Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Lord, Help My Unbelief

A father with a demon possessed, or epileptic, son brings the boy to Jesus to have him healed; if Jesus is able to.  Jesus responds that everything is possible for the one who believes.  And the quote below is the father's response to Jesus.
I do believe; help me overcome my unbelief! - Mark 9:24b NIV
The father's words here really strike a chord with me and I find myself periodically echoing his cry.  I believe.  But oftentimes it seems that belief is pretty shallow and has little impact on my life.

There is no doubt in my mind that God exists and that he has a purpose for me.  I am convinced that the Bible is inspired by God and that faith in Jesus death and resurrection is necessary to enter into relationship with God.  I believe!  And yet I struggle with unbelief.

If I really and truly believed that this world and all that it contains is only temporary and that I was created for something much more than this, should it not have more of an impact on how I live here?  Would I not spend more time preparing for eternity than I do in enjoying the temporary?  Would not the work He has for me have a higher priority than other things I choose to do?

I believe; at least intellectually.  But unfortunately my belief does not always translate well into practical terms.  Lord, help me in my unbelief!


Friday, October 17, 2014

Honoring God

 Parts of the second and third chapters of Romans are easy for us Gentiles to take a little lightly because Paul is targeting the Jews.  And, since I'm not a Jew, then surely this section has little to say to me; right?  Try swapping out a couple of words in the passage below as shown and see if it might have more to say to you.
Now you, if you call yourself a Jew (Christian); if you rely on the law (Bible) and boast in God; if you know his will and approve of what is superior because you are instructed by the law (Bible); if you are convinced that you are a guide for the blind, a light for those who are in the dark, an instructor of the foolish, a teacher of little children, because you have in the law (Bible) the embodiment of knowledge and truth— you, then, who teach others, do you not teach yourself? You who preach against stealing, do you steal?  You who say that people should not commit adultery, do you commit adultery? You who abhor idols, do you rob temples?  You who boast in the law (Bible), do you dishonor God by breaking the law (Bible)?  As it is written: “God’s name is blasphemed among the Gentiles (unbelievers) because of you.”
Romans 2:17-24 NIV (parenthetical comments added)
I have to admit that deep down there is a part of me that is guilty of the first part of this passage.  I have the Bible, and have spent a lot of time with it.  I believe I have an understanding of God's will and his purpose for me, as well as the rest of creation.  I am confident I can hold my own in most any doctrinal or apologetic discussion.  What more could God want from me (cough, cough).

But there is a big difference between knowing and doing God's will.  Between knowing and obeying his instruction for me.  I wonder sometimes just how different my life might be if I did not know God and did not have the Bible.  Would it be significantly different?  It should!  Unfortunately there is a vast difference between what should be and what actually is.  This world has way too much appeal for me, drawing my eyes away from the eternal.

More importantly, how do the people of this world judge God based on the way I live?  Does the witness of my life turn people away from God, draw them to him, or does it have no impact?  I would like to think that it is attractive, but I fear that more often it is neutral; good, but not necessiarily anything that would make people say "I want some of that".  It really should be a priority for me to ensure that God is honored by my life.  How tragic it would be to stand before him at the end of this life and discover that I have failed to do so.  And how much worse to find that my life has turned someone away from God.  I pray that is not the case.

Thursday, October 9, 2014

Why Parables?

One of Jesus most common teaching methods was the use of parables.  A parable is a simple true-to-life story that illustrates a spiritual truth.  They are generally simple and easy to understand, at least for those who belong to him.  But while they illustrate truth for believers, it appears they are also intended to obscure the truth for unbelievers.
When he was alone, the Twelve and the others around him asked him about the parables.  He told them, “The secret of the kingdom of God has been given to you. But to those on the outside everything is said in parables so that,
        “‘they may be ever seeing but never perceiving,
        and ever hearing but never understanding;
        otherwise they might turn and be forgiven!’”
Mark 4:10-12 NIV
When Jesus disciples ask him about a parable he had just told, the Sower and the Seed, he responded with the quote above.  He tells his disciples that he is telling parables to prevent those on the outside from being able to comprehend his teaching and turn to him.  And that seems pretty strange to me.  Why would he say that?  Does he not want everyone in the world to turn to him and be saved?  Is he trying to prevent some from knowing who he is?

I have struggled with this passage every time I have read it because it seems so contrary to what I understand God is doing.  But is it really?  What does God want from me?  The scripture clearly says that my response to him needs to be based upon faith.  When he comes to me, like he did the twelve in the gospels, and says "follow me", will I follow him wherever he goes?  Or will I expect him first to offer me rational argument and convincing proofs.

Those to whom the parables were explained were the one who had responded to Jesus call.  The ones on the outside were those who had gathered around because Jesus was feeding them and healing them; not bad motives necessarily, but not what is expected.  They had seen the miracles and had heard him teach, but they were still on the outside; they had not committed to him.  And Jesus was unwilling to give them any more in depth teaching.  He was not going to 'argue' them into the kingdom.  If they are going to see and hear without a faith based response, then they are not what he wants.

The spiritual truths, or secrets of the Kingdom, belong to those who are citizens of God's kingdom, not to outsiders.  And Jesus shares them in a way that enables Kingdom citizens to understand while also preventing understanding by outsiders.

Thursday, October 2, 2014

The Wrath of God

The wrath of God is not an uncommon expression or topic in the Bible and is used several times by Paul in his letter to the Romans.  It would seem important to have a clear understanding of it in order to be able to understand what Paul is trying to tell the Roman church.  Yet it seems to be something that is a bit challenging to come to grips with and most people seem to have a hard time trying to describe it.

The dictionary defines wrath as "strong, stern, or fierce anger; deeply resentful indignation; ire." For me at least, the word 'wrath' conjures up an image of vengeful anger being directed at one who has offended the person exhibiting wrath.  When used for myself or other humans, that seems to be an adequate description.  And it does seem to be descriptive of God as he is pictured in the Old Testament, destroying the world with a flood, pouring out fire and brimstone on Sodom and Gomorrah, zapping anyone who touches the Ark inappropriately and many other examples.  But I really see no support for that in the New Testament, and it is contrary to how I understand the nature and purpose of God.

I will be the first to admit that I have a tendency to view God through the lenses of my own nature; and I son't believe that I am not alone in doing that.  I know that is somewhat dangerous because it can produce an incorrect picture of God.  But I don't know that it is possible for me to separate how I see God from how I am.  I know that some of my more emotional friends can see God sitting on a mountain top hurling thunder bolts at those who offend him.  But I struggle with that; I have a hard time picturing God as being vindictive.
The wrath of God is being revealed from heaven against all the godlessness and wickedness of people, who suppress the truth by their wickedness - Romans 1:18 NIV
5 But because of your stubbornness and your unrepentant heart, you are storing up wrath against yourself for the day of God’s wrath, when his righteous judgment will be revealed. 6 God “will repay each person according to what they have done.” 7 To those who by persistence in doing good seek glory, honor and immortality, he will give eternal life. 8 But for those who are self-seeking and who reject the truth and follow evil, there will be wrath and anger. 9 There will be trouble and distress for every human being who does evil: first for the Jew, then for the Gentile; 10 but glory, honor and peace for everyone who does good: first for the Jew, then for the Gentile. 11 For God does not show favoritism.
Romans 2:5-11 NIV
Paul clearly teaches that the wrath of God is real and is directed at godlessness and wickedness.  But it seems just as clear that it is not something that is visited upon the offending party when their actions cross some threshold.  Rather, there is a day of judgement coming when we will receive either eternal life or experience God's wrath.

It seems better, at least to me, to think of God's wrath in terms of deserved punishment rather than anger directed at the offender; that removes the emotional component from the equation and leaves righteous judgement in its place.  Those who do good are rewarded, while those who do evil experience punishment.

What is that punishment?  While many will disagree, it seems clear to me from the scriptures that there is some period of torment for those being punished, but that period is followed by destruction.  In fact, that is the fate that Paul claims awaits those who experience God's wrath, rather than an eternal conscious torment.
What if God, although choosing to show his wrath and make his power known, bore with great patience the objects of his wrath—prepared for destruction?
Romans 9:22 - NIV
As I understand it, the wrath of God is the final judgement against unbelievers and evil doers; their complete and total destruction.  It is not the action of an offended, angry or vengeful God.  It is a reasonable and rational outcome for those who have failed to live up to God's purpose for their lives.

Thursday, September 25, 2014

Is Your Life Built on Rock or Sand?

“Therefore everyone who hears these words of mine and puts them into practice is like a wise man who built his house on the rock.  The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house; yet it did not fall, because it had its foundation on the rock.  But everyone who hears these words of mine and does not put them into practice is like a foolish man who built his house on sand.  The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house, and it fell with a great crash.”
Matthew 7:24-27 NIV
Jesus has a lot to say about how I live my life, and the author of the gospel of Matthew has collected much of it into the section we call "The Sermon on the Mount".  In this passage I am challenged concerning my relationship with God as well as with the people I come into contact with every day.  And the concern is not so much on my actions as it is with my attitudes and motives.  Who I am on the inside will be reflected in what I show on the outside.

But what will I do with Jesus teachings?  Will I admire them from a distance, but never really embrace them; will I dismiss them as something that may be appropriate for others, but not for me; or will I take hold of them and try to follow his teachings?

Jesus final challenge in this collection of teachings is to put into practice what he has taught.  If I will do so, they will serve as a solid foundation that I can build my life on.  A foundation that will be secure during the storms of life.  And at the end, after all the storms have blown, my house will still be standing.

But should I choose to ignore his teachings, whether I admire them or not, the results will be dramatically different.  It will be like building my house on sand.  It may be easy to do, but it is a shortcut that will have disastrous results when a storm comes along.

I may think I know what's best for my life.  But it is hard to imagine that I will know better than my creator.  While it may get in the way of self-gratification, obedience is the wisest approach.

Thursday, September 18, 2014

A Lollipop Off the Dosewallips

For years I have been gazing at a map of the Olympics and seeing a loop in the southeastern part of the park.  This loop crosses Anderson, O'Neil and LaCrosse passes and can be accessed via the west fork of the Dosewallips, the Duckabush, the Enchanted Valley, or the Skokomish via High Divide.  Not sure why it has taken me so long to actually pull the trigger on this trip, but finally did it this past week, accessing via the Dose.

I parked the truck at the washout on the Dose and left just before 7AM and headed on up the road to the Ranger Station and then on up the west fork at Dose Forks.  My hope was to get over Anderson Pass and get started onto the O'Neil trail before stopping for the night.  For the most part the walking was easy and the miles just flew by.  I got to Honeymoon Meadows, having seen only 2 couples on the trail and a camp set up at the roads end, and stopped for a late lunch.  I had expected to have to ford just above Diamond Meadows and again at Honeymoon Meadows, but there were a series of big logs at the Diamond crossing, and a bunch of branches laid across at Honeymoon so I was able to keep my feet dry the whole time.

After lunch I charged on over the pass, where I encountered what appeared to be a small trail crew at rest, and then down to the O'Neil turnoff and followed that trail for a couple of hours.  There was an amazing number of huckleberries in the pass, and I ate more than my share of them.  Finally stopped for the night off to the side of the trail where the ground was not too steep and I could get my hammock pitched.

As I was eating dinner a young man from the Portland area came by.  He was doing the same loop, although in reverse and starting from the Skykomish.  we talked for a few minutes and he went on, hoping to get another couple of miles in, although it was dusk by then.  After a 20.5 mile day, I was pooped and in the hammock before 8PM.

Day 2 started early and hit the trail by 7.  About 15 minutes later I ran into a bear having breakfast.  It was pretty cool, except that he was in the trail, about 50-60 feet away, and not inclined to move over and let me go by.  After taking a few pictures and watching a bit, I started talking loudly to it, clacking my sticks together and even blew on my whistle for a bit.  Nothing.  Eventually he started toward me and finally seemed to recognize my presence.  He then turned around and slowly ambled down the trail, with me following behind and continuing to talk to him.  I followed for about 10 minutes before he finally got tired of me tailing him and turned off onto a branching animal trail.  Pretty exciting for me.

An hour further down the trail I started hearing elk bugling and shortly after rounded a corner opening out to a big cirque.  And there stood a big 6 or 7 point bull.  I got a few pictures before he saw me and ran off down the hill.  A few minutes later there was another big bull above me, and then several more down below.  I spotted at least 7 at one time, with the trees seeming to hide many more.  The hills were echoing with their calls.  I must have spent half an hour slowly moving around that cirque, watching and listening to them.

Eventually I got to O'Neil Pass and met a young lady who was making the same trip as the guy from last night.  We talked briefly and then went on, my expectation being that I would see both of them later in the day in the LaCrosse Pass area.

I saw another big bull just above Marmot Lake and then continued on down the Duckabush.  Part way to the ford I met another guy who was making the same trip I was except doing the loop in reverse.  He was going at a much slower pace though so did not expect to see him again. Obviously this is a popular loop to make.

I hit the bottom of the LaCrosse trail at close to 1 and headed up this 3.3 mile 2900 foot climb.  This was the only part of the trip I had never been on, but knew it was steep and dry.  So I dropped down into granny gear and slowly plugged my way up, finding it not to be as bad as I had feared.  Hit the top a bit after 3, had some snacks and started down.  About 1/3 of the way I re-met the gal from O'Neil charging up the hill, and she didn't even seem to be breathing hard.  2/3 of the way down I met the guy from the previous night, not moving nearly as fast.  Visited briefly with both before continuing down the hill, past Honeymoon Meadows and on to Diamond Meadows for the night.

Slept in the next morning and hit the trail about 8:15 and cruised on down the 12 miles to the truck, getting there a bit before 1 to start the long drive home.  All in all a very good trip.  52 miles of some beautiful country in about 2 1/2 days.  Got to see a bear and some elk, ate lots of berries and only saw about 10 people.  The weather was good and the trail was in good shape.  The only thing missing were the wildflowers, which were well past their prime.

This little guy was playing sentry just past the washout.  

This is probably the lowest I have ever seen the Dosewallips.  The falls half a mile below the Ranger Station are normally booming.

The Dosewallips Ranger Station with a pet deer just in front of the sign.  

The low bridge at Dose Forks.

I get a kick out of seeing these insulators periodically.  Left over, I understand, from WW II when there were spotters up in some of the passes looking for Japanese planes.

Looking down from the high bridge over the west fork.  Not sure how far down it is, but it looks to be a 100 feet or so.

The current iteration of the high bridge.  It has been destroyed more than once over the years, but looks much more substantial than it has in the past.  I remember being able to bounce on it while crossing, but not now.

Honeymoon Meadows.  Pretty dry this time of year.

The privy at the shelter just below Anderson Pass, about 10 feet off the trail.  Not for those looking for privacy in their 'quiet' time.

Taken from just above the meadow a mile up the O'Neil Pass trail.  I assume the glacier at the top center is on Mt Anderson.

Hammock strung along side the O'Neil trail.  Not a lot of level ground in the area.  But it really doesn't matter once you climb in.

My hiking partner for part of the second morning.

One of the big bulls in the cirque along the O'Neil trail.

A river of clouds flowing into the Enchanted Valley.  Glad I was higher up.

Marmot Lake nestled in its little basin.  Heart and LaCrosse lakes are on a shelf  up and to the left.

Not many flowers blooming this time of year, but there was a lot of fungus growing.

Just about the only fresh flower I saw on the trip.  All the  rest of them were fading or gone.

LaCrosse Pass, elevation 5566, high point of the trip.

This is the jumble of branches and small trees that you can use to pick your way across the Dose at Honeymoon Meadows.

Massive blowdown just below Honeymoon.  The river is in the foreground.  It happened several years ago, but the scar is still very visible.

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

The Gospel in Romans

Paul, a servant of Christ Jesus, called to be an apostle and set apart for the gospel of God— 2 the gospel he promised beforehand through his prophets in the Holy Scriptures 3 regarding his Son, who as to his earthly life was a descendant of David, 4 and who through the Spirit of holiness was appointed the Son of God in power by his resurrection from the dead: Jesus Christ our Lord. 5 Through him we received grace and apostleship to call all the Gentiles to the obedience that comes from faith for his name’s sake. 6 And you also are among those Gentiles who are called to belong to Jesus Christ.
...
16 For I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is the power of God that brings salvation to everyone who believes: first to the Jew, then to the Gentile. 17 For in the gospel the righteousness of God is revealed—a righteousness that is by faith from first to last, just as it is written: “The righteous will live by faith.”

Romans 1:1-6; 16-17 NIV
Gospel is a word that has come to mean the teaching or revelation of Christ.  It comes from an old English word that means good news, and translates the Greek word evangel which has the same meaning.  It is a word that Paul uses 12 times in the letter to the Romans, with half of the uses coming in the first 17 verses of the first chapter.  Paul is a proclaimer of the gospel (Romans 15:16, 19, 20), and I believe that this letter to the Roman church is a written form of that gospel he proclaims.  So just what is the gospel?  His introduction to the Romans gives us some insight concerning it, although you really need to read all of Romans to get the complete picture.

The first thing Paul has to say about the gospel is that it was foretold in the Old Testament by the prophets.  While they did not clearly see the gospel, God did use them to prepare the way for the gospel to later be revealed.  And the early church used those clues provided by the prophets to shape their understanding of what God was doing.  Phillips use of Isaiah to share Jesus with the Ethiopian in the 9th chapter of Acts is an example of that.

The gospel is not so much about an event as it is a person; Jesus.  Jesus is described as a descendant of king David, in fulfillment of the promise made to him.  And he was also appointed to be the Son of God by his resurrection.  That is an interesting statement that is somewhat troublesome.  It seems to say that Jesus became the Son of God at his resurrection, while the rest of scripture claims that he was God before creation.  But Douglas Moo, in his commentary on Romans, thinks it best to see this expression as one that is referencing a title rather than referring to Jesus nature.  He was the divine and eternal Son of God, but at his resurrection he began his reign as saviour of mankind and was given the title of Son of God.

Paul expresses to the church at Rome that he is not ashamed of the gospel.  On the surface that seems like a strange statement to me.  Why would he be ashamed of the gospel?  It may well be because the gospel is about a messiah who died a criminal's death on a cross, a shameful death, and not something that most people would be proud of.  But Paul is not ashamed of the gospel because he recognizes God's power in it.

The gospel is not the story of a crucified messiah, although it does include that.  Rather it is the power of God that brings salvation to a lost world, to all who will believe.  When a person puts their trust in the crucified and resurrected Jesus, God creates a new life in them, a life that is shared with him.  The gospel has the power to transform me from a man separated from God and without hope in this world, to a child of God, destined to eternal life with him.

The gospel reveals to us the righteousness of God, a righteousness that Paul says is one that comes by faith.  There is some discussion as to just what is meant by the righteousness of God, but it seems best to me to see it as a righteousness that God provides to those who believe, in contrast to a personal righteousness that we try to attain on our own.  This righteous of God, if not the predominate theme of Romans, is at least a major one that Paul spends much time on.  And it is at the heart of the gospel message.  All of those who believe will experience the righteous life that God provides, and will escape the destruction that they would have faced without the gospel.

So Paul is not ashamed of the gospel, because he understands what it has done for him, and how it will transform anyone else who believes.  The gospel is not just the story of Jesus that we share among ourselves, and occasionally with others.  It is God's power at work in the lives of all who will believe.