How cults operate

In 1939, American journalist Virginia Cowles went to Russia. Two years later, she wrote about what she saw in Looking For Trouble.

After a few days of trying in vain to get Russians to talk with her, Cowles found out why they were afraid. Stalin had just killed untold millions of his own people for what he called anti-Communistic actions. Some of those actions were nothing more than studying a foreign language or befriending a foreigner. Consequently, people were afraid to speak to any stranger.

Cowles then gives us her analysis of life in that sad country:

The chief distinction between man and animal is the critical faculty of the human mind. In the Soviet Union–just as in Germany–the critical faculty was carefully exterminated, so that the mass might sweat out their existence as uncomplainingly as oxen, obedient to the tyranny of the day. Truth was a lost word. Minds were doped with distorted information until they became so sluggish they had not even the power to protest against their miserable conditions. The ‘Pravda’ never tired of revealing to its readers the iniquities of the outside world, always pointing (out) how blessed were the people of the Soviet Union.

This is precisely how religous cults operate. They cannot stand for their people to think for themselves, have independent opinions, or ask troublesome questions. Dissension is treated as rebellion and rebellion gets you ousted.

By the word “cult,” I do not mean bad people. In fact, personally, in using the word I don’t mean all those off-beat groups that appear on the religious landscape from time to time. By “cult,” I mean variations of Christianity that claim they and they alone have the truth and all the rest of us are either deceived or deceitful.

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How to clean out a garage–and unclutter your life

(This was first posted in 2009 as I was preparing to retire from the active, paid ministry. I’ve tweaked it a little. –JM)

Margaret and I were talking about my upcoming retirement from this position with our association. I said, “What do you want me to do when I retire?” She said, “Clean out the garage.”

And then? “The attic,” she said.

My wife has learned to lower her expectations concerning tasks around the house by her spouse of nearly 47 years.

The other day, our oldest son Neil was over. He’s being ordained as a deacon in our church on Sunday night, April 5.  We’re all excited; if ever a man had a servant heart, he does.  He said, “I decided that being ordained deserves a new suit, so I’m going to treat myself.” After suggesting a good men’s store, I said, “I’ll give you some financial assistance on that suit if you will help me clean out the garage.”

Sneaky, huh.

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Anybody can love good folks; our business is tougher than that!

Fred Harvey was a name almost every American knew in the late 1800s and early 1900s. This son of Britain had come to America and made his mark in the food industry. Working with the Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe Railroad, he built a chain of restaurants across the great Southwest which became legendary for their commitment to quality and their devotion to the customer.

In his book, Appetite for America: How Visionary Businessman Fred Harvey Built a Railroad Hospitality Empire That Civilized the Wild West, Stephen Fried says Harvey originated the first national chain of restaurants, of hotels, of newsstands, and of bookstores–“in fact, the first national chain of anything–in America.”

You may be familiar with the Judy Garland movie The Harvey Girls (1946), which illustrated another innovation of Fred Harvey’s. He recruited single young women in the East, then sent them to work in his restaurants from Kansas City to California. In doing so, he inadvertently provided wives for countless westerners and helped to populate a great segment of the USA.

All of this is just so we can relate one story from the book.

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The last lesson of Ravi Zacharias

By this deed, you have given great occasion to the enemies of the Lord to blaspheme….  (2 Samuel 12:14).

I loved the writings and messages of the late Ravi Zacharias.  In 2009, when I discovered that a longtime friend, whose wife had at one time been my secretary, was working for Dr. Zacharias, I contacted him and we had a great phone visit.  Since I had none of the books RZ had written, my friend sent me several.  I loved them and quoted from them often.

Ravi Zacharias was a powerful voice for theism, a effective apologist for the Christian faith, and a comfort to believers everywhere.  He was, that is, until he wasn’t.

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Those of whom the Lord is not ashamed

“Wherefore God is not ashamed to be called their God” (Hebrews 11:16).

Sometimes a verse of Scripture gets under our skin and burrows itself deep inside and will not leave us alone.  This is such a text for me.

It comes right in the middle of a tribute to some Old Testament citizens who nailed the faith thing.  By faith Noah built an ark. By faith Abraham left home without a clue where he would end up. By faith Moses walked away from the palace and threw his lot in with the Hebrew slaves.

By faith.

Faith means a) I have evidence but b) still have questions.

Faith means a) I believe in the Lord God but b) there are still some parts of the puzzle missing.

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Mediocrity: Not how you want to live

“…you are lukewarm, neither hot nor cold…” (Revelation 3:16)

Mediocrity is a warm blanket.

Mediocrity is remaining with the bunch that finishes neither early or late, that turns in work much like everyone else’s, that is satisfied with pretty good.

Mediocrity is the head in the sand when the storm is raging around us.

Close your eyes until it all blows over.

Mediocrity is the coward’s way out when life-or-death decisions are being made.  “Well, let’s give this some more thought.”  “Let’s not be too hasty here.”  “We don’t want people to think we’re extremists.”

There’s the appearance of safety in mediocrity.  We’re like everyone around us.  We don’t stand out.  No one criticizes us. They don’t even see us.  We blend into the landscape.

Our English word mediocre comes from two Latin words, medi meaning “halfway,” and ocris meaning “mountain.”  Somewhere there is a list of everyone climbing to the crest of Mount Everest.  But no one ever bothered to note those who got half way up and turned around for home.

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The room in your home no one knows about

“I’ve got a secret!”  –Popular television game show of the 1960s and 1970s.

A man I know once wrote of the secrets his family was harboring as they struggled to deal with an addictive, out-of-control relative.

“You know how the family gets ready to host a guest and the house is clean and in order and nothing out of place?  The guest is impressed.  He wishes his house could be this neat and organized with nothing out of place.”

“But what he doesn’t know is that there is one room where you have stored all the junk and clutter.  If he were to open the door to that room, he would be amazed.”

That, he said, is how things are for a family that tries to keep up an image when they are about to come apart.

They push things back into that private room, whose door they dare not open.

It’s about family secrets.

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Getting rid of some statues is biblical

The Bible endorses monuments of some kinds and condemns others.

They erected a pile of stones a day’s journey from the Jordan as a reminder of God’s leadership during the Exodus.  In fact, they even set up a similar pile in the middle of the Jordan so that, in times of drouth when the water level dropped, everyone would see that as a reminder that God led them through those dark days.

They set up a stone memorial and called it Ebenezer, “stone of help,” as a testimony to God’s provisions.  They had no “graven images,” of course, but they had plenty of other memorials.

They tore down altars to false gods, statues of false gods, and relics used in worshiping those gods.

And they sometimes destroyed something that had been good and noble and holy.  Yep.  Sometimes, they destroyed a good thing.

Please read on.

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The leader who has never learned discipline is big trouble

Now, no chastening seems to be joyful for the present, but painful; nevertheless, afterward it yields the peaceable fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it.  (Hebrews 12:11)

You will know the name Jimmy Doolittle.

He flew bi-planes in World War I for the United States, and then barn-stormed throughout the 1920’s, thrilling auiences by taking risks you would not believe. He led the retaliatory bombing of Tokyo in early 1942, a few months after Japan bombed Pearl Harbor. He played a major role in the Allied victory over the Axis, eventually becoming a General. His autobiography is titled I Could Never Be So Lucky Again.  It’s well worth reading.

Doolittle and his wife Joe (that’s how they spelled her name) had two sons, Jim and John, both of whom served in the Second World War.

The general wrote about the younger son:

John was in his plebe year at West Point and the upperclassmen were harassing him no end…. While the value of demeaning first-year cadets is debatable, I was sure “Peanut” could survive whatever they dreamed up. (p. 284)

Later, General Doolittle analyzes his own strengths and weaknesses and makes a fascinating observation:

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Some of our heroes never fired a shot at the enemy

These are days when heroes abound.  Doctors and nurses and support staff wage war against an invisible enemy taking the lives of thousands worldwide.  Equally heroic are the men and women who run the risks of infection in order to drive the trucks and stock the stores, serve the public, and keep us safe. Each is a hero.

“As his share who goes down to the battle, so shall his share be who stays by the baggage: they shall share alike” (I Samuel 30:24).

When Roland Q. Leavell returned home from the “Great War” in Europe–-i.e.,  the First World War–he had a problem.  People wanted to hear stories of the war, of battles, of heroism. He had none.

Roland Q. Leavell was in his 20s, single, and with a bachelor’s degree from seminary.  He had pastored small churches and had been sent to “the front” as a representative of the YMCA.  In those days, there was no USO to take care of American troops overseas, and fledgling organizations and ministries were still trying to figure these things out.

According to Dottie L. Hudson’s book “He Still Stands Tall: The Life of Roland Q. Leavell,” based on her father’s diaries, Roland did a hundred small things in that war:  He led Bible studies, he counseled soldiers, he ran a canteen, he taught French to a few soldiers, and he drove an ambulance.  At one point, he inhaled poisonous gas the Germans sprayed into the air. The one time he shot a gun was as a joke, pointed into the air across no-man’s-land.  “I guess I didn’t kill over 50,” he remarked in his diary.

And when he got home, people wanted to hear his stories.

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