Friday, January 29, 2010
We were happy in Colorado. I was nearing my 18-year mark in the Air Force, and we figured it was a sure bet we'd retire and go on to a second career in Colorado Springs. We had a church family we loved, and we enjoyed the outdoor life in the Rockies. Our house was high up in the mountains, away from the hubbub of the city. One Tuesday, on our way into work, my wife and I were talking and she casually mentioned that the only regret she had over my Air Force career was that we had never had the opportunity to go overseas as a family...
Just two days later, I had an email in my inbox directing me to report upstairs to sign for my next assignment. I went upstairs with some trepidation, fearing a remote assignment away from friends and family or (perhaps worse) an accompanied tour someplace boring, away from the mountains. To my shock, the assignment was an accompanied tour to Germany! I called my wife... "Honey, you'll never guess what. I got an assignment to Germany! Do you want to go?" The response was instant. "Yes!" As much as we loved Colorado, the chance to live in Europe as a family was too much to pass up.
We quickly put our house on the market, and we had an offer within two weeks of listing it. God was blessing our move. Everything was just falling into place. We began the routine of paperwork and inspections, confident we would be out of our home and in an apartment within a month, enjoying our last summer in the Rockies before our new adventure. Little did we know that was just the beginning of the longest four months of our lives. One afternoon I received a fateful phone call. "...There's a problem, the inspector found a lot of mold in your attic. Your buyer has withdrawn their offer." Mold! In a place where the humidity regularly dips into the 20s! I crawled up into the attic and my heart sank at the sight of an expanse of black and gray wood.
It turned out our house had several small building defects that all worked together to seal the attic up tight. While the humidity outside hovered around 25%, the humidity in the attic was over 90%! What ensued was a protracted ordeal of conversations with our home builder, a lawyer, to whom we explained we just wanted to get out of Colorado with our finances intact, and the Air Force personnel flight - "Could they pretty-please figure out some way to put off the assignment so we could settle our disastrous situation?" At first the news was all bad: The builder would not and really could not buy our home. A professional remediation service indicated that the repair costs would total over $13000.00, and that was if the roof didn't need replacing! The Air Force refused to delay the assignment. We were headed for bankruptcy for sure. My coworkers joked that they could see the gray advancing across my scalp by the day.
As the days passed and our legal fees mounted, we began to get desperate. We sold many of our marketable possessions; guns, tools, furniture items. We desperately sought ways to lower our monthly expenses, should we need to pay for an empty home while living in Germany. Finally, we decided to take both our cars and trade them for a subcompact. We prayed that God would show us whether that was His will. It wasn't. The dealer offered us ridiculous sums for our cars - well under blue book for both of them. I stormed out of the dealership, angry until my wife reminded me that we had prayed God would close any doors He didn't want us to go through.
We came home, got on our knees and offered a simple prayer. "Whatever and however you want us to do, God. We'll do it. If we need to go with the clothes on our backs and start over, okay." That very night we received a phone call from our Realtor. "I have an offer for you on your home from a man who specializes in water restoration." It was just less than what we needed to be out from under the house, free and clear. We offered a counter for that little bit more and the buyer accepted, as - is. We had lost our down-payment, but would leave Colorado unencumbered.
In the end, the Air Force pushed back our assignment long enough to settle with the builder. The builder agreed to return the cost of our down payment, plus expenses, and our lawyer, who said he found it refreshing to work for a couple who just wanted what was fair - nothing more, cut his fees in half. As I look back, I can see God's providence in all of the happenings of that year:
- We would never have taken an assignment, other than one overseas. I would have separated, instead. We now live just three hours from my parents, brother, and sister - on the other side of the country and far from where we grew up.
- The move came five years into the life of our home. The statute of limitations for building defects in Colorado was six.
- We have a wonderful new church home, and our children love it here.
- We learned in those few months how really perishable our earthly treasures could be. We're still learning, but we have a whole new perspective.
And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose. (Romans 8:28)
Are not five sparrows sold for two pennies? Yet not one of them is forgotten by God. Indeed, the very hairs of your head are all numbered. Don't be afraid; you are worth more than many sparrows. (Luke 12:6-7)
Thursday, January 28, 2010
So I cast my line and waited. And waited. And waited some more. Since the fish obviously weren't interested on that side of the boat, I moved and cast again. And waited. And waited. Waiting in the sun is thirsty work, so I handed my rod to my wife and went to the cooler to get a drink. No sooner than I did (Bet you saw this coming.), and there was a tug at the line. My wife pulled up a nice plump lake trout. She squealed with glee as our friend helped her bring it in, and was instantly hooked (pardon the pun). She cast again and brought up another fine specimen.
In a huff, I took over the rod and cast in the vicinity of my wife's success. After what seemed like an eternity (I think my friends stayed out longer than they planned, out of pity), I got a bite! I reeled and reeled, full of excitement, finally landing, well... something a little larger than a goldfish. I'm almost convinced it was a trout.
Now, I wasn't thrilled at being skunked at that manliest of pastimes by my wife (my eight-months pregnant wife, at that), but I sure did enjoy the taste of pan-fried trout that evening. And it's a good thing my wife caught what she did -- my catch of the day amounted to about 2 or three bites. Is there a moral to this story? Yep; here it is:
One of the first recorded commands we see Jesus giving at the beginning of Matthew is: "Come, follow me, and I will make you fishers of men." (Matthew 4:19). The last of Jesus' recorded words in Matthew read: "All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age." (Matthew 28:19-20).
It is interesting to note that being a disciple of Christ was equated with fishing for people from the very beginning of His ministry. From the earliest days with His disciples, Christ was preparing them for a life of spreading the Gospel. You see, witnessing to others about Christ isn't merely one of the approaches to Christian living; it is the only approach.
Now I have no way of knowing whether those two fish my wife caught were just happening by at the right time or whether they were lured to the area by my initial casts. Similarly, we may go our whole lives earnestly telling others about Jesus without ever actually seeing our words transform a single life, but at the same time we have no way of knowing whether the seeds we sow will begin to germinate just as a fisherman downstream casts his line into the water. We do know that God makes us this promise, concerning His Word: "so is my word that goes out from my mouth: It will not return to me empty, but will accomplish what I desire and achieve the purpose for which I sent it." (Isaiah 55:11).
And that should be enough to keep us casting, whether the fish land in our basket, or go on to get hooked downstream.
Tuesday, January 26, 2010
Me: "Grandma, how long will it take to get there?"
Grandma: "About ten hours. We won't get there until morning. Try to get some sleep."
Me: "Okay. Grandma, what time is it?"
Grandma: "It's Eight O'Clock, honey. Just try to sleep, we have a long way, yet."
Me: "Okay, Grandma." (waits about an hour) "Grandma, what time is it?"
Grandma: "It's Eight Oh-Five, honey. The time will go by faster, if you go to sleep."
Me: "Okay, Grandma" (waits another hour, at least; maybe two) "Grandma, what time is it?"
Grandma: "It's five minutes after the last time you asked me. Please go to sleep"
Me: "Okay, Grandma." (closes eyes and waits an eternity) "Grandma, are we almost there?"
Grandma: "No, honey. It's only Eight-Thirty. We still have a long way to go. Go to sleep."
Me: "Okay, Grandma" (waits another eternity) "Grandma, what time is it?"
Grandma: (sighs, takes off watch and hands it to me)
When I was a kid time really did speed up or slow down, depending on my circumstances. The month between Thanksgiving and Christmas took ten years, easy. A day at Disneyland was over after what seemed like an hour, maybe two. 30 minutes in the corner and I would have swore I saw the sun rise and set 5 times. As a grown-up, I experience the same thing, only in reverse ("What, Christmas already. I just paid off last year's Christmas!").
You see, time is relative. Oh, I know they have all kinds of atomic clocks and astronomical devices that tell us differently, but time really does depend on where you are and what you are doing. Need more proof? How fast does a year-long sabbatical in France go by, compared with, say... a year in San Quentin?
Perception of time also depends on how long you've been around. 2 Peter 3:8 tells us: But do not forget this one thing, dear friends: With the Lord a day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years are like a day. You see, when you have been around forever, a year starts to seem awfully small.
Here's the deal. If you are reading this blog, chances are you've been around 10, 30, maybe 80 years. Not really a lot of time, and it goes by faster with each passing day. The thing to understand, though, is that you and I are going to be around forever, one way or another. In context, that passage from 2 Peter reads like this:
By the same word the present heavens and earth are reserved for fire, being kept for the day of judgment and destruction of ungodly men. But do not forget this one thing, dear friends: With the Lord a day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years are like a day. The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. He is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance.
You see, Hell is very real, and it's about a billion times a billion worse than anything that could happen to you in San Quentin. Forever there would last a really long time. God doesn't want any of us to have to go there, so He is waiting. For now. What are you waiting for?
Monday, January 25, 2010
I remember reading an article a year or two ago on the Internet. I don't remember where it was published or who wrote it, but I remember vividly what it was about: sayings that are attributed to the Bible, but don't appear anywhere in scripture. I remember the article so vividly, because among the half-dozen or so sayings examined by the article, I knew that at least two did appear in Scripture, at least in concept, if not in the exact verbiage:
1. "Spare the rod and spoil the child." Though you won't find this exact phrase in the Bible, there is ample scripture to support the idea that discipline is a necessary part of successful child-rearing. Proverbs 13:24 is one example: He who spares the rod hates his son, but he who loves him is careful to discipline him. Proverbs 22:15 admonishes us: Folly is bound up in the heart of a child, but the rod of discipline will drive it far from him. Lest we think the Bible endorses harshness with our children, the Bible also warns us: Fathers, do not provoke your children to anger, but bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord. (Ephesians 6:4)
2. "Do unto others, as you would have them do unto you." Edit: As my sister pointed out, this phrase appears in the Bible nearly verbatim (depending on translation), in Luke 6:31: Do to others as you would have them do to you. Beyond that, Jesus echoes this principle again as he teaches that the Law can be summmarized : 'Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.' This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: 'Love your neighbor as yourself.' All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.
Others that were mentioned, such as "God helps those who help themselves," depend largely on context, as to whether they are supported by Scripture. Jesus came to help the helpless, yet we are sternly admonished in 2 Thessalonians 3 to work for our sustenance in accordance with our God-given abilities.
The point is simply this: If you want to know what is in the Bible, don't read my blog or anyone else's. Read the Bible!
All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness (2 Timothy 3:16)
Today, I have a cold. Having a cold made me think of the Terminator - for no particular reason, except that the Terminator doesn't get colds. Now, if you don't know who the Terminator is, he is this super-cyborg from the future. He looks like a human (which undoubtedly helps keep movie production costs down), but inside, he is a robot. He speaks in an ominous, flat, monotone voice, which is good because he is played by Arnold Schwarzenegger, who excels at ominous, flat, monotone voices. Anyhow, in the second installment of the Terminator franchise, Schwarzenegger's role is a complete reversal from the first movie, in which he was simply a bad-guy futuristic assassin. In "Judgment Day", his character is still a Terminator, but has been sent back from the future to protect a young boy, rather than assassinate him.
Schwarzenegger's character provides some comic relief in an otherwise violent film as he tries to become more human, first learning how to use crude jargon in his speech, later learning how to smile. As he jokes and plays with the boy he was sent to protect, the boy's mother begins to realize that the Terminator is the only worthy father-figure for her son; one who will never abandon or abuse him, never get sick and die on him, or ever let him down. In the end, the Terminator paints an almost messianic picture, as he is willingly lowered into a pool of molten steel, sacrificing his (life?) for the sake of humanity. As I pondered the idea of the Terminator as a messiah-figure, it dawned on me that the idea of a single savior who alone can rescue humanity from disaster is something we see repeated over and over again in our popular culture: Star Wars has a savior born of a virgin (!) and foretold in prophecy; the Matrix has a main character, who again is the object of prophecy and who rises from the dead (!) to defeat the enemy.
Clearly, humanity longs for a savior we can look to to rescue us from evil, from our failing world, even from ourselves. What a shame it is that we look right past the true savior described by the prophet Isaiah, preferring to invent our own:
1 Who has believed our message
and to whom has the arm of the LORD been revealed?
2 He grew up before him like a tender shoot,
and like a root out of dry ground.
He had no beauty or majesty to attract us to him,
nothing in his appearance that we should desire him.
3 He was despised and rejected by men,
a man of sorrows, and familiar with suffering.
Like one from whom men hide their faces
he was despised, and we esteemed him not.
4 Surely he took up our infirmities
and carried our sorrows,
yet we considered him stricken by God,
smitten by him, and afflicted.
5 But he was pierced for our transgressions,
he was crushed for our iniquities;
the punishment that brought us peace was upon him,
and by his wounds we are healed.
6 We all, like sheep, have gone astray,
each of us has turned to his own way;
and the LORD has laid on him
the iniquity of us all.
7 He was oppressed and afflicted,
yet he did not open his mouth;
he was led like a lamb to the slaughter,
and as a sheep before her shearers is silent,
so he did not open his mouth.
8 By oppression and judgment he was taken away.
And who can speak of his descendants?
For he was cut off from the land of the living;
for the transgression of my people he was stricken.
9 He was assigned a grave with the wicked,
and with the rich in his death,
though he had done no violence,
nor was any deceit in his mouth.
10 Yet it was the LORD's will to crush him and cause him to suffer,
and though the LORD makes his life a guilt offering,
he will see his offspring and prolong his days,
and the will of the LORD will prosper in his hand.
11 After the suffering of his soul,
he will see the light of life and be satisfied;
by his knowledge my righteous servant will justify many,
and he will bear their iniquities.
12 Therefore I will give him a portion among the great,
and he will divide the spoils with the strong,
because he poured out his life unto death,
and was numbered with the transgressors.
For he bore the sin of many,
and made intercession for the transgressors.
Sunday, January 24, 2010
Anyhow, "Something Else" is a fun song about a guy who sees a girl and starts daydreaming about how cool it would be to have her as his girlfriend. A little later, he sees a hot car and starts dreaming about how cool it would be to get the car so he could impress the girl and make her his girlfriend. In the end, he is standing at the girl's door; the car that is parked out front is his old jalopy, instead of the new convertible, but the girl is as beautiful as ever.
I can relate to that song. You see, I wanted to be a rock star (Okay, sometimes I secretly still do). I wanted to be that guitar hero sliding around on stage as thousands of girls screamed my name. Later, as my faith grew a little, I modified that dream. "Okay God, how about a Christian rock star, with thousands of good girls screaming my name?" Alas, it was not meant to be; being a rock star, even a Christian one, was not my calling. I know this for a couple of reasons: If ministering through music was truly my calling, I might have bought a guitar sometime before I turned 40. And looking back, I see that my motivations behind those fantasies were purely selfish. James tells us clearly that God doesn't answer "yes" to our prayers, if the motives behind them are flawed: When you ask, you do not receive, because you ask with wrong motives, that you may spend what you get on your pleasures. (James 4:3)
I now serve in a fun, but quite ordinary job as a computer programmer, and I am reasonably good it. My family isn't wealthy or famous, but is blessed to have a comfortable home, food on the table, and enough money left over to experience God's awesome blessings as we work and travel with the youth in our church. I take heart in Paul's exhortations to all of us, famous or anonymous, rich or poor:
Make it your ambition to lead a quiet life, to mind your own business and to work with your hands, just as we told you, so that your daily life may win the respect of outsiders and so that you will not be dependent on anybody. (2 Thessalonians 4: 11-12)
With this in mind, we constantly pray for you, that our God may count you worthy of his calling, and that by his power he may fulfill every good purpose of yours and every act prompted by your faith. We pray this so that the name of our Lord Jesus may be glorified in you, and you in him, according to the grace of our God and the Lord Jesus Christ. (2 Thessalonians 1: 11-12)
Saturday, January 23, 2010
Now this isn't the first time I have cleaned out the attic; my family and I have been blessed by 20 years of service in the military, and Uncle Sam has strict limits on the amount of stuff he lets his nieces and nephews lug from place to place. As I carefully pulled the treasures of previous years out into the daylight to examine them, it struck me that I had practiced this same ritual many times before. Some items I had no idea why I had kept in the first place and I quickly discarded; others, like old love notes exchanged with my wife, brought a quick smile as I read, then tenderly placed them back in their box. Still others were items I had kept around simply because I had paid for, and was unwilling to part with them, even though they were of no further use to me.
As I packed away the last of the Christmas decorations, it occurred to me that the process of clearing out my attic is a lot like the process many of us go through as we try in fits and starts to become more like the Lord who saved us. I can empty my spiritual attic out for a short time, but sooner or later it becomes full of stuff again. Jesus illustrated this principle in Matthew 12:43-45, explaining how a merely religious person can clean up his life for a time, only to find himself in a much worse state than before, as seven evil spirits come to dwell in the heart that previously housed only one.
While the truly born again need never worry about being possessed by a demonic spirit, I believe there is a principle here worth remembering: our spiritual attics will be full of something. Some of those things have no business in our lives and need to be discarded quickly; things like old grudges or covetous fantasies. Others are like the things that have served their purpose and are simply no longer needed; things like guilt over sins long ago confessed, forgiven, and forgotten. Still others are worth keeping around; happy memories of fellowship with our brothers and sisters in Christ, or memories of God's divine intervention in our lives. But once we clean out the debris in our attics, how do we make sure it doesn't come back? The answer is simple: stuff the attic with things we'll never have to throw away, and there'll be no room left for trash:
I have hidden your word in my heart that I might not sin against you. (Psalm 119:11)
Friday, January 22, 2010
The book of James is a lot like that brightly-lit mirror. In fact, James himself compares the Bible to a mirror as he explains what Christians ought to look like. As I read James, my carefully built self-delusions crumble one-by-one. One item James speaks out on at length is my tongue. He compares it to a carelessly-handled flame that can burn down a whole forest (Likewise the tongue is a small part of the body, but it makes great boasts. Consider what a great forest is set on fire by a small spark. The tongue also is a fire, a world of evil among the parts of the body. It corrupts the whole person, sets the whole course of his life on fire, and is itself set on fire by hell.. James 3:5-6).
As I read about the untamed tongue I am reminded of a horrific series of events that unfolded before our eyes just a few years ago. A popular talk show producer decided it would be a great idea to have a special "secret admirer" segment on the show. The host described the depth of the secret admirer's affection while an anxious and excited young man waited on stage to be introduced. When the fateful moment came, the young man was horrified to learn that his admirer was another man! Tragically, just a short time later, driven by rage and shame, the young man killed his admirer.
In stark contrast to that ill-advised attempt to entertain America, stands the testimony of a little white-haired man in Sydney, Australia. In gratitude to Jesus, who saved him from his wretched life of immorality, he vowed to tell at least ten people a day how to receive forgiveness for their sins. He did this for decades without any idea whether his words had any impact at all, or were just falling on deaf ears. Only days before his death did the little man learn that his words had influenced at least 100,000 people, world-wide.
What kind of fire will I start with my tongue / text / tweet today?
Thursday, January 21, 2010
Let no one look down on your youthfulness, but rather in speech, conduct, love, faith and purity, show yourself an example of those who believe. (1 Timothy 4:12)
After spending a weekend with them and watching them minister first-hand, I couldn't agree more.
Wednesday, January 20, 2010
From a creationist's perspective, that would make perfect sense. If God created a world without blemish, which was later ruined by sin, introducing mortality (Romans 5:12 : Therefore, just as sin entered the world through one man, and death through sin, and in this way death came to all men, because all sinned), it stands to reason that people started out as good as they were going to get, and that decay, disease, and pollution are actually weakening the genetic makeup of each successive generation.
While it is fun to speculate about sin's effect on the physical world, my conversation with my Dad got me thinking about the planet's spiritual evolution. It is interesting to note that just a few short decades ago, Christians and non-Christians alike were in general agreement about what behavior constituted evil. Fast-forward to today, and the only thing you will find general agreement about is that there are as many moralities as there are people.
We are often surprised by the rapid decay of morality in our world, but we shouldn't be: This too, was laid out in the Bible nearly 2000 years ago in Romans 1:28-32 : Furthermore, since they did not think it worthwhile to retain the knowledge of God, he gave them over to a depraved mind, to do what ought not to be done. They have become filled with every kind of wickedness, evil, greed and depravity. They are full of envy, murder, strife, deceit and malice. They are gossips, slanderers, God-haters, insolent, arrogant and boastful; they invent ways of doing evil; they disobey their parents; they are senseless, faithless, heartless, ruthless. Although they know God's righteous decree that those who do such things deserve death, they not only continue to do these very things but also approve of those who practice them.
While the state of the world is indeed, sad; it isn't nearly so sad as the Church's response to it. We spend so much of our time trying to fight the symptoms of devolution, rather than sharing the medicine that is capable of reversing our spiritual genetic decay forever:
You see, at just the right time, when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly. Very rarely will anyone die for a righteous man, though for a good man someone might possibly dare to die. But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us. Since we have now been justified by his blood, how much more shall we be saved from God's wrath through him! For if, when we were God's enemies, we were reconciled to him through the death of his Son, how much more, having been reconciled, shall we be saved through his life! Not only is this so, but we also rejoice in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received reconciliation. (Romans 5:6-11).
I'm reminded of a recent commercial that tells us we "catch a cold not a mucous." Like mucous, popular Christian targets like abortion, same-sex marriage, and banning prayer in public schools are just symptoms of a disease for which Christ is the only cure.