Oh God

Moses with the tablets of the Ten Commandments...
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“Oh god that’s so funny!” Phrases like this, using the words “oh god” in a light and jocular fashion, are commonly seen and heard in normal conversation and in media.

“Oh god…” Phrases like this one, using these words as an expression of horror, shock, terror, or awe, are also commonly encountered, especially in movies.

And in general at least, Christians decry these usages.

Why?

If you ask someone about it, they will point to the Ten Commandments, in particular the third one:

Thou shalt not take the name of the LORD thy God in vain; for the LORD will not hold him guiltless that taketh his name in vain.

They will also often equate taking God’s name in vain with blasphemy. These two are not identical or interchangable, however. They are very closely related, but not equivalent. Blasphemy is only one way someone can take God’s name in vain.

Blasphemy attacks God. It is an action in the opposite direction of reverence God – it slanders Him.

Taking God’s name in vain is much broader than this, though. To take God’s name is not limited to merely taking it into your speech. It includes your life.

When someone claims to follow God, whether he says he is a Christian or not, he is taking God’s name upon him and his life. This is even more true of someone who claims to be a Christian. And if you claim the name of Christ in this way, and you then view or treat or speak of His person as if He is somehow light or ineffectual, then you are taking God’s name in vain. You aren’t blaspheming, not necessarily, but you are violating the third commandment.

God is. God’s name is His personhood, His attributes, His very being. Every part of His majesty, glory, power, love, and Godhood is in His name.

Thus to reject His ability to change and transform your life and His promises of reward and blessings for those who submit to Him is taking His name in vain. God is worth it. God is able.

And now, take a step back and think…

We are created in the image of God!

That means that we all bear the name of God in our nature – in our very bodies, whether we like it or not. And so anyone rejecting or neglecting Him is taking His name in vain.

But wait… can any of us truly and completely accept every part of God into our lives? That is the definition of perfection! And we cannot be perfect, so this command is impossible to obey!

Yes. It is.

Just like the first command is impossible. Just like every command that God gives us of this sort is impossible. We can’t do it.

But God can. And He does. And He will.

It will take all our lives, but we’ll get there. In heaven, at last, the work will be complete. And we will rest from sin and failure for eternity. Think about it!

Here on earth we strive towards that goal. We struggle, we fail, we yearn, we mourn, we falter, we continue, we fight. But through it all we are living and breathing obedience to this command: Take not the name of the Lord thy God in vain.

For it is our hope, our faith, and our love for God that keeps us going. It is our desire to fulfill these commands, and God counts that to us for righteousness… the fulfillment of those commands.

Isn’t that awesome?!

A lot more than a couple words dropped carelessly, isn’t it?

Every idle word that men let fall from their lips without thinking about it will be called into judgment, because those words come out of our hearts. God will not judge people because they used the words, but because they slighted Him.

So instead of throwing a fit about someone using two words, be saddened by the heart behind those words, and from your own heart, say the same, but with the truth of God behind it. When tragedy strikes, and you cry out, Oh God! When sorrow fills your heart, and you whisper, Oh God… When you look up at the glory of the heavens, and you sing out, Oh God! When you are full of joy and merriment, and you laugh, Oh God.

Mean it.

A Short Post on Compassion

Help!

I originally wrote this as an assignment for a Reformer’s Unanimous challenge. It is quite short, but I thought y’all might like something more quick and to the point for a change. 🙂

2 Chronicles 28:1-15
1 Ahaz was twenty years old when he began to reign, and he reigned sixteen years in Jerusalem: but he did not that which was right in the sight of the LORD, like David his father:
2 For he walked in the ways of the kings of Israel, and made also molten images for Baalim.
3 Moreover he burnt incense in the valley of the son of Hinnom, and burnt his children in the fire, after the abominations of the heathen whom the LORD had cast out before the children of Israel.
4 He sacrificed also and burnt incense in the high places, and on the hills, and under every green tree.
5 Wherefore the LORD his God delivered him into the hand of the king of Syria; and they smote him, and carried away a great multitude of them captives, and brought them to Damascus. And he was also delivered into the hand of the king of Israel, who smote him with a great slaughter.
6 For Pekah the son of Remaliah slew in Judah an hundred and twenty thousand in one day, which were all valiant men; because they had forsaken the LORD God of their fathers.
7 And Zichri, a mighty man of Ephraim, slew Maaseiah the king’s son, and Azrikam the governor of the house, and Elkanah that was next to the king.
8 And the children of Israel carried away captive of their brethren two hundred thousand, women, sons, and daughters, and took also away much spoil from them, and brought the spoil to Samaria.
9 But a prophet of the LORD was there, whose name was Oded: and he went out before the host that came to Samaria, and said unto them, Behold, because the LORD God of your fathers was wroth with Judah, he hath delivered them into your hand, and ye have slain them in a rage that reacheth up unto heaven.
10 And now ye purpose to keep under the children of Judah and Jerusalem for bondmen and bondwomen unto you: but are there not with you, even with you, sins against the LORD your God?
11 Now hear me therefore, and deliver the captives again, which ye have taken captive of your brethren: for the fierce wrath of the LORD is upon you.
12 Then certain of the heads of the children of Ephraim, Azariah the son of Johanan, Berechiah the son of Meshillemoth, and Jehizkiah the son of Shallum, and Amasa the son of Hadlai, stood up against them that came from the war,
13 And said unto them, Ye shall not bring in the captives hither: for whereas we have offended against the LORD already, ye intend to add more to our sins and to our trespass: for our trespass is great, andthere is fierce wrath against Israel.
14 So the armed men left the captives and the spoil before the princes and all the congregation.
15 And the men which were expressed by name rose up, and took the captives, and with the spoil clothed all that were naked among them, and arrayed them, and shod them, and gave them to eat and to drink, and anointed them, and carried all the feeble of them upon asses, and brought them to Jericho, the city of palm trees, to their brethren: then they returned to Samaria.

The reign of Ahaz in Judah was marked by great sins and rebellions against God. And as with the other kings, and as with every other nation that has ever existed before God’s just throne, he was duly punished – and also in typical fashion, by another unrighteous kingdom: Israel.

Israel did not ever have a single king that walked wholly before God, and yet time and again God used them to deal justice upon Judah. How powerful of an illustration this is for us! We, who are rebellious and despicable in nature, are still used of God to bring others to the right. Not just in our example, showing them what to avoid, but also in teaching, God still uses us.

But in this particular instance, Israel went far beyond God’s intended judgment: they extended themselves beyond His justice and worked for their own pride and well-being. They took Judah captive. This was not in God’s will, and He told them so.

He told them that they did not themselves hold the law in their hands: they were merely executing it. He did this by pointing out their own failures to keep the law. They were unworthy to take justice into their own hands, although their hands could still be used to execute God’s justice.

In like manner, we are often put into positions in which it is our God-given duty to train, rebuke, challenge, and punish others. Whether in the family, in the church, or in the government, we must bear in mind that we do not master the law: the law is our master. And we must show compassion to those under our jurisdiction by following God’s justice rather than our own.

Four Things that can Cripple your Communication Without you Knowing

Amygdala location in each hemisphere of the hu...
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And communication makes or breaks everything you do. Everything.

So this might be a little bit important to you (and to everyone around you), maybe. I don’t know. You’ll have to decide that for yourself. 😉

In case you missed my last blog post, there are four levels of communication that work like a gradient from Devastatingly Crippling to Explosively Empowering. Most people work in the first two levels almost exclusively, only breaking out into the higher forms by accident now and then — unless they have invested loads of time and thought and training into developing the skills necessary to deliberately avoid the toxic airs of the first two and live in the fresh, catalysing airs of the second two.

I want to teach you about those first two, at least right now. Why? Because you need to start somewhere; because the rest is too big for this article (it will be coming soon, though, don’t worry); and because they are the foundation for every improvement you can make in communication.

I can’t even aspire to the herculean attempt it would take to exhaustively elaborate the entire depth and breadth of even this vastly smaller scope, though. I am here merely to show you something – something simple, something small, something you can do right now. The whole art and science of communication will have to wait. 😉

If you haven’t read my last blog post, go read it now, seriously. I am building on what I said in there, and although this post will help you even if you haven’t read the other one, it will make a whole lot more sense. So go read it. One… two… three… Go.

So here I go! …you may need to hold onto your hat.

The first two levels of communication are Pretense and Sincerity (last chance to read the other post!), as you should remember. 😉 The last two are Accuracy and Authenticity. There is one, huge, fundamental difference between these two halves of the communication spectrum, and that difference is what I am going to spend all my time in this post talking about.

The difference is a little thing called bioreaction.

I am guessing you probably have never heard that word before this moment, at least in this context, which is fine ’cause this definition isn’t in the dictionaries yet. I didn’t make it up, the Communication Catalyst guys did. And it really does make a lot of sense.

Bioreaction is basically a biological system that has a single goal in mind: deal with threats fast.

That’s it. And that is really a super valuable system to have, especially if someone leaps out of nowhere at you and slashes at you with a knife. You need to respond fast. And the normal system the brain uses for making decisions is waaaaay to slow for what is needed. So what the brain has is a special spot devoted solely to this function: it is called the amygdala.

What this bit of your brain does is filter outside input for perceived threats, and as soon as it sees one, take command of the brain and choose one of four options for a rapid response. It is lightning fast at this (well probably faster than lightning, but you get the idea).

But here is the thing: it has only four options. Which makes sense… it can’t be spending time filtering through all the millions of possible reactions to pick just the right one. So it has four preprogrammed premises for action that it chooses from.

These premises for reaction to perceived threats are: Fight, Flee, Freeze, and Appease.

Simple, right? Perfectly simple. God is really good at designing these things. So basically what the amygdala does is takes a perceived threat and evaluates it based on these four options to figure out which would best deal with it.

For example: if a big huge guy leaps out of nowhere and slashes at you with a knife.

Appease is out – the guy is already committed to the attack, and no time to hand him a cookie.

Freeze is out – that knife would plow through you like butter.

Fight is out – taking on that giant would probably get you killed worse than before (if that is possible).

So obviously the best recourse is to flee the scene at rates exceeding human probability. It’s your best shot at living.

See how this works? Handy, isn’t it?

But notice how I have been saying perceived threats this whole time? There is a reason for that. See, the amygdala can’t actually know if something is a threat or not until after it has already passed. Which isn’t the right time to respond to it. So it has to guess based on your experience and filters whether or not something is a threat, and then act on that perception of reality.

The problem is when it is wrong. When it thinks something is a threat… and it really isn’t.

This happens all the time in communication. Why? Well because in communication you are opening up a part of yourself to the other person. It is a fundamental and inescapable fact of every relationship you have. That in and of itself can be perceived as a threat to some people (stage fright, anyone?). But if someone does something that happens to look even the slightest like an attack on you as a person, it doesn’t matter if it was intentional or accidental, real or fake, true or false – the amygdala will pick up on it and limit your whole brain to those four options: fight, flee, freeze, or appease.

None of which are going to help in the slightest to resolve the perceived conflict.

Conversations are a work of collaboration and sharing of mutual value, not a fight. And even if someone is attacking you, the four bioreactive responses aren’t going to make it better – they will almost inevitably make it worse!

Not good.

Those first two levels of communication, Pretense and Sincerity, are built on bioreactive responses. That is why they are so damaging to your effectiveness and to your friendships… and to your friends.

Pretense is where there is a direct conflict between what you think and what you are saying and doing. Generally this is characterized by things like lying, evading, and withholding information. These actions come directly from the motivations of fighting, fleeing, freezing, and appeasing. Most people who do these things aren’t being malicious at all (they might not even be conscious of it at all): they are merely defending themselves. Mistakenly, yes, but mistakes are common and easily forgivable.

So if someone is behaving with these towards you, first forgive them, and then choose to not respond in kind with a bioreactive response of your own!

Sincerity is pretty much the most common place for people to reside in. People think it is a good place. They justify it in tons of ways (often defensively, with bioreactions, haha). And honestly, I don’t blame them. Getting sincerity from someone is a huge blessing (it’s loads better than pretense), and expecting more borders on meanness (accuracy and authenticity are a ton of work to develop).

But it still isn’t the best, and it still cripples your success. Teams can function on sincerity, yes, and so can friendships. But they are walking on ice. Their boat is leaking. They are up a stream without a paddle. Okay I’ll stop. 😛 😀

Sincerity is an honest report accompanied by the conviction that what you believe to be true is true. Basically it is untested opinion pretending to be reality.

Just like the amygdala, isn’t it? It responds to perceptions as if they were real, and then acts on them without testing to see if it is right. Good for some situations – bad for communication. The idea of someone who is sincere is to be honest and defend their honest position.

The problem is that value isn’t being generated, and people get hurt and opportunities get lost forever. Why? Because opinions isolated from the experience and learning of others is crippled in its search for truth. You don’t want to be wrong, and so you don’t learn. And in the process of bioreactively defending your position, you trigger other people’s amygdalas, and you create an atmosphere of defensive animosity rather than one of collaborative friendship.

Not. Good.

So what do you do? Well the first step is to start noticing when your amygdala fires up, and then take your brain back over from it, so you can choose to learn rather than spit out a bioreaction. This takes a lot of practice, but it is completely worth it.

Basically you just need to ask a question that the amygdala can’t answer. Train yourself to notice the signals that a bioreactive decision is being made (for example: your jaw might clench, your eyes look at a certain corner of your eye, certain phrases go through your head, or you start to use one of the bioreactive responses), and then introduce a consideration beyond the amygdala’s scope.

Such as purpose. Or value. Ask yourself what your fundamental purpose is that you are there for, and then ask what would be the most valuable thing you can do in this situation towards that end. Ask yourself what purpose the other person is there for, and then look for a way to provide value to both his and your purposes.

That’s deep. That’s tough. That is transforming. It will explode your potential and the potential of everyone around you. Try it!

And yes, again, I wasn’t able to really go as deep as I would have liked to, but again, you get to ask questions. 😉 So have at it. 🙂

P.S. This post was originally posted (with some slight differences) on the Holy Worlds Christian Fantasy Forum. I honestly believe that community is one of the best in the world. So check it out. :)

A Gift that Could Change Your Life

A speedometer using kilometres per hour. (km/h...
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Greetings,

I have something to share with you, that has been on my heart and mind for a long time. After much prayer and preparation, I want to present some information to you, that will dramatically improve your life — way beyond what you can imagine. I am asking that you take it to heart and implement it into your actions and life. I don’t normally ask that of my readers… but this is exceptional: it is worth it.

I did not invent anything I say here. I have learned it from men and women who are experts in communication and relationships. What I have integrated into my life has changed it powerfully for the better, and played a large part in my successes. Some of what I say here is paraphrased, some quoted directly from a book called Communication Catalyst, by Mickey Connolly and Richard Rianoshek. I wish I could make that book required reading for everyone I know, but I can only give it the highest recommendation.

Communication drives life, and if used properly, can exponentiate success in every area of your life.

True communication is a network of conversations, linking separate lives into a larger system.

A true conversation is a language cycle that causes perception, meaning, action, and learning. Think about that. If a conversation does not bring those into existence or furthers their progress, it has not fulfilled its purpose. That is its goal, and should be ours. Life is a vast world of conversations, and so this is vitally important to every one of us.

Any conversation can be measured, indicating how well it is working towards those goals. I will show you all a meter by which you can measure conversations.

Any conversation fits into one of four quadrants, measured as 0-25, 26-50, 51-75, and 76-100, like on a speedometer. It is, in fact, very much like a speedometer. The higher the number, the faster, the more efficiently, and the more effectively you are traveling towards your goals and bringing about value.

High numbers are good, just so you know. 😉

So what are these four kinds of conversations?

We can call them with four names: Pretense, Sincerity, Accuracy, and Authenticity. Most people use the first two, and don’t even know about the existence of the last two. But those last two, accuracy and authenticity, are our goals: those are where we want to be.

Pretense is lying, evading, and withholding information.

Sincerity is honest, untested opinion masquerading as reality.

Accuracy separates observable facts from explanations of those facts (interpretations and opinions), and then compares the different possible explanations to find value.

Authenticity reveals previously hidden value at the intersection of someone else’s view and your own (not compromise: contribution).

Most people would want to think that they use accuracy, but in reality, most people are using sincerity at best. Some people even think that authenticity is either impossible or undesirable.

I can’t go super in-depth into these kinds of conversations in this article (’tis long enough), but if you want to learn more, just hang around… I’ll be doing a series of posts digging in deeper and elucidating the art and science of effective communication.

What I do want to focus on in this post, though, is a contrast between sincerity and authenticity.

While sincerity does its absolute best to present its best ideas and help to a community, it does not work with other people to find out where its purposes and ideas intersect with theirs. If you do this, seeking to find common ground and building off of that, new ideas arise that are better than what either of you can come up with on your own. Trust me on that. Haha. It does not require compromise — it does not require giving up anything: it just requires you to think outside yourself.

If you can realize that other people have a different perspective than you, value that other perspective, and seek to find out how you can benefit them and yourself at once in the same act, then you have gained a level of maturity rarely achieved by anyone in this world.

I have seen this kind of maturity in my friends. I have seen people working together, seeking to learn, and contributing to work in synergy, and it inspires me. It is a powerful blessing. That is why I am talking about this, to help us improve, and move on to the next level. I know that you can learn from this, and benefit from it.

I don’t believe any of us have reached the full potential that God has for us in this area. We can do better, and I want to encourage you to put in that extra effort to excel even more. I would like to impart to you some of the huge blessings that God has taught me.

I believe you can take it and use it to great advantage.

P.S. A quick tip before I sign off: the most valuable form of a sentence is a Question. Handled skilfully, it can discharge the duties normally assigned to the other kinds of sentences with greater effectiveness than they could ever aspire to. So ask questions! You can practice in the comments section below. 😉

P.P.S. This post was originally posted (with some slight differences) on the Holy Worlds Christian Fantasy Forum. I honestly believe that community is one of the best in the world. So check it out. 🙂