The Science of Happiness

If happiness sounds good to you, but you’re not interested in all that God stuff, The Science of Happiness may be just your ticket. The video I watched was certainly upbeat enough, with the “happiness scientist” admitting in the end that he was, in fact, not a real scientist. I discovered all this rampant happiness when Life Out of the Box followed my blog. BTW, if you’re watching, thanks for following my blog, but if you only want to see positive reviews of LOOTB, perhaps you’d better stop here.

“What’s not to be positive about?” you may ask, “It’s a very positive blog.”

And so it is, if you’re willing to accept the world’s generic, temporary, situational happiness.

“But, isn’t happiness always a good thing?”

No, it isn’t always a good thing, and I’ll tell you why.

Imagine a perfectly happy guy, not a care in the world, strolling along a path, happily enjoying the fresh, night air … moonless night air. You can see where I’m going with this, and where the happy guy will likely go at any moment.

Suddenly, one of his broad, happy steps finds, not solid earth, but unsolid air, and our happy guy cries out a distinctly unhappy scream as he falls eight feet into a trench carelessly left without a barrier. Why our hypothetical, happy guy chose to speed-walk along a dark path without a flashlight for his feet or lights along the path, I can’t imagine. That is, in fact, the exact situation in which travelers along life’s dark, unpredictable path find themselves when they ignore Life’s Instruction Book, the Bible. Without exception, such life-hikers will find the pit at the end of their path, and they don’t even realize they’ve been walking in darkness.

Regardless how cozy you get with God, you will never really know what the next moment holds, but God’s Word gives you a reliable hint:

And we know that all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are the called according to his purpose. (Romans 8:28)

Despite all the gospel tracts that lead you in “The Sinner’s Prayer,” there is no formula that magically flips the eternal “light” switch to get you in good with the Man upstairs. It’s a process that begins with opening your heart to God, admitting you need him to make the disaster you call your life into something meaningful, and accepting the brand-spanking new eternal life he is offering you through the Lord Jesus Christ.

Period!

Screwtape on Marriage

Satan’s lies actually make sense to some people.

Screwtape’s warped philosophy on human marriage exhibits a circuitous “reasoning” typical of all his better temptations. If what follows seems confusing, it’s meant to. If you manage to read all the way to the end of his lecture, you’ll discover it’s all about competition.

The Enemy’s demand on humans takes the form of a dilemma; either complete abstinence or unmitigated monogamy. Ever since our Father’s first great victory, we have rendered the former very difficult to them. The latter, for the last few centuries, we have been closing up as a way of escape. We have done this through the poets and novelists by persuading the humans that a curious, and usually shortlived, experience which they call ‘being in love’ is the only respectable ground for marriage; that marriage can, and ought to, render this excitement permanent; and that a marriage which does not do so is no longer binding.

This idea is our parody of an idea that came from the Enemy. The whole philosophy of Hell rests on recognition of the axiom that one thing is not another thing, and, specially, that one self is not another self. My good is my good and your good is yours. What one gains another loses. Even an inanimate object is what it is by excluding all other objects from the space it occupies; if it expands, it does so by thrusting other objects aside or by absorbing them. A self does the same. With beasts the absorption takes the form of eating; for us, it means the sucking of will and freedom out of a weaker self into astronger. ‘To be’ means ‘to be in competition’.

If what you just read seems strikingly familiar, there’s good reason; it is the world’s way of thinking, which is the antithesis of God’s way for ultimate human fulfillment and happiness. Of course, that should not surprise anyone, as everything the world deems right and proper contradicts God’s design for us.

So if you want to know God’s way without delving into the Bible, just watch secular TV, read secular novels, watch secular movies and attend secular schools, and assume it’s all diametrically opposed to God’s best for us. That strategy is dangerous, however, as if you listen to a lie long enough it’ll seem true.

What’s with those “Gesis” brothers?

I had only known one of them, until this morning. My acquaintance with “Exe Gesis” began a few years ago when I learned the disquieting fact that English translations of God’s Word are slightly flawed. But for God’s Holy Spirit intervening with his spiritual understanding of the texts, we’d have no way of knowing God’s exact message.

My providential introduction to “Exe Gesis” has blessed me with God’s truth, while his step-brother, “Eise Gesis,” only seeks to make a point, often at the Scripture’s expense. Let me introduce you to both of them. What is the difference between exegesis and eisegesis? presents both “Gesis” brothers in clear, plain language that must make those high-powered Bible scholars blush. And to facilitate those who would rather listen than read, that page has a button that opens a really slick audio player in another browser tab.

If you take your faith seriously, you no doubt take your Savior seriously, and if that is the case, you find his word both a lamp to your feet and a light to your path (Psalm 119:105), and most importantly, the reason for your eternal hope. Use this opportunity to get to know “Exe.” He’s a friend that will never fail you.

Dave Barry Learns Everything You Need to Know About Being a Husband From Reading 50 Shades of Grey | TIME

If you typically react with offense or nausea to humor that employs PG-13 level … ah … um … “gender” related … I mean … well … physically that is … subject matter, you probably aught to pass up Dave Barry’s hilarious review of E.L. James’ runaway best-seller novel, 50 Shades of Grey. At least, I thought it’s hilarious, but then, I’m weird. While it uses some frank terms to describe bodily processes—like I said, it’s roughly PG-13 rated—the humor is pure Dave Barry. And if you’ve ever wondered about all the fuss regarding 50 Shades of Grey, read this review first.

So, that’s my way shorter and somewhat less funny review of Dave Barry’s review. If all those hyperlinks suggest to you that I consider Dave Barry’s review worth reading, you are correct.

“But where,” you might ask, “is the famous spiritual content that I’ve come to anticipate in “The Well-Dressed Branch”? To that I might answer, it’s all over the place in Dave Barry’s review, by means of his comparison between men’s and women’s communication styles, and his sarcastic ridicule of the novel’s ridiculous, verbally pornographic content, euphemistically known as erotica. Barry simply confirms one of my semi-regular themes; women are every bit as likely to consume porn as men, but since it’s hasn’t got pictures, they consider it more respectable. But, if you seek sexual arousal from it, you aren’t exactly in tight with God.

Okay, since I couldn’t play the harp if my life depended upon it, I’ll cease my harping on this well-worn topic.

You’re welcome.

C.S. Lewis on Prayer

TO DR. F. MORGAN ROBERTS: On Lewis’s own rules about prayer.
31 July 1954

I am certainly unfit to advise anyone else on the devotional life. My own rules are (1) To make sure that, wherever else they may be placed, the main prayers should not be put ‘last thing at night’. (2) To avoid introspection in prayer—I mean not to watch one’s own mind to see if it is in the right frame, but always to turn the attention outwards to God. (3) Never, never to try to generate an emotion by will power. (4) To pray without words when I am able, but to fall back on words when tired or otherwise below par. With renewed thanks. Perhaps you will sometimes pray for me?
From The Collected Letters of C.S. Lewis, Volume III

Like Uncle Jack, who claimed to be unfit to give advice on prayer, I am possibly the least qualified to lecture anyone on how to pray, so this isn’t a how-to piece, or at least that isn’t my intention. I just want to share a couple of things that draw me closer to my Father.

Lewis offered sound advice in his letter to Dr. Roberts, as far as it went. Step one requires some trimming and sorting of your chores. Like giving, prayer is easy to procrastinate until either it doesn’t happen, or it becomes relegated to left-overs. And no, God won’t punish you for giving him your left-overs, but he won’t bless you, either.

Step two requires some discipline, and lots of practice. In one way it’s similar to falling asleep; it won’t happen as long as you’re thinking about it. Lewis’ steps two and four are so closely related that they could be two, and two-a. To avoid monitoring your prayer style you must meditate on the pray-ee, not on the pray-er. You must not gage in any way your “success” in prayer. It’s not performance-based. Which takes us to the next step.

Step three is true of both emotions and methods. Though will-power in the context in which Lewis used it—the teeth-gritting, grunting effort of a weight lifter—is inappropriate, clearing the way for genuine emotional intercourse with your Father begins with the will to do it. And again, meditation on him figuratively ushers you into his presence. Once your mind is staid on him, you’d have to be a robot not to receive a groundswell of emotion.

As to his step four: Praying without words suggests to me Romans 8:26-27. My experience tells me that I must meditate on God—who he is and what he has done, both for the world and for me personally—before I begin unrolling my shopping list. God’s attributes alone are enough to blow your mind, and when you keep envisioning his nature more and more deeply, somehow your shopping list becomes trivial by comparison. Scripture is an integral part of this meditation, so keep a list of passages that you have found meaningful, especially those dealing with his (literally) awesome qualities and works.

Please forgive me; for not being a how-to piece, that’s a lot of how-tos. I never realized I had so much to say on the subject of prayer. Now I need to take my own advice, and Uncle Jack’s, as well.

Golden Age, or Age of Fool’s Gold—America’s Religious Decline

Fool's Gold glitters brighter than true gold.

Fool’s Gold glitters brighter than true gold.

America’s first two hundred years gave safety and security to God’s church. During this “Golden Age” of religious freedom, Our Constitution’s Bill of Rights guaranteed freedom from government-imposed religious conformity. For the first 170 of those years the church thrived; even non-church-goers respected the Bible and those who believed in it. Then a fundamental, three-pronged attack on those freedoms began, as sinister as the mythical
Neptune’s trident.

The First Prong

After World War II ended, German scientists emigrated in droves, scientists indoctrinated under Hitler’s nationalistic anti-Christian, anti-humanist establishment. I say anti-humanist because humanism was a liberal philosophy that encouraged academic freedom of thought and inquiry, but such freedoms weren’t Hitler’s cup of tea. Those scientists landed in government research, industry and academia, and while some of them adapted well to our Judeo-Christian culture base, others militantly held to their atheistic or pagan roots.

While historical humanism was liberal in the sense of tolerating other philosophies and embracing all freedoms, it has evolved toward atheistic secularism, carrying liberals along with it, and causing this prong to stab even deeper into our religious freedoms. As a philosophy, humanism tends to color all academic inquiry, including that of many religious schools. But it is also a religion, as it asserts a belief-system that elevates humanity to the sovereign throne of ultimate authority—in other words, God. As such, it tends to seek dominance, trying to become the piranha in the river of religions, and has virtually become our state religion.

The Second Prong

Half-way into the twentieth-century, we settled comfortably into our easy chairs, squarely in front of our new television sets. TV antennas sprouted from rooftops like tall weeds in a lawn. Commercials splashed products into our homes that many of us never would have imagined, and we bought them. TV entertainment soon became big business, and big business has a way of changing things. As the song lyrics go, “How you gonna keep ‘em down on the farm, after they’ve seen Paree?” And our TV screens dropped “Paree” right into our laps. The TV networks’ programming gradually began challenging our customary standards of decency and propriety, which wasn’t hard to do. We gobbled it all right up, and never became sated with the glitz and glamour. In fact, we wanted it—we wanted it badly.

At first the church resisted all that wanton entertainment and commercialism, but it soon became so mundane that we no longer raised an eyebrow to it. Of course, we’d never consider doing those things ourselves. But as we watched the soaps, quiz shows, musical extravaganzas and sports spectaculars, we began thinking of what that little screen delivered as the norm. “Why can’t I have a life like that?” we asked ourselves, and the little screen provided the answer … CREDIT! Of course, the other side of the credit coin is debt, and rather than owning our possessions, our possessions, and the bankers, owned us. But we were living like kings, so who cares?

The Third Prong

The guarantees that our nation’s Founding Fathers had intended as a safe haven for believers and non-believers alike backfired. Before long, the church became complacent in their security. The unity they had clung to for safety became unnecessary, so differences and squabbles, instead of being resolved as they usually had, produced division and schism. Old-line denominations split at the drop of a hymnal, with the new leaders’ idealism soon degrading into a new, staid conventionality. Church doctrines were engraved in stone and perched high atop ivory towers, never to be challenged until some new, charismatic leader, like the pied piper, drew away those who loved his music more than unity.

Televangelists try to compete with entertainment television’s glitz and glamour,with lavish sets and costumes, and their prosperity-gospel’s emphasis on worldly possessions as a demonstration of God’s

Giving by grace through faith? That is blatant corruption of the gospel.

obedience to their demands. And they’ve succeed in seducing many in the church who are gullible enough to support their kingly lifestyle with “faith-partnerships” and “Grace giving,” while neglecting the local church’s valid financial needs.

As materialism eroded the church’s charitable giving, the federal government’s new-liberalism gleefully stepped into the gap with programs to “improve” the poor’s lot in life. Whether or not the welfare-state was calculated to create a government-dependent class and a cottage industry of cheating the system, that is the effect it had.

Rather than looking upon the poor with love, we religious-types began looking down our noses at them, resenting the government support they received that our ever-increasing taxes funded. Simply put, we quit loving the poor, and anyone else who didn’t act, look, and smell like us. We couldn’t grasp the spiritual law that says, where love fails, God removes his Spirit.

We, like the Laodicean church of Revelation, are becoming neither hot nor cold, but lukewarm, and are in danger of being vomited out of God’s mouth. And we wonder why the church is impotent in today’s culture.

The church-age of fool’s gold is upon us, and only Holy Spirit-led revival will divert our course toward perdition. “Revival” requires a life that can be revived. It’s not about wholesale evangelism, but the church’s repentance. Right now, a remnant of faithful believers is praying passionately for that revival. Are you one of them? Are you part of the solution, or part of the problem? If you are not part of the solution, you must repent of the sin of complacency, in sackcloth and ashes if necessary. That means turning away from your material hoard, and the values that built it. It means changing your habits, your entertainments, your loves, from what the world dictates to what Christ died to give us. It means allowing, even seeking, brokenness of spirit, so God’s Holy Spirit can rebuild you, me, and the church, in Christ’s holy image.

If you and I fail in this charge, God will bring about the change he wants the hard way, by purging and purifying his church through persecution’s fire. The choice is ours.

Non-Swimmer’s Lament

Surf, but not for some
who dive in, get wet,
who know real surf,
and thrill to the threat.

Cold water, so refreshing,
life healing, and
soul cleansing, but
it may be messy.

I want to be bold,
to get soaking wet,
yet, I may catch cold,
so I play at the edge.

Spirit says, “Come to me!
Leap into my waters!
Refresh yourself,
nothing else matters.”

So I leap, in halting faith,
swim warm—
not cold,
soaked with infinite grace.

Why did I not leap sooner,
a coward to the core?
But he is always faithful,
that I might fear no more.

Open Sez He

Okay, titling this piece after a quote from “Popeye The Sailor Meets Sindbad The Sailor” may seem somewhat frivolous, but there’s a method in my obvious madness.

Popeye is perpetually involved in the war between good and evil, but the only way he can win is to keep a can of spinach handy. Of course, you can see the spiritual parallel; we’re helpless against our enemy Satan without God’s Holy Spirit, but he doesn’t come in a can though some think getting his attention is formulaic.

Another Popeye parallel is his motto: “I yam what I yam and that’s all that I yam.” That applies to us directly, as our pretenses never determine who or what we are. You can act religious all day every day, get to church first and leave last, and keep a sanctimonious frown tattooed on your face, but if you haven’t submitted to Jesus out of love and gratitude for what he did for you, it’s all a pretense.

The last parallel I have is a bit of a stretch; In the Sindbad cartoon, Popeye said, “Open sez me,” when he wanted entry to Sindbad’s treasure-cave.” God’s Holy Spirit says to us, “Open your heart and mind to me.” It’s possible to sincerely profess faith in Christ without ever opening up to him. Are you not sure if that describes you? Ask yourself if you open your heart to your pastor, your brethren, your family and friends, and even your enemies. Do you open your mind to God’s Word? True Christ-followers practice God’s love, giving themselves to others as Jesus gave himself to us.

Clever—or not-so clever—cartoon parallels aside, Christ will hold each of us accountable for our response to his total sacrifice for us. Are you a child of God through Christ Jesus, or just a pretender?

How To Study God’s Word

If the subject of Scripture, and especially Bible versions, bores you, turn away now. Turn away and rethink your relationship with our Lord Jesus. I won’t say you aren’t saved, but to use a common analogy, you’re trying to live your spiritual life on gospel milk. Can you imagine an adult who has lived only on milk all his life?

Now, to the meat.

I like to think of myself as immune to controversy, but the dispute between the King James Only people and everyone else keeps me engaged in the stupidity. First, I like the KJV, and the NKJV, the ESV, the HCS(Holman Christian Standard), the old RSV, and on occasion, even the NIV. When I need more in-depth study I reference more literal versions like the Amplified Bible, Young’s Literal Translation, and the Expanded Translation to obtain a broader sense of what the “experts” think about any particular passage. And if that doesn’t cut it, I resort to commentaries—just remember, though, that commentaries are nothing more than some guy’s comments(duhh!) on Scripture passages. And if I need to dig deeper still, I access the original language lexicons, but unfortunately they aren’t cheap, let alone free.

With no offense intended to the KJV-only folks, I have to say all Bible translations and versions are the products of fallible human-type beings. Even the hallowed King James Version has been corrected extensively since it was first published in 1611. In other words (don’t stop reading if you take offense at this), all Biblical source texts and translations contain errors, ranging from just a few in the better ones, to absolutely apostate errors in “translations” such as the New World Translation from the Jehovah’s Witnesses. Most conservative, evangelical scholars say only the original manuscripts were inerrant, and since those are long lost, we do our best with what we have. I believe God honors our intentions and keeps us in his Way, despite all that humans can do to mess it up.

So, how can a novice Bible student know she’s getting God’s perfect truth from her NIV Study Bible? By studying carefully and frequently, comparing various resources to find the renderings that most closely align with the balance of Scripture. But there’s a two-pronged catch: First, you have to know, or at least have a working knowledge of, the Bible. That takes time and commitment. Second, you—or, at least I—can’t do such diligent study on a tight schedule, so read the entire passage you need to cover, then return to any portions that need clarification. Caution: The more you know about God’s Word, the more you will know you don’t know about it. That’s because the finite number of words within the Bible become, through the Holy Spirit’s influence, an infinite resource.

While that is a relatively safe Bible study bet, Christ-followers must go an important step further to gain that Holy Spirit influence; always, before you start any Bible study, commit your every thought to its Author, the Lord Jesus Christ. And never trust your own opinions, ’cause they’re likely wrong. Instead, let God lead as you prayerfully submit every question and conclusion to him. To do that, you must pray for God to reveal your heart’s purpose, your inner motives, and willingly repent of any hidden intent to subvert Scripture and prove your preconceptions right.

Now, that covers your attitude toward, and your approach to, God’s word. There are, however, way too many individual methods and resources for Bible study to dwell on each of them, so read on for a list of links to the better ones.

Bible Study Links

  • e-Sword is the premier, FREE, downloadable Bible study tool. Author Rick Meyers’ software philosophy is, “Freely you have received, freely give,” so avail yourself of this simple, flexible, broad-ranging software package with many public domain resources, and access to many other premium resources. And when you get hooked on e-Sword, consider donating to its support; Rick has undertaken this as his full-time occupation, and believe me, it’s worth way more than the occasional twenty bucks. Now, head over to YouTube for everything you can imagine about e-Sword.
  • Bible Gateway used to be pretty good, but recently their major site overhaul has made it even better! It’s an excellent resource for most Bible study. Searchable for all but the most specialized, scholarly word studies—stuff most of us couldn’t use anyway.
  • Bible Dot Org‘s new Lumina Bible study feature offers a set of slick, convenient tools to get you started toward the hard stuff.
  • Bible Hub, with oodles of Bible translations, study tools, topical listings and more, arranged in a pleasing and common-sense GUI.
  • Blue-Letter Bible has also undergone a recent overhaul, both streamlining its GUI(graphic user interface) and expanding its available resources; I doubt you’ve ever seen a free list to match this one. Seem confusing or complicated? Check out the video tutorials.
  • OpenBible.Info, with their unique Bible Geocoding, Topical Bible, Labs(interface experiments), and Blog.
  • StudyLight.org offers ever-expanding lists of resources that you have to see to believe.
  • Bible Study, if you’re a seventh-day sabbatarian. You know, they’re like the New Testament Judaizers that Paul encountered at every turn. No offense meant.
  • Christianity Today‘s Bible Studies if you like canned studies, and there’s nothing wrong with that if you intend to progress into your own word studies.
  • InTouch Ministries’ Bible Studies for more topical studies.
  • CrossWalk.com for Bible study plans, tips and tools, Bible study notes submitted by their community, and lots of topical articles.

Want more options? Here’s the Google search I did to come up with some of the above sites. Well, what are you waiting for. This is like Christmas for anyone hungry for a deeper knowledge of God’s Word and relationship with our Heavenly Father. Go ahead! Tear it open. Have fun.

C.S. Lewis Asks, Do You Have Rats In Your Basement?

cartoon-rat

Honestly, this has little to do with rats or basements, as you’ve probably already guessed. But it has a lot to do with … well, I’ll let Uncle Jack clarify the issue:

We begin to notice, besides our particular sinful acts, our sinfulness; begin to be alarmed not only about what we do, but about what we are. This may sound rather difficult, so I will try to make it clear from my own case. When I come to my evening prayers and try to reckon up the sins of the day, nine times out of ten the most obvious one is some sin against charity; I have sulked or snapped or sneered or snubbed or stormed. And the excuse that immediately springs to my mind is that the provocation was so sudden and unexpected; I was caught off my guard, I had not time to collect myself. Now that may be an extenuating circumstance as regards those particular acts: they would obviously be worse if they had been deliberate and premeditated. On the other hand, surely what a man does when he is taken off his guard is the best evidence for what sort of a man he is? Surely what pops out before the man has time to put on a disguise is the truth? If there are rats in a cellar you are most likely to see them if you go in very suddenly. But the suddenness does not create the rats: it only prevents them from hiding. In the same way the suddenness of the provocation does not make me an ill-tempered man; it only shows me what an ill-tempered man I am. The rats are always there in the cellar, but if you go in shouting and noisily they will have taken cover before you switch on the light.
From C.S. Lewis’ Mere Christianity

One concept that often confuses people is “sins” versus “sin.” Sins(plural form) are simply acts that are contrary to God’s expressed will, whether or not anybody sees you do them. Some clever preacher came up with a catchy phrase about the two kinds of sinful acts: “Sins of commission, and sins of omission,” but differentiating them isn’t always easy. Sins of omission often cause sins of commission because the sinner has neglected the necessary preparation to resist temptation. It’s the old “If I had done this, I wouldn’t have done that.”

Sin(singular form), however, isn’t just one sinful act. It’s the condition humans are born into ever since that fateful day when the first humans first tried to stick it to God. We’ve all seen “fails” videos, but that was the first, and the worst, fail of all. Can you imagine how Adam felt when he realized God wouldn’t accept his cop-out? I’d say it involved the world’s first, and worst, blush. Ever since then we’ve all tried to put one over on God, whether it’s trying to con him with our lame excuses, or simply ignoring him while alleging that he doesn’t exist.

Here’s a clue: your snubbing God doesn’t hurt his feelings. And you don’t have to be an atheist to snub God. Many who claim to be Christians routinely snub him, by refusing to take their feelings, their faults, and their failures to him in prayer.

And speaking—or writing—of prayer, there’s confusion about it, similar to the confusion about sin; prayer, and prayers, aren’t the same thing. “Saying ones prayers,” implies a deliberate, one-time or routine act of devotion to God. And that’s a great thing as far as it goes. But God said he wants us to “pray without ceasing.” Fortunately, he didn’t mean we have to constantly kneel beside our beds praying. It’s much more subtle than that. He meant we need to always see, think, and do things in a way that will allow us to go to him in prayer at any instant. It’s like walking with your loved one; you won’t always have things to say at any given moment, but just being with him or her comforts and affirms you. That’s what relationship is all about.