Thursday, March 21, 2013

The Jumping Frog

I think it is interesting to note that we in America are only well united in our purpose and our actions as a country and a people when we are clearly under attack from the outside.  When things are relatively normal we seem to do nothing but bicker about the small (and not so small) issues that surround us daily.  We make little progress on solving those issues because it’s pretty much a guarantee that you will find approximately 50% of the people on each side of the issue. We elect our leaders the same way.  (For instance, it is rare to elect a president with more than even a 2% majority.)

Why do we act this way?  Why does it take a direct and immediate threat from outside our country to galvanize the American spirit into a common cause and a common course of action?  I think some of that is rooted in our human nature itself.  There is an old folk saying that goes something like this: “If you put a frog in hot water, he’ll jump out immediately. If you put a frog in cold water and gradually raise the temperature, you’ll cook the frog.”

Unfortunately, I believe our country is like the frog in cold water.  Through lack of competent leadership and divisive political rhetoric in all positions of our national government (and even many state and local jurisdictions) we seek to demonize the opposition.  Ultimately it leaves us paralyzed and we are destroying ourselves economically and morally.  We need to count the cost of battle as the Old Testament advises. Whether it is politics or marriage partners, we need to seek to treat others as we would have them treat us and negotiate respectfully and productively on the challenges that face us all. 

If you believe the people on only one side of the argument are the problem, you have just become part of the problem.

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Let's All Cruise On Down To Stupidville

Some young football heros in the town of Steubenville, Ohio have garnered a great deal of attention in the news recently. In August of 2012 these boys raped a sixteen-year-old girl at a party while others watched, took photos and video, and even posted the activity on their Facebook pages.  Everyone agrees this was an act of real stupidity. The perpetrators of the actual rape have been found guilty and sentenced to serve time. The Ohio Attorney General has plans to consider charges against those who watched or knew of the crime and failed to come forward or even cooperate with the police investigation.  It looks like he has a good case against some.  School officials who knew of the event had a responsibility to report it and didn’t under the law. The rest of those who failed so miserably to meet a moral standard of common decency will likely not suffer any consequence, because in America you generally aren’t required to do the right thing, like report a crime.

Why is this at all important?  Are we that bad in the United States?  I suspect we generally report crimes pretty effectively. And unless they are being under-reported, it also appears our statistics on rape are not as bad as much of the world.  Compared to France, for instance, they have over 300 times the number of rapes the U.S. has.  Is it that we don’t report rape?  Pakistan says they have no rapes at all in their country. Perhaps they don’t report rape because the woman will be blamed and stoned to death.  Or maybe their habit of dressing in a way that completely covers a woman makes them uninteresting to a would-be rapist. There is no easy answer as to why the statistics vary so much, but one thing is certain. In this instance in Ohio, we were shown a microcosm view of how many of our youth view sex, and how the effect of drugs, alcohol, media, social pressures, poor parenting and the like are affecting our society. 

A few months ago I worked at a Health Fair in front of the cafeteria of the local high school. Across from my display was a pair of cute fifteen-year-old girls demonstrating at their display table how to put a condom on a banana. Perhaps we are sexualizing our youth in ways we never dreamed possible in our continuing politically correct ways of educating them.  One in every four teens has a sexually transmitted disease.  I understand the importance of preventing that.  However, we are emphasizing prevention of disease and pregnancy, and essentially still ratifying the appropriateness of sexual freedom.  In Steubenville’s case it unfortunately was the freedom to rape.

Sadly, in another setting I remember listening to one adult say that doing drugs and alcohol was just a rite of passage for our youth, and another who said they knew people who had sponsored alcohol parties for the underage kids. I also remember listening to my son recently say to me that every girl he knew in his high school class was pregnant out of wedlock within two years of graduation.  Even if his social strata sample is a skewed one, it still is a completely unacceptable and disturbing story.

There is no doubt in my mind that this is also a serious moral and faith based problem in western society where belief in God and adherence to biblical teaching is decreasing every day. Western Europe has been leading the way, and the U.S. is rapidly following suit.

Saturday, March 16, 2013

"Please Put Your Shoes On The Conveyor Belt!"

I was recently at the airport sending a friend off on a flight and couldn’t help but notice the intense level of scrutiny the Transportation Safety Administration officers gave each passenger.  Every piece of luggage, purses, briefcases, shoes, and even a walk-through detection unit…and if you were “lucky” enough you got a very up-close and personal pat-down search. I wondered if such examination were applied to our actions, character and daily lives what would happen?

Do we go through life doing what we do and saying what we say without examining ourselves against a standard?  Sure, it’s a little different when you are looking for a shoe bomb or a gun, but isn’t the principle the same. Does it really matter that you are looking for that line item fudge on your tax return or the thoughtless and hurtful comment to your co-worker?  What if we put our lives through the same level of scrutiny with each day that the TSA does when you board a plane?

I don’t think change or growth is possible without taking the time to first examine the real facts of what we do and who and what we are. I believe God examines us pretty closely, but we, out of a sense of self-preservation, shame and just plain laziness, ignore our failings and shortcomings. Often, we can’t stand the truth. But, if we can’t sit down and face the fact of who we are and what we do that is not good for us and those around us, how can we ever hope to change.

I believe God gives us the strength to change and move on, and He gives us the right to forgive ourselves so that we don’t continue to beat ourselves up for our failings. He also gives us the challenge to be His voice, hands and feet to the world every day in every situation.

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

A Thorny Question

Do you have a thorn in the flesh?  In the New Testament, Paul talks about his prayers to God to take away this thorn in his flesh.  We don’t know exactly what this might have been, but Paul implies a failing eyesight when he mentions that he has written in his letter (to the Galatian church) himself in big letters. My suspicion is that the thorn was, in fact,  his eyesight, and possibly eyesight that was damaged and not completely healed on the road to Damascus when he was blinded by the light from God and asked why he was persecuting followers of Jesus.

Paul said God’s answer to his prayers was “my Grace is sufficient to you,” and never did remove this “thorn.”  God uses people with thorns.  Sometimes I think he uses them more than any person without one, maybe because that drawback has pulled someone closer to God for some reason.

Do you have a thorn? They come in all sizes and types: Physical disability, or perhaps you don’t feel smart enough or talented enough? Maybe you long for a relationship and feel being single is a thorn for you.  I know I’ve felt that way, but we can still be used by God.

Maybe being used by God isn’t high on your list of priorities.  You possibly don’t have much interest in religion and have enough to worry about just surviving in this fast paced and ever changing world.  I can understand that, and I can understand that faith is difficult.  It’s about believing something you can’t empirically prove.  Perhaps the thorn in your flesh is your disbelief. 

Perhaps you are destined to be blinded on the road to Damascus, too.  God does funny things sometimes to get our attention.

Monday, March 11, 2013

Bring Your Dasani Water And Get In The Boat!

Water is an essential for life and a basic building block for civilization and all the economies of the world.  In the Western United States there is an ongoing battle over who gets how much water from rivers and how can we conserve our dwindling water supplies.  I live in a dry area where people fail to hydrate well and actually get sick quickly because of it.  We’re made up of close to 60% water in our bodies.  We float around in a bag of water until we are born.  Water, water everywhere…

Without water everything dies.

Over forty times in the New Testament Jesus is referred to as going out on the water in a boat.  Probably shouldn’t be a big surprise, since he spent so much time in the Galilee region preaching and healing.  The Sea of Galilee is the lowest freshwater lake on earth and an area that was a huge resource for fish supply to the Hebrews as well as the conquering Romans inhabiting the area.  The Romans liked the place enough to rename it Tiberias after their Emperor.  Jesus showed himself to be master of the water.  I used to be a boat patrol officer and know what its like to have waves six feet high on inland lakes.  The Sea of Galilee produces waves as high as twelve feet in a storm…and Jesus quelled them with a word.  Jesus referred to himself as the water of life.  He understood the importance of water.

Without water everything dies.

Jesus even mastered water to the point of walking on it in a raging storm to reach Peter’s boat. (I’ve done it too, but I confess the pond was frozen at the time.)  Peter was apparently pretty impressed and tried to do it when Jesus told him too, but he looked down and realized how crazy it all was.  He lost his focus on the master of water and looked at the water itself.  Jesus had to pull him up and get him back in the boat with Him. I think it is interesting that our church architecture incorporates an area where people sit to listen and it’s call the “nave” of the church.  The word comes from the original “navis” which means “boat” (now you also know where the term “Navy” comes from.)  When we come to church we get out of the water and sit safely in the boat with the God of the universe.  That’s the symbolism.

Without water everything dies, but if you are left in the water you will drown.

Get in the boat.


Monday, March 4, 2013

Peace and Prosperity?

We live in a time when our world is increasing turmoil. People cry out for someone to lead and to be the one who can bring peace and prosperity to mankind.  The problem is that we rely on people to accomplish that.  There is only one source of real peace in the universe.

Leadership has often been bought with blood and bullets throughout history.  That still happens in parts of the world.  We only have to look to Egypt and Libya as prime recent examples, and who knows what will happen with Syria.  In our country, here in America, our leadership is bought with money.  Campaigns produce slick advertisements that rarely reflect the whole truth of their claims.  The hype rarely represents what a candidate truly stands for, and once in office the elected official is beholden to those he who bought and paid for him or her.  He must deliver what they expect, especially if he wants their funding for re-election.  In the extreme, we reach a point where the demands to be rewarded by those who elected a leader are so widespread that the benefits they receive bankrupt the society.  The true problem with democracy is that it only lasts until enough of the electorate figures out that they can vote themselves free stuff by buying leadership and voting in someone who will insure that money is taken away from those who have it and is given to those who don’t have it.  Pretty soon, society collapses economically.

We have no term limits on most of our elected officials, and they continue to be returned to leadership repeatedly.  It becomes a form of “kingship.”They become arrogant with their power and authority and abuse it.  Sometimes the system catches them and they fall from power as a result, but most often it goes unnoticed and unchallenged in America. I believe we are at a tipping point in our society.  We have lots of folks who want free stuff, and lots of politicians who want to remain in power.  It is a deadly combination.  Without more stringent term limits and campaign finance and advertising reform, I believe we are doomed. Simply put, I believe that history teaches us that no one can survive their own unchallenged authority.  That applies to a society as a whole, too. The test is coming for our western society. 

There is a lesson for this closer to home, too.  We deny that God is in charge.  I live in a very liberal and self-centered community whose inhabitants trust mostly in their wealth and “self-accomplished” sufficiency.  They live lives of self-indulgence, and by-and-large consider faith to be a mental aberrancy or an outright disease.  They are indicative of the trend in our western society as a whole.  They are the emperors of their universe.

My opinion is, if you want to get along well with God, don’t sit on his throne.  He is the authority who can't be challenged.  He is the only source of true peace in the universe.

Saturday, March 2, 2013

My Hands And Feet

Yesterday, I wound up spending part of the afternoon having coffee with a friend and I’m still sort of processing the whole event in my head.  He and I, only little more than a year ago, would hike for miles in the wooded trails of our mountains here together.  Last year, his wife started to deteriorate rather quickly. Her mind is going and she can barely get around with her walker now.  He has been struggling with the difficulties of managing her life as well as his own.  Last fall he had to have a procedure on his heart to stop an annoying arrhythmia that was troubling him, and in the process they blew a hole in his ventricle.  They had him on bypass and quickly got a surgeon to crack him open and sew it up, but what with the damage and infection issues he now, months later, finds himself barely able to walk 20 feet without stopping for air.  Talking even seems difficult at times, and he is still having to struggle with legal and other issues to take care of things in the event he passes away and his wife is still around or if they both die.  Just cooking and cleaning is a problem and he is working on getting home health assistance through various sources to counter that. He has friends that are trying to help, but the sad part is his only child and her family live and work 2,000 miles away.

He is only 73 and was such a vibrant man that it is really heartbreaking to see this happen.  I find it sad to watch what struggles aging presents to us, and though I’m glad I can be there for him, I wish I could make it all better and make them well again.

I think we’ve lost something in our modern American world.  Our connectedness to the ones we love is often broken by hundreds if not thousands of miles of separation.  So often we no longer have three generations of families living together or at least in close proximity.  We communicate sporadically by phone and mail.  We see each other at holidays if we are fortunate.  We rely on dispassionate strangers and organizations to render the assistance we need.  More than ever with those kind of lifestyle decisions we need compassionate Christian fellowship to take the place of what families used to provide.  That connectedness and support of relationship that God built us to function with must be there for us to be whole.  We must be Jesus Christ to the world we live in.