Tuesday, October 31, 2017

For My Savior Loves Me So

A while back, we got a frantic call from a very concerned friend. Someone we all knew and loved was thinking of converting to Catholicism, and could Brett and I intervene? Of course we would, I told the caller. But the following twenty-four hours were awful. First, I was in shock. Then anger. Then weeping. By nighttime, I fell into bed in a catatonic slump. In short, I went through all the stages of grief in one terrible day.

My faith in the Lord was not rocked. I was, and still am, confident of His absolute sovereignty over salvation. If this dear one was elect, then this dear one would be saved. But if this dear one chose Catholicism, make no mistake. We would have no choice but to regard this person as apostate.

The conversation got very intense before it ended. "You're not being very respectful," the person said to me.
I nearly shot vertically out of my chair. "I'm not here to respect you; I'm here to warn you!" I retorted.
I am happy to say that it was the Holy Spirit, not Brett and I, who intervened. But that was a close call. And I will never understand why someone would willingly choose the heavy torment of Catholicism for the light, easy yoke of Jesus.

I will also never understand gospel Christians who are grateful for their salvation but dismiss the Reformation as a minor quibble, a thing of the past, and shrug at the Christian gospel of grace and the Catholic gospel of terror as the same gospel.

How can the same gospel rest on:
faith alone and not faith alone
grace alone and not grace alone
Christ alone and not Christ alone?
I'll answer that. It can't.

Gospel Christian, your ecumenical kumbayah has got to stop. You're certainly not representing the gospel well with your mushy imprecision. And if you think you're doing anyone any favors, think again. Gospel Christian, this one's for you.
------------------
I love Reformation Day. I love it as much as I love Christmas. And if you were tormented for the first thirty years of your life before you understood the doctrines of grace brought back by the Reformation, you'd probably be the same Reformation geek as I am.

I am the collateral damage of Catholicism. My parents were saved when I was almost three and promptly left Catholicism. They shared the gospel with me and took me to church. We did family devotions, and both my parents model a vibrant, serious walk with the Lord. I stand on their faithful shoulders. Still, I walked in the shadow of Catholicism. My parents often spoke of the constant, pervasive guilt and were careful to guard against that in our home. But the horrific fact is that I was taught that, although I was saved, I could lose my salvation. And I was taught that because they were taught that. (You can take the Catholic out of Catholicism, but it is very difficult to take Catholicism out of the ex-Catholic.)

But mine is not the only story of torment. Here are three more examples. All of them are true; all of them are either friends of mine or of my children. They are merely representative of millions of other stories.

Example One:
An adult daughter of mine is speaking with a friend about how much she is looking forward to heaven. The friend, who is a serious, well-catechized Catholic, responds, "It must be nice to be sure where you are going." Imagine that terror. Imagine going to sleep every night without the confidence of heaven. You want to be there, but you aren't sure you've done enough to actually get there.

Example Two:
A Catholic young lady's father is abandoned by her mother after years of the mother's adulterous relationships. As an officially divorced man, her father is barred from Holy Communion. But according to Catholic doctrine, to remain in right standing with God, one must participate in the Mass. Add to that the additional horror and heartbreak when the young lady is married in a Catholic wedding, and he is not able to fully participate. Imagine the terror. Imagine your understanding is that you must jump through the Mass hoop, and now, through no fault of your own, you are prevented.

Example Three:
A Catholic friend asks for prayers of repose for a deceased loved one. What is a prayer of repose? It is offered in hopes of getting that person to heaven. Sometimes, says the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, the prayer must be said many times. Well, which times must they be said many times? And how many times is many times? And when do we know that many times is enough? What does it mean that we do not grieve as others grieve if it does not mean that we have a great amount of assurance about that loved one's salvation? What kind of gospel doesn't take the sting out of death?

If you read these true stories and your heart doesn't hurt, check for a pulse. What ISIS is to the Middle East, Catholicism is to the human soul.  How dare we gospel Christians defend, legitimize, or validate this gospel of terror?

The gospel of Jesus tells me: We stand on Scripture alone, not man's wisdom.
The gospel of terror tells me: Scripture is not enough; I need a sanctioned interpreter.

The gospel of Jesus tells me: We stand through Faith alone, nothing we earn.
The gospel of terror tells me: Faith is not enough; I must add penance.

The gospel of Jesus tells me: We stand by Grace alone, nothing we accomplish.
The gospel of terror tells me: Grace is not enough; I must add my own merit.

The gospel of Jesus tells me: We stand in Christ alone, no other mediator.
The gospel of terror tells me: Christ's righteousness is not enough; I must add my own infused righteousness.

The gospel of Jesus tells me: We stand for God's glory alone, not for our praise.*
The gospel of terror is accessorized with pride. Well, yeah. After I'm done adding my penance, my merit, and my infused righteousness, what do I need a savior for?

The Reformation demonstrates that God is still writing the history of His people, long after the canon of scripture closed.

The Reformation demonstrates Remnant. God has always had and will always have a Remnant of gospel Christians. And He is in the business of preserving us. The Reformation demonstrates Return. When we are faithless, He is faithful. He will always return His covenant people to His Truth. And--my favorite--the Reformation means Rest. He did the work of salvation, and then He pursued me and brought me to repentance. I rest in the finished work of Christ.

When I fear my faith will fail...
When the tempter would prevail...
I could never keep my hold...
For my love is often cold...
Those He saves are His delight...
Precious in His holy sight...
He'll not let my soul be lost...
Bought by Him at such a cost...
He will hold me fast, He will hold me fast,
For my Savior loves me so.
He will hold me fast.**

Why will Jesus keep me when my love is cold, when I give in to tempation, when I am faithless?
Because He loves me. And He will finish what He started.

If you are living under a heavy yoke and are terrorized about your standing with God, if you keep asking, how much merit is enough merit? or how can I rest in my salvation? let's talk.
If you are resting in the Truths of the Reformation and the glorious gospel of grace, then on this 500th anniversary, may you have a wonderful, joyous Reformation Day!

He made Him who knew no sin to be sin on our behalf, so that we might become the righteousness of God in Him. 2 Corinthians 5:21
For I am confident of this, that He who began a good work in you will perfect it until the day of Christ Jesus. Philippians 1:6

Amen.
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*Thanks to Together for the Gospel, 2016 for the 'alone' wording.
**He Will Hold Me Fast, Ada Habershon, Matthew Merker, 2013.

Saturday, October 7, 2017

Rock On With Your Bad Self

We had a day this past month.
A. 
day. 
A day when the Accused (progeny) were brought up before the Tribunal (parents) for Crimes Against Humanity (sibling).
--------------------------------------
"Rock on with your bad self."

True story. Ten years ago. I got into it with a friend. Admittedly, I didn't open the discussion with the best wisdom. Flinging accusation, even when you are sure you are right, is never a good strategy. Badly done, Noel; badly done. But when I wanted to meet and reconcile, that was the response. Rock on with your bad self. I read it the first thirty-seven times with my chin on my desk. I guess if an offended brother is harder to scale than a city wall...this is what it looks like. Eventually, the shock wore off, and I resumed life sadly without my old friend. Today, almost a decade later, Brett and I are able to see the humor. We treat it like a farewell. As in, "Hey," (point your finger, wink your eye, and click your tongue) "Rock on with your bad self." Or as in the other night when we were drifting off to sleep, and Brett whispered, 'Hey. Rock on with your bad self.' I snorted. 'If she only knew the mileage we've gotten out of that.'

But the experience begged a question. How do you get to be old enough to produce little critters in your own image, and yet you're not able to have functional adult relationships???????

Back to the the day...
Brett and I sat there on the day this past month talking with Progeny A and Progeny B about how they had demolished Progeny C, and I was mad as a hornet. But here was the kicker. When I explained how hurt Progeny C was, Progeny B said, 'Well, that's not what I meant.'
'Well, that's what Progeny C heard,' I said.
'Well, that's not what I meant,' was the repeated reply.

Me: Position noted. But now that you know how it was received, it would be a good idea to go back and have a conversation and clarify that.
B: No.
!!!!!!
Me, barely keeping a lid on it: Why would you NOT seek to clarify, especially since this relationship is now damaged?
B: Because C won't listen.
!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
Me, wobbly, wobbly lid: How do you know that?
B, responding with the sagely wisdom of all progeny: 'Cuz.
AAAAHHHH!!!!!!!!
Me: Your relationship hangs in the balance here. Progeny C is worth the conversation.

My point is this. As I sat there listening to Progeny B rationalize, I had the 'aha!' moment. This was it. This is the place where some people get stunted in their growth, and their ability to have relationships never progress beyond this. This is the moment when they learn to quit. And no parent is telling them to persevere. Well, my progeny, that's not going to happen in my house. Get back in the game, and have this relationship. This is how you adult.

What's more, in a weird little coincidence--or was it Providence?--Brett told them after we were done talking that he had to leave to handle a relationship where there had been offense.
Practicing what he preaches.
Heading into (not running away from) the breaches.
Adulting in relationships. Like a boss.

Ten years ago, I got this follow-up email after the now infamous 'Rock On' one: We've decided this relationship is no longer worth pursuing, but I want to take communion, so I forgive you.
Ah, she was always refreshingly honest, that one.
Me: Why don't you want to get this right?
Her: 'Cuz.

It's like we are genuinely surprised by misunderstandings or conflict, and we think not reconciling is a valid Christian option. And yet...given the fact that God tells us to be ministers of reconciliation, to go to the brother who has offended us, to forgive one another, I rather doubt He is of the same mind. It's almost like God knew that reconciliation would be part and parcel of the Christian life. Hmm.

I am reminded of what a home schooling mentor told me twenty years ago about teaching a child to read. 'Relax. Is it more important for your child to read when they are 4 years old or when they are 24 years old?'

When it comes to relationships, I think the same reasoning applies. We must teach our children the art of reconciliation now, not so much because we want them to have healthy relationships at age 4, but because we want them to have healthy adult relationships when they are 24. And 34. And 44.

Back to the Tribunal. The discussion continued for about an hour. It was not a fun day. But reconciliation is happening. It still smarts a little bit, and it is requiring an investment of time and effort and heart-attitude checks, but the sting is going away. And my Mom-heart is so proud of my kiddos.

Those from among you will rebuild the ancient ruins; you will raise up the age-old foundations. And you will be called the repairer of the breach, the restorer of the streets in which to dwell. Isaiah 58:12

Repair the breaches.
Either that or (point, click, wink) rock on with your bad self.

Saturday, August 5, 2017

Are you thinking correctly about your statement of faith?

It's that time of year when not only is school starting but also all the extra-curriculars. Some of them will be purely secular, like city leagues and music lessons. Some of them will be explicitly Christian, either for community outreach or for the equipping of young saints. More specifically, those that are intended to equip the saints will generally require a statement of faith for the purpose of demonstrating a unity among its members and for holding them generally accountable to the same standard.

And this is where things, in recent years, have gone very wrong. I've been involved in enough activities through the years to notice a disturbing trend which has abandoned a traditional statement of faith in favor of a creed. And other parents are starting to get concerned, as well.

Now let's talk about creeds. Let's talk about the Nicene Creed. The Council of Nicea met in 325 to combat the Arian heresy that erroneously taught that Jesus was a created being, rather than an eternal, co-equal member of the Trinity. And the Nicene Creed is good; it is very, very good.

But what it is not is a statement of faith.

Elevating the Nicene Creed to a statement of faith, which it was never intended to be, dilutes and reduces the gospel that unifies all true Christians. An organization which unifies only on the Nicene Creed tells its member families, "Welcome. We have all agreed here that we are not Arians."

Well, yippee.

Standing on a creed as the sum unifying total of our faith is like standing on air. We are not to unify on nothing; we are to unify on the Truth.

What about the nature of God? What about the nature of man? salvation? the authority of the Bible? These are the non-negotiables of the gospel. These define which gospel we believe. The gospel is simple. But the gospel is precise. And if you and I can't agree on these non-negotiables, it's safe to say that at least one of us is not a true believer.

Leaders, you need to decide what kind of group you are leading.
If you are leading a group whose goal is to equip young saints, be that with sports skills, speaking skills, artistic skills, etc...or...
If you are leading a group that has "Christian" in its title or subtitle...
you better have a statement of faith which reflects the Christian gospel and all of its non-negotiables. Gospel parents will expect that of you.

Parents, you need to decide what kind of group you want to join. If your expectation is that you will be with like-minded parents who are also raising gospel kids, you need to spend more than a nanosecond reading that group's statement of faith. It will help you avoid unpleasant discoveries among the membership after you've already invested money and time--and your children.

And if the group you lead or join can't come up with anything better than the Nicene Creed, don't be surprised when your membership isn't anything more than non-Arians.

Hold the line, saints. Hold the line.

Tuesday, August 1, 2017

Enmity

He (the ungodly) does not despise evil. Psalm 36:4

It finally hit me about a year ago. We are a 'better late than early' family. When I compare what we set before our children when, whether that be facts or books or entertainment, we expose our children much later than most of our peers. We're rather cautious about foundations.

It's why we don't talk about mythology until we've first hammered Old-Testament-as-history (not allegory).
Because in the beginning, God.
Not
In the beginning, Greece.

It's why Brett intervened when someone tried to hand our twelve year old a Michael Crichton book.
'But Mr. A, it's a good book.'
'No, Eddie.'
'But Mr. A...'
'No, Eddie.'
It's why we don't let them read (insert blockbuster youth fiction of your choice here) until we see a certain level of spiritual maturity.
It's why certain shows we only watch the two of us, some with the older kids, and some shows we don't watch at all.

In short, there are topics/books/entertainment they aren't equipped to handle until we see them cultivate a distaste, an enmity, for things that set themselves up in opposition to God.

About a week ago, I was enjoying a quiet time in my back yard. But I did a vertical jump when a snake slithered onto the scene. Admittedly, I had a momentary, 'Oh maybe I should just let it pass.' But it was quickly countered. 'Hey, this is my yard. I am lord and master of this plot of land; you are a usurper. And at over five feet long, you are taller than two of the imago dei's who play out here.'  Add to that the fact that one of my children was actually bitten by a snake in my own yard, and I have an unapologetic malice toward snakes. Ciao, baby.

That's what a good, old fashioned Garden of Eden enmity does: You've brought harm here before. There will be no second chances.

And that's what I was thinking about when a conversation arose about entertainment. We don't seem to be cultivating enough enmity in our homes. We seem to do pretty well at seeking to love what God loves. But I don't think we are doing quite as well at hating what God hates.

I was a huge fan of 24. But I remember the episode in which hero Jack Bauer is instructed to kill one of his superiors to prevent the bad guy from doing much greater harm. I remember watching in amazement as Jack hauled this guy to an abandoned rail yard and shot him point blank in the back of the head. And I remember sitting there thinking, "This better not be what it appears. This hero better not have just taken life in cold blood for the greater good. There better be a twist in this story." There wasn't. But here's the greater issue. God hates utilitarianism. God hates murder. Do I hate it with the same hatred? The bad news: I didn't stop watching immediately. The good news: I stopped seeing Jack as good, and I eventually stopped watching.

Let's face it. We can get pretty good at waxing intellectual about our entertainment choices. Dr. Michael Wittmer, writing for last month's edition of Table Talk, scoffs at the notion that Christians
may view movies filled with violence, profanity, and sexual immorality as long as they watch 'with discernment'--which is often code for 'watch whatever you want as long as you spot the Christ figure or the tortured soul yearning for redemption.'
I laughed out loud. Wittmer nailed it! File it under 'literary criticism,' and anything goes.

I know I'm in dangerous territory here, talking about Christians and entertainment. I have an acquaintance whose default, when two Christians disagree, is:
Hey, they're both Christians. Therefore, this must be an issue of liberty.
Contrast that with my own default when two Christians disagree:
Hey, they disagree. Therefore, this must be an issue of sin.

I'm not writing a new law. I happily acknowledge that our rules are house rules, and that other houses have other rules. Both my acquaintance and I need to rely less on our own defaults and more on our daily, hourly need for wisdom. Sometimes entertainment is an issue of liberty. But if there's a Snake in your home, you need to cut off its head.

The ungodly does not despise evil. He has not cultivated any enmity for evil. He does not hate what God hates. Unfortunately, similar statements can too often be made of the godly. The godly often treats entertainment the way I was momentarily tempted to treat the snake. 'Oh, maybe I'll just let it be.' So I will leave us all with a question to ponder.

Should I, who have been purchased by the precious blood of Jesus, I, the slave of righteousness, have an appetite for entertainment that is substantially different from the appetite of the reprobate?
Yes or no?

Saturday, July 15, 2017

I've Finally Decided My Future Lies...

I realize that some of my readers, like some of my loved ones, are concrete and prefer that I spell things out. So...

I will not be devoting another jot of space on this blog to politics. And that is because I will not be devoting another moment of my life to it, either.

I am done with politics. When I say I'm done, I mean that in the way an addict is done with heroine. It's not that I don't care; it's that I care way too much. I am done with it dominating my life. I realize that government was God's idea and that makes government inherently good. But politics was man's idea. It is at once above me and beneath me. It is at once wonderful and terrible.

In the immortal words of Elton John:
Maybe you'll get a replacement.
There's plenty like me to be found.

Like a heroine addict,  I will be filling the void with better things. Rather than work for temporal things that pass away--like nations--I will be working for eternal things.

But I've finally decided my future lies here: wife, mom, friend, sheologian, member of my church and The Church, reader of books, observer of culture.

And those are the kinds of things you will see on this blog. Actually, I've already had requests from people in different places for specific topics.

Now. Where was I?

Friday, July 7, 2017

Fear Not, Little Flock (or Galadriel's Choice, Pt. 2)

But Christianity has never depended on the success or failure of the empires that wax and wane. The 'crisis of Western civilization' is not the same as the 'crisis of Christianity.' Reformed theology, as we have seen, has long been a critic of the idolatries of the former and can continue to guide our response to the current situation. ( Michael Horton, Revelation and Reason, 148)
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Sometimes, I wish I lived in Middle Earth.
I want to be a hobbit. I want my chair by the fire, my elevensies, and my books.
I want to be a dwarf. I want to be unbudging, fierce, and loyal.
I want to be an ent. I want to live quietly, speak slowly, and act consciously.

But if I can't live in Middle Earth, I at least want to bring as much of it here as I can. Tolkien, writing after his experience in the Great War, fairly explodes with wisdom about good and evil. How could he not after what he witnessed in World War I? We are still in a war--and his wisdom is still explosive.

It would be silly for me to base any belief, no matter how sincerely held, on a work of fiction--and a fantasy work, moreover.  But all things work together, including unrelated books, it seems, for our good.(I know; that was bad. But let's go with it, for now.) And just as I was coming to the end of my adventure in Middle Earth, I was beginning my adventure in Covenantal (or 'presuppositional') Apologetics.

Enter Revelation and Reason: New Essays in Reformed Apologetics, edited by K. Scott Oliphint and Lane G. Tipton, which turned out to be one amazing, mind-blowing ride.

Netted out, covenantal apologetics correctly explains that every human is in covenant with God (Genesis 1-2). Then the Fall happened, which meant a total fall in heart-mind-soul-strength (Genesis 3). The result, then, is that all humans are now knowing-but-suppressing (Romans 1), unless and until there is such a time when they are saved and restored to a right covenant relationship with God.

Bottom line: there are exactly two kinds of humans on this earth, covenant-breakers and covenant-keepers. There is no such thing as a middle category of people who are 'seekers.' There is no such thing as a man whose will and affections are fallen, but whose reason is intact. All men--ALL OF US--are either covenant-keepers who love God or covenant-breakers who hate God. That would not just include the terrorist or the criminal. That would also include the dear little old lady down the street, the milkman, and the guy running for political office.

Covenant-keepers are friends of God.
Covenant-breakers are weapons of the Enemy.
Yes, Virginia, it really is that simple.

Therefore, what justification can a covenant-keeper possibly offer for using a weapon of the Enemy? Michael Horton offers some wisdom here:
"Fear not, little flock, for it your Father's good will to give you the kingdom." (Luke 12:32) They had less trouble believing they were a little flock than we do. We're still fairly invested in the vanishing legacy of Christendom. Many of us can remember when the Church had considerable cultural and political clout. Now our solemn political pronouncements and moral sentiments are largely ignored. Yet once we are convicted that Jesus Christ has already secured our victory over Satan, death, and hell, we can take a deep breath and be the little flock that He has already redeemed, doing what He has called us to do. It is marvelously liberating no longer to imagine that we have to build or preserve a kingdom that Christ is not building in the first place. (Horton, Ordinary, 120)
We in the West can be deceived into thinking that the survival God's Kingdom and God's people is directly tied to the survival of civilization. That is a big, fat lie. And that is to forget the history of our people. Civilization has not preserved the Remnant; God has. He has preserved His people under Pharaohs, Emperors, Kings, and Czars. He has preserved us from popes and imams and ideological despots. And when every last civilization (and cult and ideology and philosophy and pretension and argument) crumbles into oblivion, the Bride will still be standing. Why? Because it is our Father's good will to give us the kingdom.

Decades before Michael Horton, J. Gresham Machen Professor of Theology and Apologetics at Westminster Seminary California, verbalized it, Galadriel, Elf-Lady of Lothlorien, Middle Earth and Keeper of One of the Three Elven Rings, already knew it: it is marvelously liberating no longer to imagine that we have to build or preserve a kingdom that Christ is not building in the first place.

And because she knew it, she acted on it. She refused to use the Weapon of the Enemy.
And suddenly, she laughed again, and lo! she was shrunken and a slender elf-woman clad in simple white, whose gentle voice was soft and sad. "I pass the test," she said. "I will diminish and go into the West and remain Galadriel."

So, yeah, I want to be Bilbo or Gimli or Treebeard.
But I would really love to be Galadriel.

Here ends the tale of Galadriel and covenantal apologetics.

Friday, June 30, 2017

Galadriel's Choice

It is virtually impossible for me to read literature divorced from the culture in which I live. So it was culture I kept thinking about during my most recent reading of JRR Tolkien's Lord of the Rings. And, in fact, there was so much there, I finally started making sure I had a pencil on hand every time I picked it up to mark the pivotal parts. (Mom! Are you writing in a book?!?!) For surely, LOTR stuck prophetic tones this time around.

For those unfamiliar with this epic tale, this is a story of the inhabitants of Middle earth--men, elves, dwarves, hobbits, wizards--who are forced into a power struggles with evil forces, a struggle that will decide the fate of their world.  The main character is The One Ring, forged by evil, which grants ultimate power to its bearer. But it is the Weapon of the Enemy. At no time, not even in the hands of good people, does it ever stop being the Weapon of the Enemy.

I am, by turns, amazed or aghast by how the characters thought about The Ring. What follows are my musings, as they were helpful to me in framing one of today's current debates. Please be patient with all the quotes. They add a potency that I could not duplicate.
For few, I deem, know of our deeds, and therefore guess little of their peril, if we should fail at last. Believe not that in the land of Gondor the blood of Numenor is spent, nor all its pride and dignity forgotten. By our valour the wild folk of the East are still restrained, and the terror of Morgul kept at bay; and thus alone are peace and freedom maintained in the lands behind us, bulwark of the West. (Boromir, Fellowship of the Ring, 295)
The last free place in Middle Earth on the borders of Morgul, stronghold of evil, Gondor has served as a buffer between the evil lord Sauron and the free peoples of Middle Earth. Their men are valiant; they have spilled their blood in defense of freedom; they have kept the world safe for...well, whatever the free peoples of Middle Earth wanted to be kept safe for. So perhaps understandably, Gondor in general, and Boromir specifically, takes a rather utilitarian view of The Ring.
Why do you speak ever of hiding and destroying? Why should we not think that the Great Ring has come into our hands to serve us in the very hour of need? Wielding it the Free Lords of the free may surely defeat the Enemy. That is what he most fears, I deem. The men of Gondor are valiant, and they will never submit; but they may be beaten down. Valour needs first strength, and then a weapon. Let the Ring be your weapon, if it has such power as you say. Take it and go forth to victory! (Fellowship, 299)
See Borormir's assertion here? The Ring doesn't have to be evil--even though it's always only ever been evil. In the hands of good men, the Weapon of the Enemy can be used for good. Ladies and gentlemen, his logic is lost on me. Boromir is a good and valiant man. But he is myopic. The question is...why?
For you seem ever to think of its power only in the hands of the enemy: of its evil uses, not of its good. The world is changing, you say. Minas Tirith will fall, if the Ring lasts. But why? Certainly if the Ring were with the Enemy. But why, if it were with us?
He continues, True hearted men will not be corrupted. We of Minas Tirith have been staunch through long years of trial. We do not desire the power of Wizard-lords, only strength to defend ourselves, strength in a just cause and Behold! in our need, chance brings to light the Ring of Power. It is a gift, I say, a gift to the foes of Mordor. It is mad not to use it, to use the power of the Enemy against him. The fearless, the ruthless, those alone will achieve the victory. (Fellowship, 468-69)
And there it is, Boromir's strategy boiled down to one awful principle:
(This is important. Pay attention.) Since, first, true-hearted men cannot be corrupted (a position I find unteneble in the strongest terms) and, second, since said true-hearted men have possession of said weapon, it must therefore be a gift. (A 'gift' logically implies a 'giver.' What can we infer, then, about a Giver who gifts a Weapon of the Enemy?). And if it is a gift, then:
It is mad not to use it, to use the power of the Enemy against him. 

Contrast Boromir with Aragorn:
If Gondor, Boromir, has been a stalwart tower, we have played another part. Many evil things there are that your strong walls and bright swords do not stay. You know little of the lands beyond your bounds. Peace and freedom,do you say? The North would have known them little but for us. Fear would have destroyed them. But when dark things come from the houseless hills, or creep from sunless woods, they fly from us. What roads would any dare to tread, what safety would there be in quiet lands or in the homes of simple men at night, if the Dunedain were asleep,or were all gone into the grave? (Fellowship, 299)
The real battle is not where Boromir thinks it is, and it is not what Boromir thinks it is. The reason Boromir is myopic--and Aragorn is not--is because Boromir's whole world is limited to Gondor, while Aragorn has the broader concern of Middle Earth at heart. Making Gondor great again has made Boromir short-sighted. In the end, that lack of discernment will distract Boromir from responsible alertness. And he will die for it.

But put aside simple Boromir and noble Aragorn, and we still have much to observe in the other characters. In fact, I saw for the first time a common thread running through each of these.

'Verily,' said Gandalf, now in a loud voice, keen and clear, 'that way lies our hope, where sits our greatest fear.' (Two Towers, 143) What could Gandalf possibly mean? It means that 'that way' where the Ring-bearer is headed, not to make use of the Ring but to destroy it in the fires of Mount Doom, that is where all the hope of Middle Earth lies, not in the using of the Weapon of the Enemy, but in the destruction of it.  Further on, he says,
'I do not counsel prudence. I said victory could not be achieved by arms. I still hope for victory, but not by arms. For into the midst of all these policies comes the Ring of Power, the foundation of Barad-dur, and the hope of Sauron. This then, is my counsel. We have not the Ring. In wisdom or in great folly, it has been sent away to be destroyed  lest it destroy us. Without it, we cannot by force defeat his force. But we must at all costs keep  his Eye from his true peril. We cannot achieve victory by arms, but by arms, we can give the Ring-bearer his only chance, frail though it may be. (Towers, 171-72)
Gandalf knows that the weapon of the Enemy must be destroyed. He knows that, by not using the Weapon of the Enemy, free peoples have no hope to defeat the Enemy by force. And he knows that something will inevitably be destroyed: either the Ring or the free people of Middle Earth. Knowing these things, Gandalf gives incredibly sagely counsel:  Distract the Enemy from his true peril, and make sure the Ring-bearer has every opportunity to destroy the Ring. He does not counsel prudence, seizing opportunity, playing it safe, or going for the low-hanging fruit.

What a difference in wisdom between Boromir and Gandalf! But other characters wage private battles with the Ring. Sam, who finds himself in rather awkward possession of the Ring for a brief time feels thus:
No sooner had he come in sight of Mount Doom burning far away, than he was aware of a change in his burden. As it drew near the great furnace where, in the deeps of time, it had been shaped and forged, the Ring's power grew, and it became more fell, untameable save by some mighty will. As Sam stood there, even though the Ring was not on him but hanging by its chain about his neck, he felt himself enlarged, as if he were robed in a huge distorted shadow of himself, a vast and ominous threat halted upon the walls of Mordor. He felt that he had from now on only two choices: to forbear the Ring, though it would torment him, or to claim it, and challenge the Power that sat in its dark hold beyond the valley of shadows. Already the Ring tempted him, gnawing at his will and reason. Wild fantasies arose in his mind: and he saw Samwise the Strong, Hero of the Age, striding with  flaming Sword across the darkened land, and armies flocking to his call as he marched to the overthrow of Barad-dur. And then all the clouds rolled away, and the white sun shone and at his command the vale of Gorgoroth became a garden of flowers and trees and brought forth fruit. He had only to put on the Ring and claim it for his own, and all this could be. (Return of the King, 195)
Dear, guileless Sam. All by himself in the shadow of Mt. Doom, he felt the temptation of the Ring. Why, with the Ring, this little halfling gardener from the Shire could make a real difference! He could do something heroic! He could put on the Ring and overthrow Barad-dur!!! And yet

In that hour of trial, it was the love of his master that helped him most to hold firm. (Return, 196) Can anything be more beautiful than that?

Even regal and wise Galadriel, keeper of one of three Elven Rings, must stand down temptation.
'You will give me the Ring freely. In place of a Dark Lord you shall set up a Queen. And I shall not be dark but beautiful and terrible as the Morning and the Night! Fair as the sea and the sun and the snow upon the Mountain! Dreadful as the Storm and the Lightning! Stronger than the foundations of the earth! All shall love me and despair!' She lifted up her hand and from the ring that she wore there issued a great light that illumined her alone and left all else dark. She stood now before Frodo and seemed now tall beyond measurement and beautiful beyond enduring, terrible and worshipful. Then she let her hand fall, and the light faded and suddenly she laughed again and lo! she was shrunken, a slender elf-woman clad in simple white, whose gentle voice was soft and sad. 'I pass the test,' she said. 'I will diminish and go into the West and remain Galadriel.' (Fellowship, 432)
I will diminish and go into the West and remain Galadriel. Here is one of the most incredible lines in the epic of the Ring. Surely, we cannot charge Galadriel with apathy. But she doesn't want any victory that comes via the Ring--for that would be no victory at all. In short, she chooses to fade; she chooses to die. Dying is a superior choice to dallying with the Enemy.

For dallying with the Weapon of the Enemy is the moral equivalent of dallying with the Enemy Himself.

And the rest echo her choice. (Are you still paying attention? This is still important.) Feel Frodo's nobility as he encourages Sam near the end: 'I do not think we need to give thought to what comes after that. To do the job as you put it--what hope is there that we ever shall? And if we do, who knows what will come of that? If the One goes into the Fire, and we are at hand? I ask you, Sam, are we ever likely to need bread again? I think not. If we can nurse our limbs to bring us to Mount Doom, that is all we can do. (Towers, 273)

And Gandalf, too. 'We must walk open-eyed into that trap with courage but small hope for ourselves. For, my lords, it may well prove that we ourselves shall perish utterly in a black battle far from the living lands; so that even if Barad-dur be thrown down, we shall not live to see a new age. But this, I deem, is our duty.' (Return, 172)

Of course, I am going somewhere with this...