How Many Laws Have You Broken, Today?

Moses

Come on, tell the truth, you know that you broke some law today or this week, didn’t you?  Heck you’ve probably broken more than one law, but then how would you know?

The headlines at the first of this year included,“40,000 New laws enacted as of January 2014, from tanning booths to lemon pets.”

Wow! 40,000 new laws, is that all?  I was shocked but then it is almost impossible to determine the total number of laws, statutes, and regulations that are currently on the books.  Go ahead dig into Google, Bing or Yahoo and see what you can find.

My Googling led me to the Library of Congress where I found a statement that it wasn’t possible to determine the total number of laws currently in effect!  It seems I wasn’t the first person to ask this question.

It was entertaining and enlightening to read about one of the new California laws that requires food service employees to wear latex gloves when handling raw food that won’t be cooked, this would affect your favorite sushi chef amongst others.  It was unclear, according to the report, just who this new law would affect.  Would bartenders need to wear gloves because they handle both money and raw foods?  Just imagine the number of gloves they would go through in just one shift…Mix the drink, put on gloves, add the fruit, take off gloves, serve drink and collect money, repeat the process!

So how many laws do we truly need?  100,000, 500,000, 1,000,000?

How about 10?

1. I am the Lord, your God.

2. Thou shall bring no false idols before me.

3. Do not take the name of the Lord in vain.

4. Remember the Sabbath and keep it holy.

5. Honor thy father and thy mother.

6. Thou shall not kill/murder.

7. Thou shall not commit adultery.

8. Thou shall not steal.

9. Thou shall not bear false witness against your neighbor

10. Thou shall not covet your neighbor’s wife (or anything that belongs to your neighbor).

I strongly recommend that you read the linked article by Dennis Prager on the relevance of the Ten Commandments to our current culture.  The modern application of the Commandments is clearly and profoundly presented by Mr. Prager.  If we were all to write these “laws” on our hearts the world would be a better place.

The law of the Lord is perfect, refreshing the soul.

The statutes of the Lord are trustworthy, making wise the simple.

The precepts of the Lord are right, giving joy to the heart.

The commands of the Lord are radiant, giving light to the eyes.

The fear of the Lord is pure, enduring forever.

The decrees of the Lord are firm, and all of them are righteous.

Psalm 19:7-9

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Another excellent study of the 10 Commandments is the book “Pathway to Freedom: How God’s Law Guides Our Lives,” by Alistair Begg.  I discovered this book one Saturday morning as I sat in the Prison Chaplains office inside California State Penitentiary Sacramento (New Folsom Prison).  I was waiting for the inmates to arrive for our weekly Mens Group and I noticed the book on the desk.  I’d heard of Pastor Beggs, my wife often listens to his sermons on the radio, but I had never read or heard anything he had produced.  As I waited I thumbed through the book and was stunned.  God had provided us with the Commandments, not to control us, He provided the Holy Law to empower us to become the men and women he always intended us to be.

Pastor Beggs presents a powerful, yet succinct, thesis that we as God’s children are not justified in our faith through obedience to the Law, we are justified by living our lives in accordance with the Law, we are the Law because it is written on our hearts and the Law is part of who we are as Christians.  God is the ultimate moral authority, eternal and unchanging, and His Commandments provide a structure for living authentic lives in the righteous Kingdom of God.  It is this moral authority that separates God’s Law from the laws of man.

“The Law sends us to the Gospel, that we may be justified, and the Gospel sends us to the Law again to enquire what is our duty in being justified.” Samuel Bolton, “True Bounds of Christian Freedom”

Career politicians believe that they must pass laws to justify their positions.  What else would they do with their time in office?  What authority do these politicians have to attempt to control behavior and morality via legislation?  The Federal, State and local governments and agencies have wormed their way into every aspect of our lives, from birth to death, from work space to bedroom.  Under what authority?  The laws these “public servants” create are born from their own prejudices and judgements about how life should be lived, what controls are required to mold and shape the lives of the “people.”  The legislation and regulations are generated from man’s authority as an elected representative not God’s so that by definition they are finite and imperfect.

Another aspect, or limitation of man’s law is that they are not written on our hearts.  Human laws represent an ever-increasing number of “shall not’s” and “don’t do’s”.  The human laws are like papier-mâché, layer after layer of regulations glued to the broken seed of man.  Each law telling you that you can’t do this or you shouldn’t do that, without ever addressing the fundamental moral and behavioral issues that drive my actions in the world.

We don’t need 40,000 new laws, we need to focus on the 10 Commandments from God and transform ourselves into the authentic Children of God!

A Call for Men of Compassion

I still read the adventures of Prince Valiant every Sunday.

When I was a young boy my favorite book was “King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table.”  This was a small book, small enough to fit in your pocket and it contained great stories, and engraved pictures about that age of chivalry and adventure.  I was swept up in the mythology of the book and spent considerable time reading and re-reading the book to the point that the small book was becoming “dog eared” and falling apart.  My mother understood how important the book was to me and she took it to a bindery and had the book repaired and an new cover attached with the title embossed in gold. I still have this little volume in my library and I’m looking forward to the day when I can share the stories with my grandchildren.

I couldn’t get enough of this mythology, watching every movie, reading comic books (remember Illustrated Classics?) and even put together plastic models of knights.  To this day I still read “Prince Valiant” comic strips every Sunday morning on my iPad.

The stories of King Arthur and his Knights represented values that I learned, later in life, to hold dear.  These myths defined a world that was intentional, powerful and worth fighting for. These stories about Arthur, Lancelot and Guinevere while they were fables still communicated truths that are still relevant today. I knew even as a young boy that the stories weren’t true but I still believed in their moral and I was able to use that understanding to help guide my journey to manhood.

Over the course of the past three years I’ve become aware of a different mythology, a political mythology that isn’t honest, isn’t true and certainly doesn’t espouse moral values.  I own, upfront, my bias in this matter and I find it difficult to identify myths about Liberals.  However, this supports my claim that today what is presented as political truth is in fact nothing more than mythology used to manipulate people into supporting specific politicians or more precisely denouncing the opposition.  I ask that you suspend your immediate reaction to what is presented here and see if through an open mind we might be able to achieve something, together.  I’ll use the mythology applied by the Left to denigrate the Right as a way to illustrate my point.  Please respond with the myths that the Right promote about the Left!

“Paul Ryan and the Republicans want to deprive healthcare for the elderly.”

“The Republican are waging a war on women.”

“The rich don’t pay their fair share of the taxes.”

“People on the Right only care about making money and don’t care about the common man.”

“Conservatives are anti-immigrant.”

“Conservatives hate homosexuals.”

I could fill the rest of this blog with an educated repudiation of each of these myths.  Not a single one of them is true for me or anyone I know who believes in conservative values.  Instead I’m inviting you to participate in a discussion about the core mythology:

“Liberals are compassionate while Conservatives are not.”

There isn’t an issue in our society that can’t be distilled to this fundamental myth.  Regardless of the facts or the costs a Liberal will always believe that their polices are superior because they are certain that they care and we don’t.  For example, take the recent support for gay marriage by President Obama.

A Liberal colleague at work asked what I thought about the President’s recent support for gay marriage and I voiced my objection to changing the meaning of marriage to include same-sex couples.  His response as he walked away, “So you want us all to be miserable.”  Wow, he didn’t ask for an explanation for my beliefs and I didn’t say anything about how I feel about homosexuality; he just made the intellectual leap, driven by his emotions, that if I don’t agree with him then I’m an uncaring, hater of gays.

He is an enlightened and compassionate person while I’m a neanderthal.

How can we deal with any of the challenges that confront this nation if we won’t listen to each other.  In the situation mentioned above I wanted to have my colleague explain his position, I wanted to learn how he would draw the moral line; what was the moral authority for re-defining marriage?  Can brothers and sisters marry?  Is polygamy acceptable?  Can a father marry his daughter?  If we’re going to define marriage in a way that has never been done before then what’s the basis, what’s the authority for the new definition?

The Liberal “compassion myth” wouldn’t allow the man from engaging in a meaningful dialog about the definition of marriage.  He didn’t want to hear that I have the upmost respect for my gay colleagues.  He doesn’t want to learn about the close personal friends I have with men who happen to be homosexuals.  He doesn’t want to hear that I want equal rights for all citizens regardless of race, color, creed or sexual orientation.  He doesn’t want to hear the basis for my belief that marriage isn’t a right protected by the Constitution, it’s an institution.

The Liberal walks away and the ideological gulf widens and with the help of the newspapers and TV we end up with more division, more animosity, less understanding and no solutions.

I’m sick and tired of these spit wad fights ( See my earlier blog entry on this subject, http://wp.me/p1MpDw-n) while “Rome Burns!”  My challenge to all that read these words, especially the men, STAND UP FOR CLARITY.  Exercise true compassion and put yourself in the shoes of the other person. Make every attempt to understand their point of view and how they are directly affected.  Then clearly articulate your position and the basis for your beliefs.  Lose the sound bites and dive into the deep water of understanding.  I’m not asking that you agree, I’m asking that you put down the shield of self-righteousness and listen, to have ears to hear and eyes to see.  For me this is a moral issue that men must step up and be the leaders for creating a safe and positive environment for the exchange of ideas. We as men need to get past the propaganda and the myths we hold dear and clearly define the problems so that we can arrive at sensible and well thought out solutions.

As an architectural student back in the late 60’s I learned that defining the problem clearly, usually resulted in the solution becoming known quickly.  We had to “chew” on the subject for awhile in order to gain clarity but once there, the solution would appear naturally.  We as a nation need to start defining the problems more clearly in order for us to create a more perfect Union.

The Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (Omamacare) is a perfect example of how the problem, the question has NOT been clearly defined.  The result is a two thousand page law that no one read and no one can fully understand and that doesn’t actually reduce the cost of healthcare.  If we define the problem as, “We want to reduce the cost of healthcare, maintain and improve that care and make the care available and affordable to all citizens” then we’ll have a dialog that will result in a very different outcome.  We’ll be able to explore what, if anything the Federal Government needs to do (ability to sell insurance across State lines for instance) and what programs and laws can assist in achieving the stated goals at the local and State levels of government.  If we define the problem as ”How can the political class control the lives of the citizens,” then we get Obamacare.  Instead we enflame the situation through our mythologies about the Left being compassionate and the Right wanting to push granny off the cliff.

My humble request is that you join me in the dialog about fatherhood, manhood, the economy, the definition of marriage, or any other social issue.  Respond with your beliefs not your judgments.  Respond with insight and reason about the basis and the authority for your position.

Let’s not hide behind false compassion, let’s stand up for clarity and understanding and be authentically compassionate.  Let’s stop trusting our lives to career politicians and media pundits and reclaim the leadership of this great country.  Join me in picking up the sword of truth and the shield of faith to become the new knights for clarity!

The River Flows Through Me

Ephesians 2:10

For we are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.

 “Who am I, really?”

“Do I have the courage to find out who I am?”

“If I’m able to discover my true self, will I be able to accept it?”

“How is my belief about who I am affecting my life, especially my relationships?”

Pastor Dave Johnson

These were penetrating questions, challenges really that Dave Johnson, Senior Pastor of the Church of the Open Door in Minnesota, put forth in a series of messages given during the annual Oak Hills Church Men’s Retreat.  During the small group sessions after each of his messages you could tell that his words were striking a cord in the men as they chewed on the question, “who am I, and do I really want to find out?”

Pastor Johnson painted a picture of our lives as a river that flows through us, cutting a groove through our inner core. The longer we ignore who we have become, the judgments we hold about ourselves, the deeper the groove and the more dysfunctional we become.  It’s not until we jump in and “disturb” the “river,” changing its’ course and filling in the groove with positive self images and blessings that we can truly turn our lives around. He taught us that words matter and we need to be blessed by men in our lives if we have any chance of finding and integrating our true self.  He also taught us that it was necessary for us to have intention, relations and the supernatural in order to radically alter our beliefs about ourselves.

  • Intention, the awareness that something must change.
  • Relations, the necessity of engaging with others to achieve transformation.
  • Supernatural, surrendering to the spirit of God.

The teaching was clear, now how do I get there?  How does transformation take place?

This concept of jumping in and disturbing the river seems to be one approach, a radical one at that.  It dramatically illustrates what’s necessary for a man to change his life, he needs to dive in and radically divert the raging waters of his false self.  It takes extreme action by the man if he has any chance to uncover the negative beliefs about himself and to reframe those beliefs!  It’s this action, this disturbing, that is at the core of what’s necessary for men to transform their lives.  In order for a man, or anyone really, to unmask their true identity, to expose and embrace the gift of who they are, as God created them, they need to experience the transformative power of an intentional circle of support that is dedicated to integrity, authenticity and supernatural intervention.

These circles of support need to focus on intention, relations and the power of the supernatural in conjunction with what I call the trinity of transformation – Awareness, trust and action!

  • Awareness:  We need to open our minds to the possibility that we need to closely examine who we are, how our actions affect others and how we are perceived by those around us.  Once we open our minds and begin the study of who we are there comes a time when we must accept that understanding and take ownership of our lives.
  • Trust:  Once I become aware of the challenge do I trust anyone enough to share the journey with?  Am I willing to let another person know my inner-most secrets?  If I share what’s going on will I only be hurt more?  Trust is the life blood of transformation.
  • Action:  This is where intention, relations and the supernatural come together to wash the jagged “stone” of who you are down the river , through the ragging waters until we are smoothed and polished into the “rock” God always intended us to be.

We are blessed at Oak Hills with two exceptional teachers in Kent and Mike and they have been and continue to provide insight and direction on Kingdom living.  Many of you are participating in small groups studying the Word of God and how it relates to your life. The Men’s retreat is another example of how the Church creates opportunities for us to grow and transform.  We can read books, attend lectures and workshops, in fact there is no limit to the opportunities we have to address what works and what doesn’t in our lives.  Yet, how many times after a Sunday service, a group meeting or a retreat do you recognize the importance of the message but have no idea how to actually integrate the value into your life?

It would take a book to fully explain a process for personal transformation so let me share a brief overview of what has worked for me in my journey down that inner ragging river.

Step One: Intention:  Make the decision to intentionally dive in and “disturb” the river within so that you can discover and own who you truly are.  This may mean you need to create a new group or alter the current group structure and process to focus on transformation.

Step Two:  Relations:  Bring together people who share your desire for transformation and who are committed to taking action to fully live in the Kingdom of God.  For men it is a great paradox that they need to have other men to help them take responsibility for their own lives.  This is counter-cultural and may pose a significant obstacle.

Step Three: Supernatural:  Here is where our faith, our knowledge and our words matter most.  You’ve created an intentional circle with people who share your vision and commitment, it’s time to wade into the “river” and explore the gouges in our souls, the recesses of our heart, and you begin by asking these questions:

 “What’s not working in my life?”

“What do I get out of acting as I do?”

“Where did I learn this?”

“ What is my ‘negative’ behavior hiding?”

“Who am I, really?”

“What needs to change?”

Notice that I didn’t ask “why.”  It is vital to understand that navigating this “river” is more like rewriting a play as opposed to solving a puzzle.  I’m not trying to “fix” myself or anyone else, I’m trying to discover who I really am, deep within the protective armor that I’ve built up over my life to protect myself from the pain of the world. I’m empathizing with the person and helping that person navigate the swift currents of their emotions ever deeper into the depths of who they truly are so that they can gain clarity about the power that God has placed at their core.

 I once was full of self, and proud

Just like a Pharisee,

Until one day, quite by surprise,

I caught a glimpse of me.

Hawthorn

As the members of the group begin to answer these questions and as they discover how their actions actually affect the other people in their lives they will be encouraged to change the behavior, to become authentic. With awareness and practice they can rescript how they react in difficult situations, how they can make a positive impact on the world.  The group can help each other accomplish this by following-up with each other during the group to explore how the “new” behavior worked or didn’t work and how they feel about that.

As I stated earlier a book would need to be written to fully define how to create intentional circles of spiritual transformation and what I’ve provided here is at best an outline, a general direction to follow.  The key lies with the awareness that change is necessary, trusting that God will guide you and the courage to take action!  I pray that this will empower you to follow the ragging river to the headwaters of the person that God always intended you to be!

 James 4: 7-10

Submit yourselves, then, to God.  Resist the devil, and he will flee from you.  Come near to God and he will come near to you.  Wash your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded.  Grieve, mourn and wail.  Change your laughter to mourning and your joy to gloom.  Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will lift you up.

Colossians 3:1-4

Since then, you have been raised with Christ, set your hearts on things above, where Christ is seated at the right hand of God.  Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things.  For you died, and your life is now hidden with Christ in God.  When Christ, who is your life, appears, then you also will appear with him in glory.

Surrender Doesn’t Mean Defeat

Have you ever been at that point in your life where you have been brought to your knees, where you’ve been crushed by the  circumstances of life?  You’ve used all your skills, all your intellect, all your energy and quite possibly all your money and you still haven’t been able to achieve your goals, to succed.

I don’t know about you but I’ve been there, several times and more than likely I’ll be there again.  If you have been spared this experience then I suggest falling to your knees and thanking God for his mercy and his grace. For me these humbling experiences have taught me an invaluable lesson, I’ve learned that surrender doesn’t mean that I’ve been defeated!

As I sat on a large boulder in the middle of the forest I could feel the cool evening breeze wash over my body in a futile attempt to cool the fires of rage, sadness, fear and disaapointment that flooded through my body.  The frustration and anger I was experiencing was intense and overwelming.  My life was over and I’d lost everything, my career, my marriage, my money, there was nothing left and I was ready to give up, I was defeated.

No matter how hard I tried or how creative I was nothing worked out according to my plan and my expectations.  And now I found myself alone sitting on that rock crying under a canopy of a cloud-filled sky thinking that this was the end of my life and there was nowhere to turn, nothing more that could be done.  I was defeated.

The grief that was pouring out felt limitless and uncontrolable and all I could do was to bring myself to my feet and stand on that rock with arms reaching to the sky and from the deepest darkest resevoire of loss yell, “God why me, please take me. I beg you to end this suffering! I have no more to give, I’m finished. Oh God please!”

This wasn’t the first time I’d experienced this level of loss in fact this was only the most recent in a long line of experiences where I felt defeated and lost despite my best efforts to achieve my goals, to capture the brass ring,  to reap the rewards of a successful life.  What felt different this time was I was intensly aware of the pain and I was completely worn out from repeatedly picking myself up and making another attempt.

That day, on that mountain, I felt alone, empty and devoid of any hope.  I had nothing left in the tank and I felt defeated.  I was a failure and I no longer was tuff enough to keep on going through the tuff stuff.

Even though I’d been here before the difference this time was that I had spent the last three years exploring what it meant to be a man, to be me.  I had come face-to-face with  the reality of my life and how I had been unconsciously allowing my actions to hide who I was and how that in turn hurt the people in my life.  With the help of some powerful men I was learning to understand and embrace my emotions.  These men were my “mirrors” to how unaccountable  I was and how I lacked integrity.  I was learning to be authentic!  I was becoming in Native American terms a “hollow bone,” fully alive, stripped of all pretense, and rid of the armour of self doubt.  I was vulnerable and open making this mountaintop experience  almost unbearable.  Yet there was still apart of me, an ancient belife that it was all up to me and if I couldn’t become “successful” then I must be a failure and that I was just taking up space on this planet.

So, I stood on that rock sobbing, shouting to the overcast sky when all of a sudden the clouds parted and I found myself bathed in bright sunlight and I instantly felt the warm yet unfamilar sense of hope flow through my body.  Being so open and aware of my emotions resulted in me feeling an intense rush of energy as I stood there on that rock. My heart and mind were filled with the awareness that the answer to my life challenges was not about trying harder.  The truth was, and is that I’m a broken man and I need something greater than myself to live fully, I need God!  I must surrender to Him and His plan.

The tears subsided and I became quite,  standing still on that rock arms outstreched to the sky.  It was at that moment that I finally understood that I wasn’t alone and that there was a God.  God would provide me with opportunity and friends to help me but it was up to me to take advantage of these opprtunities to ask for the help and at the same time know that I must have faith in God to become the man He always intended me to be.  The great masculine paradox, I must be resourceful and responsible while surrendering to God, and in so doing understand that, “I am not defeated!”