Perspectives on Spiritual, Intellectual and Pastoral Issues: Host – Lowell Qualls

Archive for March, 2008

Money and Power – Power and Money

teens-smiling.jpgFrom the Washington Post this morning:

CHICAGO — At least one in four teenage girls in the United States has a sexually transmitted disease, suggests a first-of-its-kind federal study that startled some adolescent-health experts.

The overall STD rate among the 838 girls in the study was 26 percent, researchers with the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (http://www.cdc.gov/) found. They released the results at a Tuesday conference.

Disease rates were significantly higher among black girls — nearly half had at least one STD, vs. 20 percent among both whites and Mexican Americans.

Some doctors said the numbers might be a reflection of both abstinence-only sex education and the teenagers’ own sense of invulnerability.  Because some sexually transmitted infections can cause infertility and cancer, U.S. health officials called for better screening, vaccination and prevention.

Only about half of the girls in the study acknowledged having sex.

 

Now … let me get this straight.  If a girl practices abstinence, then she has a 26% chance of contracting an STD?

I know that’s not what the article is saying.  What it is saying is that abstinence-based sex education sets a girl up for failure because (1) she won’t have protection (condom) or be on the pill when she’s out on a date, and (2) even though she might hope to avoid sex – wishing to wait until marriage – having sex is unavoidable because no girl can just say, “No.”  Intercourse is inevitable according to abstinence opponents.

I served on the Chesterfield County (Virginia) Community Involvement Team for Family Life Education curriculum development in the early 90’s.  The CIT was heavily weighted with Chesterfield County school system representatives, and along with a powerful ally they fought with all their might to keep abstinence-based information from students.  They didn’t even want abstinence to be mentioned as an option, much less promoted as a viable alternative to “safe sex.”

Their ally?  The Virginia division of Planned Parenthood.  The chairman of VPP, Ben Greenberg, sat on our CIT. 

No vested interest there, right?

Planned Parenthood will say that their motives for engaging in Family Life Education in our school systems are all noble.  They will say they want to provide information to teenagers so that they will NOT get pregnant.  They are proponents of the philosophy that all teenagers and twenty-somethings will have sex at some point in their pre-marriage, adolescent life.  They say they just want our young people to be “safe” from an STD or they want our kids to avoid an unwanted pregnancy.  PP will advocate that these young people should be adequately “protected” from the consequences of the choice to be sexually active.

Researching for this blog, I went to the Chesterfield County Health and P.E. instruction web link and discovered that the FLE “opt out” and instructional guidelines PDF file for Family Life Education no longer exists.  Why?  Why is it so hard for a parent to opt their child out of FLE?  Just asking.

Planned Parenthood has a vested interest – a HUGE financial stake – in making sex-before-marriage appear safe.  They get multi-million dollar subsidies from manufacturers of birth control pills.  They are supported by a wide range of politically liberal entities because it serves the social agenda (read “power base”) of such entities.  It’s all about power and money folks!  Making sex-before-marriage attractive serves a twisted end – to stay politically powerful because money follows power.

That Planned Parenthood is the leading provider of surgical abortions in America also smacks of questionable motives for providing information on “safe sex” because there’s really such thing as completely safe sex.  Completely “safe sex” requires abstaining from sex.  Abstaining means no STDs, and no unwanted pregnancy.  

I googled “Planned Parenthood” on Dogpile (http://www.dogpile.com/) and up came “Need An Abortion?”  Hmm.

Abstinence is not being fairly debated today in the public square because “choice” advocates refuse to do so.  People in the American media (Rush Limbaugh’s “drive-by mainstream media”) long ago bought into the liberal “sexual freedom” agenda because they, too, believe their power to shape our society and culture would be at risk were they not to.  Hollywood has a vested interest in seeing that sexual promiscuity sells, too.  Look at the “video-on-demand” offerings on cable and you’ll see what I mean.  It’s all about promoting “Porky’s” (1982) all the way to “Good Luck Chuck” (2007).  It can’t be about art, can it?  No.  It’s about money … and money buys power … and power buys money.

Sexually Transmitted Diseases?  Liberals and their allies see STDs as the unfortunate but acceptable consequence for holding on to power.  So, if 26 out of 100 girls get the clap/gonorrhea/syphilis/HIV/genital herpes or warts, so be it.  (Liberals can’t sell their ideas of how our culture should look in the public square except by deception.  So, on school campuses of every ilk, from public school [elementary, middle, and high schools] to university campuses, dishonest and power/tenure-driven people spread the lie of “safe sex.”)

Money and power.  Power and money.

The Spirituality of Imperfection #2

Lowell @ Keyboard img_0525.jpg     In a section of the book, The Spirituality of Imperfection, the authors explain that spirituality is NOT religion.  Kurtz and Ketcham acknowledge that “… some people equate the two, assuming that only religious people can lay claim to the title ‘spiritual.’”

Here are a few of my observations with regard to spiritual and religious people. 

I’ve noticed that religious people tend to lead ordered lives (the order coming either from within – intrinsic, or from without – extrinsic), and are comfortable with boundaries, doctrine, dogma and precision. 

On the other hand, I’ve seen that “spiritual” people tend to be flexible and accepting, … and … prideful because they are so accepting (with tolerance being a sacred word).  (Hmmm.  Unfortunately, their tolerance doesn’t extend to the religious because spiritual people consider themselves to be “believers,” and they are comfortable with the idea that it’s not important what you believe as long as you believe something.  To them, religious people are narrow and judgmental.  Yuck.)

In my opinion, both groups are “imperfect.” 

I think the biggest weakness of the religious crowd is a certain severity (that can become meanness) that comes from their felt-obligation to “guard the truth.” 

I believe the biggest weakness of the spiritual is gullibility, and a predisposition to deception.

Jesus says to the religious man or woman, “Not everyone who says to Me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven (Matthew 7:21).”  To this day, hypocrites and legalists drive Him up the wall!

But Jesus would say to the “spiritual” person, “… many will come in My name, claiming, ‘I am the Christ,’ and will deceive many,” “… and many false prophets will appear and deceive many people,” … and false Christs and false prophets will appear and perform great signs and miracles to deceive even the elect – if that were possible (Matthew 24:5, 11, and 24).”

Jesus was as concerned about deception as He was hypocrisy.

And so I beg the question, “Does a deceived person know they are deceived?” 

The Apostle Paul wrote, “ Let no one deceive you with empty words, for because of such things God’s wrath comes on those who are disobedient (Ephesians 5:6), and “I tell you this so that no one may deceive you by fine-sounding arguments (Colossians 2:14).”

Anyone care to comment on which group – the religious or the spiritual – are the most in danger, and/or in the most danger?

Think about it.  With love.

What Do Prostitutes, Policemen, Painters, Pastors and P-Taxi Drivers Have In Common?

images.jpegWhat Do Prostitutes, Policemen, Painters, Pastors and P-Taxi Drivers Have In Common?  What a weird question.

I was talking to a car salesman not too long ago, and he asked me if I had ever heard of “The Four P’s,” and I said, “No.”  He told me that the four P’s stood for prostitutes, policemen, painters and pastors.  Then he added, “And really, if the truth be known, there’s actually five P’s … p-taxi drivers.”  I told him I was stumped but that I was really curious because I’m one of the Four P’s.  I’m a retired pastor now called to another ministry.  I’ve become a writer, blogger, ministry consultant, and speaker, but just two years ago I was in my thirty-fourth year of pastoral ministry.  I’m now fifty-four.

prostitute.jpgHe said, “Those are the people that car salesmen don’t hate to see come into a dealership … but when they do come in red flags go up because, on average, those five people-groups have the worst credit. 

My friend explained that, generally speaking, each person in those groups tended to live way too close to the precipice of financial ruin.  When it came to spending the usual MO was to max out credit cards and home equity loans in order to have what they want, when they want it. 

I was intrigued.  He went on to say that usually their paychecks (or in the case of prostitutes, their earnings) were spent on luxuries they couldn’t afford – for example, things like plasma TV’s, expensive cars, fancy clothes, and dining at expensive restaurants.  When they should have been paying down debt they were in a new car dealership.  These folks tended to delay, delay, delay paying creditors until the last minute or beyond, or they’d just pay “the minimum payment.”  Before they knew it, they’d be so far over their heads in debt that they’d begin to sink under its weight.

My question was, “So … what are they doing at a dealership?”

With a frown he replied, “I guess they’re coming in to keep up appearances, keep up with the Joneses, or satisfy a lust for ‘more’.”I’m not blogging to be mean, throw stones, or appear to be “holier than thou.”  I’m in no position to judge anyone.  But I feel I just speak up.  I’m hoping that some pastors will get this message. 

You see, what this salesman had shared was relevant to me.  Until I was forty-one years old, and I had been pastoring for twenty years, I constantly wrestled with credit card debt, and living beyond my means.  It wasn’t until what Jesus demanded of anyone following Him sunk in that I began the arduous process of breaking bad spending habits, and working toward being debt-free.  My heart had to change.

Jesus said in Mark 8:34-36, “If anyone would come after Me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow Me.  For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for Me and for the gospel will save it.  What good is it for a man to gain the whole world, yet forfeit his soul?  (This is found in the New Testament portion of the Bible.)

Think about it.

If you’re a Christ-follower, and you’re trying to live beyond your means, you might want to change directions … sooner rather than later.

With love!

Dancing with Patrick Swayze

I’m praying for Patrick Swayze, and not because it might be the hip thing to do, or the right thing to say.  I’m really praying for him. 

Swayze has been diagnosed with pancreatic cancer.  It’s fast and its deadly, and having gone through a cancer battle with my late wife, I know just a little about how that diagnosis can rock your world.

swayze-ghostx-large.jpgI feel like I know him.  Some of the movies Swayze starred in are among my favorites:  Red Dawn, Dirty Dancing, Road House, Ghost, and Point Break.

Patrick, this is my prayer for you … or something like it:

“Lord Jesus, if You speak the word, Patrick will be healed.  I’m asking You to do just that … speak the word that Patrick is free and clear of cancer, and that You are giving him a life extension.  And in the process of healing him, let Patrick know – if he doesn’t already – that he not only needs You to heal his disease but that he also needs a ‘Savior.’  The biggest ‘cancer’ we, the human race have, is sin, and You died on the Cross to pay our sin debt.  Let Patrick come to believe that You are who You say You are, and that He can trust You.  And I’m also praying, Lord, for his wife – Lisa.  Lord Jesus, draw her into Your arms like a loving father would lift up a child after she has fallen down.  And please do all this because we’re asking, and You said we could … in Your name.  Amen.”

The Spirituality of Imperfection #1

img_0525.jpgI came across a fascinating book, and I thought I’d share its contents with you from time to time.  The name of the book?  The Spirituality of Imperfection.  It was written by Ernest Kurtz and Katherine Ketcham.  I think, after reading some of my posts on its contents, you’ll want to get a copy for yourself.

The introduction begins:

“Baseball teaches us, or has taught most of us, how to deal with failure.  We learn at a very young age that failure is the NORM in baseball and, precisely because we have failed, we hold in high regard those who fail less often – those who hit safely in one out of three chances and become star players.  I find it fascinating that baseball, alone in sport, considers errors to be part of the game, part of its rigorous truth.”  (Francis T. Vincent, Jr., Commissioner of Baseball)

Baseball, as its Commissioner points out, teaches that errors are part of the game and perfection is an impossible goal.  Because his thought fits as perfectly as possible the theme of this book, we offer this revision of Mr. Vincent’s insight:

Spirituality teaches us, or has taught most of us, how to deal with failure.  We learn at a very young age that failure is the norm in life … errors are part of the game, part of its rigorous truth.”

Wow!  What do you think?  Does it hook you?

In the book of Romans (Christian New Testament) we read:  “… all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God.”  We have failed to meet God’s impossible standard of holiness (The Law of God), because (as the Scripture says in another place), “… without holiness no one will see the Lord.” (Hebrews 12:14 NIV) 

But … God has a remedy.

“The wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.”

No wonder Jesus is His name!  In the language of His nativity His name meant “Savior.” (Yeshua)  He doesn’t make us perfect.  He does “make us” forgiven, and because our sins are forgiven in His name, we are saved.  Put another way, our sins were transferred to His account, and He received “the wages” rightfully ours – death.  He died for us, in the place of us.  We, therefore, are saved (from death, i.e., eternal separation from a holy God).

One important aspect of spirituality (and the reason for the writing of the referenced  book) is to accept our imperfection while still accepting salvation in Jesus’ name.

Think about it.

“Pain Can Be My Friend” (an excerpt from Dancing With The Healer)

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Pain takes a mighty toll on our spirit.  Pain is more than a physical phenomenon, but is somehow tied to every part of our being.  Having done carpentry (not well) many times, I believe I’m an expert of sorts.  Instead of driving a 16 penny nail into the wood, I’ve pounded my thumb nail with the hammer.  My thumb nail was physically damaged, but the pain went from my head to my toes, disabling my mind.  Time stood still.

The great English philosopher C. S. Lewis wrote a book entitled The Problem Of Pain.  Lewis poses the following argument from the beginning of the book:  “‘If God were good, He would wish to make His creatures perfectly happy, and if God were almighty He would be able to do what He wished.  But the creatures are not happy.  Therefore God lacks either goodness, or power, or both.’  This is the problem of pain, in its simplest form.”

Pain will make you question whether or not God is good.  Pain will cause you to question His love for mankind.

Lewis tackles the problem of pain by pointing out that because God is good and powerful, He gave mankind the gift of choice – and man’s choices open the door to pain.  Only a Being that is almighty can GIVE such a gift, and only a loving Being would think to give the gift of choice – that is, freedom to act on one’s perceived best interests in one’s own way.

Lewis spends much of the book addresses choice, goodness, love, power and ultimately pain.  In speaking about God’s goodness he states, “Any consideration of the goodness of God at once threatens us with the following dilemma.  On the one hand, if God is wiser than we His judgment must differ from ours on many things, and not least on good and evil.  What seems to us good many therefore not be good in His eyes, and what seems to be evil may not be evil.”

That is an arresting idea.  The Bible puts it this way:  “His thoughts are not our thoughts and His ways are not our ways.”  He and we are “other.”  Contrary to the ancient Eastern mystics, Joseph Smith, and more modern New Age thinkers, what He is we are not, nor can we become what He is … if God is the God that is revealed in the Bible.  If you have come to believe that the Bible’s God is not God, then you may wish to read another book besides this one, because Vicki and I firmly believe that THE God is the God of the Old and New Testaments.

And so we believe that this biblical God is wiser than we are, more loving than we are, and “other” than we are.  He is transcendent – beyond us.

C. S. Lewis arrives at this conclusion after examining the nature of THE God, and taking the reader logically through the arguments that He is good and almighty:  Pain rouses us to understand that “all is not well,” but there is One who invades our painful existence will “healing in His wings,” and rescues us from the consequences of our unwise choices, and the fact that because of choice, the planet on which we live is fallen.  The conclusion of Lewis, and the concluding statements of the Bible lead us to this truth:  Pain will not be done away with on Earth, but in Heaven.  So Paul writes, “ … the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory that shall be revealed in us” when we cross the threshold of Heaven, and come, literally into the presence of the Almighty.

Here, and now, we have pain.  Then, and there, we will not be in pain – not in His presence.  That is a Christian belief, and is so because it is Christ-centered.  Jesus said, “‘Do not let your hearts be troubled.  Trust in God; trust also in Me.  In My Father’s house are many rooms; if it were not so, I would have told you.  I am going there to prepare a place for you.  And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with Me that you also may be where I am.  You know the way to the place where I am going.’

“Thomas said to Him, ‘Lord, we don’t know where You are going, so how can we know the way?’  [And] Jesus answered, ‘I am the way and the truth and the life.  No one comes to the Father except through Me.’”[1]

The “Father’s House” and “the place” that is being prepared for us is Heaven, and there is no sickness, disease, pain, sin, or evil there.

Pain will make you forget about the promise of Heaven.  Pain reveals weakness, and shows us gaps in our faith.  As I’ve said before, anyone can have “faith” when everything is going great.  It’s when the going gets tough that our faith, weak or strong, is revealed to US.  We come to know where we are on the faith scale.  God already knows, and He’ll allow pain to inform us of what He already knows.

Pain is also a tool, or weapon, that God’s enemy – Satan – uses to serve his purpose, and that is, to separate us from God.  He hopes that we will turn our pain into anger, and our anger into distance from God.  Satan’s greatest tactic for building a wall of separation between us and God is the lie that God withholds good things from us.  Satan used that ploy in the garden, when it came to “the knowledge of good and evil” that could be acquired by eating God-forbidden fruit, and he uses pain to convince us that God is still holding out on us – this time, comfort and healing.

It’s important, then, to note that Vicki did something brilliant, and different than most, when she turned her pain-filled anger toward the cancer and Satan.  In Vicki’s case, Satan’s ploy backfired.  Vicki didn’t turn away from God, but toward Him.  As she said on different occasions, “Pain can be my friend.”

 


[1] John 14:1-6

Under No Delusions

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When I’m involved in a writing project, or preparing for a speaking engagement, I’ll try to find time to do a very worthwhile psychological and spiritual exercise.  I’ll do “a personal gut check.”  Because I want my motives for doing what I do to be as pure as they can be, I want to determine what’s going on in my heart.

This idea of the personal gut check comes to us from Ancient Greece.  According to Pausanias, the following aphorism (short, pithy truthful saying) was inscribed in the forecourt of the Temple of Apollo at Delphi, and this aphorism is attributed to at least six ancient Greek sages (but the one I lean toward is Socrates).  It says:  “Know yourself” (Greek: γνωθι σεαυτόν).   In Latin, the aphorism is generally given as nosce te ipsum.

In a discussion of moderation and self-awareness, the Roman poet Juvenal quotes the phrase in Greek, and states that the precept descended de caelo (from heaven) (Satire 11.27).  I think it’s a heavenly idea, too.  I think God wants us to engage in self-examination from time to time.  In fact, in 1 Corinthians 11, Paul wrote that we should “examine” ourselves before we take Communion.

The saying “Know thyself” may refer by extension to the ideal of understanding human behavior, morals, and thought, because ultimately to understand oneself is to understand other humans as well.  However, the ancient Greek philosophers thought that no man can ever comprehend the human spirit and thought thoroughly, so it would have been almost inconceivable to know oneself fully.  Therefore, the saying may refer to a less ambitious ideal, such as knowing one’s own habits, morals, temperament, ability to control anger, and other aspects of human behavior that we struggle with on a daily basis.

One year ago I was sitting on Alii Kahekili Nui Ahumonu Beach, near Kaanapali.  You can see why most of the non-Hawaiian locals call it Airport Beach.  Alii is a beautiful stretch of sand on the island paradise of Maui, and while I was sunning I was reading The Problem of Pain, by C. S. Lewis.  

I was doing some research for the book I’m writing (“Dancing With the Healer;” see DWTH references in this blogsite), and that day I was comparing my writing with that of Lewis’.  I did some self-examination – a personal gut check that I referred to earlier.  Was I setting out to write a best seller, or produce a work that would elevate me in the eyes of people?  Was I writing for money?

That why I wrote the following in the flyleaf of Lewis’ book:

I’m under no illusions.  What I have written so far is not profound.  You want profound?  Read C. S. Lewis’ A Grief Observed or Kurtz and Ketcham’s The Spirituality of Imperfection.

What I have written is a story, told by an average storyteller.  My preferred style of storytelling is verbal, but because I’m producing a book I’ve tried my best to write like I talk.  

Because I try to keep my audience with me when I’m speaking, I pause from time to time so those listening can catch up.  How do you do that – pause for effect – when you’re writing.  Ah!  I’ll adopt a style, well-spoken of or not, that will cause the reader to hesitate for just a moment so I can catch my breath.  I’ll use ellipses … those magical three dots that allow the reader to take a break, mid-thought.

What I like about writing stories as opposed to telling/talking a story is the opportunity to rewrite.  A rewrite is an author’s “do over.”  It allows the writer to edit, to clarify, and to amplify his thoughts.

The goal of the storyteller, I am told, is to engage the listener, or reader in the case of a book, and hold their attention until they “get it,” that is, they GET what you’re trying to say.  I want my readers to understand, to grasp my meaning.

But here’s the rub:  no reader can fully understand the writer’s meaning.  Not fully.  That’s true in the case of Dancing With the Healer.  I’m endeavoring to tell two stories, actually – my story and Vicki’s story.  Our stories interwoven.  And both stories are complex.

Vicki died.  She’s gone “to be with the Lord.”  She can’t tell her story verbally, except in bits and pieces via a few MP3s, CDs, and DVDs.  And yet she left behind some remarkable “things” that help her tell her story.  These things are proof that she truly (and fully) LIVED.  

Brandon and Chris, our sons, are proof that she lived and loved.  And then there are photos, and friendships.  And there’s me – a man changed and enriched by her life and love.  

And there are five little booklets.  Journals.  Beginning in 1982, Vicki faithfully recorded her experiences, thoughts, and prayers.  Her journals are very intimate, and they are proof that she truly lived.

Vicki eventually decided that she wanted her journals shared.  In 1982 she didn’t write for anyone but herself, but as her life was coming to a close she and I talked about not only sharing her thoughts and experiences with our family, but with friends … and then with anyone who would care to hear what she had to say.  

My role, as storyteller, is to stay true to the promise that I made to Vicki in the Winter of 2002.  She asked me to help make sharing her journals possible.  She asked me to “fill in the blanks,” comment on the context of her journal entries, and put it all into a readable format.

Humbly, I’m trying to keep that promise.  I’m doing my best.  I’m trying to tell the story … our stories … as honestly and transparently as I can.  If anyone chooses to read Dancing With the Healer, my hope is they come away from the reading sometimes challenged, sometimes refreshed, and always a little closer to God.