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Living on Level Three – Part One

Colossians 3:17

Dr. Lawrence Kohlberg of Harvard has led the way in research in moral education and development.  He found that a healthy mature person develops through three levels of moral thinking.

LEVEL ONE extends from birth to about age ten.  This is the totally self-centered stage.  All issues and choices are viewed in terms of personal physical or pleasurable results.  The rules of the game are:  If I am rewarded as I desire my conduct is good.  If I don’t get what I want then my actions are bad.

There are adults still living at this level. They are self-centered-egotist.

Interestingly psychologists have concluded there are three motivational factors in life: Self-preservation, Self-gratification, and Self-glorification.

Note, in each instance the use of the word “self.” What is in it for me?

LEVEL TWO, Dr. Kohlberg says, begins sometimes between age ten and fourteen.  At this stage persons consider others as well as self.  Choices are based on whether they please others or are they approved by others.  Peer pressure and idols exert an enormous influence.  The status quo becomes important.

There are people of all ages still hung up at this level.  “Everybody is doing it,” becomes the mandate for mediocrity.  “Chicken” is a game such a person can dare to play even if they lose their life trying to win.

LEVEL THREE begins anytime after the late teens.  At this level one isn’t trying just to please self or others, but what matters is what is right.  Internal convictions become important.  Morality is based on principle not force as in level one or acceptance as in level two. Honesty is now based on values not what a parent says or others think.

Conduct will not be based on whom I am with, but on whom I am and what I believe.

Dr. Kohlberg estimates that only about 20% of adult Americans reach level three when a person chooses to do something because it is right in and of itself.

Living on level three is life’s most satisfying peek.

Job evidenced he lived there when in his hour of extreme pain he revealed he lived by principles when he said, “Yay, though He slay me yet I will trust Him.”

David revealed he had moved to the third level by saying, “When I am afraid I will trust in Him.”

Joshua gave away his level of living by saying, “As for me and my house we will serve the Lord.”

Martin Luther, when on trial for his life declared: “Here I stand, I can do nought else.”

William Penn spoke of level three when he said, “Right is right though all men be against it, and wrong it wrong though all men be for it.”

If you are not yet on level three you can be with the help of the Lord. Evaluate your growth level. Level three is where God desires persons to live.

Happy Hanukkah

The Jewish community has begun their eight day celebration of Hanukkah, Chanukiah in Hebrew. It is November 28 – December 6 in 2021.. It is based on the feats of the Maccabees’ revolt as recorded in “The First Book of Maccabees.” If you haven’t read it, do. It is the only Jewish holiday not in the Bible.

In summary, when Alexander the Great conquered Syria, Egypt, and Palestine, he allowed locals a certain degree of autonomy to continue the celebration of their religion. Under such benevolence locals took on certain Greek customs. Visitors to modern Israel will even find some red haired Jews who are descendants from intermarried couples of the time. Some of Jesus’ disciples had Greek names which were common in Galilee: John, Mark, Phillip, Matthew, and Luke. 

A Greek tyrant, Antiochus IV came into power a century later, oppressed the Jews and profaned their Temple. He had a superiority complex calling himself Antiochus Epiphanies, meaning the most high god. He replaced the Hebrew priests with Hellenistic priests. He blasphemously required pigs to be offered on the Jewish Temple altar. 

An elderly Jewish priest, Mattathias, a Hasmonean, was killed in his resistance to the degradation. His son Judah and his brothers took up the cause of the revolt against the Seleucid Greek government.

These resistance fighters used guerilla tactics to drive out their military superior suppressors. 

Hanukkah is a celebration of several factors. One is considered a fulfillment proclamation of the prophet Zachariah who wrote, “Not by might, not by power, but by My spirit.” The military victory is considered a spiritual occurrence. 

After the costly victory the people undertook the cleansing of their profaned Temple on the 25th day of the Hebrew month of Kislev in the year 165 BC. The Talmud, a sacred book of the Jews, records the miracle of there being only a one day supply of the scarce pure oil of the Temple, burned for eight days until more pure oil arrived.

Today in commemoration of the event one candle is lit each night until all eight are lit. They are placed where they can easily be seen in obedience to the command to “publicize the miracle.”

There are three versions of the menorah. The eight branch menorah is the modern symbol of the event and is often used as a symbol for Israel. It is associated with religious freedom. The ninth arm is above the others and is used to light the eight.  A seven branch preceded the nine branch one and is the symbol for the Jewish people and state.

I have always admired the Maccabees and the story of their heroism so much that once when my wife and I visited Israel by ourselves we set out to find their graves. Our seasoned guide didn’t know where to begin to find them and had difficulty finding directions from other guides. Ultimately we found them in a forest with little marking. Now their graves are better marked.

Portions of Psalm 113 to 118, known as the Hallel, are sung during the celebration. Persons of various faiths or no faith would find joining with the Jewish community in reading them inspirational. 

Jews are to be commended for keeping alive their heritage, through such celebrations. In a time when Americans tend to degrade their heritage we would do well to learn from them.

Happy Hanukkah.

Holy Hilarity

“Not that I speak in regard to need, for I have learned in whatsoever state I am, to be content.”
(Philippians 4:11)

Keep in mind Paul was in a filthy Roman prison when he penned that.

With our nation in transition there seems to be a pall of gloom hanging over us. It brings to mind a “Peanuts” cartoon in which Lucy asks Charlie Brown, “Did you ever know anyone who was really happy…” Before she can finish the question, Snoopy comes dancing into the next frame. As only Snoopy can, he dances his merry way across the frames while Lucy and Charlie watch in amazement. In the last frame Lucy finishes her question, “Did you ever know anyone who was really happy… and was still in their right mind?”

It is hard to find a happy person. When they encounter you may they have found one. 

One of Paul’s favorite words is the Greek word hilarotes, from which we get the word hilarity. It literally means “laughter from the heart.”

He means bone-deep, blood-rich, exuberant laughter which comes up out of the depths of a person’s soul, joy which flows from the center of our being, happiness coming from the depth of our hearts.

Holy hilarity is born out of deep, inner peace; peace which passes all understanding; peace which comes from knowing that we are really loved and accepted by God.

It comes from having a biblical perspective of life. It begins by realizing as Jesus said, “These things I have spoken to you, that in Me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation; but be of good cheer, I have overcome the world.” (“John 16:33) Notice in the text tribulation is sandwiched between peace and good cheer. Face it, life is hard, but “we also glory in tribulations, knowing that tribulation produces perseverance…” (Romans 5: 3)

Like Paul we must realize,“Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword?” (Romans 8:35)

We must be “rejoicing in hope, patience in tribulation, continuing steadfastly in prayer…” (Romans 12:12)

In these texts perseverance and patients are essential traits amid tribulation. Lets pray for peace and good times and prepare for difficulty. Consider yourself in prep school getting ready for a tribulation examination.  In your right mind find the good in life and enjoy it while exercising holy hilarity. 

Take the council offered in a modern translation of Proverbs 15:13, “A glad heart makes a happy face; a broken heart crushes the spirit.”

Elevate Your Attitude Of Gratitude

Thanksgiving is a great holiday. It celebrates no birth, no battle, and no anniversary of one of our national heros. It is essentially the celebration of the condition of the heart. It is a pilgrimage into one’s inner self looking for an attitude of gratitude.

It can and should morph from a holiday to a lifestyle. Most folks have about the same amount of good and bad things happen to them. We tend to think no one has it as bad as we. In reality optimists and pessimists are subject to the same pressures of life. I have known some good looking, intellectual, wealthy pessimists. Conversely, I have known some optimists who were living below the poverty line in poor health. They know what the expression “a sacrifice of thanksgiving” is all about. 

Let this holiday season motivate you to a new and elevated attitude of gratitude. Doesn’t it make you feel good to be thanked for something? Well, it does others also. If you want to make others feel good, express thanks to them even for little things. Cultivate an attitude of gratitude.

Who would find it meaningful to receive a call or note from you expressing thanks for something? It may be current or a long overdue expression.

While you are expressing thanks, don’t forget to thank the God of all blessings. After all, He was the one our Pilgrim predecessors had in mind at the first celebration.

Often I read something and think I wish I had written that. Just because someone else writes something is no reason for not repeating it if proper credit is given. My wife clipped and shared such a piece from “Family Circle,” November 11, 1999. It is too good not to share.

I AM THANKFUL FOR ….

… the mess to clean up after a party because it means I have been surrounded by friends.

… the taxes I pay because it means that I’m employed. 

… the complaining I hear about our government because it means I have freedom of speech.

… the clothes that fit a bit tight because that means I have had enough to eat.

… my shadow that watches me work because it means the sun is shining.

… the parking space at the far end of the parking lot because it means I have the ability to walk.

… my heating bill because it means I have been warm. 

… the lady behind me in church who sings off key because it means I can hear.

… the piles of laundry because it means my loved ones are nearby.

… the weariness and aching muscles at the end of a day because it means I have been active.

… the lawn that needs mowing, windows that need cleaning

and gutters that need fixing because it means I have a home.

… the alarm that goes off in the early morning hours because it means I am alive.”

“Praise the Lord. Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good; his love endures forever.” (Psalm 106:1)

Come Ye Thankful People, Come

Thanksgiving is a purely American holiday. However, the present generation of Americans often show little gratitude to God. By reflecting on conditions of the first Thanksgiving, it is obvious they didn’t give thanks because things were so good. They did it simply because of the condition of their hearts. Dispositionally they were thankful people. People are not thankful because they give thanks. They give thanks because they are thankful. Likewise, it is not happy people who are thankful, it is thankful people who are happy.

Thanksgiving is a critical season from the perspective of the faith community. It tests us. Many things in our society stimulate discontent, not thanksgiving. The advertising world stimulates discontent among us. A broad based philosophy among us is: “More is better, but more is never enough.”

Never let the things you want make you unmindful of the things you have.

Most things that give us a burst of “happiness” are relatively unimportant. Like the Pilgrims, thanksgiving results for a sense that God loves us and is willing to take care of us. They could give thanks because they had a deep confidence God was with them. This verse by John Greenleaf Whitter confirms this: 

I do not know where His islands lift
Their fonded palms in air;
I only know I cannot drift
Beyond His loving care.”

Verses like the following gave them a sense that God had His hand under them and was capable of caring for them. “He spared not His own Son, but delivered Him up for us all, how shall He not with Him also freely give us all things.”  (Romans 8:32) 

Unthankful people tend to be negative and critical. Their ingratitude blocks the view of bountiful blessings. Most new days find us surrounded by an unfolding field of blessing. Enjoy the view and inhale the fragrance. Count your many blessings, name them one by one, and it will surprise you what God has done. Sing it. A word of thanks or a song of praise can unlock even the prison of depression. It is therapeutic. 

Even if heavily laden, thank God for giving you the strength to keep going.

There is always, always, always something for which to be thankful. The prophet Habakkuk wrote:

Though the fig tree may not blossom, Nor fruit be on the vines;
Though the labor of the olive may fail, And the fields yield no food;
Though the flock may be cut off from the fold, And there be no herd in the stalls
Yet I will rejoice in the LORD, I will joy in the God of my salvation.”

(Habakkuk 3:17-18)

May this season remind you of this.