Saturday, September 30, 2017

Our American Culture

What a joy it is to hold a culture in high esteem.  American popular culture though has some deficiencies.  Carl Bernstein (b. 1944), an investigative journalist of the Washington Post, wrote, “The lowest form of popular culture – lack of information, misinformation, disinformation and a contempt for the truth or the reality of most people’s lives – has overrun real journalism.”  People find these shortcomings in the sensationalism, tabloids, pop music, and erroneous displays in some forms of artistic culture.

All however isn’t lost.  But it takes acceptance of the Christian faith, for cultural peddlers to live according to what’s right, in pursuing stories that uplift us.  Strange as it may seem, people in our media’s audience buy into what is presented to them.  Even Christians fall victims to ubiquitous displays of cultural distortions.  Some say, “Everyone is watching salacious material, so why can’t I?  It gives me pleasure.”  Little do they realize they are falling victims to this sinful fare. 

Music in Our Lives

Cultural appreciation goes way back to the Egyptians, Greeks, Italian Renaissance, and Reformation.  In the West Europeans are loved for their classical tradition.  Masters like Beethoven, Handel, and Mozart are held in high esteem.  We delight in fast automobiles, highways, airplanes, airports, nuclear power, and weapon systems.  In the pop music Frank Sinatra, Elvis Presley, Billy Joel, the Beatles, and Supremes captured our consciousness.  Music of different genres, e.g., rock ‘n’ roll, country & western, Christian, and jazz are alive and well. 

Billy Joel (b. 1949), a pianist and singer-songwriter said, “I think music itself is healing.  It’s an explosive expression of humanity.  It’s something we are all touched by.  No matter what culture we are from, everyone loves music.”  Music appeals to people in unique ways.  We may disagree with the quality of some genres.  What’s known is that with hymns, and songs praise God is exalted.  Some have been converted through hymns like “Amazing Grace,” “Bread of Life, Hope of the World,” “Holy God, You Raise Up Prophets,” “Song of the Body of Christ,” and “We Shall Overcome.”

The American Dream

Most immigrants land on our shores with hopes of achieving the American dream.  When we reflect on this dream we think of worldly and material benefits.  This may mean acquiring our own home, finding a good job, having a loving family, a station wagon, or, sports car, and being able to live in the suburbs.  This dream looks somewhat differently to every immigrant.

Some might see living a life in Jesus Christ not as a top priority.  If this is it will surely be a blessing for them.  Walt Disney (1901–1966), an entrepreneur and film producer thought, “All our dreams can come true, if we have the courage to pursue them.”  Undoubtedly, since a Christian’s life means living, loving, and serving their fellowmen, it’s wise to embrace such values.  These attributes are essential in shaping uniquely and a precious American dream.

Conduct in America

To improve American popular culture people have to live up to higher moral standards.  H. L. Mencken (1880–1956), a journalist and satirist wrote, “I believe that it is better to tell the truth than a lie.  I believe it is better to be free than to be a slave.  And I believe it is better to know than to be ignorant.”  Let us consider Mencken’s perspective as a way of life, for his tenets are empowering.  It’s always wise to know the reasons for doing what we do, rather than be ignorant.  American immigrants, and non-immigrants alike, ought to pursue a good education, for education a liberating force.  Knowledge has amazing benefits in building up our American culture - not any sort of knowledge, but one based on Christian values.           

Wednesday, September 27, 2017

Be Pure in Christ

Dan Quayle (b. 1947), vice president of the United States declared, “I pledge allegiance to the Christian flag, and to the Savior, for whose Kingdom it stands, one Savior, crucified, risen, and coming again with life and liberty for all who believe.”  Quayle certainly made his pledge against sin, fallacies, idolatrous pride, and fear.  Like Christians he can now approach God and seek his friendship, for he knows that obeying his laws are of paramount importance.  He accepts God’s freedom and privileges.  Christians like Quayle are continuing to do good deeds.  They are spreading good seeds even after the storms of life. 

Unwise Self-Evaluation

Mankind is born with the proclivity to sin.  Our lives have marks of evil, pride, display of personal power, and we aren’t humble.  But it’s right to change our behavior to a childlike trust in the supreme being of Jesus Christ.  It’s beneficial to participate in communal prayer and listen to the tick-tock of our consciences.  In word and action we must be contemplatives.  Martin Luther King, Jr. (1929–1968), a Baptist minister and leader in the African American Civil Rights Movement, believed, “We must develop and maintain the capacity to forgive.  He who is devoid of the power to forgive is devoid of the power to love.  There is some good in the worst of us and some evil in the best of us.  When we discover this, we are less prone to hate our enemies.”  By prayer and the working of the Holy Spirit, believers should pursue higher goals in their lives.

Transformation of Hearts

William Gaddis, Jr. (1922–1998), a novelist remarked, “Power doesn’t corrupt people, people corrupt power.”  That’s why leaders and followers alike ought to turn away from the corrupting nature of their hearts that are evil. It was sin which led to the first humans’ fall when their actions betrayed their trust of God.  Let us reform our hearts by daily prayer and not be blind to the truth of the Word.  Further, accept Christ’s expiation of our sins and feed on his teachings.  On our journey toward heaven it’s inevitably we’ll face tests.  You should embrace setbacks boldly and let your faith grow.  Do away with the desire to live sensually and be steadfast in your Christian walk.

Spiritual Infection

The Bible says our hearts are filled with lustful desires.  These conditions eat away at the good in us.  In reading Scripture we’re distracted by fallen angels, transgressions, and evil that doesn’t enthrone God.  To counter these defects let us be athletes of the living God.  Let us dedicate ourselves to the faith and persevere in the race.  Be Christian models in our churches.  It’s wise to remember that almost everything we’re bound to make errors in judgment.  Jacob Bronowski (1908–1974), a Polish-Jewish and British author revealed, “No science is immune to the infection of politics and the corruption of power.”  Bronowski held a different perspective of power than Gaddis.  But an important way of thinking about power is that, leaders who wield it, have to be wise about how it’s used.            

Goals in Life

Our goals in life must be what Quayle has said earlier.  It’s about allegiance to Jesus Christ – not just any allegiance, but a holy one.  This hope for our life can only be found through the Cross of Calvary.  With such beliefs lie redemption from sin and salvation. It’s therefore right to rid ourselves of our sinful natures and put on righteousness.  For with God, we’ve to be pure, and free from sin, to enter his Heavenly Kingdom.    

Saturday, September 23, 2017

Addiction to Alcohol

It’s often said that those who don’t drink shouldn’t start.  For those that do, they should drink in moderation.  Some may tell you how easy it is to become hooked on booze.  Alcoholism is addictive and may cause lives to end tragically.  TV viewers have witnessed the demise of some celebrities, politicians, rock stars, actors, and actresses to addiction.  Even if someone survives, alcoholism can still lead to impairment of the senses, violence, suicides, and criminal activities.  Stonewall Jackson (1824–1863), a Confederate General during the American Civil War, declared, “I am more afraid of alcohol than of all the bullets of the enemy.”  Jackson was convinced that alcohol was deadly to the mind, body and spirit.

Coverage of Alcoholism

The coverage of alcoholism in media spanned a wide range of concerns:

            •  Debates about alcohol advertisements
            •  The presence of a number of liquor advertisements’ billboards in poor neighborhoods
            •  Reports focusing on the positive and negative attributes of life expectancy
            •  Comments on drinking by military servicemen in U.S. clubs
            •  Debates on the legal drinking age
            •  Results on the relative success of self-regulation by the alcohol industry

Bill Gates (b. 1955), a business magnate and philanthropist observed, “I'm a great believer that any tool that enhances communication has profound effects in terms of how people can learn from each other, and how they can achieve the kind of freedoms that they’re interested in.”  Mass media is such a tool with that power.  For Christians they continue to believe their bodies are holy temples protected by God.  It’s always the goal of keeping their physical temples pure, clean, and undefiled from alcohol and drugs.  Samuel Johnson (1709–1784), an English writer and lexicographer declared, “Promise, large promise, is the soul of an advertisement.”  This calls for discerning minds to embrace those ads which build up the body of Christ.  It therefore becomes the responsibilities of Christians to select what’s best and uplifting from the advertising world, and persuading others to do the same.          

The Effects of Alcohol

Alcohol has caused numerous problems in the lives of individuals.  Some however were able to have their addiction treated, while others were unable to do so.  Writers have described the impact of alcohol abuse on the American economy.  A brand of liquor was even named after the renowned Indian chief Oglala Sioux but several states banned this drink.

Until it was prohibited, liquor advertisement had become a hot topic on TV.  Driving while drunk became an issue, and in 1998 The New York Times reported the Senate’s resistance to allow the liquor industry, and restaurants to establish a uniform national standard for driving.

There was a time when colleges played down the use of alcohol in the lives of students.  This resulted in a number of alcohol-related deaths on campuses.  To help this situation, first year college students were encouraged to live in alcohol-free housing, participate in booze-free events, and there was a ban on liquor at rush events in fraternities and sororities.  Afterwards several liquor marketers were willing to put statements on bottles attesting to the potential benefits of drinking in moderation that met with the approval of the United States Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms.

Tom Scholz (b. 1947), a rock musician and engineer explained, “Higher Power was the result of a personal experience: a friend of mine who went through the process of addiction and recovery.  It’s a very tough thing - very easy to become addicted and very, very hard to become a recovering addict.”  Scholz remarks shone a light on how serious addiction could be, and how difficult it was to beat this depressing habit.  

Sunday, September 17, 2017

Harvest of Blessings

Jesus told the Jews to believe in the works he did and they would know who he was.  These gifts were from the Father, for he was the Son of God.  In Isaiah 35:5 God promised the eyes of the blind shall be opened and the ears of the deaf unstopped.   Shadrach, Meshack, and Abednego were bound and thrown into a burning furnace, but they were seen walking in the midst of flames that didn’t harm them.  Hezekiah was sick, and about to die, when Isaiah the prophet was told by God to let him know he has heard his prayers.  God decided to add some fifteen more years to his life.  Living abundantly in the Lord leads to a harvest of blessings.

Joel Osteen (b. 1963), a televangelist and senior pastor of Lakewood Church, Houston, Texas, remarked: “When you focus on being a blessing, God makes sure that you are always blessed in abundance.”  By not being self-centered and reaching out to others, Christians freely share these blessings.  The more they honor people, the more they are blessed by God. 

When offering blessings we mustn’t distinguish between the rich and poor.  We’re all God’s children.  A president of the United States, Franklin D. Roosevelt (1882–1945) felt, “The test of our progress is not whether we add more to the abundance of those who have much, it is whether we provide enough to those who have little.”  Roosevelt was cognizant that the poor has a special place in the eyes of God.

God’s Gifts

Abundance might not come only with material satisfaction.  Some may have these comforts and be miserable.  The founder of Simple Abundance Charitable Fund, Sarah Breathnach (b. 1947) explained, “Whatever we are waiting for – peace of mind, contentment, grace, the inner awareness of simple abundance – it will surely come to us, but only when we are ready to receive it with an open and grateful heart.”  No doubt, we have to be in the right frame of mind to accept these gifts.  Are your hearts open to God’s gifts?

People may make distinctions about what they are praying for.  Often, we pray when faced with set-backs and challenges.  Khalil Gibran (1883–1931), a Lebanese-born artist and writer captured this phenomenon by saying, “You pray in your distress and in your need; would that you might also pray in the fullness of your joy and in your days of abundance.”   By being blessed with the gifts from God’s bounty we must thank him.  Christians who do so will receive more blessings.

Love What You Do

You ought to love what you do.  In loving what you do you’ll be enthused when you spread your happiness to others.  A self-help author and motivational speaker Wayne Dyer (1940–2015) advised, “Doing what you love is the cornerstone of having abundance in your life.”  You don’t have to wonder about those things about which you have no interest.  Gravitate to the tasks that bring you joy, happiness, and peace of mind.  We’re all blessed with at least one gift that gives us satisfaction.

In our society there are some who have material gifts.  A Spanish priest and theologian Saint Ignatius (1491–1556) wrote, “If God has given you the world’s goods in abundance, it is to help you gain those of Heaven and be a good example of sound teaching to your sons, servants, and relatives.”  In short, it depends on how you use our treasure.  For Saint Ignatius, these gifts have to be instruments for blessing people.  This is the right way to live with wealth.                 

Sunday, September 10, 2017

The Devotional - A Weekly Encounter

This devotional grew out of my desire to “live by the Spirit, I say, and do not gratify the desires of the flesh” (Gal 5:16). My main concern was to focus on the hope promised us by our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Hence the title: A Weekly Encounter: Fifty-Two Meditations of Hope. It’s hopeful, for there’s the message of Jesus Christ’s resurrection and salvation throughout its pages.  Like other devotional books, this one not only quotes over many biblical passages, but also focuses on quotations drawn from BrainyQuotes, Goodreads, and the Dictionary of Quotations, to enhance the essays on these meditations.

Many of quotes used were used by famous and world-renowned personalities, such as Thomas Jefferson (1743–1826), Eleanor Roosevelt (1884–1962), William Shakespeare (1564–1616), John F. Kennedy (1917–1963), Pope Francis (b. 1936), Martin Luther King Jr. (1929–1968), Saint Teresa of Calcutta (1910–1997), Mahatma Gandhi (1869–1948), Billy Graham (b. 1918), Desmond Tutu (b. 1931), Aristotle (384 BC–322  BC), Voltaire (1694–1778), Confucius (551 BC–479 BC), and many more. These individuals are from diverse cultures, national origins, and creeds and have spanned the ages.

It was interesting to find that some secular and non-secular leaders often meditated on the magnanimity of the Creator. My objective, therefore, was to work their sayings into the basic teachings of Scripture and provide a “Thought of the Week” in Bible verses.
It’s hoped that a reader may focus each week on one of these fifty-two entries or spend much more time on the same meditation throughout the week. Each week’s meditation is generally broken down into smaller ones that are relevant to the main meditation discussed.
In pondering these Fifty-Two Meditations of Hope, a reader may find comfort in the following three helpful questions:

1)         What is your overall reaction to the meditation?
2)         Did the quotes in the meditation shed light on its contents?
3)         Did you find the meditation helpful?

At the conclusion of all fifty-two weekly entries, a reader may now answer a fourth question: “Finally, in the author’s message, was it clear that there was overall hope for redemption and salvation?”

Although the meditations are organized into various chapters, it isn’t necessary to read each in its proper sequence. A reader, if he or she likes, may choose to skip around and read what appeals to him or her on any particular week. Some may want to concentrate on a chapter at a time, while the more ambitious may read through the entire book of meditations in one sitting. What’s important is that you do what’s best and most convenient for you. You may even consider having a writing pad and pen handy to make notes as you explore and critique this book.

For more reading, I’ve carefully chosen books to include in the “Selected Readings” section for the further edification of readers. These are some of the more important Christian and non-Christian books I’ve read that have helped shape these devotions.