Monday, July 16, 2012

Does God help those that help themselves?

"God helps those that help themselves" is a phrase that is found in exactly ZERO verses of the Bible. It is often used as the rallying cry against welfare programs, social security, etc.

We are to help others while working to sustain ourselves and our faith.

"He who is not willing to work, does not eat."- 2 Thessalonians 3:10. Notice the word WILLING. The Bible does not say those who do not work. It says those who are not willing. Many are willing, but cannot (physical reasons, unemployment reasons, etc).

Of course, the main argument is one of semantics: "help themselves." How does one define such a thing? If I need to improve my financial situation and I am a hard worker who asks the boss for a raise, is that helping myself? In a way, of course. If a single person seeks companionship and they go out looking for someone, is that helping themselves find mate? Again, in a way, yes.

The Bible mentions that if draw closer to God, He will draw closer to us. This is often seen as a "meeting halfway" kind of thing, and often serves as the "biblical basis" for perpetuating the phrase and concept.  The Bible also says "Faith without works is dead (faith)."

I believe we are not to sit around and be lazy about things. And, in a way, that is helping ourselves. But, I think the bigger picture is that we are not to help ourselves in the sense of a "name-and-claim-it" mentality nor a "snatch and grab" one. I also believe that the Lord helps plenty of people who CANNOT help themselves. Heck, the Bible is full of examples - healings, miracles, etc - where the people could not help themselves. Ah, but they were WILLING.

One of my favorite verses in the Bible comes from Isaiah: "But they that wait upon the Lord shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings as eagles; they shall run, and not be weary; and they shall walk, and not faint." They that wait... I have always seen this as a double meaning. On one hand, we are to wait, as in pray and listen and allow God to help us in our needs, our desires.  On the other hand, we are to wait on the Lord, as in a waiter/waitress.  That is, we are to work for God.

God's Grace is unwarranted, unmerited, undeserved. We get it not because we "help ourselves" and so He gives us some kind of reward. Rather, He gives it to us despite anything we try to do, and often in spite of the mess we often make of thing BECAUSE we try to help ourselves.

If we are only out to help ourselves for selfish reasons, the Lord is not going to help us.

The best way to find this out for yourself? Read the book.

As a side thought: one of my favorite (and most difficult) courses in college was Western Civ to 1650. In that class, the professor showed the historical ties between many events in the Bible and those documented in other forms. It was the first time I was shown the Bible as a historical text (as opposed to a purely spiritual one).

Another side note: The phrase is all-too-often misattributed to Ben Franklin's coinage. While he did USE the phrase, he did not COIN it. It's been around a lot longer than that. Look it up - that's a pretty good story, too.

Thursday, July 12, 2012

Remember when superlatives were ... super?

I am guilty. I use superlatives the way some people use the "Like" button on Facebook. I need to stop. We all need to stop. Is EVERYTHING "incredible," "amazing," or "absolutely the best ever?" No. But, because we throw those words around, we have actually deflated the meanings of those words to the point that they are sometimes just words. Heck, we might not even "see" them when we read something - we have become so accustomed to having them thrown into our everyday language that we simply ignore them.

I don't even remember how I found the page I am about to share with you, but the entire reason I clicked on it was because I knew I disagreed with the headline even before I read the story. The story? "40 of the Most Powerful Photographs Ever Taken."

Now, much like I do myself, at least the author had the good sense to off-handedly qualify the article.  "Of the" has become the universal cop-out. A helper phrase, if you will.  Even I recently shared a link in which I said, "This is one of the funniest... I have ever read." I actually used two qualifiers there: "of the" and "that I."  "Of the" gets me off the hook period. There could be billions of funny things (or in the care of the article I am going to share, photographs) out there, but with a little "of the" thrown in, you can agree or not - but really, how could you disagree? It says that out of all the (whatevers), here is a selection, a handful, ONE of the (superlative) of those.

My other out, and one I actually condone, is the use of "that I."  That phrase communicates my OPINION. Without it, I thrust myself out there like some authority figure on a particular subject and immediately people are going to raise up their shields.  With out "that I," an article offers an immediate challenge to potential readers. The challenge? Or the response? The same I one had regarding the photographs: "Oh yeah, I bet I don't think so." Or, perhaps a softer, "Well, maybe they are SOME of those (whatevers) but I know of others..."

Think about it: 40 of the BEST love songs. 22 of the greatest quotes.

The real downfall to superlative overuse/misuse comes with words like "EVER!" Ever? Really? In the history of time, these are the (superlative) (whatevers) EVER?! I doubt it. And, yes, I am fully aware that I used the word when I shared a link adding "funniest..I have ever read." I told you I'm guilty.

But, change is not easy. We must first recognize the fact we are doing something that needs to be changed. Then, we take little steps to correct the action. Finally, we wean ourselves from it.

So, the article that started this whole train of thought? 40 photographs. Are they the MOST POWERFUL EVER taken? Sure, most of them are likely to evoke some kind of emotion, but are they the top 40? I don't think so.  Of course, the author made sure *NOT* to use the word "THE" in the headline. These aren't THE 40 Most Powerful, they are just 40 of the most powerful.  And what about "powerful?" What does that mean? How I define a photograph to represent something powerful will surely be different than what you use as the benchmark of a "powerful" photograph.  Just like my own use of "funniest" - you may have a completely different sense of humor than I do (and, most likely you do, since mine is pretty warped).

In any case, enjoy the photos and decide for yourself just how superlative they are:
http://www.buzzfeed.com/expresident/most-powerful-photographs-ever-taken

And "one of the funniest posts I have ever read?" It's right here:
http://cartbeforethehorse.blogspot.com/2012/07/calculated-fun.html

Feel free to comment. If the goofy comment gadget is working.

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

A matter of respect

As we get closer and closer to election time, more and more people are going to bad mouth the folks they want out of office. I don't see anything inherently wrong with that. Where I see things going too far is when people attack the individual(s) on a personal level.  And, worse comes when folks just make things up to sling mud.

I disagree with a lot of things our President does. I disagree with a lot of things our national, state, and local officials do. I am very proud that, for the most part, we can freely express our dislikes (and our likes for that matter) in America.  But, whether I like someone or not, I always respect the POSITION they hold.

I hope I would never disrespect the President should I ever get to meet him face-to-face and shake his hand. He is the President of the United States. No, I didn't vote for him. No, I don't care for automotive "too big to fail" loans. No, I don't think Obamacare is the answer. But, if I had the opportunity to meet the leader of our country, you can bet I would be there. I would smile, shake his hand, and have all the butterflies in my stomach as I would meeting a superstar singer, movie star, or athlete. It is the respect he deserves for the position he holds.

I have known Congressman Mike Ross for about as long as I have lived in Arkansas.  I consider him an acquaintance and family friend. My mother-in-law used to work for him for many years and I've done computer/networking work for him in the past.  When my family took a vacation to Washington DC and he met us to escort us up to the White House and then later we met in his office, it was like being backstage with a favorite group. Through it all, I respected the position he holds.

I grew up where were were taught the President should be addressed as "Mr. President." Elected officials at state and national levels should be addressed by their title and last name: Congressman Ross.

Respect is not always about the individual in a particular position, but about the position despite who holds it.