Friday, December 30, 2011

New Year Resolutions

New Years is a traditional time to evaluate the year just coming to an end and to make resolutions for the coming year, typically things that I am wanting to start, or stop, doing.  But I have generally given up the habit of establishing resolutions for the new year; it just seems to be of little value in actually making any improvements in who I am, although there is definitely much room for improvement.  

But I do find value in one of the traditional images of New Years.  Although it comes in a variety of forms, the image of the old man and young child, representing the outgoing and incoming years does paint a good picture for me.
The old man represents a year that is worn out with all of the struggles of life while the young child is new and fresh and ready to face all that the new year will bring.  I find this image fits well with Paul's admonition to believers in Colossians 3:5-14.
Do not lie to each other, since you have taken off your old self with its practices and have put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge in the image of its Creator. - Colossians 3:9-10 NIV
Here Paul instructs us, like changing clothes, to put off the old self and put on the new self.  The old set of clothes, like the old man in the image, is stained with the world and its association with it.  The clothes we are to remove include: sexual immorality, impurity, lust, evil desires, greed, anger, rage, malice, slander, filthy language and lying.  All of these attributes of the 'old man', need to be removed because they have no place in the person God has called me to become.

Instead, I am to put on a new set of clothes, including: compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, patience, bearing with each other, forgiveness and love.  This 'new self' is one that will honor God in holiness, and should be my goal.  It is a choice that I am called to make; out with the old and in with the new.

How about it?  Will you put off the 'old man' in this new year and choose to be made anew?  To put the ways of this world behind you and be transformed by the renewing of your mind?

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

The Blessing of Fatherhood

I put my daughter on a plane today after an all too short visit.  That is an emotionally difficult thing to do, and doesn't seem to get easier because of repetition.  It seems just like yesterday that I was holding each of my new born children in the delivery room, a pair of events whose emotional impact has only been rivaled on the day I married their mother.  There have been lots of memories generated in the past 30 years in my life, but it seems like most of the significant ones have involved either my wife or children.

I look back at the years of watching my children grow with wonder and amazement.  Watching them transform from helpless infants to full grown adults has truly been something to see and experience.  While there are things I might wish to do differently, I am so grateful for the experience of being a father and for the privilege of being a part of their lives, in the past, the present, and into the future.

I am proud of them both that they have taken such responsibility for their lives, working hard and becoming productive members of society.  Both of them have invested a part of their lives in military service and have fought in our nations wars.  While the future ahead of them is uncertain, I am confident that they will be able to handle whatever comes their way.

My children no longer live at home, and function pretty much independently of their mother and I.  But they continue to be on our hearts and thoughts and the frequent subject of our prayers.  The song below expresses my heart's desire for them better than any other I have ever heard.

 

 If you have children at home, cherish the time you have with them and take seriously your responsibility to help them to blossom.  If your children are grown and gone, continue to be there for them and uplift them before the Father.

Sunday, December 25, 2011

Good News of Great Joy!

And it came to pass in those days that a decree went out from Caesar Augustus that all the world should be registered. This census first took place while Quirinius was governing Syria. So all went to be registered, everyone to his own city.


Joseph also went up from Galilee, out of the city of Nazareth, into Judea, to the city of David, which is called Bethlehem, because he was of the house and lineage of David, to be registered with Mary, his betrothed wife, who was with child. So it was, that while they were there, the days were completed for her to be delivered. And she brought forth her firstborn Son, and wrapped Him in swaddling cloths, and laid Him in a manger, because there was no room for them in the inn.

Now there were in the same country shepherds living out in the fields, keeping watch over their flock by night. And behold, an angel of the Lord stood before them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were greatly afraid. Then the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid, for behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy which will be to all people. For there is born to you this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. And this will be the sign to you: You will find a Babe wrapped in swaddling cloths, lying in a manger.” 

And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying: 
       “Glory to God in the highest, 
      And on earth peace, goodwill toward men!”
 



So it was, when the angels had gone away from them into heaven, that the shepherds said to one another, “Let us now go to Bethlehem and see this thing that has come to pass, which the Lord has made known to us.” And they came with haste and found Mary and Joseph, and the Babe lying in a manger. Now when they had seen Him, they made widelyknown the saying which was told them concerning this Child. And all those who heard itmarveled at those things which were told them by the shepherds. But Mary kept all these things and pondered them in her heart. Then the shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all the things that they had heard and seen, as it was told them.  Luke 2:1-20 NKJV


Merry Christmas to all.  May the love of Christ fill your hearts today and into the coming year.

Friday, December 23, 2011

The Demand for A Sign

I am currently reading through the gospel of Matthew and last night came to the 16th chapter and the request by the Pharisees and Sadducees for Jesus to provide them with a sign from heaven.  This really struck a note because I can't tell you how many times I have heard folks make the same demand as a requirement for believing in Jesus or even in the existence of God.  I believe Jesus response to this demand should be helpful in knowing how to answer this question today if it is asked of you.


Jesus responds to this question by telling them that "A wicked and adulterous generation looks for a miraculous sign, but none will be given it except the sign of Jonah."  Jesus first of all compliments those asking the question for being rational and intelligent people who demand evidence before believing.  Not!  Jesus actually identifies them as being wicked and adulterous, a people who are not looking for God, but rather looking to their own interests.  People who are asking for the sign, not because they are interested in believing, but as an excuse for not believing.


But Jesus does provide them with one sign that when fulfilled, should be proof enough; the sign of Jonah.  If you remember the story, Jonah flees from God and ends up being tossed overboard and swallowed by a great fish. Jonah is in the belly of the fish for three days before being spit up on the shore.  Jesus here is looking forward to his crucifixion and subsequent stay in the tomb for three days prior to his resurrection.  The sign of his resurrection should be enough to convince them, if they are willing to be convinced, otherwise nothing will.


As Jesus and his disciples go on from there he warns them to be on guard against the teachings of the Pharisees and Sadducees.  These are the same folks who had just demanded a miraculous sign from heaven, refusing to believe the signs already given.  These were the intellectuals of the Jewish people who made every attempt to steer the people away from God's Messiah and to themselves; people who thus were fighting against God.


There are many Pharisees and Sadducees in our world today, although they generally carry different titles.  Some of them carry the label of Christian, but are leading people away from the Christ of the New Testament and into more modern philosophies concerning Jesus.  And others may be atheists, leading us to worship the creation rather than the creator.  In whatever guise they come, remember Jesus admonition to be on your guard against them.


In John 20:30-31 John tells us:
Jesus performed many other signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not recorded in this book. But these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name.
John has recorded seven 'signs' that should be sufficient for one to believe that Jesus is the Messiah, God's Son, and in believing to experience eternal life.  Additional signs are given in the other gospels, including the sign of the birth of a baby in Bethlehem 2015 years ago.  What will you do with them?  Will you reject them and demand a sign of your own?  Or will you accept them and find eternal life?


For those who have believed, remember Jesus words and guard against those who would seek to lead you away from simple faith in your Creator and in his son Jesus, leading you into the worship of self and denial of God.  This is not an admonition against rational thought and learning, but rather a warning to not abandon faith in the pursuit of rationality.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

The Crab Pot

Today was my wife's birthday, as well as the day my daughter came home for Christmas.  So to celebrate we went to the Crab Pot, along the Seattle water front, for lunch.  Sue had eaten at a similar place in New Orleans a few years ago and felt like the rest of us would enjoy the experience.

The Crab Pot's signature disk is a sea food combo; there are actually a variety of combos available.  Our order included Dungeness Crab, Snow Crab, Shrimp, Mussels, Steamer Clams, some kind of sausage, corn on the cob and chunks of red potatoes all boiled up together.  For the four of us they covered the table with butcher paper and dumped two big bowls of this out into a heap in front of us.  Along with the sea food you get a bib, a block and wooden hammer and a small fork, along with melted butter and cocktail sauce, and a roll of paper towels.

The food, assuming you like shellfish, was pretty good, although you do need to work at shelling the crab and shrimp, and I can't say I was overly fond of the sausage.  The service was great, the company was wonderful (it's always good to have the family all together), and overall it was an enjoyable experience.  And, after they discovered we had a birthday girl with us, the dessert was free.

If you are looking for something a little out of the ordinary, the Crab Pot may be just what you are looking for.

Friday, December 16, 2011

Isn't There Anyone Who Knows What Christmas Is All About?

Charlie Brown is struggling with all of the hustle and bustle of the Christmas season when in despair he utters "Isn't there anyone who knows what Christmas is all about?"  And Linus leaps to the rescue with a recitation of the account of Jesus birth in the gospel of Luke, a part of which is below.  
"And the angel said unto them, Fear not: for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people.  For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, which is Christ the Lord." - Luke 2:10-11 KJV
Popular cartoons are not always a good source of theology, but in this case I believe Linus has nailed it.  Christmas is all about the coming of a savior, good tidings of great joy to all people.  The angels announcement, the visit of the shepherds and magi, the manger and stable are all secondary to the savior who was born.  Even the birth of a baby who was the center of all the hoopla is not as important as who that baby was and why he had come.  He was a savior, a deliverer.  He was Christ, God's anointed one.  And he was the Lord, one with power and authority, God.

My favorite passage about the coming of the savior is not in one of the gospel accounts.  Instead it is in Philippians 2:5-11
Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus:
   Who, being in very nature God,
      did not consider equality with God something to be grasped,
   but made himself nothing,
      taking the very nature of a servant,
      being made in human likeness.
   And being found in appearance as a man,
      he humbled himself
      and become obedient to death —
         even death on a cross!
   Therefore God exalted him to the highest place
      and gave him the name that is above every name,
   that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow,
      in heaven and on earth and under the earth,
   and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord,
      to the glory of God the Father.
At Christmas we generally remember Jesus being made in human likeness and being found in appearance as a man.  But before Jesus was made in human likeness he was in very nature God, having equality with God.  Jesus was fully God before he made himself nothing in becoming a human.  In becoming a human, Jesus did not give up his divinity, but he did become completely human with all the limitations inherent in that.
This baby that we picture in the manger was God.  But he was also a helpless infant totally dependent on his parents to supply his every need.  We think of the cross as a sacrifice.  But is not his incarnation a sacrifice as well?

Jesus as God is the first stop in the story of salvation, while his incarnation is the second.  The third stop in the story told here by Paul is one of death, Jesus becoming obedient to death on a cross.
Jesus, as a man, was obedient to the Father's plan for his life, a plan that took him to the cross.  The cross is why Jesus was born and everything is his life led up to this.  It is in his death that he became our savior, delivering us from destruction and into a relationship with our creator.

The final stop in this story is Jesus exultation.  Because of his willingness to go to the cross God exalted him to the highest place and gave him the name that is above every name.
At the manger the shepherds and magi knelt before him.  At the cross all believers bow before him.  But ultimately every knee will bow and every tongue will acknowledge he is Lord.  Jesus, that helpless infant in the manger, now sits enthroned in the highest place, the firstborn over all creation.

This Christmas, as you celebrate Jesus birth, let me encourage you also to kneel before your Savior and acknowledge him as Lord.  And in your celebration at the manger, don't forget the cross and the throne.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

2011 In Review, AKA the Christmas Letter

Well, as 2011 draws to a close it is time to do the annual, or bi-annual, Christmas letter; attempting to bore enthrall all of our friends and family with the hum drum exciting details of our past year.  I would dearly love to tell you enchanting tales of our mission trip to the Congo, the adoption of our new Ukrainian baby and our 3 week adventure in Australia and New Zealand, but alas I cannot.  Mostly because in reality our past year has been somewhat more modest.

Sue and I did make a week long cruise to Alaska with dear friends.  The trip was good and scenic and the food was good and abundant.  But the opportunity to visit with Randy and Tina was priceless.  It had been a long time and it was great to be able to spend the week with them.

We also faced Prostate Cancer early this year and elected to have a Radical Prostatectomy in mid February.  Ultimately everything went great, the cancer is gone and life is back to normal again.  It was an exciting adventure, but one I hope not to repeat any time soon.

Last year I began my journey along the Pacific Crest Trail with a 70 mile segment.  This past summer I got in the next 160 miles and am looking forward to about 300 miles next year.  Sue will be going along with the car to ensure that I survive the trip, meeting me periodically and making sure I stay fed and at least somewhat rested.  Plus we will get to see some of the off trail sights in the southern 2/3s of Oregon.

Full retirement has crept closer this year with a job change that has me working fewer hours and, best of all, from home.  Going 'to the office' in my PJ's is quite a trip.  The company keeps dangling office jobs with more hours in front of me, but so far I have been able to see the barb on the hook and resisted the temptation.

Sue and I continue to enjoy working with our local churches, traveling around most Sundays to visit one or the other.  Sue is still the Administrative Assistant for the association and keeps all the rest of us in line.

Sue ran her first half marathon this past summer, nearly 3 years to the day after a major broken leg that had to be surgically repaired.  She dislikes running but finds this beneficial to her rehabilitation effort.  Hopefully she will learn to love it at least a little bit in the future.  She is already preparing for her second half marathon this next June.

The kids are doing well.  One is out of the Army, living nearby, and in school now and the other is still in the Air Force, far far away, and globe trotting.  Look forward to having them both home this Christmas.

Sue's mom continues to live with us and is doing well.  She keeps a close eye out on all of the activity out the front window, putting puzzles together, crocheting, napping, etc.; her schedule is full.  She is still in good health and enjoys getting out as much as possible.

The Lord is good and we look forward to his hand in the coming year.
Have a wonderful Christmas and a blessed New Year.

Friday, December 9, 2011

What is a Christian?

So just what is a Christian?  Is it
  • a person who admires the ethical teaching of Jesus?
  • a person who has selected Christian on his census form?
  • an American?
  • a member of a Christian denomination?
  • a Roman Catholic?
  • a Southern Baptist?
  • a creationist?
  • a fundamentalist?
  • a person who believes that God exists, Jesus was his son and the Bible is true?
  • a person who believes that the resurrected Jesus is the Son of God and seeks to follow his teachings?
By no means are all of these definitions mutually exclusive.  I would have to pick 7 of them for myself.  But, in my opinion, not all of them can uniquely and adequately define what a Christian is.  For instance, I am a Southern Baptist.  But that is not really synonymous with Christian.  There are Southern Baptists who identify as such simply because that is what their parents are, or other social reasons, rather than because of any faith decision on their own part.

I have heard all of these used as definitions for Christian; so much so that I have begun to dislike the word.  It is used in so many ways that it has almost become meaningless, a label that nearly 1/3 of the earth's population apply to themselves.  You almost need to know the context and maybe the person to actually know what they mean.

Because of that I have struggled recently with just calling myself a Christian, although I certainly believe that I am and am not ashamed of the label nor what it means to me.  But more and more I have begun to use a different term for self identification: Christ follower.  I firmly believe that God calls us, not just to profess with our mouths that we believe in Jesus, but also to commit our lives to following him.  A Christ follower is one who:
  • will admire the ethical teachings of Jesus
  • will likely select Christian on their census form
  • may or may not be an American
  • will likely be a member of a Christian denomination
  • may or may not be Roman Catholic
  • may or may not be Southern Baptist
  • may or may not be a creationist
  • may or may not be a fundamentalist
  • will believe that God exists, that the resurrected Jesus is his son and may believe that the Bible is the inspired word of God
  • and, most importantly, will seek to follow Jesus and his teachings
Are you a fellow Christ follower?  If not, I would encourage you to take that step and become what God has created you to be.  The journey will not necessarily be an easy one, but it is a rewarding one.



Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Why I Don't Like Christmas

Actually that's not entirely true.  There are actually two things happening this time of year that are both labeled as Christmas.  One is a celebration of the coming of our Savior to begin his work of redemption; and  that is meaningful to me.  The other is an excuse to give a shot in the arm to the local economy as well as go further into debt; and I'm not overly fond of that 'Christmas'.

It is way too easy to allow the first to be lost in the hustle and bustle of the second.  I'm pretty sure there is no way to change the culture around me to give up on the secularized orgy of buying and selling at this time of year since it seems to be pretty deeply ingrained.  I mean, after all, we really do deserve to get a new car, be surrounded by diamonds and have unlimited data plans for our phones; don't we?

But just because the world around me is going crazy decorating, buying, wrapping, cooking, etc., does not mean that I have to get sucked into it as well.  Yes, I have put up a string of lights around the house, and will eventually put up a tree and wrap a few gifts.  But I want to try harder than ever this year to keep Christ in Christmas.

And for those of you who are offended when others won't say Merry Christmas and accuse them of taking Christ out of Christmas, may I encourage you to keep Christ in Christmas yourself.  Not just by saying that word, but by honoring him in the things you do this Christmas.  There are many ways to do this but I offer up a few thoughts here.

What is the highlight of your Christmas day?  Is it centered around a mountain of packages under a tree?  If so, I would encourage you to shift some of that focus to a baby born in Bethlehem some 2015 years ago.  And remember him, not just a newborn baby with shepherds, angels and wise men.  But remember him as God, come in the flesh, to live among us and to give his life for us.

Do you have a hard time knowing what to get for someone on your gift list?  If so, it may be that they really don't need anything and your money might be better spent providing food and shelter for the homeless, gifts for a poor family in your neighborhood, or goats for a family in Africa.  There are so many opportunities to give to those in need this time of year.  And you can usually do it in someone else's name, giving donation certificates to the folks on your shopping list rather than a gift that they may well not have any use for.

You might even take the time to get involved in a shelter or kitchen this year yourself, giving, not only of your money, but also of your time.  How better to honor the one who gave himself for us than to imitate him in giving ourselves to those who cannot repay us.

And spend time with your family.  Spend a little less time in the kitchen or watching football and spend some time with your husband, wife, children and others who are a special part of your life.  Go look at Christmas lights, attend Advent and candle light services, play games, or just sit and talk.  The memories of time spent together will last longer than the fudge, the game highlights or the unneeded gifts.

And remember what Christmas is all about.  And as for that other thing going on now: bah humbug!


Friday, December 2, 2011

The Importance of Right Beliefs

As a Christian, how important are 'right beliefs'?  Does it really matter what I believe so long as Jesus is my savior and I live a good life?  Are all beliefs equally important?  I have grappled with questions similar to these over the years as I have studied and come to grips with what I personally believe, and why.  For me, the answers to the above questions are, 'It depends', 'Yes', and 'No'.

The Importance of Right Beliefs
So just why are my beliefs important?  I believe there are a number of reasons for this including:

  • The truth is important.  What I believe is important because I want to believe what is true.  It is more important to me to have right beliefs than just popular beliefs.
  • My beliefs will shape how I view God.  Is he a loving God who cares about what happens to people, or is he a judgmental God who punishes sin, or is he indifferent to what goes on here?
  • My beliefs will also affect how I see myself serving God.  Is he satisfied with me living a good life, regularly going to church and contributing to the offering?  Or does he equipment me for service within his kingdom and expect me to be more actively involved?
  • My beliefs can also impact how I relate to others in the church.  Do we come together to be ministered to, in which case I am concerned what others can do for me.  Or do we come together to minister, in which case I am more concerned with what I can do for others.
  • And how I view the world around me will be affected by what I believe.  Are the folks in Somalia godless heathen deserving only judgment.  Or are they lost and in need or a savior.  Or are they hungry and in need of what we have to offer them.
In my mind, beliefs are critically important if they impact my relationship with God.  They are moderately important if they impact my relationship with other believers and my ability to work alongside them, or if they make a big impact on how I serve God.  They are not important if they do not impact my service for God in any appreciable way nor affect my fellowship with other believers.  It is worth noting here that not everyone will agree concerning where the division should be.  What I might view as relatively unimportant may be viewed as of utmost importance to someone else, and thus impacting my ability to serve alongside them.


Critically Important Beliefs
I do believe that there are some beliefs that are vital if one is to call himself (or herself) a Christian.  I tend toward looking at the emphasis the scriptures place on some beliefs to evaluate their importance.  For instance Hebrews 11:6 says that without faith it is impossible to please God and then tells us two things about faith: we must believe that God exists, and that he rewards those who earnestly seek him.  So those would seem to be critically important beliefs.

In 1 John 4:2-3 John emphasizes the importance of acknowledging that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh.  Those who do are of God, while those who do not are not of God.  John makes it clear in this letter that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, that he is divine.  But here he also says he is a man; that he has come in the flesh.  Belief that Jesus is God as well as human is a critical belief according to John.

In 1 Corinthians 15:3-5 Paul identifies those beliefs that were of first importance, including the redemptive death of Jesus and his resurrection from the dead.  I find it hard to understand how one could claim to be a follower of Jesus who disputes that he died for them and rose to bring them new life.  These beliefs are critical according to Paul.

Christianity is based on belief
  • in the existence of God
  • that he has a future for those who seek him
  • that Jesus is God and man
  • that Jesus death was redemptive
  • that his resurrection brings new life.
If a person disputes one of these foundational beliefs, are they really Christians, at least in the Biblical sense?

Beliefs that are not important
On the other hand, what difference does it make where I stand concerning the rapture / tribulation / millennium kingdom?  For the first year of my Christian journey I was a pre-trib pre-millennialist, but after some serious study of the Bible instead of Hal Lindsey I became a post-trib pre-millenialist.  And I find that at some time in my life I have become an amillennialist.  While some will view me as moving further and further into heresy because of this, I have a hard time understanding what real difference it makes, other than in the position I take when discussing last things.  My faith in God is unchanged, the way I live my life is unchanged, and my hope for the future is unchanged.  Nor should this difference in belief affect my ability to worship and serve alongside of people with contrasting beliefs.  I would personally view what you believe about the rapture / tribulation / millennium kingdom as relatively unimportant.

How important is the reconciliation of Jesus genealogies in Matthew and Luke?  While I would like to know the truth about it, I can really think of little practical value that it would provide to me.  At this point it is an unknown to me, and I don't worry too much about it.  It is relatively unimportant.

Important but non-critical beliefs
But there is a middle ground here as well, beliefs that are important, but not necessarily critical to my claim to being a child of God.  Biblical inerrancy is an example of this.  Which side of this debate I stand on does not impact my salvation, so long as I hold to the critical beliefs.  But it can dramatically impact what I believe about a number of other things, such as the Genesis stories and the place of women in the church. And that can make it difficult to serve closely with others who have a different belief on some of these hot topic items.

Who is called to serve God, a selected few, or all believers?  While I do not believe your answer to this question will impact your salvation, it will affect your relationship to God.  If he has called all of us to serve and yet I am satisfied with delegating that service to a professional clergy, then I am not going to be looking for his leading in my life and for opportunities to serve him.  It is the difference between being a spectator and a participant in the kingdoms work.  This is an important belief because of the impact it will have on my life, my relationship to other believers, and, most importantly, my walk with God.  But this is not a critical belief because it does not affect my salvation.

Conclusion
I do believe that each of us is responsible to God for our beliefs.  It is important to know what you believe and why.  And it is important to seek the truth.  Prayerfully search the scriptures, trusting the Holy Spirit to guide you into truth.  Know and understand what your church teaches.  Don't be afraid to ask other people the what's and why's of their beliefs, but remember your own personal responsibility in the matter.  Focus most on those beliefs that are more important, that most impact your relationship with God and with your fellow believers.  Become rooted and grounded in the faith and resistant to every strange teaching that comes your way.  That is the path to maturity in your faith.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

The Sing Off

I am not much of a TV watcher.  My choice to not watch TV initially was because it was so addictive to me and I do not want to spend hours sitting in front of it.   More recently it has also been because there is so little on that's worth watching.  For several years my regular TV watching was pretty much limited to NFL football.  About 3 years ago I started to watch NCIS and have enjoyed that on Tuesday evenings.  More recently Sue and I happened to watch the second episode of NBC's The Sing Off and have enjoyed that show as well.


The Sing Off is, I guess, a reality show similar to American Idol, but with one very dramatic difference.  The judges are always positive and affirming, even while critiquing a performance; there is no drama or negativity at all.  The contestants are all a cappella groups containing at least 5 members who, over the course of the 10 week competition have sung one or two songs a week of different genres with one or two groups eliminated each week.  The show started with 16 groups and the grand finale narrowed it down from the top three to the final winner.


I don't know about you, but generally when I think a cappella the first thing that comes to mind is that the piano player didn't show up and we have to sing our hymns without any accompaniment.  And some times that works out but other times it would have been better if we had just skipped the singing.  But these groups have truly amazed me with what can be done a cappella.  For many of these groups it is hard to realize that there are no instruments and that every sound is coming from someones vocal cords.  Complicated arrangements, choreography, a wide variety of genres, short time windows to prepare; nothing seems to slow them down.  While I have known few of the songs, and didn't really care for some of them, the performances were always entertaining and pretty amazing.




Take a listen to Pentatonix, pictured above, singing Born to Be Wild or the Dartmouth Aires singing Pinball Wizard to get a taste of what the competition has been like.  These have been my two favorite groups throughout the show and ultimately finished first and second in the competition.  For winning, Pentatonix received a cash prize and a recording contract so they should have a CD coming out in the future.  Planning on buying it at this point.

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Seattle Half Marathon 2011

Race day dawned this morning (at least it would have dawned if not for the heavy cloud cover) warm, wet but no rain and with little wind, although the forecast was calling for heavy rain and wind during the race.  I was up early to eat some breakfast, slowly get dressed and gear up and then head to the start line.  By the 7:30 start time I was lined up with 6357 other crazy's, getting ready to run 13.1 miles, for no reason other than desire, or maybe insanity.

I was lined up to run with Phil in the middle of the pack when the gun went off; and we just stood there.  Eventually you could see the crowd ahead start to move and finally it was our turn to start the slow shuffle toward the start line.  About the time we crossed the line the crowd was finally starting to jog a bit and we slowly build up to cruising speed over the next half mile.  The predicted rain also started about the same time and would be with us for pretty much the whole race, along with an occasional heavy gust of wind.

The Seattle Half Marathon starts at the Seattle Center, runs south on 5th Ave, up onto I90, through the tunnel and then off the freeway and north along Lake Washington.  It eventually runs through a series of parks before coming back to the commercial section of Seattle and looping back to the Center.  The course is moderately hilly, with one substantial hill between miles 7 & 8, and is mostly fairly scenic, apart from the couple of miles spent on I90.  The course is also fairly crowded with runners.  I was never really in the clear, always surrounded by other runners and sometimes struggled to break through slow lines of traffic.

I felt good for the first third of the run and made fairly good time.  But by the midway point it became obvious that this was going to be a 'hang on to the end' kind of run.  Once I had crawled to the top of the big hill and recooperated a bit on the backside of the hill I started to get a second wind, or something, and was able to move along through the parks OK.  But by the time I was back into Seattle the legs were turning to rubber and there was no spring left; the 2 hour goal was looking to be in serious jeopardy.  But finally the final stretch came into sight followed soon by the finish line.  I managed to cross in 1 hour 59 minutes and 35 seconds, a personal best by over 3 minutes for this course.  I ended up finishing in 1847th place overall and 37th out of the 140 men in my division and that felt pretty good.  And even better was that no one over 71 years old beat me this year.  I still remember getting beat by an 80+ year old woman the first year.

By the time I finished my feet were sore and bloody; 13.1 miles in wet Five Fingers without socks is not a good combination.  The legs were sore and the tank was drained.  Ate at the recovery area, went back to the hotel and took a hot shower and ate some more.  Then headed for home, stopping along the way to eat some more.

All in all I had a blast and am already looking forward to next year.  Why don't cha plan on joining me next year?

By the way, Phil pulled away in the last 3 miles and finished 20 seconds ahead.  Way to go Phil.

Also, much thanks to my lovely bride and support crew for her help and encouragement.


Thursday, November 24, 2011

Giving Thanks

As Thanksgiving rolls around again I find it appropriate to take the time to remember what I have to be thankful for.  Included in this list is (are) ...
  • a God who created this universe and who has given me an opportunity to be a part of his kingdom, both now and through eternity.  I am thankful to God that I can know him in a personal way.  And I am thankful that he has a purpose even for one as insignificant as I.
  • the opportunity to serve God both within a local church and the Olympic Baptist Association.  Being able to be more actively involved in the OBA has been a joy to me over the past 3+ years and I look forward to what lies ahead.
  • a wife that loves me far more than I deserve.  She is a jewel beyond price and makes my life so much better than it would ever be without her.  Everything she touches is better for her having been there.
  • a son and daughter that have turned out 'not half bad'.  I am thankful for who they are and what they have taught me about love and responsibility.  I am thankful for their willingness to serve their country in the military, even if it was the Army and Air Force rather than the Navy.
  • my parents who, although long gone, still remain a shining beacon and model for me to follow.  My dad could seemingly do anything and was a leader of men.  And my mom loved us all passionately and would give all for her family.  I have learned much from their life and from their death.
  • friends that I can share my life with.  I am not a particularly social creature, and enjoy spending time alone.  But it is also good to have friends to share with; especially a few close ones that I can share my heart with.
  • a job that pays well, takes little time, and can be done in my pajamas.  Being downsized from my previous job has really worked out well for me.  I am comfortably retired, so the extra I make on the job now provides for extras and for ministry opportunities.
  • a home that is comfortable, paid for and is in fairly good condition.  I really like my home.  It's nothing fancy but it is a place I enjoy spending time.  I enjoy puttering around the house and the big yard.  And it hold lots of memories, 24 years worth.
  • a country that, in spite of many problems, remains a land of opportunity and freedom.  There are few places in the world I would rather live that in my corner of the US.
  • the opportunity and health to be able to run marathons and go on long hikes.  I enjoy the chance to be out and enjoy the creation.  And who would have ever guessed that a desk jockey like myself would be able to start running in his mid 50's and end up running marathons.
  • a successful encounter with Prostate Cancer.  I learned a lot about myself during this experience; having never before had any real health issues.  And I am thankful that the cancer is gone.  I am also thankful for the people who participated in its removal and my recovery.
  • the opportunity to share my thoughts and opinions with the handful of people who read my blog.  I have enjoyed putting thoughts into words and posting them for all the world to read, even if most of the world in not interested.
  • and I am just thankful.

Monday, November 21, 2011

Faith

'Faith', defined as firm persuasion, and 'believe', a related word defined as to be persuaded of, are frequently used in the New Testament to describe what we have to do to come into relationship with God. Faith ushers me into God's presence and faith allows his power to work in my life.  Apart from faith I can never know God or experience his presence.


Hebrews chapter 11 is all about faith, the faith of the Old Testament saints and its importance in their lives.  Verses 1 & 6 in particular very explicitly express the importance of faith.
"Now faith is confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see. ...  And without faith it is impossible to please God, because anyone who comes to him must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who earnestly seek him." - Hebrews 11:1,6 NIV
Verse 1 of this passage defines faith while verse 6 attaches that definition to faith in God.  Faith is confidence in what we hope for which, as a believer, is that God rewards those who earnestly seek him.  Faith is also assurance about what we do not see which, as a believer, is that God exists.  For me as a believer, faith includes believing that God exists.  But that in itself is not really faith; it is just intellectual assent.  To have faith I must also believe that God rewards my earnest seeking of him.  The bulk of Hebrews 11 describes this earnest seeking of God, which involved a life of obedience.


Another significant passage is found in Romans 10:9-10 where Paul says:
"If you declare with your mouth, “Jesus is Lord,” and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For it is with your heart that you believe and are justified, and it is with your mouth that you profess your faith and are saved.: - Romans 10:9-10 NIV
This passage also talks about two things that are involved in my salvation.  One of these is believing that God raised Jesus from the dead and the other is public profession that you are following him, that he is Lord.  This really follows the Hebrews 11:1 definition of faith; assurance of what I can't see - the resurrection of Jesus, and confidence in what is hoped for - exhibited by public profession.


Least anyone take me wrong, I am not saying that anything I can do will bring about my salvation or make it more secure.  But I am saying that intellectual assent that God exists and that Jesus died for sins and was raised to life will not bring about my salvation; that is not faith.  Faith includes earnestly seeking God and professing Jesus as Lord, both of which involve giving myself to him to do with as he desires.  Faith takes me off the throne and puts God on it.  Faith will hang an Under New Management sign around my neck.  If I am still in charge of my life, directing it as I see fit, then I do not have faith and thus cannot please God.


I talked about God's grace in an earlier blog.  Faith and grace are very complimentary.  Grace defines God's activity toward me, while faith defines my appropriate response to God.  God's grace is available to all who will respond to him in faith.  If you are not currently experiencing God's grace in your life, it may well be that you are not living a life of faith, one of surrender to Jesus as Lord.



Saturday, November 19, 2011

How to Train for a Marathon

I am preparing to run a half marathon next weekend, my ninth in the past 4 years along with 2 full marathons.  I guess that makes me somewhat of an expert on the topic so I though I would share some of my vast knowledge with those who might be looking to follow in my footsteps, becoming part of a growing movement of people of all ages, sizes and shapes who lace on a pair of shoes and stagger around a 13.1 or 26.2 mile course, just so they can eat a Cinnabon without feelings of guilt.

Now the most obvious training tip I can give to you is to just get out and run.  And then run some more.  And after that run even more.  I generally run about 800 miles a year.  That's the equivalent of running from the Pacific Ocean all the way across Washington to the Idaho border and then back plus another 80 miles or so.  Of course you can't jump off the couch and instantly be able to run all the way across Washington.  I would recommend starting with a mile or so for the first few days and then gradually increase your mileage to longer and longer runs.  I currently run about 4 times a week with three days in the 3-5 miles range and the fourth day being longer, generally something approaching the distance of the race I am preparing for.

Set yourself some goals.  While I am not obsessively goal driven, I do find that if I have a goal in mind for my running it helps keep me focused.  There are two things I use for goals.  The most obvious is in preparing for a race.  Signing up for a marathon commits me to either prepare for it so I don't look bad, or lose the registration fee.  So far that has worked well for me.  The other is to track my own progress, both in miles and in time.  I have several routes of various lengths and I time each one and log it after the run.  I am constantly trying to improve on my best time.  Your goals may be different.  You may choose to log calories expended that can be offset by a Cinnabon or a piece of chocolate, pounds lost, admiring (or sympathetic) looks from other runners or drivers, etc.

Almost as important as running is having the right equipment.  Some folks will tell you that all you need is a pair of running shoes and you're ready to go.  Well don't believe them.  Shoes are indeed an important ingredient, but there is much more needed than that.  If you're wanting to make a good impression on the folks who see you race by them you need to be dressed in real running clothes.  You will need to get a hold of lots of light weight clothes that will wick the sweat away from your body, keep you cool in the heat, warm in the cold and dry in the rain, be colorful enough to serve as a target for motorists and advertise your past races or favorite running product.  The required ensemble for a runner includes shoes, lots of synthetic socks, shorts, tights, sleeveless, short sleeve and long sleeve shirts, a wind shirt, a rain coat, a warm coat, gloves, ear protection and a hat.  Obviously you won't wear all of that at the same time but having it all allows you to run in style regardless of the weather.

There are a few other pieces of equipment that will greatly aid your running.  Among these is a watch.  Now your run of the mill Timex will tell you how long you have been running, so long as you are able to remember your start time and do the math to calculate how long you have been out.  Finding a watch with a stop watch function will simplify that process though and allow you to concentrate on not falling into a hole rather than doing higher math as you run (which, by the way, is rather hard to do when you are gasping for air).  I would recommend though that you get a runners watch.  Many of these come with a strap you wrap around your chest so that the watch can tell you how fast your heart is beating.  You can't imagine what a thrill it is to realize that your heart is racing away at 180 beats per minute.  I would advise turning off the high threshold alarm though.  It can be unsettling to your running partner if they think you are getting ready to have a heart attack.  The ultimate in runners watches have a GPS built into them.  Now you can tell, not only how long you have run and how hard your heart is working, but you can also tell how fast you are running and how far you have come.  Additionally, assuming you eventually find your way back home, you can upload the watch data into your computer and see a map of where you went, how fast each mile was and what your heart was doing the whole time.  Good stuff and highly recommended.

The last piece of gear I would recommend in a headlamp, a little flashlight that straps to your head so you can see where you are going in the dark.  Night time running takes a bit to get used to, but I have found that I prefer it, at least early in the morning.  For one, there is much less traffic out, meaning fewer cars to dodge. And it is also harder for other people to see you stagger down the road and wonder if they need to be calling an ambulance.

Finally, if you live in western Washington like I do, you need to be prepared to run in all kinds of weather, except for extreme heat.  Warm, cool, cold, wet, dry, windy and frozen.  I personally don't run when it is frozen but do in everything else.  The combination of cold, wet and windy is the worst.  And there are, in my opinion, only two ways to handle it; be crazy or bundle up and force yourself out the door regardless.  I'll leave it up to your imagination as to which gets me out the door at 5:30 in the morning when it is hovering around freezing, raining and the wind is blowing at 20 MPH.

Once you have run a few hundred miles and have all the right gear, go sign up for a half marathon and enjoy the company of several thousand other colorful crazies rambling down the streets of your local city.  Do it enough times and you can write your own guide to marathon preparation.


Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Occupy Wall Street

If you're like me you probably have not given a whole lot of thought to this whole Occupy movement.  I have known from the beginning of this movement that the 99% were protesting the 1%, the numbers referred to your economic standing, and that the movement was spreading across the country and the world.  But exactly what they were trying to accomplish somehow escaped my cursory review of the news surrounding them.

Because I am not a protester (it's just not in my nature) and most of the news seemed to focus on confrontation and problems occurring around the occupied sites, I found myself not being overly sympathetic to what they were doing.  And if I thought about them at all, it was mostly along the lines of "Don't we have enough problems without your protests adding to them?"

Now I have no problems with someone working hard, making a lot of money and experiencing a life style that is more luxurious than mine.  It is not something I crave, but I don't begrudge it to others.  But I do take exception to making and maintaining that standard of living at the expense of others.  And so, at heart, I guess I really am in sympathy to at least some of the goals of the Occupy movement which seem to center around jobs, bank reform and the reduction of corporate influence in politics.

Protesting has been used throughout the life of our nation to effect change, starting with the Boston Tea Party and including Woman's Suffrage and the Civil Rights movement of my youth.  And recently, in the wider world, we have seen the results of relatively peaceful protests upend the governments of Egypt and Tunisia and lead to the civil war that overturned Gaddafi in Libya.  It seems that at times the only way to effect change is for the common  folk to raise their voices loud enough to be heard.

So, all in all, I guess I have become at least sympathetic to the Occupy movement, so long as the movement remains peaceful and does not over-strain the limited resources of the occupied cities.  It is their right as American citizens to make their voices heard, seeking to bring about change.  Who knows, something good may come of it.

But one thing I would like from them.  It is one thing to say they want jobs, bank reform and reduction of corporate influence in D.C.  I suspect most politicians running for office this coming term are going to express those same 'goals'.   I think it would be more effective for them to more clearly describe how they feel their goals might be met and maybe even work to elect those with a similar vision.  Otherwise they come across more as just complainers, a nuisance to others living and working around them, than folks who have a positive vision for change.

UPDATE 11/17/11
I have just read an article that indicates the general assembly of OWS is struggling to reach a consensus on their demands.  The concern among some is that once they have specified their demands that it will narrow the appeal of the movement and attract fewer groups to the movement.  I must say that I find this disturbing. If they are intentionally trying to keep their complaint vague and focused on expressing discontent rather than  dealing with specific issues then I don't know what hope they have for success.  Unless success is defined as making the problems worse, causing even greater division within the country.

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Amazing Grace

Grace.  More specifically God's grace.  As believers we talk about it a lot, frequently defining it as God's unmerited favor towards us.  And indeed it is.  It is by God's grace that we are saved, and not by anything we can do (Ephesians 2:8).  God's grace has dealt with our sin and we now have a future with him.  It is unfortunate however that we often leave it there.

If you break out your concordance and look up the word grace you will find it used in some interesting ways.  
  • In Acts 4:33 God's grace was working powerfully among the Apostles.  His favor went beyond salvation and was involved in the service they rendered to God.  His grace enabled them to grow the church in spite of any opposition they faced.
  • In Romans 12:6, Ephesians 4:7-13 and 1 Peter 4:10 God's grace is given to each of us in the form of gifts, or the abilities to act in ways that would build up the body of Christ.  Here grace also extends beyond salvation and into our life of service to him.  Grace includes being equipped for service and being an active part of the body of Christ.
  • In 2 Corinthians 12:9 God's grace is sufficient for Paul's weaknesses.  Grace channels God's power into the life of the one who is open to it.  God's grace saved me, equips me and also empowers me for service.
  • In 2 Timothy 1:9 we see that God's grace not only was the instrument of our salvation, it is also a call to a holy life.  A holy life is one that is set apart from the world and devoted to God.  I cannot be holy and continue as a part of the world.  God's grace calls me to leave the world behind.

Notice that these, and other passages as well, all refer to grace as something other than just God choosing to save us.  Grace impacts everything that God is doing toward us; it is like a secret weapon that God has aimed at us, although for our good rather than harm.  God chose to save us for a life of holiness and service.  Grace calls for me to be a disciple, serving and giving myself to the master.  Look back at the passage in Ephesians that we started with.
"For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith - and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God - not by works, so that no one can boast. For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do." - Ephesians 2:8-10 NIV
We are saved by grace - that's the part we like.  But we are also created in Christ Jesus (saved) to accomplish the work that God has prepared for us to do - and that part is kind of scary.  We are saved by grace to be disciples.  And not disciples in name only, but disciples who rely on God's grace to follow their Lord wherever he leads and are faithful to the task that he has given us.  Disciples don't give the master advice on the best use of themselves, nor do they only follow when it is convenient.  

When Jesus called the twelve to be his first disciples they were not called to follow one day a week or in their spare time.  They were called to leave their nets and tax booth behind and follow him.  Could it be that his grace calls us to do the same?  Our call may not involve physically leaving our jobs and homes behind, but it does call for us to be full time disciples, serving him on the job, at home and in the world around us.  Oh, at the end of this life, to hear the master say, "Well done, good and faithful servant".

Thursday, November 10, 2011

But What If I Don't Like the President?

Some of our Presidents I have liked and thought they did a reasonable job (meaning I agreed with their positions).  And others were considerably less desirable in my mind.  I am really glad I live in a country where we have some choice in who fills the leadership positions at the federal, state and local level.  Unfortunately not everyone agrees with me as to what would make a good leader and what their priorities should be.  And so it is not uncommon that I find our leadership, apparently with the backing of a majority of voters, leading us in a direction other than what I think is right.


And I suspect that I am not alone in this.  Everywhere I turn I hear people complaining about elected officials, especially presidents, seemingly convinced that if only we could replace this person, or that party, all would be well with our nation again.  And if that replacement does not occur soon there will be nothing left to salvage.  I know people on Facebook for whom a significant number of their posts are calls for us to dump Obama because he is the devil incarnate, or nearly so.

Monday, November 7, 2011

Building a Shed

This was the year we finally decided to put up a shed big enough to hold all of the garden and lawn tools needed to care for half an acre as well as store the lawn furniture during the winter.  We had been making do with a couple of little sheds and leaving the furniture out all year, where it aged quickly.  The initial thought was to buy a kit and build it myself, but since I was still working at the time I offered the job to my son.  After looking at sheds for a while we decided, with his construction background, to build one from scratch instead, one that ended up being larger and nicer than initially planned.

From ground clearing to final caulking (painting has been delayed now until the spring) the task took about two months and a countless number of trips to Lowes and Home Depot.  During that time we watched the neighbors buy a kit shed and have it installed in about 5 hours.  It was very much a learning experience, especially for me, and there are a number of things we would do differently if there ever was a next time (not currently on the agenda), but it all worked out and produced a very nice and functional shed.  All the lawn furniture is stored away and the lawn and garden tools are out of the little sheds and the garage.



In particular I enjoyed the opportunity to work with my son during the part of the process where I helped, playing gofer and second pair of hands while putting up the walls and roof.  I believe it was the most time we had ever invested together in a single project and that alone made this effort a highlight for me.  We worked through some of the design and construction issues together and competed to see who could shed the most blood (I think I won hands down although some might think that smacking myself in the face with a hammer should be a disqualifying event).

All in all it's been a good experience.  Thanks Mike.

Thursday, November 3, 2011

How to Read the Bible

The Bible is many things to many people.  For those of us who are Christ followers, it is a special book, or should I say collection of writings.  We believe it is inspired by God and given to enable us to know God and to be able to effectively serve him.  The Bible is considered to be something else altogether by those who are not followers of Jesus, but that is not a concern for this post.

Given that the Bible is our "owner's manual", how should we as believers read and understand it?  Some consider it to be inerrant, or without any error in its original form, while others will take exception to the correctness of some parts.  Some believe it should be taken literally, others figuratively, others symbolically or allegorically, while others will see some of two or three of these in its pages.  I do believe there are some general guidelines we can follow in making that determination, but it is not always real cut and dried.


Monday, October 31, 2011

Cranky Old Neighbors and Fences

Like many other people I have neighbors, defined as people whose property is adjacent to my own.  Since my lot includes the middle of the block I have a lot of neighbors, some that I know and some that I don't.  But in general I have gotten along with them for the most part.  But that has apparently changed.

On one side of me is a cantankerous old lady that I had gotten along with pretty well from the time she moved in until last year.  But now, apparently, I have done something, either real or imagined, that has offended her.  She no longer acknowledges my existence and, even worse, has done the same thing with my wife.  And we are left to our own imaginations to try and figure out what the problem is.

Thursday, October 27, 2011

The Problem of Evil

How come bad things happen in the world?  Rape, child abuse, tsunamis, hurricanes, war and disease.  The news is filled with accounts of the hurt that is inflicted on oftentimes innocent people.  Why does an all powerful and loving God allow this to happen?  I have no doubt that most, if not all, of us have wondered that from time to time, especially when the hurt hits close to home.

If God is all powerful and all knowing, and really cares about us, surely he should be able to fix the evils in our world, the hurricanes and earthquakes, the diseases and famines, the tyrant who oppresses his people and the drug industry that so disrupts society.  If he has the ability to 'fix it' and yet does not, is he really all that loving?  There are many people who use the evils in our world today as an excuse to reject the existence of a loving and caring god.  And many others who, while not rejecting God, still question his motives and purposes; why does God allow all the hurts seen on the news or in my life.

The 'Problem of Evil', a topic that has occupied philosophers for ages is one that has no easy answer, although many attempts are made.  Some argue that God must allow evil if we are to truly have free will.  Others will argue that suffering now can produce a long term benefit for our eternity.  And others offer other alternatives that are just as unsatisfying to the person who is hurting or deeply concerned about the hurting that is going on all around us.

I do believe that God exists.  And that he is omnipotent (all-powerful) and omniscient (all-knowing).  And I believe that God is good, although not necessarily so when judged by human standards.  I do believe that it is incorrect to overlay human concepts of morality onto our creator.  He is, fortunately, not like us (can you imagine me as god) and his reasons and purposes are beyond our understanding.  That God appears to be indifferent to the sufferings of mankind does not mean that he is, or that he is not at work in our world today.

For myself, I have no real answer to the problem of evil, but I choose to trust that God cares for me and that he is working through all the stuff that happens to me, whether I think it good or bad, to accomplish his purpose in my life (Romans 8:28).  Living with an attitude of thankfulness does not make the problems go away, but it sure does affect my attitude and the way I view life.

While I am far from being a deist, I do believe that God has created a self sustaining world where he is not actively pulling all the strings.  Children are born with defects, not because God made them that way, but because of genetic or other issues.  People die and suffer from hurricanes, not because God is punishing a particular place, but because of the way our weather systems function.  Could God change them?  I believe so.  But it is apparent he does not always, if ever.

Many would have us believe that God's desire for me now is that I be happy, healthy and prosperous.  But I do not believe that to be the case.  I have come to accept that what happens to me here is of little real (eternal) consequence, other than in what God can work out in my life through it.  And that what really matters is in the unseen, to us, but eternal kingdom that God is preparing us for.  My prayer for myself, my family and for others is not that life would be dandy, but that God would be glorified in us and in our response to what happens to us.  And also that he would use the events and circumstances of my life to prepare me for whatever purpose he has awaiting me.

Monday, October 24, 2011

I Miss Weekends

I can remember back to a time when I had to work at an office job for 5 days out of the week.  I would be up early in the morning to do all of the pre-work stuff like devotionals, running, showering, getting dressed, making a lunch and eating breakfast.  Then it was off to the office for 8 hours of staring at a computer monitor.  At the end of the day I got to wake up, go back home, do a few small chores, eat dinner, read for a bit and then off to bed.  An unending cycle only broken by the weekend.  Aw, glorious weekends.  Two whole days to do most anything I wanted to.  Sunday morning was devoted to church, but that still gave me a day and a half.

The only problem with all that time off was deciding what to do with it.  Would I stay home and do chores or try to get out and do something else.  Seldom was there time to do both.  And it seemed like all too often the chores won out.  But still, I wasn't in the office and my time was my own.  And the thing I choose to do held a special place.

Friday, October 21, 2011

What is Heaven Like?

Mansion Over the Hilltop
I've got a mansion just over the hilltop, in that bright land where we'll never grow old.  And some day yonder we will never more wander, but walk on the streets that are purest gold

I love this song and enjoyed singing it as a part of a quartet in a small church years ago.  It really brings back fond memories.  Unfortunately it's just not true, at least as far as I can tell.  This song, and many others, paint a picture of heaven as a place where we can kick back, stroll streets of gold and live in a mansion on a hilltop, probably with lots of servants to wait on us for eternity.  An eternity of bliss as a reward for accepting Jesus as savior.  But that really doesn't make sense to me (after all I did nothing to deserve it), nor do I really find that sentiment supported in the scriptures.

Ones answer to the question about what heaven's like is, I believe, shaped by their view of God's purpose in creation.  Why did he create a habitable universe with at least one planet populated by intelligent beings?  I can't help but believe that if the previous statement is true, and I believe it is, that he must have had a reason for doing it.  And that reason must include our current existence as a step in the process.  If life here is nothing more than a time to determine who the believers are that will be rewarded with paradise, and he already knew who they would be prior to creation, then why not just jump to the end game and skip this messy and often painful part?

So it seems to me like life here is playing some part in the long term future God is working us toward.  There are at least a couple of passages in the New Testament that give support to the thought that my life here, as a believer, has an impact on my future in the Kingdom of God.  The first of these are the parables recorded in the gospels (Matthew 25:14-30 & Luke 19:11-27) of the king who entrusted possessions to servants, goes away for a while, and then returns for an accounting of their stewardship.  There is praise, and more responsibility, for those who performed well and condemnation for those who failed to satisfy the king.

The second passage is in 1 Corinthians 3:10-15 where Paul talks about building on the foundation of Christ. There are a variety of building materials that could be used, some of value and some not.  If the life I build on the foundation of Christ has value, there is reward to come.  But if I build on that foundation will lesser materials I will be saved because of the foundation, but will experience a lesser, or no, reward.  There is no mention of what that reward is, although in the gospel parables the reward was two-fold, sharing in the Master's happiness and additional responsibility.

These passages tell us that what I do now in this life will have an impact on the life to come.  How successful I am by human standards will have nothing to do with it.  Rather how faithful I am to the God who called me and equips me for his service will be the key.  We need to serve God here as if our future depends on it, because to some extent it does.

So, what is heaven really like?  I must confess that I really don't know.  I do believe that my future though will not just be a time of kicking back, swinging in a hammock and having fair maidens drop grapes in my mouth for eternity.  Rather it will be a time (time will likely have no real meaning) of serving along side our creator in carrying out whatever purpose he created us for.

BTW, the streets of gold?  That comes from Revelation 21:21, part of a description of the New Jerusalem, specifically identified as the bride of Christ (21:2, 9-10).  We will not be walking on streets of gold.  We will potentially be a nugget in the street. :)

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Shoes, Shoes and more Shoes

How many pairs of shoes do you have in your closet?  Seems like just a few years ago I would have answered that question with no more than 5 or 6.  After all, how many pairs of shoes does a guy need, especially one with no fashion sense.  A pair of 'nice' shoes for special occasions, a comfortable pair of shoes for everyday use, an old ratty pair for yard work and a pair of boots for hiking.

But somewhere along the way I must have come up with a fertile pair because they seem to be rapidly proliferating.  The shoes in my collection could also be a case study in evolution, branching out into several new niches and species, including running and biking shoes as well as Five Fingers.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

The Bible and Science

The B I B L E, yes that's the book for me.
I stand alone on the word of God.
The B I B L E.
I grew up singing that song and for pretty much all of my life that I can remember the Bible has been at the top of my reading list, providing guidance and instruction.  But just what is this book that many Christians hold so dear and what role should it play in our lives?  You have likely heard many terms used in relation to the Bible, like inspiredinerrancy, infallibility, authoritative, ...  I must confess that I am never too sure just what a person means when they use those words in relation to the Bible, and I disagree with some of what I do understand the terms to mean.

The Bible has this to say about itself:
All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the servant of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work. - 2 Timothy 3:16-17 NIV
This is, as far as I know, the primary passage used in support of inspiration and inerrancy of the Bible.  This passage does indeed affirm the inspiration of the scriptures, although it is uncertain just how that occurs.  But I fail to see that it really says anything about inerrancy.  What it tells me is that the Bible is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness to thoroughly equip me for doing what God wants of me.  It is God's instruction for me on how to live a holy life in his service.  I do believe that in matters of faith and service to God that the Bible is trust worthy and authoritative.

Science is, according to Wikipedia:
Science (from Latin: scientia meaning "knowledge") is a systematic enterprise that builds and organizes knowledge in the form of testable explanations and predictions about the universe. ... In modern use, science is "often treated as synonymous with ‘natural and physical science’, and thus restricted to those branches of study that relate to the phenomena of the material universe and their laws, sometimes with implied exclusion of pure mathematics. This is now the dominant sense in ordinary use
In simpler terms science is the study of the world around us, trying to understand the nature of the universe and all it contains and how and why it works the way it does.  I find it unfortunate that to many people, both believers and non-believers, the Bible and science are thought to be at odds with one another.

I believe that the reason for this is that too many believers attempt to make the Bible be something that it is not; an inspired science and/or history text.  For example, how old is the earth?  The Bible doesn't actually say, but the implication from Genesis is that the earth is not really all that old, in the range of 6-10 thousand years.  However, modern science claims that the earth is approximately 4.5 billion years old; certainly quite a contrast to 6-10 thousand years.  As a believer, how do I choose which to believe?

Those who hold to Biblical inerrancy would say that the Genesis account must be historically and scientifically accurate because it is the inspired word of a God who cannot lie.  And I hesitate to challenge that statement because I would then come across as one who claims that God lies, which I will never do.  But, does belief in a young earth better equip me for serving God than belief in an old earth?  I would argue that it does not, and that is some ways it actually hinders it.  Part of my service to God is in sharing the good news with a world that is in need of it.  But how can I effectively do that when I deny the overwhelming scientific evidence in support of the age of the earth and hold to a contrary belief that has no scientific support.  St. Augustine wrote:
 “It not infrequently happens that something about the earth, about the sky, about other elements of this world, about the motion and rotation or even the magnitude and distances of the stars, about definite eclipses of the sun and moon, about the passage of years and seasons, about the nature of animals, of fruits, of stones, and of other such things, may be known with the greatest certainty by reasoning or by experience, even by one who is not a Christian. It is too disgraceful and ruinous, though, and greatly to be avoided, that he [the non-Christian] should hear a Christian speaking so idiotically on these matters, and as if in accord with Christian writings, that he might say that he could scarcely keep from laughing when he saw how totally in error they are... In view of this and in keeping it in mind constantly while dealing with the book of Genesis, I have, insofar as I was able, explained in detail and set forth for consideration the meanings of obscure passages, taking care not to affirm rashly some one meaning to the prejudice of another and perhaps better explanation.” The Literal Interpretation of Genesis (De Genesi ad Litteram) 1:19–20, Chapter 19
I do believe his words are instructive to us when dealing with the debate between the Bible and scientific findings.  We make ourselves a laughing stock to the world around us when we hold so strongly to something that is so obviously at odds with what we can see around us concerning the creation.  Let us hold tightly to the Bible in matters of faith and service to God, and less loosely in matters that are not central to our faith.  Really, what difference does it make how God created the heavens and the earth and the life that populates this planet?

We often apply the following verse only to unbelievers:
For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that people are without excuse. - Romans 1:20 NIV
But does it not have application to believers as well?  Should I not be able to look at the creation and see what God has created without twisting it to fit an ancient cosmology?  And is that not what science does; look at the creation and try to make sense of it?  In my mind science is a tool that can help me to better understand God's working, the revelation of himself in the natural world.  I follow the Bible in matters of faith and service to God; but in understanding the world around me I am willing to learn from those who have invested their lives in revealing the mysteries of creation.