an understanding of Government and Politics important” Well, simply because if one doesn’t understand the nature of government/politics, then he will not understand what government is SUPPOSED TO “DO.” And getting that wrong can cause us to (unwittingly) allow our nation and communities in exactly the WRONG direction.

So what?
Well, when our nation moves in the wrong direction, it negatively affects everything that government touches, which is, well, EVERYTHING and EVERYONE. Does that make sense?

So, government is important because it has a daily impact on us in areas like: schooling, punishment, zoning laws for businesses and establishments, health and fairness regulations, taxes, government policies, entitlement programs, and the list goes on.

That’s why we should understand the role of government and politics. To be ignorant or apathetic affects YOU, YOUR FAMILY, YOUR COMMUNITY, YOUR MONEY, YOUR SAFETY, YOUR SECURITY, YOUR WELL-BEING, YOUR HEALTH, AND EVERYTHING ELSE YOU CAN IMAGINE.

The Moral of the Story

I believe that America’s primary problem is related to people’s relationship to God, collectively. But, because America is a nation and since nations are governed by political processes and political groups, that implies that the nation COULD BE BETTER OFF if we paid more attention to the political process and put our brightest and best people in office. But the central key to this helping us get out of the situation we are in as a nation, is partially related to American’s understanding what politics are, how they work, and what should govern how we vote and who we choose for elected office.

I hope to address that point in a future post– perhaps my next one.