Techno-Ignorance and the Need for Discernment

Posted in Humble musings on today's culture with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on May 23, 2017 by jcwill5

The Internet age is so full of irony!

Opposite Outcomes at the Same Time

It’s a tool that allows us to gather unprecedented amounts of information from everywhere to where we are.

And a tool that has ushered in an age of fake-news, spam, and self-publicizing by anyone–however loony their views or non-existant or bogus their credentials.

We receive oceans of information but are left ill-informed and strangely ignorant of our own history.

We are bombarded by tons of opinions but are becoming ever more hyper-opinionated.

We celebrate tolerance, openness, and no boundaries but are intolerant of other views, close ourselves off into bubbles of the always-agreeing, and would foist all manner of boundaries upon our opponents.

Then and Now

Whereas, in my younger days, the hard work was in finding the information one needed.

We hit the libraries and located the most-trusted, time-tested sources of information.

Now the hard work is in sifting through the monumental load of information to find the needle of good information in the haystack of pseudo-information and irrelevant or non-credible tripe.

Therefore, whereas we once needed great hours in research, now we need to exercise great discernment.

Our great task is to sift out the phony from the real, the proven from the asserted, and the non-credible from the highly credible sources of information.

It’s Hard Uncomfortable Work

Exercising discernment means we go beyond liking a post, or uncritically relying on a single source of filtered information because it validates us.

It means we read folks who are from our own camp who are asking our own group tough questions that make us uncomfortable, raising points we’d rather not accept, and pointing out deficiencies of our character or logic.

This is nothing less than the ability to self-critique, to test our own beliefs and assumptions, and to take a good hard look in the mirror and deal with what we see there.

This, in turn, leads to a confession of sin and an admission of powerlessness, looking at God to see Him more clearly, then looking back upon ourselves to see our selves more clearly but less flatteringly.

The yield is a kind of double knowledge, where they more we know God the more we know ourselves, and the more we know ourselves the more we truly see God, etc.

And with increasing God-clarity and self-clarity, we look around with clearer and clearer eyes and are less likely to be duped by evil or self-deceived by the head games of our own sin nature.

The Riches of University Training

I think back to my UCLA undergrad days, and the rigorous university-trained mind it gave me.

Principles like, “he who defines the terms of the argument wins the debate”, “always look for the unproven assumptions of any authority figure telling you what to think”, and “if you unthinkingly accept their assumptions, you will be taken for a ride towards accepting their conclusions”.

I learned to carefully listen on the first day of class:  “What world-view does this professor have?”,  “What assumptions are he or she assuming without telling us?”, and “What is their ideological agenda for this class?”

Once I knew their angle, I could then test what they were saying against my own discernment grid and sift out the gold from the gravel–like a kind of knowledge miner.

And I could ask better questions and point out things nobody else was seeing but needed to see.

In philosophy class, we learned about fallacies (faulty arguments that don’t hold water but which are popular).

For example: the genetic fallacy–New York is a bad place.  You are from New York.  Therefore you are a bad person.

A Heritage of Discernment

I entered university a young, inexperienced Christian who did not know my own faith’s views well.

I left a proven, toughly tested but still passionate follower of Christ who was unafraid of anything the mighty professors could throw at me.

And yet I learned a lot from them and a fair bit of what their disciplines taught leveled up my mind.

I learned how to stand my ground, articulate reasonable reasons for my faith, keep a good conscience, and not get swept away by the crowd or indoctrinated by proponents or fanatics of various ideologies.

But I also learned how to concede a good point made by an opponent, to laugh at myself and admit how much I don’t know, and to continue on the quest of being a life-long learner.

The Payoff of Discernment

The payoff was a rationally-grounded, biblically-informed, relentlessly reality-based faith that still allowed a rich place for the heart and the soul.

And, because I lived in a Christ-centered brotherhood with fifty other guys, we enjoyed a supernaturally rich, intensively relational community in an environment hostile to our faith.

Being a solid, bible-based believer was quite compatible with intellectual rigor, searching discernment, and a relentless self-honesty and determination to face reality however difficult it might be.

So when I mention discernment and the thinking tools by which we judge between the real and the unreal, the true and the false, or the good and the evil, this is the backdrop to which I refer.

I have to remind myself of how privileged I am to have received such a rare combination of deepened faith and critical discernment.

It’s an approach I would commend to anyone else–especially in this Internet age of infuriated ignorance.

The Internet and Addiction

Posted in Humble musings on today's culture with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on May 19, 2017 by jcwill5

The Technological Revolution, or Information Age, has had a curious side-effect.

It promised an era of no boundaries freedom but has produced a society of addicts.

Activities, experiences, and relationships that didn’t used to be addictive are now addictive.

And the “old addictions” have been amplified in both power and impact.

This intensification and multiplication of addictions via the Internet has spread from here throughout the globe.

Why Us?  Why Now?

Why is this true?

Where here, in the USA?  Why now, and not sooner or later?

My dissertation, Pastoring in an Addictive Age, sought to answer this question and here’s where I landed:

First the first time in human history, technology has been mobilized to systematically increase the intensity of experiences and activities, the potency of substances, and the speed at which these things can be repeated.

From pornography to Solitaire, from gaming to gambling, the Internet has served to amplify, spread, and deepen the power of addiction–beginning earlier and earlier in life.

Now from millions of points all over the globe to millions of devices anywhere on the planet at all hours, one can play these games, make these bets, view these sexualized images, etc.

There is no escape and no rest from them.

Revolution of Access and Repetition

In addition, there has been an explosion of access and reduction of difficulty in accessing all manner of stuff–including the most harmful, most addicting activities, experiences, and images.

Never has it been easier to locate, use, repeat, and eventually depend upon and abuse and lose all control to just about anything.

People who used to never have access now have access–like our youngest children.

There has also an explosion of repetition.

All addictions begin and are sustained by repetition–of using again and again and again.

Both the “deal again” feature of solitaire, and “next image” features of pornographic sites, serve to illustrate that ease of repetition and the speed at which one can go from casual, occasional user to full-blown, hard-core addict.

And this process from casual, occasional user to full-blown, hard-core addict now begins at earlier and earlier ages of onset.

Everything Now on Steroids

Things online are much more intense and done faster.

For example, Solitaire with a real deck of cards played the old-fashioned way involved laboriously shuffling a deck of cards, laying them out one card at a time, and playing a good while before realizing one had lost.

The online version, however, one click shuffles and deals instantly, and it doesn’t take nearly so long to either win or lose.   Then one click to instantly deal and shuffle again.

Similarly, online pornography features computer-enhanced images–no woman in real life actually looks flawless or has a perfect body sculpted to be better than nature can produce unaided.

This surrealism makes real women, by contrast, a yawn.

Immense pressure is put on young women to send sexual images of themselves to gain any attention from males their age, and to be “sexed up”–which does immeasurable harm for their body image and self-image.

Then, when they do finally pair up and/or marry, their “pornified” male partner is impossible to arouse in the presence of live beauty from an actual woman.

The late-stage porn addict, in the area of sexuality, is much like the cancer-ridden, brittle-boned body of a former athlete who long abused steroids–a sexual cripple.

The Out of Control Society

We find exhausted young women who feel required to stay up all night to instantly respond to any new message or post.

We have distracted drivers who are unable to drive without texting–whatever penalties the law threatens.

We have anti-social young men who are so absorbed and consumed with online gaming that they are narcissistic, incapable of relationships, and lashing out in frustration over the slightest impediment in their way–as if life was one big game.

We have millions of politics addicts who seem incapable of confining politics to its proper sphere, unable to stop posting and tweeting and trolling when their political passions are thwarted.

And we have many newsaholics who cannot stop reading their Internet news or commenting on every article.

Holy Disengagement

Thankfully, the ancient spiritual habits of solitude and retreat, of Sabbath-taking and silence, are still blessed ways of regaining our sanity and restoring our perspective.

We turn our devices off.

We get quiet and go somewhere off the grid.

We sit still and let the restlessness, the ants in our pants, and the bombarding thoughts repeatedly wash over us.

Instead of panicked running, we realize they will eventually subside.

After about 30 minutes, our busyness-covered emotions and suppressed thoughts which we have buried, our soul pain and our sins, come up to the surface.

We bring our true selves, without our techno-crutches and info-props, to God and stand before Him stripped and vulnerable.

This is where we repent and admit our powerlessness.

This is where we face our enslavement and cry out for freedom and for real reality.

This is where we lay down our image and our need to be right, and begin to be brutally honest.

Now we are ready to be loved at the bottom of our lives–and now God draws near and graces us in Christ.

There is a solution!

The Great Blender of Everything

Posted in Humble musings on today's culture with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on May 16, 2017 by jcwill5

The Internet has yet another impact on how we see and think and believe.

The Internet Belief Blender

For one thing, it’s acts like a whirring blender.

By making us the center of all flowing information and by placing us above all the events of the world, we all too easily begin to assume that same lofty “Self Above All” position in our religious beliefs and our faith.

In former times, the challenge was in finding information.

Now, we are bombarded by thoughts and beliefs and views coming at us from all sides and are constantly trying to make sense of it all.

Trying to sort through the barrage, we unconsciously begin to put ourselves above the Bible, above the absolute, infinite, unchanging character that God has revealed to be uniquely His, and then slide into picking and choosing whatever we find there to justify our own interests and preferences.

We all too easily end up redesigning God to fit our self, using His name to justify our own selfish desires and craven goals, and building a faith-system that merely validates what’s most important to us, to our cause, or to our group.

The outcome is a blending of vestiges of our old faith with alien, contradictory, and opposite beliefs, views, and practices.

Not A New Problem

This blending is not new!

The ancient Israelites, instead of rejecting Yahweh outright, kept Him invisible but had Him ride the same  bull image that Baal normally road in the heavens as the storm god–giving us a golden calf!

Shortly thereafter, these blenders of faith would give Him a goddess-wife, Asherah, and soon they were engaging in the very same sex rites that the Canaanites had long practiced.

What God had said He absolutely hated, what was totally opposite of His revealed will and grossly offensive to Him, they now did with reckless abandon while their redesigned version of Him heartily approved.

In the end, blending Yahweh devolved into just another form of Canaanite religion, and the holy practices and morality descended from purity to gross wickedness without restraint.

The Internet has facilitated this same kind of blending at lightning speed, at shocking levels, and at such a breakneck pace that, within one generation, the idea of absolute truth has been obliterated from most minds.

Everything is Fused

Now everything is a fusion of many and opposite things–food, music…and religion.

All unique distinctives of all faith systems are being relentlessly ground down into fine powder, then cast into the blowing winds of our times.

There’s a large word for our human tendency to blend different, incompatible things together in a way that suits us best.

It’s called syncretism.

In syncretism, the outside looks the same but the inside has been filled up with the opposite beliefs, values, etc.

People might continue to call themselves Christians, but inside they are really secularists or progressives or conservatives, etc. who wear a religious costume.

In fact, one might almost say that the great division in our society is not between Christianity and secularism, but between those who have fused their core beliefs with political ideologies locked in moral combat.

One group of syncretists fighting another group of syncretists in a contest over who will dominate whom.

Everything is Mandatory

We now call our blended, redesigned faith “the way” and insist that all others see it as we do…or else!

The Self is the new absolute.

It’s why, in a strange way, instead of leading to a blossoming of tolerance, syncretism quickly becomes authoritarian and dictatorial.

We find ourselves faced with an uncompromising self-absolutism that brooks no dissent, allows for no differences of conscience, and seeks to penetrate both the private thoughts and all personal relationships with its insatiable requirements.

Nothing–not the U.S. Constitution, not the Bible–is allowed to stand in our way.

Path of Most Resistance

The only response to this juggernaut is to do what Daniel and other courageous OT prophets did, to do what the Apostles and early Christians did in the face of pagan demands.

We will not bow down or worship their self-image, nor will we take part in their rites.

We will not go along with this appalling blending of our faith, with this monstrous redesign of our God, with the puerile corruption of His Word.

We will, instead, humbly and graciously obey and love Him first and affirm Him as Supreme, and refuse to join the bandwagon of blending.

We will live by the absolutes of God’s Word, and take our stand where required by our biblically-informed conscience.

It will be unpleasant.  It will be extremely difficult.  The pressure to bend will be enormous.

But when push comes to shove, our answer is the quiet resistance of the God-worshipper.

Our gospel is the joyous counter-invitation to abandon the domineering self and all its futile blending for Christ and His exclusively saving work.

The Tragedy of Techno-Isolation

Posted in Humble musings on today's culture with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on May 12, 2017 by jcwill5

The Internet, and the virtually connected and seamlessly flowing world of information it brings us, is a tremendous tool.

But like all tools, it is great for some things and quite lousy for other things.

Easier, But Bombarded and Harried

With a series of inventions over the last 150 years, communications have become both easier to do and a heavier burden as messages become easier to send and because recipients get far more of them.

From telegraph, to telephone, to television, to personal computers and e-communications, we can now send messages, documents, etc. at lightning speed and at an almost unlimited volume.

Notice that, with every step that eases the job, the distance between the parties becomes physically and emotionally greater.

We recipients are both more detached from senders and find ourselves ever more frequently bombarded by them.

Which means we are never able to escape the messages–which can reach use anywhere in the world and at anytime.

Which, again, gives one the false impression of being the nerve center of the universe and of possessing the divine quality of omni-accessibility.

Invented to save us time and energy, instant, always-connected people are actually drained and stressed in ways their ancestors never dreamed possible.

Closer, But Further Away

We are virtually connected at all times, and yet far more alienated from the kind of bonds that frequent, live, face-to-face contacts give us.

Nearer, but distanced.

More accessible, but further isolated from contact with actual human beings, from human touch and vocal tones and the light of one’s eyes.

This instant messaging gives us an illusion of intimacy, and yet reinforces a starvation for the holy, real kind of intimacy we are all born to crave from others and to give others.

The truth is the virtual world is not the real world and never can be.

The truth is virtual relationships can never replace up close, gradually-built, time-tested, tried-and-true, deepest human bonds.

The so-called virtual shortcuts to relationships are actually quite empty, and produce a use-and-be-used, relational dead end of instant intimacy with strangers.

Better Images, But More Miserable People

Virtual relationships also emphasize image–techno-enhanced looks, pictured accomplishments to boast about, who can obtain the most likes, etc.

The ultimate expression of this effect is the pornification of relationships–sending sexual images back and forth, swiping right and left, gazing emptily and repeatedly at thousands of computer-enhanced images of sexual beauty that aren’t even real.

Then, tragically, the pornified young adult ends up numb, unstimulatable, and incapable of sexual intimacy with a real person later in life.

Comparing and judging have vastly increased, and shallowness reigns supreme.

Nasty opinions multiply, while we pride ourselves on how tolerant we are–but only the surface.

The reason why is nobody is truly as they appear on the surface, in real life or especially in virtual projections like social media.

The ugly side of life–one’s faults and failures, one’s setbacks and tragedies, one’s angst and struggles–are tided up and/or totally hidden behind the fascade of the social profile.

We all have pimples, moles, unwelcome fat, and bodily imperfections, ailments, and conditions.

All the above is why some even re-label social media as “social pornography”.

In Summary

In my last blog, I observed the brave new world of the Internet has amplified our unconscious ego-centrism, and, for some, pushed them into outright egomania.

Now I am observing how it has paradoxically deepened our isolation by making unnecessary our real life relationships, and reduced us to projecting false images to each other from afar that evoke harsh judging.

The cure, obviously, is to withdraw and set limits from this false, virtualized bombardment, while vastly increasing physical presence and personal interactions with real people.

Yet, in a strange way, the Internet, Instant Messaging and Social Media has exposed our undying thirst for relationships that no human being on earth can possibly satisfy.

We yearn for the Supreme Person who infinitely satisfies, the Ultimate Friend who is ever-accessible and always messaging, the Eternal heart-connection that never ends.

All that to say the increasing egomania of our times is a disguised invitation to find our true self in God.

The frenzied hyper-connectivity of our times serves to whet our appetites for the one great everlasting connection beyond all connections–found in and with God alone.

What we need most is not an instant message, or a constant liking, but an eternal message of redemptive love that transforms us forever at our deepest level:   the Word of God!

There is a solution!

The Creeping Egocentrism of the Internet

Posted in Humble musings on today's culture with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on May 9, 2017 by jcwill5

I first began using the Internet regularly twenty years ago, in the mid-1990’s.

Before and After the Internet

We lived in a rural area and so dial-up connections and free e-mail was our only way to go.

Slowly, gradually I began to obtain news, read commentaries and opinion pieces, and even order and purchase things over the Internet.

I was slow to obtain my first cell phone, and on the slow side of eventually obtaining a smart phone and doing things like texting.

I joined Facebook in 2008, and entered the world of social media, and begin to write this blog that same year.

Soon thereafter, I began to store documents on the Cloud while keeping duplicates on various desktops and laptops.

My generation grew up in a paper world and adapted to live in a paperless world.

So when I write the following, it’s not as someone who grew up in a wireless, virtually connected world but as someone who happily lived and functioned without all that.

Drifting Into Ego-Centrism

So I’ll just say it:  I think the Internet places us all in an extremely false position.

Because information now flows from everywhere to where I am, it is easy to fall into thinking of myself as the center of all the doings of the universe without any awareness of it.

And because I am above it all, looking down on the doings and happenings of the world, it trains us to not only feel like the center but to feel like we are on the top of it all as Judge and Final Authority.

It is easy to look down upon all the goings on of the nations, the events of my own nation, and the status updates of social media from on high.

All without realizing it.

“You shall be as gods” is not just a fanciful, false promise of the evil powers to human dupes, but a very real unspoken message we receive every day in our virtual worlds.

All the older authorities–institutions, holy books, elected leaders–and now under me and therefore bound to obey me and carry out my will–or I’ll chuck them overboard and do as I please.

Or I redesign them and reinterpret them to validate my own created and broadcasted self-image–because they now exist to bow down to and celebrate the great Identity of Me.

The Petty Pouting of Peevish Gods

But like the peevish Greek gods of Homer’s Iliad, we are regularly defied by our  wayward human subjects and so work ourselves up into a rage against them and against our fellow gods and goddesses.

We utter edicts and make increasingly vehement pronouncements to the effect that all events, all of politics and society, and all outcomes must be according to our will.

Which is preposterous and narcissistic in the extreme.

It also backfires in the extreme–provoking my competitors, my fellow gods and goddesses, into purposefully offensive acts against what I hold most dear.

Without a nefarious plan at work, the Internet has turned us all into unconscious, self-aggrandizing egocentrics who appear incapable of sustained reasoned discourse, give-and-take, delayed gratification, and systematic thought.

The result is, increasingly, we are left both perpetually immature and intensely polarized, overprotected and lashing out.

The bickering gods of old, carved in our own image, have returned with a vengeance!

So what is one to do?

Is there a way off of this runaway freight train of bloated egoism before it crashes?

Is there a way back from the precipice of our own grandiosity and inevitable war of all against all?

There is.

But it’s more like chemotherapy than taking a sugar pill.

Pathway Back to Sanity

The path back to sanity is to daily diminish ourselves–to lower ourselves off of the heights and to get very low to the ground.

The return to reality is to daily practice not getting what we want, and choosing to be grateful for what we have, in fact, undeservedly received.

The restoration of our humanity is to daily recognize that others have the right to their own opinions, and that they posses the glorious freedom to disagree with us and retain their status as human beings equal in worth to ourselves.

It is to daily give up all efforts to force, require, and make all others do it our way or see it our way.

It is, as the First Step tells us, to admit to God, our self, and at least one other person that we our powerless over the things that dominate us and enslaved to them.

In short, it is to humble ourselves under the mighty hand of God, to draw near to Him and to submit to Him as a very tiny, very sinful, very vulnerable human being that can never be god.

The Spiritual Awakening That’s Needed

Our need is for a spiritual awakening–and not of the grandiose, designer religion kind.

Instead, is to recognize we need a Savior to die on a Cross in our place as sinners, and gift us with an unearned right standing before Him out of redemptive love for the unworthy.

It is to come to God for a conversion, to trust Him for a new birth whereby we receive a new nature in His likeness and whereby He Himself takes up residence within our hearts.

It is to immerse ourselves in His book, to take His words to heart and, in His energy, to live by them out of gratitude for all His grace to us.

No wonder biblical Christianity of the evangelical variety is such an offense and an irritant to our times!

It annoys the heck out of folks who are puffed up on Internet-fueled grandiosity and who are characterized by a nasty willfulness–shrinking our bloated self-image and grotesque egos down to size and putting us in our lowly but deeply loved place.

God is hellbent on destroying the great god self, on puncturing our inflated egos and on collapsing the idolatrous, grandiosity-fueled system all around us.

Though it sounds strange to our ears, the reason why is He loves us and therefore resorts to extreme measures to save us our of our captivity of all the above.

There is a solution!

The Four-Fold Love

Posted in Humble musings on today's culture with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on May 5, 2017 by jcwill5

What one thing does God desire from human beings above all else?

The answer is the greatest commandment, found in Deuteronomy and repeated in the Gospels.

“You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your mind, and with all your soul, and with all your strength.”

What kind of love is this?

It is a love emanating from our innermost person, our soul.

It is a love flowing outward and expressing itself in our thoughts and ideas, in our passions and loves, and in our actions and efforts.

It is a love involving our entire person towards the Ultimate Person who created us, who sustains us, who directs us, and who invites us to know Him personally and to share eternity with Him.

It is a love allowing no dilution or additions–requiring our all and forbidding all idolatry.

Is It Even Possible?

God-love is therefore a love which is impossible for the unaided, fallen, sin-bound human will.

The reality is we love ourselves most, we have mixed motives and love nothing fully or well.

The reality is we love a host of idols and give our love to nothings that enslave us–idols, addictions, experiences, and a host of cheap god-substitutes.

The reality is we become like whatever we love the most–and that’s rarely God and usually anything else but God.

The reality is we have never been loved that way by any other human being so we have no experience with that kind of pure, God-imitating, undivided, entire being kind of love.

We therefore need a miracle in order to give back to God what we owe Him–our utmost, all-consuming, whole-being love that He made us to give.

Distortions Back Then

The truth is we all tend towards two out of four of these expressions of God-love.

In my college days, people in my circle were big on ideas and big on actions.

We argued about theology and did a lot of actions and activities for the Lord.

We focused on loving God with our minds and our bodies.

But we were not focused on loving Him with our emotions or from our innermost person.

We did not even know our innermost person and shied away from delving deep within our souls.

We hid our selves from our selves.

And we avoided all talk of feelings or messy emotions–seeing them as distractions at best and bad things at worst.

Distortions Now

These days I notice the pendulum has swing within Evangelicalism.

People are into their own souls and into their emotions.

They want to their religion to be authentic and to experience an intense spirituality with beautiful art, icons, rituals.

But they really don’t have a sound, biblical, well-thought out systematic theology, and few have done the hard digging through the Bible to get there.

It’s about the emotions of the moment and patching together little truths of the day in a patchwork of personalized spirituality.

Discernment has gone out the window and all manner of activities, practices, and ideas that God finds repugnant are accepted and celebrated in His name.

These “really spiritual” people are more comfortable talking about feelings and being authentic and honest, but aren’t taking many actions in real life.

And so the pendulum will swing back again.

The Corrective of the Greatest Commandment

The beauty of the four-fold way of loving God is it helps balance and address our distortions.

If we are emotive but not into thinking, our remedy will be to pursue having the highest thoughts of God possible and thinking the truest thoughts possible according to His Word.

Get your nose into your Bible and park your rear end in your study and read, read, read and think, think, think about what God is telling you about Himself there!

If we are thinkers but avoid all emotion, our remedy will be to pursue the highest possible affections for God and asking Him to expose and clear away whatever is blocking our heart from doing so.

Ask God to raise your dead, dull, unresponsive heart and set it afire with a burning love for Him!

If we are surface-focused folks who don’t know our own souls, we open ourselves up to a deep dive of the Spirit into the depths of our being and ask Him to show us our own soul’s workings–that we might love Him from our true, innermost self.

Ask Him to show you, you as He shows you Himself.

Ask Him to connect the dots, to show you why you react the way you do and to surface the hidden traumas and issues that lie buried there.

If we are into emoting and thinking and navel-gazing, we get our bodies out of the chairs and pursue activities that tell God we love Him most–actually doing His commands, doing something about whatever truths we know and feel.

Do something, for crying out loud!

The Center of the Target

The bulls-eye here is, from our innermost self in a love relationship with God, we think His thoughts after Him, feel His emotions as beloved lovers, and put our body at His disposal and take any and all actions He leads us to take.

And we do this more and more consistently, from deeper and deeper depths, with less and less mixed motives, in the power and energy of the Holy Spirit through the life of the Risen Lord coursing through our veins as new creatures in Christ!

Every day we ask for the miracle of fully receiving the love of God in our unworthiness.

And every day we ask for a second miracle of responding to such love and giving Him back this love in these four ways.

Better Than Our Best Hopes

Posted in Humble musings on today's culture with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on May 2, 2017 by jcwill5

It’s time for a stunning reversal of fortune.

Naomi, the protagonist of our story, came home clothed in misfortune as a widow with no surviving male children.

It looked as bleak as it possibly could for her.

Then grace started happening.

First her daughter-in-law, Ruth, shows her improbable grace by making the unlikely choice to leaving her homeland, Moab, in order to go with her to Israel.

Next a wealthy near relation, Boaz, shows Ruth extraordinary kindness by providing honorable, generous means of supporting the two women through honest labor.

Now Naomi herself turns outward in grace and counsels Ruth to show grace towards her benefactor, Boaz, in a way that will secure the future for everyone involved.

The Final Obstacle is Cleared

In Chapter 4 comes the climax of the story…with a twist of stunning proportions at the end.

Boaz is now a man with a mission:  to serve as the kinsman-redeemer for his late brother, Elimelech, by marrying his widowed daughter-in-law and perpetuating the family line.

He heads to the city gate, the place where official business is transacted as the gathering place of the village elders.

He spots the one man who is a closer relation, and begins the negotiations what will determine the fate of Ruth, Naomi, etc.

They haggle–there’s a field of their dead brother that his widow needs to sell and will he buy it?

The other man agrees to buy it but is then informed he’d have to marry the young woman Ruth and father children by her as part of the transaction.

The other man apparently has not yet fathered any sons to perpetuate his own family line, and, if he had a son by Ruth, the child would inherit not only Elimelech’s land, but his land as well.

So he declines–I can’t do it without jeopardizing my own family legacy, so you go head and do it, Boaz.

The Blessed Union is Secured

And that’s exactly what Boaz is hoping to hear.

He officially assumes the role of kinsman-redeemer before the village elders as his official witnesses.

Then the people gathered around spontaneously bless him for doing it.

They ask God to bless Boaz through his new wife–making her like their forefather Jacob’s two wives and their forefather Judah’s Canaanite daughter-in-law–women who built their entire national and tribal lines.

That’s expecially touching because Boaz’s own mother as none other than Rahab the harlot.

She was a Canaanite temple prostitute who sheltered the Israelite spies in Jericho and was spared for having such faith.

Then she ended up marrying the son of the tribal leader of Judah and bearing a son, Boaz.

The villagers further bless any child to come with great wealth and with making “a name” for himself and their village.

There’s something especially tender, especially poignant, in all this blessing.

It was as if they were rejoicing in the reversal of a tragedy, in the marvelous, unexpected, unlikely way God had brought great good out of evil.

It was yet another triumph of grace through yet another unlikely woman, of unexpected redemptive love over harms, evils, and misfortunes.

Their response was like a standing ovation at the most beautiful outcome of all, and they were cheering for new couple to succeed beyond anyone’s wildest expectations.

The Desired Outcome is Achieved

As we all know, Ruth conceives and bears a son, Obed.

Naomi becomes his nurse and the same neighbor women who clucked their tongues at her misfortune now rally around her in overflowing joy.

May God make your grandson be a restorer of life and sustainer of your old age!

May God make his name famous in all Israel!

Your daughter-in-law truly loves you and is better than seven sons!

Greater than Their Greatest Blessings

Then the narrator jumps in.

Obed is the father of Jesse, and Jesse is the father of David–the legendary God-lover, the unmatched mighty warrior, and greatest king over all Israel!

And David, of course, is the forefather of the Messiah Jesus Christ, who is the ultimate kinsman-redeemer of us all!

God, in His awesome and mysterious ways, not only reverses Naomi’s fortune but, in her grandson, ours as well.

It reminds me that our own life story is part of a far greater story, and we best not frame our story around our tragedies.

Instead, we have been given a Kinsman-Redeemer who has already decisively acted.

He has reversed our fortunes, redeemed our tragedies, and secured our future!

And, like Ruth, Boaz, and Naomi, He did it by means of grace, by means of showing redemptive love where it was most needed and least deserved.

And that grace spreads to still more grace as  broken, self-consumed people are turned outward and, tenderized and deeply loved, begin to bless still others in a never ending chain of grace.

It’s the point of all of our stories because it’s the point of His never-ending, infinitely good story with the greatest ending possible!

Trust the Giver of such grace, trust the messy process He uses to redeem your story, and trust the outcome He mandates will be worth it and better than anything you could design.