Tag Archives: rules


The Buddha as an ascetic

This post has been sitting in my drafts box for some time. I thought it was unfinished. In fact, I thought I’d barely started it and so had been ignoring it. Today I was moved to click on it, intending to see if there was something here I could develop, or if I should just delete it and move on.

Instead I was surprised to find an entire post, finished but for the final editing. And, oddly enough, it ties in to what I’ve been thinking and writing about lately in regards to the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil. The original date on it was March 18, 2011, a kind of prologue thoughtwise to more recent ruminations. Here’s what I was thinking last year:

Most Christians are aware of the fact that they still have a fallen nature even after having believed in Christ. But how many of them have considered what this fallen nature is like beyond “bad,” “evil,” “selfish,” “prideful”  and “something that sets itself against God?”

My pastor has considered what it is like and taught us a number of things as a result of his studies. One of the big things about it is the fact that it has an area of strength (most of us have certain sins we’re not even tempted to commit) and an area of weakness (sins we fall into all the time). I think the area of weakness is pretty well-known, but the area of strength is something that doesn’t get as much attention. The area of strength is often the source of human good, which of course, is disgusting in God’s eyes, but often very attractive in people’s eyes.

In addition to an area of strength and weakness, the sin nature also has a trend, either toward lasciviousness or asceticism. Or, put more simply, some people trend toward self-indulgence and others toward self-denial and self-discipline.

Examples of the latter include the Flagellants I just posted about, as well as fasting, vows of silence and poverty, dietary rules, and one I find most amusing, the stylites… Eastern orthodox monks who lived on small platforms atop long poles for years, fasting, praying, and preaching, they believed that the mortification of their bodies would ensure their salvation.  Many Eastern religions embrace ascetic practices as well, with followers vowing never to use their left hand or right foot, restricting their diet, wearing neither clothes nor shoes as they moved from place to place, not staying in any one place so as not to get attached, etc. Clearly there is a strong tendancy in some sin natures to be abusive of self in the name of “holiness,” or just in the name of getting something they might want.

Few people in our day practice the type of asceticism I’ve just described (at least in the United States) but that doesn’t mean they don’t practice it in some other form. Exercise regimes, abstaining from certain foods or drinks, supporting “green” practices, abstaining from smoking, card games, dancing or watching movies, even practices associated with Lent all have to do with denying self certain pleasures in the interest of achieving “holiness” by our own efforts.

Unfortunately holiness is far from the result of asceticism. What it leads to is moral degeneracy, a state wherein a person is moral and often religious but thinks far more highly of himself than he ought. His self-denial and self-discipline,  his avoidance of the lascivious or self-indulgent sorts of sins (drug addiction, fornication, etc) make it seem that he is a better person than say, the woman working the corner down in the ratty part of town. Which is, of coures the point: to make of oneself a better person, a more spiritual person, purer, more enlightened than everyone else.

I’ve recently read several articles noting how self-righteous and holier than thou some people in the global warming/environmental movement are, how it has, in fact become a religion in itself to those who follow it. Michael Crichton was one of the first, or at least the most famous first, to point this out in a speech he gave to the Commonwealth Club of San Francisco in 2003.  (Read it here) Ditto vegetarians, the defenders of animals and even those who eat only organic foods, pr so  claims an article on MSNBC titled “Does Organic Food Make People into Jerks?

In addition to the holier-than-thou syndrome, ascetism leads to legalism — not only in the sense of judging others, but of judging self. Not the judging of self where you confess your sins to God, but where you come up with a set of rules you have to follow so everything will turn out right; or so someone will be pleased with you or happy or at the very least not displeased; or perhaps a set of rules to follow so God will be pleased,  or so you can gain health or wealth or success or …  the list is endless.

And once you have your set of rules in place, you’ve created a launching pad for guilt and worry. You have these rules!  And you have to follow them; if you don’t, disaster will ensue! If you don’t, you can never have any peace. Who cares what God’s word has to say? You have your rules of what it means to be good or successful or responsible or compassionate or whatever…

Which means now you can also worry you might not follow them all, and then beat yourself up when you don’t.  And if there’s someone around who fails to follow them even more than you do, then you can focus on that person and beat them up instead of yourself for their infractions.

And it can all look very nice on the outside, while inside it tears you apart.

What a contrast to the life our Lord intends for us to live. A life of peace and rest, confident that we don’t have to follow our silly little rules, because in Christ we’ve already been made holy. By His work, not ours. There’s not one thing we can do that will make us one ounce holier than He’s already made us the moment we believed in Christ.

All we have to do is keep learning His Word which, if we believe it, will slowly transform our thinking into His.  Our new life in Christ is one that offers tremendous peace and freedom; why would we not want to live in it?

A Compelling Product AND a Platform?

So says Michael Hyatt, author of Platform: Get Noticed in a Noisy World, a recent book I’ve acquired, and part of the cause for my recent toe-dipping into the sea of marketing gurus.

Early in the book, he quotes from “an aspiring author trying to make a name for herself amidst her literally millions of competitors,” who asks,

“Doesn’t a good book stand on its own anymore? Are writers now doomed to spend the bulk of our workdays trawling for blog subscribers?”

His answer is no, it’s not enough to simply write a good book, and yes, “you will need to be proactive about creating the who part of the equation.” By equation, he refers to the time-honored saying, “success isn’t so much about what you know as who.” And that “who” is your platform.

He’s not alone in this assessment. I’m coming to the end of my reading of Merchants of Culture, a book describing the recent history and resultant status of the publishing world, and it also paints a discouraging picture of just how much writers need to stop focusing on writing and start focusing on courting readers.

I’ve said before that I am not comfortable with that, nor suited for it (it seems vaguely hypocritical to be trying to make friends with people just so they’ll buy your book… but maybe that’s not what everyone means). I also don’t t have the mental and emotional space for it. Nor do I have the time, not if I’m actually going to write this next book.

I wrote all that almost three weeks ago, and got derailed in part because I didn’t know what I wanted to say after the fragment above. Or, if we get right down to it, what I really thought about it.

I think I’ve mentioned that I attended a webinar on all this, presented in fact, by the same Michael Hyatt mentioned above. In fact,that’s when I bought his book. (And I have to admit it was pretty clear that he was probably doing the webinar in part to have that exact effect.)

In any case, that was back in June, and was what started the chain of events that led to last Monday’s crazy-makers post. According to Hyatt, blogging, done right, is the means by which you build your platform of “who’s.” He advised us to start blogging if we didn’t and if we already had a blog, to commit to a certain number of blogs a week, then rigorously stick to that commitment.

At the same time, we were getting messages from the pulpit of Lighthouse Bible Church encouraging us to step out in expanding the ministry associated with our spiritual gifts. The confluence of the two events caused me to pay a bit more attention to Hyatt’s advice than I might otherwise, and thus I allowed myself to at least consider the notion of doing things that might expand my readership.

After all, as many Christian writers have said, if it’s the word of God you are proclaiming and promoting, why wouldn’t you want to find ways to expand the reach of your ministry?  Paul didn’t just hang out in Antioch waiting for people to come to Him. Jesus didn’t operate that way either.

So… I decided to see what would happen if I took a few tiny steps in that direction, if in fact, I would even be able to do so. I already had a blog, and had been doing about 4 posts a week, so why not see if I could add one more and commit to being consistent about it?

Yes, yes, I know: here we are with some more Rules again!  Am I just putting myself into some other kind of bondage?

That’s a strong possibility. It certainly was what happened at the start of this.

But still, I know our God is not against routine, because He’s set up the world that way… day and night,  full moon and new, season and season, sowing and harvesting, year and year.

I guess, what I’m seeing more clearly is that it’s not the having of goals or routines or guidelines for your work that’s the problem, it’s making everything hinge upon them. You can develop them, but the fulfillment of them isn’t to be the source of your happiness or misery. My flesh just has a very strong tendency to abuse them. Maybe it’s the organizational version of drug addiction.

Having rules and order and systems have always spurred me to me think I’m finally  going to be in control, able to do whatever I am wanting to do, and having done it, feeling good about myself and thus happy. Not one word of which is true!

If I can remember that, then as I go forward with the guidelines as tools instead of Master and keep my eyes on my true Master, perhaps they could do what they were designed to do.

Besides, it seems you must have at least some sort of guidelines by which to operate or there’ll just be chaos and confusion, and you’ll never get the thing done you’ve been called to do.

So. Guidelines, then.  Being always ready to dump them should the Spirit lead otherwise, or God just reach in and change things. But not afraid to use them should the situation warrant.

Thus I implemented the objective of trying to get in 5 posts a week.

It was bumpy at first, and though I haven’t succeeded 100% of the time,  there’ve been a number of weeks that I have succeeded and that’s cool.  And more and more I’m getting accustomed to the routine…

The questions that remain unanswered thus far are… can I keep it up long-term? And can I actually write the book while doing it?

If I can’t… well, then I guess the posts will have to be pared back.  I have to say, though, that for the moment, Sky seems to be coming back alive where for so long it’s just been dead, and so far, so good…

Good and Evil Thinking

Recently I came across an article  entitled How to be Happy at Work by Geoffrey James on Inc.com.  I have no idea why I clicked on the link, because usually I don’t. I guess the title was a good one.

So was the article. It claimed that being unhappy is a choice and described a guy who was always miserable because everything mattered to him. The only time he was happy was when he won a million dollar account — which happened once a year. The rest of the time everything irritated him, and the reason he was always irritated was because he had all these rules. Or maybe just one rule, which was that for him to be happy everything had to go his way.

Or, put another way, if everything didn’t go his way he was bent out of shape. To be happy he had to win the million dollar account.

That resonated. That’s me. Well, minus the million dollar account. Maybe not “everything” has to go my way, but if a certain number of things don’t, I’m going to be upset. Mad, sad or bad, is the phrase I’m using.

When Quigley lags on the path, I get irritated, because my plan is to walk smoothly with no hitches, get the walk done so I can get on to the next thing. Also, he’s the dog and he should obey me and if he doesn’t I will get irritated because he’s not following the Rule. Finally, it starts to make my back hurt to have to keep pulling on him, and that makes me irritated too, because another Rule is that the dog should not make your back hurt.

Once I started looking out for this sort of thinking, I found it in way too many places. 😳

Going back to the article, another guy in the office was asked what made him miserable, and he said not much. What made him happy?

“Another day above ground is good,” he said.

What an attitude! This has such applications to doctrine. Another day of grace. Another day to bring glory to God. Another day to see Him work and get to know Him, and have opportunity to trust Him and thus bring glory to Him. It all has to do with choosing what your Rules are going to be.

So yeah, I have a million idiotic little rules I didn’t even know I had, and just now I came upon another one. Not only must things in my periphery do the right things and “go right,” but I must do the right things as well. I must follow the plan I have devised for myself, even if it doesn’t make sense. Even if conditions beyond my control have warped it enough that it can’t even be done any more.

And in this morning’s Sunday message, Pastor Farley cast a whole new light on this business with the rules: it’s thinking born of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil.

It’s thinking in terms of what is good and what is evil, what is right and what is wrong. You’re constantly seeking in your own power to determine what is right about your periphery, your actions, your viewpoint and what is wrong; you’re wanting a law that you can live by, and if you can just abide by the rules, everything will be wonderful.


The Happy at Work article advised us to make new rules. So when something happens — like you get to the store and realize you forgot something and will have to return home — instead of getting all upset, realize you’ve made a rule about how things are to be and change it. So what’s the big deal about returning home — in my case a 5 minute drive? Why is that worth getting all angry at myself? You just go home, get whatever you forgot and return. Why is that such an awful thing?

Well, I can’t think why that’s such an awful thing — at least in my life. And I’ve started to catch myself in this thinking, and realizing how absurd it is. It really is a matter of choice and for believers in Christ, whose lives are supposed to be in Christ, whose God has ordered our days and allowed every detail that appears in them, it makes even less sense to go about in bondage to a million silly little rules…

And then Pastor Farley, took it a step further. But that’s a post for another day…