Posts by bigdbentley

MEET DAVE "BIG D" BENTLEY - A MAN OF MANY HATS I wear a lot of hats in the course of my life. I wear the "husband hat" with my wife, Andie, whom I have been married to for 26 years. I wear the "daddy hat" with my children, Danielle and David, and their spouses, Micah and Tracie. I am privileged to don my "Papa hat" with my two gorgeous grand-daughters, Amaria and Jaydan, and my energetic grandson, Jethro. I wear the "pastor hat" with my church congregation in Wallingford, Vermont. I have served churches in West Virginia, Alabama, Florida and Vermont. In December of last year my wife and I accepted the call to serve in Wallingford, Vermont. In addition to this variety of caps, I am a student, attending Liberty University to receive a Masters in Teaching in Elementary Education as well as secondary Language Arts. My hobbies tend to revolve around my family, so they include, camping, traveling, playing board games, and spending time with them. In addition I enjoy reading, rainy days, listening to and playing worship songs, and cooking.

Danger in the Midst of Beauty–by Dr. Terry Dorsett

October 30, 2014

About the Author:  Terry Dorsett is a colleague in ministry, a brother in Christ, and a man I’m proud to call friend.  He has endured much through the years in service for the cause of the Gospel, and maintains faith and integrity in the midst of it all.  His life and ministry provide inspiration to fellow servants and hope to those in need of Christ.

Danger in the Midst of Beauty

Most mornings I take a long walk. I walk both for my physical health and for my spiritual health. I pray while I walk and think through sermons and mediate on scripture.

One of the places I walk is a trail around the town reservoir near my home. The trail has lovely water views, views of the Hartford skyline and of course lovely trees. This fall the trees have been particularly striking as they displayed their fall colors.

New England in the fall is breath taking. It is hard for me to understand how anyone can be in New England in the fall and not believe in an all powerful Creator who displays His handiwork in such glorious ways. And yet, the vast majority of people in New England do not have a personal relationship with Jesus Christ. It is one of least religious regions of our nation. Millions live in the middle of all this beauty yet are in danger of losing their souls for eternity.

The other day I was taking my morning walk and was meditating on this truth when I looked up in a tree and saw a huge hornet’s nest. The maple tree was ablaze in all it’s fall glory, but hidden in all those glorious leaves was this hornet’s nest. The nest was about 2 feet tall and hanging from a branch in a maple tree and filled with danger. I was struck by the thought that this was a vivid reminder of the contrast between danger and beauty that exists in our world. So many people are on edge of a spiritual cliff. The devil wants them to miss the Creator behind the creation so they fall off the cliff. The devil wants them to feel the pain of the hornets of life and become bitter at God, though the devil is the one actually causing the pain. The devil wants people to miss out on the most beautiful thing of all, which is faith in Jesus Christ, and he will do anything to distract people from finding that faith.

I have dedicated my life to helping people in New England see the hornet’s nest and recognize what it is so they can turn to Christ before it is too late. Would you join me in prayer for spiritual revival in New England? Would you consider adding feet to your prayers through joining us in our efforts? The harvest is great, but the laborers are few.

Lord, help us share Your love with those who live in New England. Help us help them avoid the hornet’s nest of sin and find Your love instead.

——————————

Dr. Terry W. Dorsett is a church planter and author who has lived in New England since 1993. He is a happy father of three young adults, a blessed husband of one great wife, a joyful grandfather, a thankful cancer survivor and convinced that New England needs Jesus more than ever!

 

Find Terry’s BLOG and Resources Here: http://nblo.gs/111ni8

Are You Contagious?

“Do You Have Something Contagious?”

Pastor Dave Bentley

Note: I originally published this post in June, but given the media attention to Ebola it seemed an appropriate time to recall this and share it once again.

Generally, when we hear the word contagious it relates to something undesirable; an Illness, a virus, a transmittable disease.  However, we are commanded by God to have a faith that is contagious.  What this means is that, as we live out our faith in our daily lives, when we come in contact with people our life should have an impact on them that draws them closer to God in Christ.  This leads us to a couple of questions that each Christian disciple must answer.

1.  Is my life “infectious?”  Would people want to “catch” what I have?

2.  Who is in my circle of influence that I can infect with the Good News of Christ?

The Apostle Paul recognized two critical things.  First, that if we are going to impact our community and culture for Christ then we need to be engaged with people, all people, even the people that can be difficult to be around (1 Cor. 5.9-10).  Second, that we cannot limit ourselves to just what is comfortable to us if we are going to introduce the lost to salvation in Christ (1 Cor. 9.19-23).

I wonder what might happen if every Christian who reads this would ask those questions and make a decision to become a “carrier” of faith with the goal of infecting as many as possible with the message of grace, mercy, and love found in Jesus Christ.  Take off the surgical masks.  Stop trying to “sanitize” your faith for others.  Be a communicable Christian with a contagious faith.

Blessings,

Pastor Dave

(Repost from June 2014)

Sermon Notes: “He Touched Me!”–Matthew 8.1-4

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“HE TOUCHED ME”

Matthew 8.1-4

1 And when He had come down from the mountain, great multitudes followed Him. 2 And behold, a leper came to Him, and bowed down to Him, saying, “Lord, if You are willing, You can make me clean.” 3 And He stretched out His hand and touched him, saying, “I am willing; be cleansed.” And immediately his leprosy was cleansed. 4 And Jesus * said to him, “See that you tell no one; but go, show yourself to the priest, and present the offering that Moses commanded, for a testimony to them.”

The process of being Diagnosed with Leprosy

  • · A normal day in his life when suddenly the spots appear
  • · The man visits the priest and shows him the spots
  • · The priest examines him (7 days) and declares that he is unclean
  • · From that moment on he must avoid human contact (Living & eating in the dump)
  • · If people come close he must cover his mouth and yell “UNCLEAN” to alert them

Imagine what it must have been like for this man.

Imagine what it is like for the people who feel untouchable today.

I. THE LEPER HAD A REAL NEED

A. Consider His past (Family)

B. Consider His present (Outcast)

  • · He was TOTALLY Without Hope
  • · He was TOTALLY Without Expectation
  • · He was TOTALLY Abandoned

C. Consider His future (hopeless)

II. THE LEPER HAD A RELIANT FAITH

(One day he hears the word…Jesus)

A. Doesn’t question Christ’s ability, but His willingness

III. THE LEPER HAD A RECEIVED MIRACLE

A. The Lord was willing

B. The Lord touched Him

  • Think about the boundaries crossed
  • Without regard for the leper’s “uncleanliness”
  • Without regard for the religious traditionalists criticism

C. The Lord’s touch changed his life

“The Touch of the Master’s Hand” – See Poem Below or go to: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eyt3-Uy4gVQ

The Process of being declared “Cleansed” (Leviticus 14)

  • · Show himself to the priest
  • · Offering of two doves…the blood of one sprinkled on him
  • · Seven day waiting period ~ then shave off ALL hair on the body
  • · Bathe according to the law to be clean
  • · Annointing with oil and lamb’s blood in prescribed way
  • · Then he can be declared “CLEAN”

IV. WE MUST ASK IN FAITH FOR HIS TOUCH

A. We all have a need.

  • The lost: salvation
  • The sick: healing
  • The confessing sinner: forgiveness

B. If we ask in faith Christ will touch us today

“With Christ the Ordinary becomes Extraordinary”

The Touch of the Master’s Hand

“Twas battered and scared, and the auctioneer
Thought it scarcely worth his while
To waste much time on the old violin,
But he held it up with a smile.
“What am I bidden, good folks,” he cried,
“Who’ll start bidding for me?
A dollar, a dollar – now who”ll make it two _
Two dollars, and who”ll make it three?

“Three dollars once, three dollars twice,
Going for three”. . . but no!
From the room far back a gray-haired man
Came forward and picked up the bow;
Then wiping the dust from the old violin,
And tightening up the strings,
He played a melody,pure and sweet,
As sweet as an angel sings.

The music ceased and the auctioneer
With a voice that was quiet and low,
Said: “What am I bidden for the old violin?”
And he held it up with the bow;
“A thousand dollars – and who’ll make it two?
Two thousand – and who’ll make it three?
Three thousand once, three thousand twice
And going – and gone,” said he.

The people cheered, but some of them cried,
“We do not quite understand –
What changed its worth?” The man replied:
“The touch of the masters hand.”
And many a man with life out of tune,
And battered and torn with sin,
Is auctioned cheap to a thoughtless crowd.
Much like the old violin.

A “mess of pottage,” a glass of wine,
A game and he travels on,
He’s going once, and going twice –
He’s going – and almost gone!
But the MASTER comes, and the foolish crowd,
Never can quite understand,
The worth of a soul, and the change that’s wrought
By the touch of the MASTER’S hand.

~Myra B. Welch

Update on Day 5–“Lead Me Not Into Temptation”

NOTE: This post is in reference to a new diet and lifestyle choice that I started on Wednesday, October 22, 2014.  Feel free to skip this post if you aren’t interested.  However, if you are interested, and might like to know how to help me then read on. 

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Sunday, October 26, 2014 – Day 5

I have good news!  When we got checked in yesterday I had lost 6.6 pounds and Andie was down 6.8!  As she said, that’s “almost like getting paid.”  It has been a tough beginning, but it’s great to see results on the scale already.  In addition, I have not felt as hungry as I was when I wrote my previous post.  Thank you to those of you who are my praying cheerleaders.  You are making a difference.

One of the things that I know I have to be aware of and avoid is the temptations that are everywhere.  Yesterday we were at a family event and there was pizza, and it smelled really good.   Today, during our family game day, someone made popcorn, and wow that smelled better than the pizza.  Then there was candy being passed around, and I started salivating.  Thankfully, I was able to pray and find the strength to withstand.  The fact that people were excited by our check-in news helped and encouraged me to turn from the temptation.  I know I am weak, however, when I’m on my own.  I need to continually ask God to help me avoid my propensity toward giving in to those tasty temptations that seem to everywhere. 

I was reminded of this verse:

“Keep watching and praying, that you may not enter into temptation; the spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak.”

                                                                                          Matt 26:41 (NASB77)

Thank God that I can turn to Him in my weakness and when I am tempted and He is there to give me strength and help me cope.  I do not have to give in to those cravings, in fact, I can face temptation with victory in Christ.

Next Check-In with the doctor is Thursday evening, October 30.

Personal: I’m Changing my Life, and I Could Use Your Help

NOTE: This post is in reference to a new diet and lifestyle choice that I started on Wednesday, October 22, 2014.  Feel free to skip this post if you aren’t interested.  However, if you are interested, and might like to know how to help me then read on. 

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  • BEGINNING STATS
    • Starting Weight: 342pounds
    • BMI 47.7

This is the most I have ever weighed.  It is nearly 200 pounds above my weight when I finished high school.  It is obviously a serious health concern.

How You Can Help!

I need two types of people to help me in this endeavor.

  • Prayers
    • Pray daily for me to stay committed to the program.  To avoid giving in to temptation, to be able to manage the cravings, and to keep my eyes on the ultimate goal of better health and greater quality of life.
  • Cheerleaders
    • One of the things I’ve discovered about myself, having been me for these many years, is that I function best with encouragement, so I want some people who can be cheerleaders to help me stay the course, and to hold me accountable if they think I might be slipping or becoming discouraged by motivating and cheering me on.

Journal

Diet Day 2 – I’m hungry. 
Dieting is hard work.  Not only is there the hunger that comes with it, but prepping the food and getting ready for the day is more difficult than I anticipated.  I’ve never really worried about portions before, so it does not come naturally.  Making sure I’m actually having breakfast is also different since I’m usually content with just coffee in the morning.  I have not minded drinking my coffee (or tea) black, I’m just glad I can still have it.
The other thing is the amount of water.  I might have had a bottle of water or so on a normal day, but now I have to drink six bottles.  In addition, for every cup of coffee I have to add in another cup of water. 

Scripture Meditation:

Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance.  James 1:2-3

Are We Narrow Minded About the Narrow Way?

Matthew 7.13-14 (Luke 13.22-30)

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Matthew 7.13-14

13 “Enter by the narrow gate; for the gate is wide, and the way is broad that leads to destruction, and MANY are those who enter by it. 14 “For the gate is small, and the way is narrow that leads to life, and FEW are those who find it.

Luke 13.22-30

22 And He was passing through from one city and village to another, teaching, and proceeding on His way to Jerusalem. 23 And someone said to Him, “Lord, are there just a few who are being saved?” And He said to them, 24 “STRIVE TO ENTER BY THE NARROW DOOR; FOR MANY, I TELL YOU, WILL SEEK TO ENTER AND WILL NOT BE ABLE. 25 “Once the head of the house gets up and shuts the door, and you begin to stand outside and knock on the door, saying, ‘Lord, open up to us!’ then He will answer and say to you, ‘I do not know where you are from.’ 26 “Then you will begin to say, ‘We ate and drank in Your presence, and You taught in our streets’; 27 and He will say, ‘I tell you, I do not know where you are from; DEPART FROM ME, ALL YOU EVILDOERS.’ 28 “There will be weeping and gnashing of teeth there when you see Abraham and Isaac and Jacob and all the prophets in the kingdom of God, but yourselves being cast out. 29 “And they will come from east and west, and from north and south, and will recline at the table in the kingdom of God. 30 “And behold, some are last who will be first and some are first who will be last.”

INTRODUCTION

Sermon Delivery 101

  • Sermons can have a variety of purposes
    • Exalt the Sovereign
    • Equip the Saints
    • Evangelize the Sinners
    • Encourage the Suffering

The “Congregation” Changes a Little.

I believe that this is when the crowd begins to filter into the scene.  We know, based on a later verse that the multitudes reappear at the close of Jesus’ sermon. (7.28)

Beyond the textual evidence there is also a shift in the nuance and emphasis of Jesus’ teaching.  Two things stand out in these closing verses.

  • Contrast the few with the many (Disciples/Crowd)
  • Note a definite change in emphasis beyond discipleship to salvation

Several years ago my folks from Virginia surprised us one weekend and came in the back door of our church while I was in the middle of my sermon.  It threw me off because it was so unexpected.  They occasionally make these trips for “ice cream” and travel several hundred miles.  Regardless of how small the change, one can notice these small differences in the context and thrust of the sermon.

SERMON OUTLINE

The Sermon is Preached in Matthew 5-7

The Sermon is Practiced throughout the Gospels

We find an Exposition on the Sermon in Luke’s Gospel (Luke 13)

THERE IS ONLY ONE WAY

THE: definite article; used, especially before a noun, with a specifying or particularizing effect, as opposed to the indefinite or generalizing force of the indefinite article a or an.

  • The book you gave me.
  • Come into the house.

“Enter by THE NARROW GATE; for THE GATE is wide, and THE WAY is broad that leads to destruction, and MANY are those who enter by IT. 14 “For THE GATE is small, and THE WAY is narrow that leads to life, and FEW are those who find IT.

Protesting an Unpopular Idea

People don’t like to hear that I believe that there is only One Way to heaven.  They argue:

  • God is big enough to have more than ONE WAY to get to Him.
  • God is Merciful and Won’t SEND anyone to Hell
  • You Born Again Believers are just too NARROW MINDED

Some Life Illustrations

  • How many ways are there to enter a theater for a show? 1 – With a Ticket.
  • How many ways are there to board a plane for a trip? 1 – With a Ticket
  • How many ways are there to enter Disney’s Kingdom? 1 – With a Ticket

We don’t hear those same protesters accuse the theater, or the Airline, or Disney of being too NARROW MINDED because they require entrants to have a ticket as the only way to gain admittance.

WE WANT TO HAVE GOD ON OUR OWN TERMS!

The Conflict Between “Our Plan and His Plan”

  • Jesus tells us to STRIVE (Luke 13) – We must come on God’s terms
    • Our Plan: Let’s open the door wide enough to let the “good” and “sincere” people enter.
  • God is MERCIFUL…COMPASSIONATE…and UNBENDING on this issue.
  • We are ALL sinners DESERVING of eternal separation from our perfect and holy God, and death and destruction in the place of torment.
  • Yet, in His GRACE He has OFFERED us a way…THE WAY…of SALVATION. ONE WAY! Through the death and resurrection of His Son, Jesus.
  • He took my place and He is the ONE WAY…
    • THE NARROW DOOR…”
    • NO ONE COMES…except through Him…”

IF WE MISS THE OPEN DOOR

  • The Door is Eternally Locked
  • Standing on the Porch is NOT Entering the Kingdom. (I’ll get close)
  • Our Pleading and Excuses won’t Matter (Even the Good/Sincere one)
  • Picture the People Thrown Out and the People Entering

Like the Prelude to the Award Shows as people exit their limos and make their way up the red carpet, and so many others are left outside.

INVITATION – You have a Choice to Make

  • There is ONLY ONE WAY TO SALVATION – JESUS
  • There is ONLY ONE OPTION BESIDES HEAVEN – HELL
  • There is ONLY ONE HOPE FOR THE WORLD – EVANGELISM

This means that we, believers who have decided to follow Jesus, must become the men and women who will stand by the narrow way and shout to those streaming past that this is the way…THE ONLY WAY…to be saved!

WHO IS GOD?

“Who Is God?”

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Job 11.7

Can you fathom the mysteries of God?
Can you probe the limits of the Almighty?

I. THE REALITY OF GOD

A. Creation (Psalm 19.1-6; Romans 1.18-32)

Psalm 19.1-4

1 The heavens are TELLING of the glory of God;
And their expanse is DECLARING the work of His hands.
2 Day to day pours forth SPEECH,
And night to night REVEALS knowledge.
3 There is no speech, nor are there words;
Their voice is not heard.
4 Their LINE has gone out through all the earth,
And their UTTERANCES to the end of the world.

Romans 1.18-23

18 For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who SUPPRESS THE TRUTH in unrighteousness, 19 because that which is known about God is EVIDENT within them; for God made it EVIDENT to them. 20 For since the creation of the world His invisible attributes, His eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly seen, being understood through what has been made, so that they are without excuse. 21 For EVEN THOUGH THEY KNEW GOD, they did not honor Him as God, or give thanks; but they became futile in their speculations, and their foolish heart was darkened. 22 Professing to be wise, they became fools, 23 and exchanged the glory of the incorruptible God for an image in the form of corruptible man and of birds and four-footed animals and crawling creatures.

B. Design (Organization, Order, Purpose)

· The Placement of the Planets (Just a few degrees and…)

· The Language of the People

  • Words have Power
  • Words have Purpose
  • Words have Perseverance

· The Establishment of Periods

C. Man (Moral, Intelligent, Living) (Acts 17.28-29)

Acts 17:24-29 – (In Athens, Referring to the Temple to an Unknown God)

24 “The God who made the world and all things in it, since He is Lord of heaven and earth, does not dwell in temples made with hands; 25 neither is He served by human hands, as though He needed anything, since He Himself gives to all life and breath and all things; 26 and He made from one , every nation of mankind to live on all the face of the earth, having determined their appointed times, and the boundaries of their habitation, 27 that they should seek God, if perhaps they might grope for Him and find Him, though He is not far from each one of us; 28 for in Him we live and move and exist, as even some of your own poets have said, ‘For we also are His offspring.’ 29 “Being then the offspring of God, we ought not to think that the Divine Nature is like gold or silver or stone, an image formed by the art and thought of man.

D. Philosophy (The idea of a supreme being, God)

II. THE CHARACTERISTICS OF GOD

A. Eternal (Who created God)

B. Freedom (Independent of creation)

C. Holiness (Psalm 99)

1 The LORD reigns, let the peoples tremble;
He is enthroned above the cherubim, let the earth shake!
2 The LORD is great in Zion,
And He is exalted above all the peoples.
3 Let them praise Thy great and awesome name;
Holy is He.
4 And the strength of the King loves justice;
Thou hast established equity;
Thou hast executed justice and righteousness in Jacob.
5 Exalt the LORD our God,
And worship at His footstool;
Holy is He.

D. Unchanging (Mal. 3.6; James 1.17)

Mal. 3.6

“For I, the LORD, DO NOT CHANGE;

THEREFORE you, O sons of Jacob, are not consumed.

James 1.17

Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation, or shifting shadow.

E. Infinite (Limitless – 1 Kings 8.27)

But will God indeed dwell on the earth? Behold, heaven and the highest heaven cannot contain Thee, how much less this house which I have built!

F. Love (1 John 4.7-8)

Beloved, let us love one another, for love is from God; and everyone who loves is born of God and knows God. 8 The one who does not love does not know God, for God is love.

G. Omnipotent (All Powerful – Gen. 17.1) [El Shaddai]

Genesis 17.1

Now when Abram was ninety-nine years old, the LORD appeared to Abram and said to him, “I am God Almighty; Walk before Me, and be blameless.”

H. Omnipresent (Everywhere – Psalm 139.7-11)

Psalm 139.7-10

Where can I go from Thy Spirit?
Or where can I flee from Thy presence?
8
If I ascend to heaven, Thou art there;
If I make my bed in Sheol, behold, Thou art there.
9 If I take the wings of the dawn,
If I dwell in the remotest part of the sea,
10 Even there Thy hand will lead me,
And Thy right hand will lay hold of me.

I. Omniscient (All Knowing – Psalm 139.16)

Thine eyes have seen my unformed substance;
And in Thy book they were all written,
The days that were ordained for me,
When as yet there was not one of them.

J. Righteous (Justice – Psalm 11.7)

For the LORD is RIGHTEOUS; He loves RIGHTEOUSNESS;
The UPRIGHT will behold His face.

K. Sovereign (Supreme – Psalm 135.6)

WHATEVER THE LORD PLEASES, HE DOES,
In heaven and in earth, in the seas and in all deeps.

L. True (Remember that God is Unchanging)

· The Master in the Math

  • Rules of Math are Constant (1+1=2)
  • Rules of Math are Trustworthy (1+1 ALWAYS =2)
  • Rules of Math are NOT Contradictory (1+1 NEVER =3)

M. Unity (One, Indivisible – Dt. 6.4; Eph 4.6; 1 Tim 2.5)

Dt. 6:4 – “Hear, O Israel! The LORD is our God, the LORD is one!

Eph. 4.4-6 – There is ONE body and ONE Spirit, just as also you were called in ONE hope of your calling; 5 ONE Lord, ONE faith, one baptism, 6 ONE God and Father of all who is over all and through all and in all.

1 Tim. 2.5-6 – For there is one God, and one mediator also between God and men, the man Christ Jesus, 6 who gave Himself as a ransom for all, the testimony borne at the proper time.

III. THE NAMES OF GOD

A. Elohim – Sovereign God

B. Yahweh – Covenant God

C. Adonai – Lord God

D. Theos – God (Gk.)

E. Kurios – Lord (Gk)

F. Despotes – Master (Gk.)

G. Father – Relationship with children

IV. THE CHOICE OF FAITH IN GOD

· One of the things about FAITH is that it is an invitation to believe without knowing all the facts at first. It is trusting God with the details.

· At the same time, however, we are expected to learn and grow in our knowledge and understanding of God…who He is…His nature…His will…His calling for us.

Are You Infecting People?

-Pastor Dave Bentley

Generally, when we hear the word contagious it relates to something undesirable; an Illness, a virus, a transmittable disease.  However, we are commanded by God to have a faith that is contagious.  What this means is that, as we live out our faith in our daily lives, when we come in contact with people our life should have an impact on them that draws them closer to God in Christ.  This leads us to a couple of questions that each Christian disciple must answer.

1.  Is my life “infectious?”  Would people want to “catch” what I have?

2.  Who is in my circle of influence that I can infect with the Good News of Christ?

The Apostle Paul recognized two critical things.  First, that if we are going to impact our community and culture for Christ then we need to be engaged with people, all people, even the people that can be difficult to be around (1 Cor. 5.9-10).  Second, that we cannot limit ourselves to just what is comfortable to us if we are going to introduce the lost to salvation in Christ (1 Cor. 9.19-23).

I wonder what might happen if every Christian who reads this would ask those questions and make a decision to become a “carrier” of faith with the goal of infecting as many as possible with the message of grace, mercy, and love found in Jesus Christ.  Take off the surgical masks.  Stop trying to “sanitize” your faith for others.  Be a communicable Christian with a contagious faith.

Blessings,

Pastor Dave

CAPTIVE AND CAPTIVATED: A VIEW OF HUMANITY’S PAST AND PRESENT PURSUITS

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CAPTIVE AND CAPTIVATED:

A VIEW OF HUMANITY’S PAST AND PRESENT PURSUITS

– DAVE BENTLEY

A Project Submitted to Liberty University, Spring 2014

DRIVEN

The pursuits of humanity can leave man either captured or captivated. Whether it is an idea, a prized treasure, or some distant shore on the horizon, man’s many pursuits hold him shackled, the only release realized when the elusive quarry is finally gathered, or death forces closed the eyes of the hunter. These pursuits have been a critical characteristic of man’s experience from the beginning of time. From creation, man has chased things and ideas that have left him with a longing, triggering primal drives. This perpetual pursuit has brought triumph and tragedy. The times may change, but these basic drives have existed from ancient times into modernity. Man has gone to extreme lengths in his efforts to fill these internal voids that leave him hungering and thirsting for more, causing contentment to become a stealthy prey, rarely realized.

There are certain themes that appear in literature which provide an allusion to these primal drives and desires.  Recurring themes that involve man’s pursuit of passion and pleasure, power and position, purpose, and eventually paradise appear in ancient texts and contemporary writing.  This project will research some of the literary references to these characteristics of humanity and show how they are described and either met or unmet in the narratives and poetry of the world. This will not be an exhaustive paper; with the ever-changing landscape of humanity, such an endeavor would be impossible. Rather, this work will offer an introduction and discussion on some of the driving forces of the human experience that have been chronicled in literature and backed up human experience.

The Pursuit of Passion and Pleasure

Man’s pursuit of pleasure often slips into hedonism, but it begins with a longing for companionship and intimacy birthed long before in the Garden of Eden. God purposely designed man for relationship, and for intimacy. This intimacy is not limited to merely the physical and sexual, but emotional and spiritual as well. As man has experienced the longing for close connections (Swindoll, 2000), it has led to the often misguided hunt of the hedonist.

Consider that, as revealed in the book of Genesis, God initially created man without a suitable companion. All the other creatures had mates, but for man no mate was found.

Then the LORD God said, “It is not good for the man to be alone; I will make him a helper suitable for him.” And out of the ground the LORD God formed every beast of the field and every bird of the sky, and brought them to the man to see what he would call them; and whatever the man called a living creature, that was its name. And the man gave names to all the cattle, and to the birds of the sky, and to every beast of the field, but for Adam there was not found a helper suitable for him. So the LORD God caused a deep sleep to fall upon the man, and he slept; then He took one of his ribs, and closed up the flesh at that place. And the LORD God fashioned into a woman the rib which He had taken from the man, and brought her to the man   (Gen 2:18-22 New American Standard Bible).

The creator recognized that man needed companionship, and then He set about helping man come to the same realization by giving man the task of giving names to the rest of creation. Through this process, man would notice that he was the only living creature without a compatible mate. Fostering this desire in man was God’s intent. Then, when man’s complement was fashioned, he utters what must have been the first love song, whose lyrics were born in the human heart:

And the man said,
“This is now bone of my bones,
And flesh of my flesh;
She shall be called Woman,
Because she was taken out of Man.” For this cause a man shall leave his father and his mother, and shall cleave to his wife; and they shall become one flesh. And the man and his wife were both naked and were not ashamed (Genesis 2.23-25).

According to the record of the book of Genesis, sometime after this grand finale of the creation, humanity fell in sin. It has been impossible for man to recover the purity of love’s passion first experienced in the garden. Evil marred sexual expression, causing it to slip into the tawdry and hedonistic headlines of an overly sexualized culture’s news coverage.

In spite of the shame that sin introduced into the realm of human sexuality, intimacy, and passion, humanity continues to hunger for love and sexual fulfillment in physical intimacy and connection. The ancient texts of love poems relate that longing in even the earliest of manuscripts. The pursuit of passion and pleasure grace each pen-stroke. In “Last night, as I, the Queen, was Shining Bright” these steamy words comprise three lines:

“While we by the moonlight indulge our passion,

I will prepare for you a bed pure, sweet, and noble,

Will while away the sweet time with you in joyful fulfillment” (Damrosch & Pike, 2009, p. 42).

This oldest of ancient texts reveals a depth of passion that breaks through the expectation of a utilitarian love and romance that offer a glimpse into the often erotic passion that hungers to recapture the purity of those garden days.

Shamhat unclutched her bosom, exposed her sex, and he took in her voluptuousness.
She was not restrained, but took his energy.
She spread out her robe and he lay upon her,
she performed for the primitive the task of womankind.
His lust groaned over her;
for six days and seven nights Enkidu stayed aroused,
and had intercourse with the harlot
until he was sated with her charms (The Epic of Gilgamesh).

There is much affection and commitment demonstrated in some of the ancient texts. Consider this line from “The Voice of the Turtledove Speaks Out,” as the lovers offer this intimate and romantic sentiment. “We said: I shall never be far away from you while my hand is in your hand, and I shall stroll with you in every favorite place” (Damrosch & Pike, 2009, p. 44).

Evidence of humanity’s drive for passion and pleasure, while often graphically recorded in literature, is also found in relational science and personal experience. Thought some may deny the validity of this claim, man longs for more than just the sexual pleasure that physical love provides. There is a drive for intimacy and connectedness that is occasionally disguised, or overshadowed, by the seedier pursuit of lust. Man, as well as woman, wants to be loved. As one author related, the way that God designed and created the first couple illustrates this idea (Bonheim, 2014). The writer commented that Eve was not created in the same way God created Adam, perhaps as evidence of God’s intent to reveal in their marriage union His intentional design of love itself. Fashioning Eve from components taken from Adam illustrates the physical and emotional elements of romantic and committed love between man and woman. Regarding the unique design of the romantic and sexual union of man and woman Bonheim writes,

“that love is created of two beings, connected from the start. Just as man was created in

the likeness of God, Eve was created from the body of Adam, holding within her flesh

the divine love that had been issued to humankind by the Creator” (Retrieved 3/20/14).

Humanity continues to strive for social connection, relationship, and love precisely because we have been designed and created to love and be loved. Man may find himself captured or captivated by this lifelong pursuit.

The Pursuit of Power and Position

In addition to man’s drive for physical pleasure and intimacy, there is also captivity found in the climb up the various ladders of human experience in the pursuit of power and position. This is not always a bad thing, as most understand that it is honorable and acceptable to seek promotion in a place of employment and to want to better oneself in their position in life.

However, there are some considerations, especially along the way, as people seek position and power in less than honorable means. One such example from literature comes in The Odyssey, as Telemachus voices his disgust with regard to the suitors who sought his mother’s hand, and his father’s throne.

“Look at them over there. Not a care in the world

Just lyres and tunes! It’s easy for them, alight,

They feed on another’s goods and go scot-free—(Odyssey 1:185-187).

Each of these suitors sought what they had not earned, and were unworthy of by their own lack of merit. Day after day, they invaded the home left unguarded by Odysseus, who was himself captive on a distant island. They devoured Odysseus’ goods while they occupied his house, and sought to occupy both his bed and his throne. These men were driven by a desire for position, but were seeking the easy means of achieving power. Like vultures picking at the remains of carrion left wasted on the side of a highway, these interlopers were scavenging whatever scraps they could from Odysseus’ stores. Unwilling to hunt for themselves, they chose instead to steal.

Indeed, in the experience of humanity there have been myriad men and women who have earned power and position through diligence and hard work. Whether in the realm of business or politics, these people demonstrated their worth and justly earned their advancement. Frequently, these leaders sought office not merely to impress people or find ease in life, but to make life better and to set an example.

In The Analects Confucius alludes to the difference between people who aspire to position and power for honor and those who do so for recognition. “In old days men studied for the sake of self-improvement; nowadays men study in order to impress other people (Analects 14:25).” The irony of Confucius writing “in the old days” makes this record almost comical, since it was written two millennia ago. What he says, in essence, is that people who studied for honorable reasons did so to bring wisdom and knowledge to their positions of leadership. Unfortunately, as “The Teacher” laments, more people were seeking wisdom and understanding for profit than for provision.

Peace Versus Power, A Counter Balance

Literature, particularly that of The Medieval Orient, counters the primary premise put forth here of humanity’s drive for position and power by alluding to people who sought to escape the responsibility and prestige that positions of power might offer rather than aspire to it. This shift in man’s priorities was due, in part, to the increasing realization that the morality of society was decaying and becoming increasingly corrupt, and this was evident especially in the leadership and nobility. When faced with this decaying morality in society and corruption among its leaders, coupled with the reality of increased conflict and disunity among people, the people sought refuge by retreating from positions of prestige and power, in favor of a simpler and more ordinary life (Damrosch & Pike, 2009). Rather than power, they pursued peace.

“Don’t take the big carriage:

You’ll just get dusty.

Don’t ponder a hundred worries:

You’ll just become ill.” (Damrosch & Pike, 2009, p. 12).

The above poem echoes the sentiments of the Biblical passage:

O Lord, my heart is not proud, nor my eyes haughty;
Nor do I involve myself in great matters,
Or in things too difficult for me.
Surely I have composed and quieted my soul;
Like a weaned child rests against his mother,
My soul is like a weaned child within me.
O Israel, hope in the LORD
From this time forth and forever (Psalms 131: 1-3).

Positions of power and prestige may indeed bring fame and fortune, but they also bring significant responsibility. These writers determined that the best course for them was to deny the drive in favor of serenity. However, as Kamo no Chomei’s notes in his essay, “An Account of a Ten-Foot-Square Hut” (Damrosch & Pike, 2009), the shift in pursuit from power and position to peace is not without its difficulties and challenges. His essay describes how one man, disenfranchised with life because of natural disasters, famine, and man’s inhumanity toward man, retreated to a simple 10×10 foot hut and awaited the promised rebirth into the Buddhist heaven that awaited those who had released all attachments in the world and were experiencing that powerful peace and contentment. However, as Kamo no Chomei relates, the release of the attachments of one world, that of the capital, was simply replaced by the attachment and pursuit of the tranquility and pleasure of his tiny retreat. He discovered that the drives and pursuits of humanity still exist, even though they may be slightly shifted.

The Pursuit of Purpose

Why are we here? From the beginning of humanity, man has sought to understand his purpose and the reason that things happen as they do (Warren, 2002). The religious declare that man is here for God. The humanists counter that man exists for man. The fatalist laments that there is no purpose or reason, rather man lives and dies, the end—although this lack of purpose actually becomes a purpose.

Literature has also offered an answer to man’s historic pursuit of purpose. As with the various philosophies and theologies of the world, Literature’s response has varied in relation to era and age, as well as the variety of writers who have given their answer to the quest.

In The Odyssey, it appears that man’s purpose is to serve as fodder for the entertainment of the gods. Humanity blames the gods for their ills, even when the actions of men are truly at fault. As the following passage illustrates, however, man may blame the gods, but is often their own carelessness that leads to their torment.

From us alone, the say, come all their miseries, yes,

But they themselves, with their own reckless ways,

Compound their pains beyond their proper share (Odyssey 1:38-40).

The example given relates to the actions of the sailors traveling with Odysseus who had killed and devoured the prized cattle of the Sun.

“the recklessness of their own ways destroyed them all,

The blind fools, they devoured the cattle of the Sun

And the sungod wiped from sight the day of their return (Odyssey 1:8-10).

The poets and wisdom writers of The Medieval Orient would report that man’s purpose is the pursuit of wisdom and peace. Confucius’ opening statement in Analects record the following from the Chinese Master: “To learn, and at due times to practice what one has learned, is that not also a pleasure (Analects 1:1). Confucius would also write, regarding the pursuit of man’s purpose, “Learn as if you were following someone whom you could not catch up, as though it were someone you were frightened of losing (Analects 3:17).”

The pursuit of wisdom as an understanding of man’s purpose, according to Confucius, would result in strong moral and ethical conduct (Kyung, 2004). Many texts contained lessons for developing moral values and conduct. The Bible, the Koran, and myriad other religious writings offer teachings in upright living according to their standards. The Fables of Aesop and children’s fairy tales provide morals and instruction for living.

Confucius’ teachings provided lessons that not only imparted instruction, but offered models and advice. In the Analects he said, “When one comes to knowledge but does not sustain it through ren (this is love or the ideal conduct), he is sure to lose it. (Analects 5:33).” Gaining knowledge and understanding alone, therefore, was not sufficient. Rather, he would state that a person achieves his or her ideal state by putting into practice the knowledge acquired by living in accordance with it (Kyung, 2004). In modern phrasing, man’s pursuit of purpose would ultimately reveal that he must “Use it or lose it.”

A person’s pursuit of purpose can be summarized in the simplest, yet most difficult question to ever parted ones lips. “Why?” From the repetitive chattering of a toddler tugging at pant legs it may be little more than a nuisance. However, from the mouth of one suffering in grief it asks a question that often remains unanswered.

In the poetic record of an experience, which sounds very much like that of Job in the Bible, Anne Bradstreet pens her emotions and anguish at the loss of their home in the poem “Upon the Burning of Our House, July 10, 1666.” Though she does not write the question directly, a reader can readily recognize that the query is, nonetheless, present, ready on the threshold of her lips, as “to my God my heart did cry to strengthen me in my distress.” So much like Job, she too notes that she

“blest his Name that gave and took,

that lay’d my goods now in the dust:

Yea so it was, and so ‘twas just.

It was His own: it was not mine;

Far be it that I should repine.”

Far more often, in times of sorrow and grief, man begins to search for purpose and reason as he seeks an answer to why things have happened in this way or that. In recent experience, one can look to the events of September 11, 2001 to find a nation of shocked citizens all pondering the same thing, “What was the purpose of this? Why did God allow this to happen? Why?”

Man pursues purpose, and often that pursuit only reveals more questions. Solomon, the world’s wisest king, considered life and called it “vanity, a chasing after the wind” (Ecclesiastes 1.14). It can be assumed that he had faced the “Why?” question in his life. He concludes his journal of his own pursuit of purpose with these words:

The conclusion, when all has been heard, is: fear God and keep His commandments, because this applies to every person. For God will bring every act to judgment, everything which is hidden, whether it is good or evil (Ecclesiastes 12:13-14).

Finding Purpose in Pain

It is often the most difficult and trying experiences of life that reveal man’s purpose. For example, the heroes that humanity heralds are often only heroes based on their self-sacrifice. They gave for the sake of others. In The Epic of Gilgamesh it is learned that the purpose of Enkidu, the man once wild and dwelling in the forest with the animals, would be to protect Gilgamesh.

“The one who goes on ahead saves the comrade,

The one who knows the route protects his friend,

Let Enkidu go ahead of you;

He knows the road to the Cedar Forest,

He has seen fighting, has experienced battle.

Enkidu will protect the friend, he will keep the comrade safe (Gilgamesh, 3:4-9).

Jesus said, “No one has greater love than this, that someone would lay down his life for his friends” (John 15:13, Holman Christian Standard Bible). Enkidu demonstrated this sort of love for his comrade, Gilgamesh. Ultimately, regardless of personal strength an heroism, the former man-beast would die as a result of his exploits with Gilgamesh. Perhaps, as this text illustrates, the answer for man’s pursuit is love for others. After all, the Bible states that the greatest commandment is to “love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength, and with all your mind; and your neighbor as yourself” (Luke 10.27, NASB).

If loving God and loving your neighbors is the ultimate purpose in life, then one of the world’s contemporary heroes, Todd Beamer, captured that life purpose, albeit through his own sacrifice and death.

On the morning of September 11, 2001, Todd Beamer boarded a plane bound for San Francisco. Beamer had no idea that he would soon face a terrible challenge and have to make a critical decision that would result in a high cost, but an even greater value in terms of innocent lives spared.

Shortly after takeoff, hijackers took that flight and three others. The hijackers flew two of those planes into the Twin Towers in New York City. A third crashed into the side of The Pentagon in Washington, DC. It became clear that Beamer’s flight would be used as a weapon against people somewhere on the ground. Determined “not be pawns in the hijackers’ suicidal plot” (McKinnon, 2001) Beamer, along with the other passengers on the flight rose up and fought the hijackers. All that we know about what happened inside the plane is that the aircraft, most likely aimed at a target in Washington, crashed in a field in Pennsylvania, killing everyone aboard. Beamer’s last recorded words on a call from the plane, “Let’s Roll!” captured the nature of a hero’s heart, overflowing with love for unknown neighbors on the ground below, and gained the attention, and affection, of the world.

The pursuit of purpose is a life-long occupation, and there are many facets, differing based on each individual. The journey to discovery provides clues along the way, for the one who will seek with open eyes and open mind.

Pursuit of Paradise

Another pursuit that both captures and captivates humanity is the pursuit of paradise. Religions, cultures, and generations may use different terminology, but the pursuit is the same. Each seeks what some refer to as heaven, or eternal life, some ethereal place that is beyond the temporal earthly realm. In his pursuit, man longs for the answer to the question recorded in the Gospel of Luke: “Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life” (Luke 10.25, HCSB).

As with the previously referenced pursuits, this hunt for heaven and immortality will be different for each person based on theology, philosophy, and experience. As such, one finds the content of literature divided based on the context of the author and the place and period of the writing.

Before considering the pursuit of paradise and immortality, one must first recognize that man is mortal and come to grips with that mortality. T. S. Elliot reflected on his mortality by referring to the brevity and fragility of life in “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock.” He writes, “I have measured out my life with coffee spoons” (v. 51). This is a clear reference to the shortness of life. He chooses one of the smallest of utensils as a metaphor for life’s brevity. He also writes, with regard to the vanity of man’s attempts to prolong life:

“But though I have wept and fasted, wept and prayed

Though I have seen my head (grown slightly bald) brought in on a platter,

I am no prophet—and here’s no great matter:

I have seen the moment of my greatness flicker,

And I have seen the eternal Footman hold m y coat and snicker,

And in short, I was afraid” (vv. 81-86)

Indeed, death is the constant companion of the mortal. Because of that awareness, man seeks the assurance that there is something beyond this life. The pursuit of paradise is, in some way, man’s final attempt at prolonging life, but in a perfect and eternal way.

If they do nothing else, religious texts certainly have the mandate of providing instruction related to how a person can achieve eternal life, heaven, Nirvana, or whatever other terminology is used. However, they do not have the mandate to be similar to other religious writings, and so there are wide ranging descriptions of the eternal dwelling places and the requirements for reaching them. For monotheists, such as Muslims, Jews, and Christians, heaven is the dwelling of God, and the ultimate goal of the followers of the teachings in their hallowed writings. Though their image of heaven may be common, the path to paradise is not. Even among their adherents, there are differences of doctrine related to how one may gain immortality.

Heaven is not a subject limited to just sacred texts. In ancient stories, writers and their readers viewed heaven as the dwelling of the immortals. Based on the imagery of The Odyssey and Aenid, narratives written to an audience of polytheists, one might consider the mysterious kingdom as some sort of hall where the gods sit around devising schemes to torment or benefit humanity. In the end, death would lead to a decision on a person’s eternity made by the gods based on the conduct and heroism exhibited during their life.

For writers in the Oriental tradition, paradise might be found at the end of a mysterious path nestled in the peach blossoms as it was for the fisherman in “Peach Blossom Spring” by Qian. Although he had discovered a hidden path to paradise, he left and returned to his life. When he attempted to revisit the hidden valley, he discovered he was unable to locate the path and could not return.

For some, as Li Bo shares, paradise is found in the beauty and majestic serenity of the mountains:

“They ask me why I live in the green mountains.

I smile and don’t reply; my heart’s at ease.

Peach blossoms flow downstream, leaving no trace—

And there are other earths and skies than these” (Damrosch & Pike, 2009, p. 93).

If it is true that troubles in life can occasionally cloud ones view of their eternal goal, this may explain the struggles of faith that beset Anne Bradstreet as she penned the letter “To My Dear Children.” In the letter, she chronicles some of her struggles with faith in light of the conditions and experiences she has had in the world. However, she closes with words indicating that, though her faith may at times waiver, her eternal home is still secure.

“Return, O my Soul, to thy rest, upon this rock Christ Jesus will I build my faith, and if I perish, I perish; but I know all the Powers of Hell shall never prevail against it. I know whom I have trusted, and whom I have believed, and that He is able to keep that I have committed to His charge.”

Man’s pursuit of paradise, in whatever form that may take, has the potential to consume him. The danger could be that people are so focused on the pursuit that they forget to live while they are alive, and may miss the target for which they aim. Perhaps it was the brevity of life and the vanity of being too heavenly minded to be of any earthly good that Tao Qian was thinking of as he wrote in “The Return”:

It is all over—

So little time are we granted human for in the world!

Let us then follow the inclinations of the heart:

Where would we go that we are so agitated?

I have no desire for riches

And no expectation of Heaven.

Rather on some fine morning to walk alone

No planting my staff to take up a hoe

Or climbing the east hill and whistling long

Or composing verses beside the clear stream:

So I manage to accept my lot until the ultimate homecoming.

Rejoicing in Heaven’s command, what is there to doubt?

The Pursuit Proceeds

Throughout life, man pursues pleasure, position, purpose, and paradise. These pursuits have the potential of holding man captive or leaving him captivated. While this is not an exhaustive work on the subject, it provides information on these pursuits as revealed in literature and experience and provides some definition and application to the knowledge of the pursuit.

Not everyone will find what he is searching for in life. For example, those fortunate enough to find love, passion, the pleasure of physical intimacy with a beloved spouse, the pursuit may be captivated, and fulfilled. Others, however, may search for these things their whole life, but never find what they long for most. Often their hunt for love is fruitless because they fail to comprehend what real love is.

This theory is true of all man’s pursuits. It is difficult to discover passion and love is one does not know the definition of real passion and true love. The same may be said of position and power, especially if the seekers motivation is selfish and self-serving. One who is pursuing purpose may never find it if they fail to notice the indicators along the path of their life that would help them in defining their own purpose. The pilgrim in search of paradise might miss the pathway if they do not take the time to be cognizant of what is happening in life, and follow the current, often in an opposing direction, of the flow toward eternity.

References:

Bentley, D. (2014) Unpublished Writings from ENG656 at Liberty University Online. March- May, 2014.

Bonheim, W. (2014) Discussion Board Post for ENG656 at Liberty University Online.

Retrieved from: http://learn.liberty.edu/webapps/portal/frameset.jsp?tab_tab_group_id=_2_1&url=/webapps/blackboard/execute/courseMain?course_id=_11067_1 on March 20, 2014.

Chapman, G. (1992). The Five Love Languages: How to Express Heartfelt

Commitment to Your Mate. Chicago, IL: Northfield Publishing.

Cueva, E. P. (1999). Recent research on the ancient novel. The classical bulletin 17(1). 85-97.

Damrosch, D. & Pike D. L. (2009). The Longman Anthology: World Literature. (Vols. A-F,

2nd. Ed.) New York, NY: Pearson.

Kyung, H. K. (2004). An attempt to elucidate notions of lifelong learning: Analects-based

analysis of Confucius’ ideas about learning. Asia Pacific Education Review. 5(2).

117-126.

McKinnon, J. (2001) The phone line from Flight 93 was still open when a GTE operator heard Todd Beamer say: ‘Are you guys ready? Let’s roll.’ Printed in the Post-Gazette. September 16, 2001. Retrieved from: http://old.post-gazette.com/headlines/20010916phonecallnat3p3.asp

Swindoll, C. (2000). Intimacy with the Almighty. Nashville, TN: Tommy Nelson.

Szalavitz, M. & Perry, B. D. (2010) Born for love: Empathy, the brain, and human connections Retrieved from: http://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/born-love/201003/touching-empathy

Warren, R. (2002) The Purpose Driven Life: What on Earth am I here for? Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan.

How Far is Heaven?

16_heaven_rock

The Story of Man’s Struggle to Measure up to

Throughout history the trait of mankind’s pride and self-sufficiency has been the sin that most often drives the population from salvation and eternity with God. This trait is evident in the hero stories that man has composed in antiquity and modern day. Woven into the fabric of the lines of the writing is the idea that man has the capacity to earn favor with the gods and repair damage that previous acts of rebellion and selfishness have caused. Christianity, as it is revealed in the New Testament writings of the Bible, offers a strikingly different perspective on the human condition and the path to redemption and restoration with God’s favor.

Meredith Sprunger (n.d.) compiled a concise summary of major world religions that reveals the various means to salvation that each ascribes to. With regard to most religions there were acts of sacrifice, obedience, impulse control, and ritual that were to be religiously followed in effort to attain eternity. For example, followers of Islam are required to submit to the will of Allah and live according to the “Five Pillars.” This seems reasonable, and it allows for man’s efforts to be recognized and rewarded, thus fulfilling the need for pride and self-sufficiency.

Buddhism, on the other hand, involves more in the realm of mind and impulse control. According to Sprunger’s (n.d.) chart, the Budhist’s path to eternity requires: “Nonattachment to the world; Follow the eight-fold path; Self-effort; Salvation is through reincarnation and working with the laws of karma; Mahayana Buddhism has deities which function as saviors”

(http://www.urantiabook.org/archive/readers/religion_belief_comparisons.htm).

Within this structure there is an appeal to selflessness that satisfies the self-imposed religious need for sacrifice and self-denial. For man to receive the reward of eternity he must essentially demonstrate that he is worthy of eternity by improving himself over the course of a number of lifetimes.

In these religious systems the divine, the immortal, the gods become impressed with the life lived by the practitioner and recompense their obedience and virtue with entrance into whatever eternal paradise or Nirvana awaits them. In the epics of literature there is the similar theme of man attempting to earn favor with the gods through feats of strength, sacrifice, bravery, and demonstrating their own worthiness. Slaying mythological beasts, claiming impossible treasures, offering costly sacrifices, appeasing an offended immortal, and impressing the various deities were the way that men earned favor with the gods.

Biblical history bears evidence of this sort of behavior, even among the Israelites who sinfully worshipped the gods of neighboring countries in efforts to please them and gain a benefit. In the story of the prophet Elijah’s confrontation on Mount Carmel with the prophets of Baal there is suggestion of a ritual that included frantic shouting, dancing, and self-mutilation:

26Then they called on the name of Baal from morning till noon. “O Baal, answer us!” they shouted. But there was no response; no one answered. And they danced around the altar they had made.
27 At noon Elijah began to taunt them. “Shout louder!” he said. “Surely he is a god! Perhaps he is deep in thought, or busy, or traveling. Maybe he is sleeping and must be awakened.” 28 So they shouted louder and slashed themselves with swords and spears, as was their custom, until their blood flowed. 29 Midday passed, and they continued their frantic prophesying until the time for the evening sacrifice. But there was no response, no one answered, no one paid attention. (1 Kings 18.26-29, New International Version, emphasis added).

The narrative continues with Elijah demonstrating God’s faithfulness and power, without regard to his own ability. This story is one of many that reminds the world that God does not want to be impressed with man’s ability and strength, but rather desires that man would be impressed with His power and faithfulness. Elijah simply prepares the way for God to act on top of the mountain. His prayer and actions demonstrate his faith in God.

36 At the time of sacrifice, the prophet Elijah stepped forward and prayed: “O LORD, God of Abraham, Isaac and Israel, let it be known today that you are God in Israel and that I am your servant and have done all these things at your command. 37 Answer me, O LORD, answer me, so these people will know that you, O LORD, are God, and that you are turning their hearts back again.”
38 Then the fire of the LORD fell and burned up the sacrifice, the wood, the stones and the soil, and also licked up the water in the trench.
39 When all the people saw this, they fell prostrate and cried, “The LORD–he is God! The LORD–he is God” (1 Kings 18.36-39)!

What Must I DO to Inherit Eternal Life?

The early epics of literature, the efforts of the religions of the world, and the nature of humanity all beg for an answer to the question, “What must I do?” The expectation is that some great act or show of devotion must be required in order to appease God and garner His favor. The unlikely answer comes in the form of Jesus of Nazareth and a revelation that God loves us, even in our sinful state. As the apostle Paul wrote in Romans 5.6-8:

“You see, at just the right time, when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly. Very rarely will anyone die for a righteous man, though for a good man someone might possibly dare to die. But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.”

Powerless seems quite distant from the realm of heroe like Oddyseus and Aeneas amid their bravery and strength. Ungodly doesn’t seem to relate to the wisdom of men like Confucius, or the honor and obedience of the exiled Rama. Sinner isn’t the first thought to enter the mind when contemplating the piety and religious zeal of Saul of Tarsus. Perhaps others would require the intervention of God, but not these men.

Add to this the concept of any god offering a sacrifice is counter to man’s understanding of the way things work. Yet, this is exactly how Paul describes God’s action in Jesus. He offered Him as the sacrifice for the sins of humanity. To the question of why God would do this, the answer “He demonstrated His love for us” is given. The gods of literature, and even among the other world religions, seem to despise humans and their sinful actions. The God of Christianity, on the other hand, loves this sinful humanity. Man’s efforts amount to nothing. His self-sufficiency comes up short. He can’t do anything to earn God’s favor. Everything is accomplished because of God’s love for His creation. Even in the midst of judgment, the love and heart of God is evident.

References

Sprunger, M. J. (n.d.). Belief Comparisons of the World’s Major Religions. Retreived from: http://www.urantiabook.org/archive/readers/religion_belief_comparisons.htm on April 2, 2014.