Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Adversity - Bring It On!

Albert Einstein once said, “In the middle of difficulty lies opportunity.”  We are living in what I think may well be the toughest times in world history.  We have growing environmental issues to face, we have wars bent on world domination, and we have cultural and faith deterioration and a dependence on materialism and technology that is truly alarming.

And yet, we have the opportunity to make the decisions to resolve each and every one of those problems.  Solutions abound, some better than others, but implementation often lacks.  We have the opportunity to end hunger and stabilized populations without resorting to war and disease to do the work for us.  We have the opportunity to live in a world of tolerance and love and one that models God’s love for us.  Yes, it may be difficult.  Jesus changed the world as a human in the most difficult way possible.  He put his life on the line and gave it up.  The world has not been the same ever since.

Albert Schweitzer observed that "one who gains strength by overcoming obstacles possesses the only strength which can overcome adversity."   If we practice overcoming obstacles in our lives and in the world as a whole, we can grow in our strength.  It does not matter what the obstacle is!  Do you have an obstacle to living a life that you want or to providing help that someone else may live the life they seek.  We gain strength when we take the steps forward.  It’s just like the weight lifter learns:  “Lift until you feel you can’t lift again…your muscle cells will grow as a result and tomorrow you will be stronger and you can lift even more.”  Adversity is hard, but it builds strength if you recognize the opportunity and don’t give up.

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

I Want Facebook To Complete Me!

The entire concept of dating has changed since I was in high school.  Now, it concentrates on meetups through Facebook, dating sites, Craigslist and a myriad of other encounters at the corner of Cyberlane Ave. and Digital Blvd.  The Things people write in their ads and profiles are a wondrous collection of attempts to portray who they are and what they want.  Some write little or nothing, most write a litany of similar platitudes and descriptions, post two grainy pictures taken of them 20 years earlier and 20 pounds lighter, and then fill out the rest with pictures of their cat, their hunting rifle, their favorite flower, the big trout they snagged.  But amid all that something really stood out to me in the profiles that women write, and honestly, I think it applies to men as well.

I’ve read on website dating profiles by women that they “don’t want a man to complete them” that they aren’t looking for “someone to fix their loneliness” or “take care of them” etc.  They use words like “independent” and “successful” to describe themselves.  I don’t disagree that there is some value in those thoughts, yet isn’t that really what all of the “search” is about?  I can go all day and be with people who I do things with.  It can be fun and social…but it isn’t special or connected in the way a relationship with someone who is uniquely committed and compatible with you is.  In the end there is that small hollowness inside that says “I want more.”

It seems to me that that is the way God made us…to in fact be “completed” by a person.  There is something so ultimately fulfilling in the daily experience of life with that one unique person you trust and are attracted to and compatible with, that the sharing of those experiences together becomes so much larger than it would be with just “anyone.” 

I mean, really, you can have work associates and even all the friends in the world.  You can even go out and rent companions -- river guides, home care workers, tour guides, personal trainers, maids, escorts or prostitutes for that matter.  You can join clubs and Meetups for friends.  It works to some degree, but it’s not good enough.  You can watch movies and have all the nice dinners in the world, and it won’t be enough. 

It’s not at all like walking into the movie theater holding hands or dancing together to the music in the grocery aisle.   It’s not like knowing they’ll be there beside you when you go to sleep at night, and still be there in the morning.  There IS some kind of “completeness” in finding that person.

One friend once told me, “There are two different mindsets. The first would be a person who is very accomplished and perhaps has been hurt deeply in some way and who has put up walls so as not to appear vulnerable or needy.  (They may "want" but don't "need)  They want someone to know they can take care of themselves in every way.  The second, is the person who wants but also needs them (I use the term "need" loosely.) They want a person in their life, one to join with in living each day to the fullest, to worship together, pray together, eat together and love together.  They want the completeness that comes from fully knowing their partner--their wants, dreams, fears and then to support each other so they can become all God has for us to be for Him and for each other. They "need" another because without them, they cannot experience the depth and sweetness of love that God intended --that "oneness" that comes from complete trust and loving fully with an open heart.  God made man and woman for each other, that we should not be alone.  A right relationship completes that love.”

As another friend once put it to me, “when you are really in love, independence and completeness don't matter....you just love unconditionally and it all feels good.” 

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Get The Whip!

A few days ago I wrote about Jesus’ first miracle at the wedding in Cana.  Immediately afterward, he goes back home with his mother, brothers, and disciples and shortly thereafter goes to Jerusalem to attend Passover.  While there his next act is to pull out a whip and chase out all the tacky sales booth guys and corrupt money changers from the temple.  This makes the Pharisees irate and they demand “by what authority do you do this, show us a miracle to prove your authority” (my phrasing) to which Jesus says:  “Destroy this sanctuary and I will rebuild it in three days.”

What I think is so significant is that he sets out his eventual crucifixion (destroying his body sanctuary of God and coming back to life in three days) at his very first public encounter with the authorities and the community…and that they demand miracles for proof.  He spends the next three years giving them exactly what they demanded…miracles by the boatload including his resurrection…and they still won’t accept his authority.  

I find all that very significant.

Watch Out New York!

The rise of ISIS in the Middle East is convincing me that we are rapidly approaching a critical point.  Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi is the leader of the movement to establish a worldwide Caliphate.  He has already said his plan is to take Spain and Rome next.  The threat to Europe is real and immediate.  Radical Islamists have found their successor to Al-Queda.  More violent and committed than any prior organization and ideology, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi said, when we released him from captivity in 2009, “I’ll see you in New York!”  I don’t think he meant to attend an Obama fundraiser or watch a Broadway play.  Jihadist groups are on the rise, and militants abound under the ISIS flag in Indonesia and across North Africa as well.

Failure to convert to Islam under an ISIS Caliphate will result in your death.  Ladies, get ready to die or enjoy the fact that women will be denied education and relegated to scrubbing the kitchen floor and wearing their burkas.  They will be hung if they are raped by a man.  Is this really what you want?

Wake up America, the enemy is almost at the door.  Neville Chamberlain made the same mistake against Hitler that Obama is making against ISIS.  Evil nearly overtook the world then, so don’t make the mistake of thinking it can’t happen again.  Those who fail to study history are condemned to repeat its mistakes.

Sunday, August 17, 2014

Jewish Mothers

I just finished reading the story of Jesus’ first miracle again today.  Weddings were a big event in the Jewish culture, and from the sound of this one that Jesus was at it was no different.  The wine flowed freely and everyone was in high spirits.  Then, somebody notices “whoops, were out of booze!”  The danger here being that the party animals would leave and things would be a big flop.

Then along comes Mary (hmm…sounds like a good song title!)  Now, I don’t know if you’ve had a lot of experience with Jewish mothers or not, but I have.*  They can be pretty firm with their kids when they want to be…which is most of the time!  Mary’s kid was Jesus…doesn’t matter that he was 30 or so years old at the time, he still was subject to her wishes.  She apparently was keenly interested in the wine not running out and told Jesus to do something about it.  It is odd how Jesus answered her “it is not time for me to show who I am.”  What is not odd is that he took care of the problem anyway…you don’t disobey a Jewish mother!  He takes two huge stone pots filled with water and turns them into wine (do you think this was overkill maybe…I’ll show you mom, you want wine, here it comes as a gusher!)

Why do I say it was odd for Jesus to say what he did?  Because it implies some sort of timetable -- and that I find the biggest unanswerable mystery, and it also implies through the whole scenario that Jesus apparently had been doing miracles that at least his mother knew about all along (and yes, I know, you can’t keep a secret from a Jewish mother…they figure out everything!)  Now maybe he just mowed the lawn with a wave of his hand, cleaned his room with a word, or cured her bursitis with a touch, but apparently his ability to do miracles was no secret to Mary!

Apparently the “vintner gig” remained a secret because no one at the party had a clue about what Jesus did (except maybe the guys who served the wine out of the water pots, and apparently they didn’t tell anybody from what we read in the texts.)  The master of ceremonies (think Bob Barker here) just gushed over how good the wine was, not how miraculous it was that Jesus took dishwater and turned it into Pino Grigio. 

But, I still want to know why Jesus said “It is not time yet….”   That one really makes me ponder.

*Ladies, I truly mean no offense.  You love your kids and you work hard to make them turn out well.  Besides, I’m kinda teasing and stereotyping here.  Forgive my taking those liberties.

The Tramp On The Street

Today was interesting.  I had a gig I was supposed to play and sing down by the river.  I got there and the event had been canceled.  I was bummed, so I pulled out my guitar and just sat along the Durango Riverwalk and worked on some songs.  After a bit, three of our local indigenous vagrants happened along and sat down with me.  I thought they were going to try to get money, but instead they asked me to sing something.  I figured, what the heck.  I did Marshall Tucker Band’s “Bob Away My Blues.”  They were so appreciative and all gave me kudos and knuckle bumps as they shuffled off to Wagon Wheel Liquors…and you know, I’ve rarely had such an attentive and appreciative audience!  Makes you think.  It also makes me wonder what could I have said that would have made a difference in their lives?  Anything?  I suspect I will run into them again in time.

Then today a lady came up to me in Church and asked me for money and also would I buy her groceries, give her a ride home and pay for her motel room.  She was in her 70s and was a “homeless traveler.”  Her expectation of me was that I was a Christian and therefore was supposed to support her life choices financially (turns out she is on Social Security.)  She appeared well fed and was very particular about what I should buy her at the grocery store.  Though I got her a couple nights in the motel and another friend gave her money for groceries, I can’t help but feel that she was rather arrogantly taking advantage of people when she had other options in her past and current life choices.  Perhaps mental derangement is part of her problem, but she seemed to like her lifestyle.  Most of my other friends in church just walked away from her or ignored her, largely because of her arrogance and ungrateful attitude.  She kept repeating “no one is going to tell me what to do” any time someone offered a helpful suggestion.  I am conflicted.  How much does the one in needs’ personal responsibility weigh in to another’s decision to help them. 

So, two different scenarios in two days.  I have four adopted children overseas, where do I draw the line on my offers to help?  When does my help not solve a problem, but rather facilitate a dysfunctional lifestyle?  How do I know they are in need at all?  I know a guy who dresses “ratty” homeless (though he’s not) sings on the sidewalk and basically uses it to beg for money from passersby.  He told me he makes more at that than he does at his job. 

What would Jesus do?  What would you do?

Monday, August 11, 2014

Happy Days

I am often fond of saying that the “Golden Age” of America has passed and that the “Happy Days” of the 1950s was the real peak of our glory in this country.  I think it’s important to note that sometimes I’m not totally right (yeah, I know, big shocker right!). 

Take these facts below as an example. I thought these were interesting statements that give some perspective to our lives.  It points out that media coverage and one’s own personal reality is often more formative of opinion and feelings than actual reality. 

  • In 1949 a computer filled an entire 20’ x20’ room. An iPad today weighs 0.73 pounds.
  • U.S. life expectancy at birth has increased from 39 years in 1800 to 79 years today.
  • The average American retires at age 62. One hundred years ago, the average American died at age 51.
  • Despite a surge in airline travel, half as many people died in plane accidents in 2012 as in 1960.
  • In 1952, 38,000 people contracted polio in the U.S. In 2012, there were fewer than 300 cases in the entire world.
  • Median household income adjusted for inflation is nearly double what it was in the 1950s.
  • Crime has fallen dramatically from 1991 to 2010. Rape is down by a third, robbery is down more than half, and there were nearly four million fewer property crimes in 2010 than in 1991. All this while the U.S. population grew by 60 million during this period.
  • Almost no homes had a refrigerator in 1900. Today you can get one in a car.
  • The average new home now has more bathrooms than occupants.
  • High school graduation rates are at a 40-year high.
  • The average American work week has declined from 66 hours in 1850, to 51 hours in 1909, to 34.8 today.
  • Relative to wages, the price of food has dropped 90 percent since the 19th century.
  • In 1965, more than 40 percent of American adults smoked; in 2011, 19 percent did.
  • The number of Americans with a college degree or higher has risen from five percent in 1940 to more than 30 percent in 2012.
  • From 1920 to 1980, an average of 395 people per 100,000 died from famine worldwide each decade. During the 2000s, that number fell to three per 100,000.
  • A three-minute phone call from New York City to San Francisco cost $341 in 1915. Today many providers allow you to make such a call for free.  (In 1950, nearly 40 percent of Americans didn't have a telephone. Today there are 500 million Internet-connected devices in the U.S., averaging 5.7 per household.)

We’ve got a long way to go in this world to have our behaviors and the love we show our God and our fellow man match the amazing strides we’ve made in the areas mentioned above…but when you think about it, even they are reflective of that in many ways.  Sure, there is a profit and wealth motivation in there, but that’s not all that has taken us through these centuries of progress.

Go Team!

Friday, August 8, 2014

Any Faith Is OK? Then I'll Take Faith Hill !


I had an interesting encounter with a couple of people the other day that set me thinking.  You see, they both believed that any path you found to God was acceptable and you would be in heaven when you died.  Any religion that led you to your faith was OK.

What made the encounter so interesting was that these people were both prominent Christians. 

I upset them, I suspect, when I pointed out that that was in direct contradiction to what Jesus himself said when he pointed out that “no man comes to the Father but by me.”  Believing in the death and resurrection he experienced was why he was born.  No other faith was acceptable, otherwise, the Jewish belief would have been just fine and in keeping with the beliefs of these two people I chatted with.  There would have been no need for Jesus to be born.

You see, if you accept the kind of theology that says any religion is good enough, then you have to accept that Romans who believed in many Gods was an acceptable path.  You have to believe that ancient civilizations that sacrificed babies and young virgins to their Gods was acceptable.  You have to believe that those who worship crystals or radishes or whatever are acceptable.  If you don’t, then you are faced with the dilemma of determining which religion or belief system is acceptable.

You then have become God.  You then also start deciding what is good enough to get you to God in any particular religion.  That gets sticky and pretty soon you start throwing out certain ones you find objectionable.  So, the ones that kill babies and virgins go first.  Next maybe the radical Muslims who advocate killing anyone who doesn’t believe as they do get tossed.  Then you get stuck being picky, and you realize that if you get to choose what religion is good enough, you’ve violated your basic belief that any path is good enough to get you to God and salvation.

I know these people I was talking with were coming from a viewpoint that was tainted by the fact that they had loved ones who were not Christian believers.  To that I say, I am not God and that God can decide whatever he wants to.  I certainly think that those who have never heard of Christ may get different treatment from God.  If he wants to let non-Christians who have heard about Jesus into heaven but aren’t Christians, that’s up to him.  I figure it’s best if I let God speak for himself.  But for me, I figure it is best to go with God’s own choice that was foretold in the Old Testament and that was confirmed by Christ’s miracles, his own words and his death and resurrection.  If you knowingly step off that path, you sink in the mud and murk of salvation by “works” and “goodness,” and then you get into how good is good enough...and, well, you just don’t want to go there in that discussion.  

Faith in Faith is no faith.

Wednesday, August 6, 2014

His Name Is John

I am struck by the account in the Bible in the first chapter of both Luke and Matthew where Zacharias is made speechless by the Angel Gabriel for doubting that his aging and “barren” wife Elizabeth could be having his child.  Later on it mentions that when the child is born, everyone is arguing about Elizabeth telling them his name will be John.  Nobody in the family is named John and so they turn to Zacharias and ask him what the name should be by ‘making gestures and signs.’

Now the first thing that comes to mind is why are they making gestures and signs?  Why didn’t they just ask him?  He’s not deaf, he is without the ability to speak.  Now I suppose Gabriel maybe overdosed him a bit when he zapped him and took out his hearing ability as well, but I’m more inclined to think that it’s something else.  Some of these people at the circumcision were possibly not locals or even relatives who had been around him for the last few months.  They have a guy who can’t speak, and since most deaf people don’t learn to speak (or speak clearly) they talk and ‘hear’ with gestures.  I have a lot of experience with this since I have several deaf friends and my daughter is a deaf sign interpreter.  Most deaf people don’t speak out loud a lot.  So many people would be used to a person who couldn’t speak ‘talking with gestures’ and would fall into the trap of communicating with him that way.  It’s also possible that the signs and gestures were after he was asked out loud, and he was trying to communicate the name to them with gestures, and they wound up gesturing back until Zack finally gets frustrated and asks for a piece of paper to write on.

It’s just one of the more interesting ‘inconsistencies’ that non-believers like to point out when they are discounting the truth of the Bible.  One of the things I learned as a police officer is that testimony is often inconsistent in little ways when it’s perfectly true…it’s actually one of the things that immediately made me suspect it was truth.  When things are identical it is often because they are rehearsed fabrications by a group to sell a lie.  Now, I’m not saying that gross inconsistency is a sign of truth.  However, little inconsistencies can often be explained by circumstance, culture, point and time of viewing and hearing an interaction, and so forth.

So take those curious little things in the Bible for what they are…more proof that the account is accurate.

Tuesday, August 5, 2014

Will Rogers - Wise and Funny

Will Rogers was one of America's most venerated homespun humorists.  The modern generation of millenials and whatever the rest of the flood of young humanity is in this country is called by people who dream up these names, has never heard of Will Rogers.  I think that is sad.  So many of his throw-away lines were far deeper than the surface humor the offered up and had application to many of life's problems.  So today I offer a few of my favorite quotes from him:

"Never miss a good chance to shut up"

"Always drink upstream from the herd"

"Timing has a lot to do with the outcome of a rain dance"

"Why not go out on a limb?  That's where the fruit is!"

"When you find yourself in a hole, quit digging!"

                         And my all time personal favorite:

“There are three kinds of men. The ones that learn by readin’. The few who learn by observation.   The rest of them have to pee on the electric fence for themselves.” 

Friday, August 1, 2014

An Apple A Day Keeps The Doctor Away (signed Eve)

I think Adam and Eve kept eating the apples.  In so doing they kept the Great Physician out of their lives.  Literally and figuratively all the generations of humankind have eaten the apples and struggled and served the god of this world since the fall of Eve and Adam.  We now live in a time when people ask “are we on the brink of the end.”  Changes in technology, warfare, and increasing moral relativism are affecting the world in ways never before imagined.

I recently read an article by a “futurist” of some credibility that said within 20 years we will be having robots that do virtually everything and people will find it hard to even get a job.  While I find the argument has holes in it that you could drive a battleship through, it does have limited validity in that we will have ever greater technology to rely on (and yes, inevitably robots will be a part of that in some way as they already are.)  How that will change mankind remains to be seen, but what I am sure of is that it won’t make us closer to the God who created us.

Many think we are on the brink of World War III now that Russia is committed to retaking Ukraine.  There are many arguments in favor of that, considering that Eastern Ukraine is and always has been predominantly Russian speaking inhabitants.  Russia has changed enormously since the fall of Communism in that country.  The Russian Orthodox Church has been resurrected and 90% of Russians identify themselves as Christians…though like the U.S. only about 10% actually attend services.  Plus, other surveys show that 30% of Russians identify themselves as atheists.  Conflicting statistics, but still indicating a change from the days of Lenin and Stalin.  But I’m begging the question…will we fall into chaos in the middle-east and nearby Ukraine as the civil wars in that area bloom as they appear to be doing?   I don’t think it’s inevitable.

So what is God’s will in all of this.  So many Christians look at God’s will in such strange ways.  They almost seems to sit and wonder “should I eat breakfast or go for a walk?” “which one is God’s will for me.”  Or more commonly we see “which job should I take, I wonder what God wants” and this kind of silliness abounds in Christian thinking more than most would like to admit.  God gave us free will and desires and dreams.  He wanted to see us follow those desires, but to do it in keeping with his “Will” meaning living a life of commitment to the principles of living outlined by Christ.   You are called to do that in whatever life role you find yourself or that you choose for yourself.  People keep trying to make faith more complicated than it is…from the Pharisees on down to the everyday person of our time.

So why ramble on about God’s will?  Because what we are to do in this rapidly changing world is exercise those principles outlined by Christ in our interactions in the world as a whole.  Who is carrying out the Christian Biblical principles in the world today?   Certainly not the radical Muslims or the government in China.  They revel in killing Christians.  So it would seem that God’s will would be that we seek to somehow change their influence in the world.  Does that mean through warfare?  I suppose it could come to that, but I’d prefer to use prayer and actions that win over believers from among them.  With more Muslims and Chinese becoming Christians today than ever before in world history, we may succeed without war.  Did you know that Red China actually has more Christians than any other country in the world already?  Did you know that more Muslims are converting to Christianity than ever before in the history of the world?  Of course with a billion residents in China and probably an equal number in Muslim countries, it is still a drop in the bucket for them.  Still, it engenders hope in me that loving your neighbor and loving God will become a reality in the world as a whole someday.

The same thinking applies to my initial comments about allowing robots to take over the world.  We need to exercise moral and ethical principles in the development of such technology that it doesn’t somehow engender a moral relativism that erodes our values as Christians or destroy the economics of our civilization.

Futurist Joel Barker once said “vision without action is merely a dream.  Action without vision just passes the time.  Vision with action can change the world.” 

What are you doing to change the world for better today?