Monday, March 31, 2014

The Butcher, the Baker...the Candlestick Maker?

This morning I was looking at a candle.  The reason I mention this is that it set me to wondering who got the bright idea for putting a string in some animal fat or wax and setting the string on fire to produce the the light from burning fat...or for that matter who figured out how to take plant fiber and make string or somehow put phosphorous on a stick to make a match.  The list goes on and on.

We love how Fido can fetch or how Patches can open cupboard doors (yes, my cat does that), and we are amazed at the gorilla's ability to repeat sign language to a trainer.  We marvel at dolphins and porpoises as they swim in formation, catch little rings on their noses and jump through giant hoops held above the water (and lets not forget how Flipper saved the day in every episode, right?). I even saw an elephant paint a picture once...of an elephant no less! But we somehow are different.  In spite of how remarkable animals are, they lack the ability to transmit their achievements to following generations or each other.  They have no cumulative "progress."  Animals may be sentient in the sense that they are aware of themselves and the fact that they are somehow different than their environment, but Man is uniquely different from anything else on the planet.

I guess what I'm thinking about all goes back to that candle and its light.  We have a light of intelligence within us that was given to us by the Light of the World.  We are special because we were created by God to be special.  That carries an incredible weight of responsibility on a personal level and on a societal and environmental level.  The deer or the mountain lion can't be blamed for what they do, but we can.

We will be held accountable.

Sunday, March 30, 2014

I Think God Is Going Deaf

I had a most unusual morning.  I sat up front with a deaf friend in the sign language interpretation seats in church, ironically with earplugs in my ears to dampen the obscenely deafening praise band with it's gyrating solo artists being videoed for their next album promo.  Now as I've said before, I have nothing against modern bands in churches, but it does give me pause when I look around and no one in the congregation is singing.  It is clearly an entertainment venue in this church, but if they stay for the message then it succeeds at something, I guess. Still, it reminds me of Jesus' occasional comments after healing someone.  He admonished them to tell no one what he had done, and I think it was because he felt it drew people to him for the wrong reason.  In the same way, He got very upset at those who only followed him because he fed them with loaves and fish for free.

OK, so back to being in the sign language section.  My whole family is sitting with earplugs.  We can't converse with each other effectively, and in a small sense are experiencing the hearing loss my friend experiences. We settle back to listening and trying to sing without being able to hear our own voices in the crashing din.  My amazing friend, who speaks perfectly, reads lips, and teaches sign language, is peacefully enjoying the Interpreter signing the song's words. I would not wish to suffer her progressive disability, but I somehow think she is experiencing the more worshipful experience with God than I am.

Once the music ends the pastor begins his preaching with an appeal for 6 million dollars to expand the facilities and then plows into a message that concentrates on church members not fighting among themselves over such issues as styles of worship and other things.  I feel duly chastised for my frustrations with the music, but I'm not convinced.  I think there is a middle ground that should be sought by all leadership in this area, and I'm not sure it's met by setting one service aside for the "old folks" who don't want contemporary music.  I also think there needs to be some hard thinking about whether "entertainment venue" style music really contributes to a genuine worshipful experience connection personally and as a body of believers. I guess that has to be answered on a personal level for each individual and I certainly welcome your comments on this.

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Quote For March

Quote for March

"Take the highroad, even when it's not paved..."   Greg Picard

So often we are tempted to get even or to take advantage of a situation that in the end hurts someone else. Sometimes it is just pure selfishness and greed.  Other times we feel it is our right.  Most tempting is when we have clearly been wronged and feel we deserve or have the moral approval to do it.  I guess the old phrase most commonly used for this was "revenge is sweet."  In the long run it just ads to your own misery.

Ethics matter, and forgiveness and moving on with life makes you the better person.

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Are You An Addict?

The classic definition of addiction usually involves compulsive need, habit formation, developing  tolerance levels, withdrawal symptoms, and the fact that it is harmful.

Many people may be addicted to many things.  Gambling, cigarettes, Facebook, music, food, watching the news channel, sex, drugs, alcohol, online dating, etc.   The question is, does the thing really meet the criterion of addiction.  I often joke that I am addicted to playing my guitar or to writing novels.  What I mean is I enjoy those activities.  Addiction is a whole ‘nother reality. 

Let’s take sex or food for instance.  We are all addicted to food for our nutrition.  We die if we don’t eat, but one can take an unhealthy desire for food (and especially the wrong kinds of food) to an extreme to the point that it does meet the classic definition of a “bad” addiction.  The same thing can apply to sex and a host of other things I haven’t listed.

We all know that drugs like heroin, meth and crack cocaine can be extremely addictive from a physical standpoint.  Very few uses can initiate extreme craving and withdrawal symptoms.  The use can interfere with life and even lead to death.  I think that qualifies as harmful, don’t you?  But do we recognize addiction in the other kinds of things that we involve ourselves with on a daily basis?

Let’s take Facebook for instance.  Do you have to go to it constantly throughout the day to keep up with the messages, do you get even more involved in it and feel you must have all the new apps that get offered through it, do you feel sad and unfulfilled when you can’t get to your page?  All these are signs of addiction but the key element is lacking, or at least may be lacking --- it may not be harmful to you.  Now if it interferes with your ability to meet other needs and commitments it may very well qualify.  If the site gets hacked and all your personal information gets sold to criminal enterprises you’ve got a problem as well.
The same thing can apply to internet dating websites.  Is your viewing compulsive?  Do you feel like Pavlov’s dog or the slot machine addict, continually clicking in the hope that you will hit the jackpot?   Does it develop a tolerance level in that you must have ever more new and exciting dating partners? And finally, in the category of harm, does it somehow prevent you from actually finding and developing a meaningful relationship with that one special person who can fulfill your relationship needs.  It very well may qualify as an addiction.  Dating companies understand this, and that is why they always feature pictures of the most attractive people they can so as to lure you on…trust me, Casanova, most of these photos are professional models who are not members on the sites.

In the end, much of this is like the question about alcohol.  Is it bad to have one glass of wine at night on occasion?  Can it lead to addiction?  Most certainly.  Is it addiction?  No, not at that point.  Generally the one question that has to be answered in the affirmative about addiction is susceptibility to the trap, and the strength of the “drug” you are fooling with…and most importantly, does it cause harm.

Needless to say, you need to carefully consider these potential traps in life and avoid them.

Monday, March 17, 2014

The Miracle of Feeding -- AKA The Jesus Catering Service

The story of the feeding of the 5,000 in the Bible is one of many miracles that is used to show Jesus’ authority and power.  When Jesus showed up to find 5,000 men and likely another 10,000 or more women and children gathered, the disciples were concerned that there would be trouble feeding them.  I guess I wouldn’t have thought much about it and not taken it on as my responsibility.  I’d figure it was their tough luck.  Many in the crowd were pilgrims on the way to Jerusalem, perhaps they had packed food for the trip?  Still, it was obviously a concern that was apparent to the disciples, so there must have been an indication that there was no food to speak of.  Jesus then takes a basket with a few small loaves of bread and a couple of fish and they pass that out (mind you, this food was possessed by a child who managed to remember to pack a lunch!  I’ve raised children, and I tell you that in itself sounds like a miracle!) 

Miraculously, everyone is fed and a dozen full baskets of scraps are gathered afterward.  So, where did the other 11 empty baskets come from?  Were they some of what was originally filled with food that others had brought along?  Skeptics would say that the real miracle was that Jesus somehow got everyone to share with those who had nothing.  Perhaps.  Frankly, that’s a pretty big miracle and lesson in itself, but my belief is that something else very different transpired that day.  

Jesus comments the next day, when they are all back waiting for him, that they only came again because He fed them food.  That implies to me that he did in fact do something unexplainable and miraculous to create food where there was none.  (We witness this miracle twice in the New Testament, so I guess when you are hosting a party in 33 A.D. you needed to supply the eats.  My church supplies food for all the evening study groups, so I guess the tradition lives on…LOL   I suspect in Jesus case, he was trying to make a point.)

To me the most miraculous feeding though was the fact that He gave them what He called the “bread of life,” something which satisfies and even cures the hunger for truth, love and meaning in us, if we accept Jesus as the pathway to eternity. Jesus said He was the way, sent from heaven by God.  The world tells us there are many ways, or else it tells us there is no God.

What do you think?  What do you hope?

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Pork Belly Futures

Sometimes the Bible just gives me a new insight and tickles me at the same time.  See Mark Chapters 4 and 5.

Jesus was on the Sea of Galilee traveling through a storm  The Apostles were freaking out over the wind and the waves and ticked off that Jesus didn’t seemed bothered by any of it.  My guess is the boat was seriously filling with water and they were bailing furiously.  (Maybe even thinking at least He could turn some of what was sloshing around in the hull into wine and they could at least die drunk.)  So what does he do when they ask “don’t you care?”  He speaks to the wind and the waves and instant calm ensues.  They’re all pretty shocked that even the wind and the waves even obey Jesus.  They’ve seen some pretty incredible things so far and you’d think they’d be used to it, but hey, they are human…and fishermen to boot!  So now I suspect they calmed down and realized “great, now since there’s no wind, we have to row this tub all the way across this huge lake!”  Human nature being what it is, we tend to complain…at least you’ll think Judas probably did.

So they finally get to the other side of the Sea of Galilee to the Gerasa territory, and as soon as the bow hits the dirt, this loony guy runs up to them.  He’s known for living in a cemetery of all places and does a lot of screaming and cutting himself.  He creeps out all the locals, but Jesus just turns to him and starts talking to what turns out to be legion of demons possessing the guy. They (I assume in the voice of the man) beg Jesus not to cast them into the pit of darkness.  The funny part to me is that Jesus agrees to their request to send them into a herd of nearby pigs.  I mean, that’s just bad PR.  Now the farmer will have to wade out and drag their bloated bodies in and sell them all at cut rate prices.  I suspect it didn’t make Jesus all that popular with the local shepherds, though the local price of pigs probably went up with the loss of an entire herd of over 2000 animals changing the supply/demand curve.  The folks of the region were said to have been pretty afraid…and probably afraid he’d send something else into the lake like the sheep and the chickens and who knows what else, so they told Jesus to hit the road.

The part that really tickles my thoughts is that pigs were considered really unclean by the Jews.  Perhaps sending demons into pigs made sense to them after all, and once they drowned, the demons still got a one way ticket to Hell anyway.  One thing's for sure, he made an impression on the guy who had all the demons.  He took off telling everyone in all the towns of the area what Jesus had done.

There’s no doubt that all this demonstrated Jesus' divine powers.  Nevertheless, it just reminds me that some things in the Bible that Jesus did are really curious, and I really look forward to asking him about them someday.

Monday, March 10, 2014

Keep Your Suitcase Packed

It’s a fight to survive even in the modern world.  And it’s a sure thing that life is going to throw some changes at you, and you need to be able to roll with the punches*.  Curves that may be devastating and some that actually can be wonderful are out there in the weeds just waiting, and you need to be ready and keep your bags packed.  I’ve made a handy dandy list of the bare essentials to have in your suitcase:

1.       Faith
2.       Friends
3.       Integrity
4.       Sense of Humor
5.       Sense of Wonder
6.       Compassion for Others
7.       Patience
8.       Flexibility
9.       Openness
1.       Hope
1.       Love
1.       Financial responsibility
1.       Physical health and fitness

*Ever wonder where that phrase came from?  It’s a boxing and martial arts concept.  If you meet blows head on and running into them, they hurt much more.  If you roll away from them as they impact, you decenter their force and damage…in other words, in life you need to start concentrating on other things and not your pain and damage so you can move forward in the fight.

Thursday, March 6, 2014

The "Route" Of All Evil

Living in a society that was founded on religious freedom has its challenges.  You wouldn’t think that would be the case, but it is.  In the beginning in America it wasn’t so much of a problem, because towns were often built on a uniformity of belief and action.  In later years, if you held different views you moved on to where you fit in or to where no one cared what you believed.

Today, we find ourselves in a vastly different situation.  We have an overly powerful and intrusive Federal government that seeks to legislate away our individual rights, especially in the arena of religious liberty.  Even at state government levels the same problem is occurring.  Consider this.  In several court cases, private business owners who were asked to violate their religious beliefs by providing abortion insurance and services, etc. were charged and found guilty of criminal conduct.  I expect that soon, church pastors will be required to perform gay marriages and not preach against accepting the gay lifestyle as correct (remember, as I’ve said many times before, I am not calling for anyone to reject gays, but to instead love them, befriend them and be concerned for them.).  This kind of religious coercion is fundamentally against the principles of our government’s founders.  Even with 80 or 90 percent of Americans saying this is wrong, it still goes on, and it will only get worse

Most of these challenges are being directed at Christians in America and around the world.  Most surveys show that Christianity has become more of an extracurricular activity rather than a central guide to life, and as such it has also now become one of the most persecuted religions in the world.  Christianity has gone from something that was respected, to something that is irrelevant to life, and now to something that is considered dangerous by those wielding power in our country.  Worldwide some 70 to 90% of all religious persecution is directed at Christians.

Jesus said that we will be “hated by all nations for my name’s sake,” so none of this should come as a surprised to anyone.  We are going through another one of civilization’s downward cycles, just like the Jews did throughout the Old Testament and so many countries have done in more modern times.  The Jews became tolerant of other religious practices to the point that they allowed and embraced sexual immorality and even child sacrifice as part of their accepted religious life.  They tossed out God’s laws. Do you see the parallels in our country?  When guys like Richard Dawkins can write that “religion is the root of all evil and… must be expunged from society” and be cheered for his stand, we are at a tipping point.  Sadly, he does not stand alone in his activism.

Certainly we can change all this in America with vigorous political activism from all the Christian community, but will it come?  Will we just cower instead in the corner as so many societies have done in the past?  Edmund Burke once said “the only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing.”
I leave you with the words of Catholic Cardinal Francis George of Chicago in 2010…"I expect to die in bed, my successor will die in prison and his successor will die a martyr in the public square. His successor will pick up the shards of a ruined society and slowly help rebuild civilization, as the church has done so often in human history."

Do we really want to go this route?

Tuesday, March 4, 2014

How Much Is Good Enough?

Last night I was sitting around with a bunch of the guys from Church, and we wound up talking for some reason about church giving.  A couple of the guys were beating themselves up over not meeting their 10% “expectation.”  We all hear how we are supposed to give our 10%, and many tie that amount to “how good a Christian” you are.  Some in the “Gospel of Prosperity” cults even believe if you give that much or more to them, you will get rich in money yourself.  Unfortunately, the Bible says none of those things.  What happens when your church expects 10% and you want to give to another cause that is worthwhile?  Some places even put you in the sinner category for that.

Jesus made a point to quote Hosea 6:6, “I want your mercy not your sacrifices.”  It’s all God’s money anyway…He could take it all tomorrow.  He wants out hearts.  Giving money to the church because it’s your membership fee and ticket to Heaven is simply not true.  Now, I am not saying that 10% is not a good number for giving, because there sure are many needs out there that are important to get involved in helping with them.  But, giving because you think you have to or because you think that will make God happy and get you the E ticket ride to heaven is not where it’s at.  And if it's used to gold plate the church doors...well, you get what I mean.  Give wisely.

Paul makes a good point when he says “faith without works is dead.”  He didn’t say, faith without tithing 10% is dead.  (Still there are many non-Christians who do good works…sadly, many times a lot more than some Christians do.)  Our faith should motivate us to want to give of our talents, resources and time without applying percentages to give us a passing grade.

There are people out and about who spend a fortune on their own excessive pleasures and give little of what they have in abundance, often far less than ten percent.  There are others who have little and live frugally and giving ten percent means not eating.  I certainly can’t see holding that against the poor person, but I sure can see judgment being levied on the rich one.  I remember Jesus saying much the same thing when the “poor widow’s” two copper coins meant more than the rich man’s gift that he could easily afford.  Being a widow without son’s to care for her was literally a death sentence in ancient Israel.  To those to whom much is given, much is expected…whether it’s money or time or talent.

More than anything, God wants our hearts and our hands.  We’re here to reach out to others who need us.  The money will follow our heart…maybe you’ll want to give 20%...who knows!

Monday, March 3, 2014

Sounds In Silence

God is spoken of as light and I’ve often heard it said that God spoke the worlds into existence.  John begins his gospel with the words “In the beginning was the Word…”  I’ve heard the phrase used that interpreted that idea by saying God sang the Universe into being.  However you want to interpret that concept, it becomes even more interesting when you learn what NASA scientists have been discovering about sounds throughout space in the last few years.

The Voyager 1 and 2 space crafts were launched to delve into deep space and send messages back to earth about what they discovered.  The recorders that they use assess light waves and other energy waves and converts them into sound for the listener, and sends them back to earth periodically.  All this is necessary because in space there is nothing to carry traditional sound pressure waves in air to our eardrums (the catch phrase “you can scream all day in space and no one will hear you” says it all.) 

So this converted combination of radio frequency waves and light waves all communicate sound to us in space.  When you listen to this “symphony” of sound you hear some pretty interesting stuff from the different space phenomenon, and I encourage you to take a listen sometime.  Just YouTube space sounds on your computer if you are curious.

Why do I point this out?  Well, partly because it is just plain exciting to curious minds.  Even more so, it strikes me that God is “light” and “music” and perhaps really did “sing” the universe into existence…and continues to hum his melody to keep the universe in tune.  

This link will take you to one example, but there are a host of others as well.

       P.S.  In one of the Star Trek movies, Voyager returns from outer space highly modified by it’s adventures…great flick!  --  Capt. Picard