Monday, December 31, 2012

New Years 2013

As 2012 draws to a close, and 2013 dawns, it is a good time to take stock of the past year and look forward to the coming one. Of course there is nothing magical about the transition from one year to another; it is after all an arbitrary point selected for convenience rather than one with any real significance. But it is a good time for reflection none-the-less.

My Christmas letter last week has already recounted the highlights of the past year for me, so I will not repeat them here. It was, in many ways, a good year, although when I look back at it, it seems not to have been one where I made much of a difference in the world at large, or in the Kingdom of God. I do indeed enjoy my life; but maybe that is a part of the problem: I am comfortable and growing stagnant. Paul's words in 2 Corinthians 5:17 have been speaking to me as this new year approaches.
Therefore if any man be in Christ, he is a new creature: old things are passed away; behold, all things are become new. - 2 Corinthians 5:17 KJV 
It's time to get a little uncomfortable and stretch a bit.  It's past time to get off the sidelines and to make a difference in the kingdom.  It's time to quit living in the past and look to the future.  It's time to become more disciplined and quit wasting so much time.  It's time to be a new creature!  I am looking forward to this new year and the opportunities that it holds.  Will you join with me in making the most of every opportunity?

Friday, December 21, 2012

Emanuel: God With Us

In Matthew 1:23 we find a quote from Isaiah 7:14 that is applied to Jesus:  “The virgin will conceive and give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel” (which means “God with us”).  While the Isaiah passage is given as a sign to Ahaz, king of Judah, concerning his current enemies, the author of Matthew sees in this passage a look ahead to Jesus, who was "God with us".

All too often at Christmas we focus on a baby born in Bethlehem over 2000 years ago; looking more at the circumstances of his birth rather than who was born.  Yes, we recognize him as the "Son of God" and that he was born to be our savior.  But how often at Christmas do focus on the birth narratives of Matthew and Luke, with their accounts of shepherds, wise men, Herod, angels, imagined inn keepers, sheep, donkeys and drummer boys; and treat Jesus as just one more character in the story?

That little baby, that so many of us picture laying in a miniature manger among our other Christmas decorations, is so much more than a baby.  John says that he was the Word, who was God, and who created this universe, who became flesh and lived among us.  Paul says that he was equal with God, but set aside his glory as God to take on human form and die for us.  The author of Hebrews says that he became a man, just like us, so that he could become a faithful high priest.

This Christmas, remember Emanuel, God with us.  That child that Mary bore and delivered under humble circumstances over 2000 years ago was God, clothed in human flesh.  Like the wise men, come and worship him and give to him the best gift you can: yourself!

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

2012 - The Year in Review

Well another year is nearly in the books.  Time really does seem to go by faster the older I get.  Its hard to believe that 12 months have passed since the end of 2011 and beginning of 2012.  But, unless my calendar is lying to me, it has indeed.  This past year has been generally quite, although it has had its moments.

My near retirement has been somewhat reversed with a move into a part time management position for the contractor I have been working for; and more recently moving into an even more active role, although still limited to 10-12 hours a week.

Sue continues to work for the Olympic Baptist Association as their Ministry Assistant Professional and enjoys the opportunity to be out of the house and working with the folks of the OBA.  And together we continue to travel around to all of the churches in the association.  That continues to be a rewarding ministry opportunity for us.

Sue and I spent the month of August traveling through Oregon and parts of Washington; she in a car and me on foot.  This was my third summer traveling along the Pacific Crest Trail and I have now hiked the full length of Oregon, 150 miles of Washington and 20 miles of California; about 400 miles of that this year.  During the Oregon portion of the trail this year Sue traveled along in the car and we met up every few days to resupply and enjoy some parts of the trail together.  And while I hiked, she explored all of the interesting nooks and crannies along the way that she could find.  Looking forward to a repeat next year with about 400+ miles in California and another 100+ miles in Washington.

Sue has been busy traveling this past year.  In addition to our PCT trip, she and her mom took a week long cruise through the Caribbean in February, joining her brother and his wife for the trip.  She also managed to get out with 'the girls' on a trip to Branson MO in September for a few days.

Sue and I are both running now.  I ran half marathons in May, June and November and Sue joined me for the one in June.  Running is still not Sue's favorite past time, but she has taken it up as therapy to help in the recovery from her broken leg a few years ago.  It is a good form of exercise and does really help during the hiking season, whether multi-day trips for me or long day hikes for Sue.

We have enjoyed gathering with friends on a regular basis for Bible study and fellowship.  We are both finding that it is filling a void that has developed in our spiritual lives.  We are currently working with others in our church to facilitate getting more of our folks involved in similar groups.

Sue's mom, Mary, continues to live with us.  It is indeed a blessing having her with us and being able to care for her as she ages.  She has given us a couple of scares this year, but by and large continues to do well.

Mike is living in the area now and has been attending the local community college and is looking at getting into the nursing field.  He is also preparing to be a world famous musician and touring the country with his band.

Rachael is still in the Air Force in South Carolina and has been able to do some traveling during her time there.  She is looking to be out this next year and head back to school, although likely over on the other coast.

May your Christmas be a wonderful celebration of Christ, and the coming year be blessed.

Saturday, December 15, 2012

Thoughts on the Sandy Hook School Shooting

On Friday, Dec 14th, a gunman walked into the Sandy Hook elementary school in Newtown Connecticut and opened fire, killing 20 children and 6 adults before taking his own life.  Why he did this is currently a mystery, and may remain so, unless he left some written glimpse into his thinking prior to going on his killing spree.  But even knowing why he acted will never relieve the hurt of those most affected by this, whether students, faculty, parents, law enforcement, or the community of Newtown.

My heart goes out to the parents of those who lost their little ones yesterday.  I cannot begin to imagine the anguish of losing a child like that.  A quiet neighborhood, a peaceful school, kindergardeners and first graders learning and playing.  And then the peace and quiet, the learning and playing are shattered by a blast of gunfire and 20 children, who only a few minutes before had no concerns greater than learning their ABC's, lie dead, and their classmates potentially scared and traumatized for life.  What parent even considered that a possibility when they dressed their children and sent them off to school that morning?

And of course the debate now begins anew concerning how to prevent massacres like this, that seem to be happening with increased regularity, from continuing to disrupt lives and communities.  What can a free and open society do to protect itself from those who would seek to do it harm?

And likely the most contentious debate will be over gun control.  I see it already boiling over among my Facebook 'friends'.  And it seems like, at least among my friends, for every one that questions the need to have so many guns in our society, there are two more that are adamant that the only way to take any of their guns will be from their cold dead hands.  Interestingly enough that appears to be just what happened in Newtown Connecticut yesterday: the shooter first killed his mother, then took her guns to the school and shot 26 more people, before taking his own life.

I must confess that I do not understand the fascination my country seems to have with guns; personally I have little interest in them.  And the more accounts I hear of children being killed with their parents guns, or using their parents guns to kill other children, or guns being used to shoot up a mall, a theater or a school, the less interest I have in them.  It is indeed true that guns don't kill people, but they sure do make it easier for people to kill people.  And it seems like most of these guns were legally obtained, or stolen from those who had legally obtained them.  Our current gun control laws seem to be doing little beyond making more guns available to the public, sometimes with disastrous results.

Another debate that some are sure to have concerns God's place in all this.  I have already addressed this in an earlier blog concerning the theater shooting in Aurora Colorado, and will not revisit it here.  But it does appear to me that as the US moves toward becoming a post-Christian society, that the number of shootings like this have been increasing.  I don't know if there is any statistical correlation between the two; but it does at least appear that as the Christian influence in our society wanes, that we find more folks looking to solve whatever troubles them with violence.

One thing I hope does not come out of this is the perceived need to lock down all places of public assembly, adding additional guards and metal detectors.  While that might give us more of an illusion of safety, I expect that it would be nothing more than an illusion.  And can you imagine the cost of fitting every door of every school with metal detectors and adding armed guards to patrol the halls, not to mention doing the same thing to malls, theaters, church building and other places where the public assembles?  What impact would that have on our children who would be attending school in fortresses?  I think it would be one more step away from the free and open society that we have enjoyed for so many years;  free and open are not too compatible with armed guards and fear of assembly.

Ultimately I don't know how to solve what is becoming an epidemic of mass shootings in our nation, apart from either making guns harder to come by, or by changing peoples lives with the gospel of Christ.  If we could learn to love each other, instead of focusing on the things that divide us, how much better off would we be?

Monday, December 10, 2012

Les Misérables

I read something in a blog the other day that referenced Les Misérables by Victor Hugo and something then compelled me to get and read this book.  Since I have a Kindle, and it was available for free, it was pretty easy to get a hold of and read.  What was not so easy was plowing all the way through the book.  But I finally finished the task the other day, and am glad that I read it.

The main plot of this story follows Jean Valjean, a convicted criminal who is transformed after an encounter with a merciful Bishop.  As a young man he stole a loaf of bread to feed his sisters hungry children, and spent the next 19 years in prison.  Once released, Valjean, as a convicted criminal, is essentially condemned to be an outcast for the remainder of his life.  After his encounter with the bishop, Valjean takes on a new identity and becomes a pillar of his community.  That is until Javert, a police inspector discovers who he is and he finds himself back in prison for breaking his parole.  Valjean escapes, adopts a young orphan girl, and tries to stay out of sight, hiding in Paris.  But of course Javert continues to pursue him; until Valjean saves the life of Javert, who, unable to deal with his mercy, ultimately commits suicide.

At about 1400 pages, this is a pretty long novel by just about any standard.  It is very easy to get lost in many of the sub plots that the story goes through, most of which seem to add little to the story; and some of which I ended up skipping after a while.  Victor Hugo appears to be doing much more than just telling a tale. This story is very much a commentary on the social conditions existing in France, particularly Paris, during the early 1800's when the story is taking place.  And generally, the places where I would skip over where long discourses on some societal issue that I could either not follow, or got bored with.

Compounding the struggle with finishing this book was that it required a dictionary close at hand to understand what he was sometimes saying. Lugubrious, for instance, was one of his favorite words.  I ignored it for a while but finally had to look it up, along with many others.  Sometimes there would be half a dozen words in a sentence that were meaningless to me.  And, for some unknown reason, Hugo insisted on using French names for all the characters and locations: yes, I know he was French and writing to a French audience.  And that would not have been so bad if a map for Paris in 1830 had been included.  As it was, I was pretty lost whenever he would start to describe a location or a route through the city.  Hugo would have also lost points with most of my English teachers in school: some of his run-on sentences were more than a page long.

Ultimately, I am glad that I read the story, and am now looking forward to seeing the movie, even if it is a musical.  And I would recommend it to anyone else who is willing to commit a significant amount of time to a challenging, but rewarding, read.

Friday, November 30, 2012

Koinonia: Yearned for; and Feared!

In Acts 2:42 we find that the earliest church was devoted to four things: the Apostle's teaching, the fellowship, the breaking of bread, and to prayer.  The second of these, fellowship, is the Greek word koinonia; a word that means 'communion by intimate participation.'

The first time I remember hearing this word was at the place and time when I came to know Christ as my Lord.  That was over 40 years ago, but the discussion left quite an impression on me.  Koinonia was described as being much more than just friendship, hanging out together, or a potluck.  Rather it described an intimate sharing of lives under the headship of Christ.  Just like the parts of my body are pretty tightly integrated together, so, as members of the body of Christ, we should be tightly bound together with one heart, mind and spirit.
20 “My prayer is not for them alone. I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message, 21 that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you. May they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me. 22 I have given them the glory that you gave me, that they may be one as we are one— 23 I in them and you in me—so that they may be brought to complete unity. Then the world will know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me. - John 17:20-23 NIV
While the word koinonia is not in this passage, the idea of participating together in an intimate communion is. Jesus prayer here is as much for me and other believers of today as for believers of any age.  Jesus prays that we would be one.  And more specifically, that we would be one like he and the Father are one.

Over the past 40 years I find myself drawn to this passage frequently.  I can't help but believe that I am missing something in my experience as a believer.  Jesus explicit desire for me is that I experience an intimacy with other believers that is, at least in some ways, similar to the intimacy he experiences with the Father.  I must confess that I do not understand just all that entails, or how to achieve it.  But I am convinced that I have failed to reach that oneness with other believers; although some times it seems like it is closer than at other times.  And I must confess that the fault is largely mine: it scares me.  But at the same time, it is something that I yearn for.

Humans are generally social creatures, although some are more or less social than others.  And I tend to land on the side of being less social.  I am quite comfortable with being alone; and even need a certain amount of alone time to be emotionally healthy.  But at the same time I long to have closer relationships with others, to be a part of something bigger than myself.  Marriage helps in this regard, but I still feel the need for more.

But how do I get there?  How does a nearly 60 year old introvert break out of his shell, convince others around him to do likewise, and begin to experience koinonia?  I have waited a long time for someone to come along with a big enough rock to break my shell from the outside; and it has yet to happen, apart, of course, from my wife.  I guess I am going to have to start pecking away at the shell from the inside, trusting God to help me break free.

But I am afraid to.  What happens when the people I hang out with discover who I really am?  Will they laugh?  Will they be shocked?  Will I end up even more isolated? All of those are certainly possibilities.  And that uncertainty acts like extra strength mortar, holding together the bricks of my security wall.  As much as I hate to admit it, rejection is hard.

But maybe, if I take the first step, with a few trusted friends, then just maybe I might find that the risks that I fear are just overblown, and they in turn might be willing to let down their barriers a bit, and we might discover that it is good.  And who knows; maybe, just maybe, we might be encouraged to continue to tear down the walls, brick by brick, until we experience koinonia.  Yes, it is a risk.  But how much greater is the potential reward.

Monday, November 26, 2012

Seattle Marathon 2012

Yesterday was my 5th running of the Seattle Half-Marathon, along with a single full marathon.  I had originally planned to run this as a full marathon, but injuries kept me from being able to run for nearly 5 months and put any thought of a 26 mile run out of the question.  And even a 13 mile run seemed questionable as little as 3 weeks ago.  But the recent calf problems seemed to have been resolved by going back to regular running shoes, and the back was rested and protected with a brace.  I had managed an 11 mile run the previous weekend so felt like upping that total by a couple of miles should be doable.

Race day dawned (kind of), cool, overcast and dry: very good running weather.  I joined the mob at the start line; probably about 8,000 other half marathon runners, found my pacer, got the iPod plugged in and watch ready, and then waited for the start.

Mass starts, like the Seattle Marathon uses, are interesting.  I started probably 100 yards from the actual start line, and it took about 2.5 minutes before I actually crossed the line and officially started the race.  It was a bit strange to hear 'GO' and have everyone around you still just standing around for awhile before beginning a casual stroll to the line.  And even after crossing the line the pace is very slow for the first few hundred yards until the herd gets up to speed; and then erratic for a mile or so as we get ourselves sorted out and spaced out a bit.

The Seattle Half-Marathon course starts by the Space Needle, runs south along 5th Ave, then heads east on I90 to Lake Washington, turning and running north along the lake before cutting back west, through Interlaken Park, south along I5 and then back through town to the Seattle Center.  The course is moderately hilly although there is only a single hill that is much of a challenge.  Running along I90 is like running along a freeway, not overly scenic, but most of the rest of the course is through shopping, residential areas or parks. The scenery is varied and the aide stations are plentiful. I enjoy the course very much.

Because of my lack of training, I knew there was no chance of getting a good time in this race, and was running mostly because I had already paid for the event.  So I figured that I would just take the race nice and easy and focus on finishing rather than pushing hard.  Based on the previous weekends run, I thought I should be able to easily run a 2:30 race, with 2:20 a possibility.

The first half of the race went according to plan, nice and easy, conserving my strength so it would last through the race.  But once I got to the top of the big hill at about mile 8, I still felt good and so started to speed up a bit.  And with about 3 miles to go I opened up a bit more.  I was really surprised with the amount of energy I still had at that point; nothing was hurting and no red warning lights were going off.  I actually managed to finish in 2:14; way better than I had any reason to expect.  At the end my legs were pretty much gone, but I felt good.

I don't really like crowds, and generally run alone.  As a result, running in conditions that would make a sardine claustrophobic are a bit challenging.  But it does have a positive side as well.  I enjoy the people watching during the race, although I seldom see much more than their back side as one or the other of us passing the other.  

I am a fairly drab runner, although I do wear a lot of yellow for visibility.  And I stay generally bundled up when it is cold, with the only exposed skin being from my neck up.  But that is not true of everyone.  Some folks were dressed for running in the tropics.  And some were extremely colorful.  There were some folks who stood out enough to be able to recognize them later on in the race as we would past a second (or third or fourth) time.  Running in a marathon is really a cool time for people watching.

I think, all in all, that this was probably my favorite time for this event.  It helped greatly that I was not pushing for a PR, but rather just cruising slowly along and enjoying the day and the crowd around me.

Thursday, November 22, 2012

Thanksgiving 2012

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 updated list from last year 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 4+ 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.
  • for the small group from my church that I am a part of.  The opportunity to develop relationships beyond what I normally am capable of has been special.
  • 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, 25 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 recent elections were long and acrimonious, and not always to my liking; but it is great that we have the opportunity to pick our leaders and see a peaceful transition in government. 
  • 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:  spending a month on the trail this year was special.  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.

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Small Beginnings

Instant gratification!  That seems to be the theme anymore; at least for folks in the US.  If we don't see results pretty quickly, and preferably pretty dramatic results, we lose patience and call for a change.  And it seems not to matter if the target is a president, a football team, or a weight loss program.  I want what I want, and I want it now.

But Jesus gives us a couple of tiny little parables that seem pretty counter to that mindset; at least concerning the kingdom of heaven.

The Mustard Seed

31 He told them another parable: “The kingdom of heaven is like a mustard seed, which a man took and planted in his field. 32 Though it is the smallest of all seeds, yet when it grows, it is the largest of garden plants and becomes a tree, so that the birds come and perch in its branches.” - Matthew 13:31-32 NIV
Some people like to quibble about the parable of the mustard seed, claiming that Jesus' size claims are inaccurate.  But I think that is really more an attempt to find fault rather than listen to what he is trying to teach us.  Mustard seeds are pretty tiny, and while not actually the smallest seed of all, are likely about the smallest you would ever plant.  And while there are a large variety of plant sizes for mustard, one of the species common to the Mediterranean does get to get quite a large bush.  To those that Jesus relates this parable to, it is probable that this was the smallest seed known to them and that it produced the largest garden plant they were familiar with.

But, given that, what is Jesus trying to say with this parable?  It might seem like a simple botany lesson, if it was not for the comparison he draws to relate it to the kingdom of heaven.  I believe that there are two equally valid ways of understanding this parable; one related to the individual, and the other to the church at large.  And both of them start small and develop into something much larger.

What happened in my own life when the word of God was planted?  To most of the world, who have not experienced it, it seems rather insignificant and of little value.  But that seed, once planted, sprouted, and began to grow within me, and continues to do so up to this day.  And far from being an insignificant and valueless myth, it has worked powerfully within to create something entirely new; a son of God.  I believe it is fair to say that the word of God has had more impact on my life than anything else I have ever encountered.

And this is true on a larger scale as well.  Christianity took birth in a backward Roman province, among a mostly poorly educated working class, proclaiming a strange and offensive message of a crucified savior.  But what has that mustard seed grown into today?  I don't personally believe that most of the people who check off 'Christian' on the survey form actually have a personal relationship with that crucified, and risen, savior.  But I believe it is hard to underestimate the impact that the teachings of Christ have had on the world in the past 2000 years.  And the kingdom of heaven has continued to grow over the past 2000 years in the lives of believers, becoming a tree that offers shelter to all who come seeking.

By my count there are about 21 parables of Jesus recorded in the synoptic gospels; John has none.  And of those, only three are recorded in each of Matthew, Mark and Luke.  Do you think maybe the authors of these gospels felt like this was a particularly significant parable?  Maybe we should not get discouraged when the kingdom of heaven is not advancing as fast as we would like it to.  Maybe, instead, we should quit complaining about those who we think are slacking off, get busy, do our part, and trust God to accomplish his purpose.


33 He told them still another parable: “The kingdom of heaven is like yeast that a woman took and mixed into about sixty pounds of flour until it worked all through the dough.” - Matthew 13:33 NIV
The second parable in this set is even shorter than the first; but has a similar message to the mustard seed parable: don't overlook what appears small and insignificant.  In this case, the kingdom is like yeast rather than a mustard seed.  The difference is that with the mustard seed we are seeing the growth of the kingdom of heaven while with the yeast we are seeing its influence.

I have, at certain times in my life, done some baking.  And one of the ingredients used in making bread was yeast.  If you didn't know better, it would seem like yeast was a relatively insignificant ingredient with only a tablespoon or so of yeast to go with 9 cups of flour, and various other ingredients.  But you would be in for a big surprise if you left it out.  With the yeast, you get nice fluffy loaves of bread.  Without the yeast you get small hard bricks that you really need to soak before attempting to eat.

The influence of the kingdom of heaven on the world is immeasurable.  And it seems to work best behind the scenes, changing the hearts of people, and through that, making an impact in the world.  Yet too often we want to directly change our culture, forcing others to live in a certain way, with little attempt to change them internally.  The parable of the yeast challenges me to work to change individual lives, bringing them into the kingdom, and in so doing, change the culture, rather than the other way around.

Friday, November 16, 2012

An Anchor in the Midst of Change

Change is oftentimes hard.  But it is also necessary.  Without change we would not have life.  Sometimes we embrace change.  Other times we resist it.  Sometimes change is good.  And sometimes change is less than good.  But no one can escape it.

We encounter change in many different ways.  My body changes food into energy.  My body goes through almost continual change from conception through decomposition.  My relationships with parents, spouse, children, friends, co-workers, and neighbors are seldom static.  My job changes over time, as does my home, and the wilderness that I enjoy.  My understanding of the world around me changes over time and with additional knowledge.  My country changes due to elections, demographics, an increasing reliance on government, pressure from the world without.  Change is all around us.  It is hard to look at something, apart from God, that is unchangeable.  So why do so many resist it?

Now I am not a psychiatrist, nor do I have any training in the field; but that does not mean I have no opinion.  So here's my two cents worth; hopefully it will be worth at least that.

It is probably incorrect to say that any healthy person is resistant to all change; and probably enjoy change in some areas.  More properly, many of us are resistant to change in some specific area(s) of our lives.  There is so much change going on around us, and with the rate of change growing, that it can seem like I am being swept along a swift stream, out of control.  Having something unchangeable in my life can act as an anchor, giving me some sense of stability.

That anchor may be a spouse, a job, the church or some social organization.  While I may not be happy about all the change going on around me, that anchor provides stability that helps keep me grounded, preventing me from being swept off my feet and drowned.  It gives me a comfortable place to retreat to, a place where I know what to expect, a shelter in the storm.

But what happens when that anchor loses it grip: the spouse dies; the job is lost; church life is disrupted, the economy crashes and your retirement is lost, etc?  Is your life thrown into turmoil?  Or do you have an anchor that will not drag, that remains secure regardless that happens around you.
19 We have this hope as an anchor for the soul, firm and secure. It enters the inner sanctuary behind the curtain, 20 where our forerunner, Jesus, has entered on our behalf. He has become a high priest forever, in the order of Melchizedek. - Hebrews 6:19-20 NIV
The author of Hebrews here refers to an anchor for our soul, one that is firm and secure; it will not drag even during the most violent storms of life.  This anchor is hope.  Not a wishful hope; but an earnest expectation.  It is an assurance that regardless what might happen to me here, God has prepared something much better for me and will see me through to it.  No matter how much the world around me may change; no matter how much relationships may change; no matter how my own economic or social condition changes; one thing never does.  I have that hope as an anchor for my soul, preventing me from being swept along with the torrent.

Do you have an undraggable anchor to sustain you in the uncertainty of this life?

Monday, November 12, 2012

A Grateful Veteran

Yesterday was Veteran's Day, a time for our country to honor those who have served in our nations military; many of whom made the ultimate sacrifice in that service.  I am very thankful for all those who have served over the years; in particular my own father, my wife's dad, and both of our children, as well as countless friends over the years who have invested some portion of their lives as sailors, soldiers or airmen.

As a veteran myself, I would like to give thanks to my country for the opportunity to serve, and for all that I got out of it.  I gave 6 years to the U.S. Navy, but the reward for that time continues to bear fruit.  It is hard to imagine what life would be like now apart from that experience.

I joined the Navy fresh out of High School.  The Navy provided me with an opportunity to leave home, while still providing a safety net as I continued to grow and develop.  I am very thankful for the growth that occurred during that period; emotionally, mentally and spiritually.  I learned a trade, that while not practiced much afterwards, did prepare me for my ultimate career and thought me how to think logically.  And I was able to see and experience a significant portion of the world, places that I likely would not have had the opportunity to get to otherwise.  35 years later, the memories of my time in the Navy are good.

Being a veteran gave me a leg up when I started to work as a civilian.  The veterans preference can be a big plus when entering into the federal workforce.  It also gave me more 'time on the job' than I would otherwise have had, giving me more leave and credit toward retirement.

I have a Bachelors degree in Computer Science.   And it didn't cost me a penny.  The G.I. Bill paid for all of my tuition and books.  Unlike so many that I've worked with over the years, I had no college debt to have to deal with.

I own a home that was purchased under the G. I. Bill.  No down payment and easy to secure.  While we had to deal with regular mortgage lenders once the loan was finalized, we were spared much of the hoop jumping in getting the deal made.

Yes, I made a 6 year investment in the Navy.  But that investment has been rewarded many times over.  While not everyone's experience is the same as mine, I am one very grateful veteran and want to thank a country that does so much for its veterans.

Thursday, November 8, 2012

Spreading the Wealth

I was watching one of the campaign workers on the winning side of the recent election gush about what would be accomplished in the coming four years.  And during that she made a statement that I had heard before, but had never really thought about.  I do not remember precisely what she said but it was to the effect that they would continue the effort to level out incomes.

Much of what is spewed out during election campaigning gets filtered out somewhere between my ears and conscious thought: not sure why this particular statement did not. But the thought has settled down and is causing an itch that I need to scratch. I should admit upfront that I do not know all that is meant by this expression, and my understanding of economic stuff is generally limited to making periodic trips to Lowes or REI to stimulate the economy.  But when has expertise ever been a requirement for having an opinion.  And so, without further ado ...

I am assuming that many think of income leveling as having all of us fully employed, making good wages, and with no lower or upper class.  And that sounds really great.  But is it feasible?  Quite honestly, I don't see how it could.

It seems like a basic assumption to this is that all people are equal.  Now while there are some aspects of that which I believe have merit; it is not really a reflection of reality: we are all different.  As impressed as I might be with my meager athletic ability, I am not a Michael Jordan.  Neither am I an Einstein, a Billy Graham, a Bill Gates, or a skilled physician or business man.  I have an aptitude for certain fields that society seems to find valuable and is willing to reward me for.  And not in other fields.  And that is the same for pretty much all of us.

Is it reasonable for me, as a computer programmer with 4 years of college, to expect to earn the same salary as an experienced heart surgeon with 8+ years of college and medical school.  Or as a high school drop out who is flipping burgers at the local fast food joint?  Is it unreasonable to expect that those 'professions' that are more essential to society, that require more preparation, or are more difficult to fill, should be more highly compensated than those that are less essential, require less training or are easy to fill?

Even within a single profession, say computer programming, does it make sense to pay all of us the same amount?  If that were to happen, why would I put forth any more effort than was required to keep my job?  I might like that as a struggling programmer, but it would really offer no incentive to improve, or excel, if all I get is my own job satisfaction.

If I have the ability to efficiently and effectively run a big business, one that employees many people; is there anything inherently wrong with being well compensated?  After all, my ability is helping to keep many other people employed.  Why should my salary be the same as theirs.

Now I am all for having everyone gainfully employed and able to care for their families.  But it seems to me that wage leveling is not the way to do that.  Instead, it seems like it would disincentivize most people from becoming doctors or lawyers (maybe not a big loss) where the salary would not recompense the long training effort required.  It would offer no reason to advance in my job, since there is no financial reward for doing so.  And is it that much of a reach to imagine that this would even extend to those unwilling to work?  I wonder...

Before leaving this topic, I found an interesting quote attributed to Mikhail Gorbachev.  If even he found this idea to be foolish, why is it being touted for our country?

“Wage-leveling has a destructive impact not only on the economy but also on people’s morality, and their entire way of thinking and acting. It diminishes the prestige of conscientious, creative labor, weakens discipline, destroys interest in improving skills, and is detrimental to the competitive spirit in work. We must say bluntly that wage-leveling is a reflection of petty bourgeois views which have nothing in common with Marxism-Leninism or scientific socialism.”

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Parable of the Persistent Widow

Some of Jesus parables are pretty straight forward and easy to understand.  But some are a bit more challenging.  The parable of the Persistent Widow is, at least for me, one of the latter.
1Then Jesus told his disciples a parable to show them that they should always pray and not give up. 2He said: “In a certain town there was a judge who neither feared God nor cared what people thought. 3And there was a widow in that town who kept coming to him with the plea, ‘Grant me justice against my adversary.’
4“For some time he refused. But finally he said to himself, ‘Even though I don’t fear God or care what people think, 5yet because this widow keeps bothering me, I will see that she gets justice, so that she won’t eventually come and attack me!’”
6And the Lord said, “Listen to what the unjust judge says. 7And will not God bring about justice for his chosen ones, who cry out to him day and night? Will he keep putting them off? 8I tell you, he will see that they get justice, and quickly. However, when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on the earth?” - Luke 18:1-8 NIV
This parable starts us off with the moral to the story, which is good.  We should be persistent in prayer, not giving up if we seem not to get a response.  In other words, don't be afraid to be a nag; assuming of course that you are praying appropriately.

This parable has three characters.  The first is a rascal of a judge who apparently is in the judge business solely for his own benefit.  He neither cares about what God thinks of him, of what the people around him think.  We might wonder how such a person could become, and stay, a judge.  But that is not really material to the parable.

The second character is as weak as the judge is powerful.  A widow in that day was nearly helpless, dependent on family or the charity of neighbors and friends.  And this widow seemed to be a bit short in the support department and has turned to the town's judge for help.

The third character is really unknown, other than as the widows adversary.  The widows specific complaint against her adversary is unknown, but it is likely that he was taking advantage of her position as a widow to enrich his own coffers.  He could have been a money lender, a rich business man, a tax collector, or even a neighbor who wanted what little she had.

In the parable, the widow comes to the judge in order to get justice from her adversary.  Exactly what constitutes justice for the widow is unknown.  She may have wanted something returned; she may have wanted some penalty or debt dropped; she may have wanted a restraining order against harassment.  But whatever it was she wanted, the judge was not interested in granting it.  I think it would be safe to assume that if the widow had come before the judge with a large enough bribe, that he would have ruled for her.  But since there was no benefit to himself he refused to get involved.

But the widow was not easily put off and kept coming before the judge with her plea.  And eventually the judge responded, granting her request.  Why?  Because he finally recognized the rightness of her request?  No!  But because he finally saw some value for himself, self preservation, in getting her to quit coming before him.  He gave her justice, not because it was right, but for self serving reasons.

A difficulty in this parable comes when we try to put God in place of the unjust judge and ourselves, as the widow, encouraged to nag him until he finally gives into us.  But I do not think that is an appropriate response.  Instead, we should view God as the opposite of the unjust judge.  If even an unjust judge will eventually wear out and give us what we ask for, how much more will God respond to those he loves, providing them with justice, and doing so quickly.

The bigger difficulty with this parable, at least for me, is what is meant by receiving justice quickly.  It is tempting to think that I should be able to pray to God about someone who is causing me grief, and have that problem go away.  But that seems not to happen in real life.  Instead, untold numbers of devout believers suffer terribly, some because of their faith, some because of natural disasters, and some simply because of the greed of other people.  And seldom do I see God intervening, at least in this life, to resolve those things.

The only response I can really make to this is to echo Paul in 2 Timothy 1:12: "That is why I am suffering as I am. Yet this is no cause for shame, because I know whom I have believed, and am convinced that he is able to guard what I have entrusted to him until that day."  I have entrusted my life to God, and am persuaded that he will keep me safe, regardless what happens to the shell I inhabit here.  God will deal with all that in his time.  I will pray and trust.

And, when Christ returns, will strive to be faithful.

Wednesday, October 31, 2012

All Saints' Day

Today is Halloween, or "All Hallows' Eve".  Most places I have been, Halloween is little more than an excuse to dress up in custom and, depending on one's age, either 'trick or treat' or party.  While Halloween may well have some pagan origins, and without a doubt includes many non-Christian elements today, I find it interesting that it is calendared to be on the evening of All Hallows', or All Saints' Day, a date of some significance to many Christian traditions.

All Saints' Day is celebrated by many Christian traditions, both in the East and the West, to remember the saints who have gone on before us, and the legacy they have left us.  For some, like the Roman Catholics, the saints are just a subset of believers, while for others all true believers are saints.  And, for the later, All Saints' Day would be a day to remember all of those who have gone before us, whether they are renowned hero's of the faith, or the faithful servant who followed Christ in obscurity.

I do not know why we Baptists seem generally to ignore All Saints' Day, but I believe it could be a wonderful time of celebration.  Let's remember the great cloud of witnesses that surround us (Hebrews 12:1) from throughout history.  What a wonderful time to learn about our forebears in the faith and be challenged to follow in their footsteps.  And what a good time to remember our loved ones who have been faithful and have joined that cloud of witnesses.

While it is likely too late for your church to remember, and celebrate, those who have gone before us; it is not too late for you to do it individually.  It is also not to late to encourage your local church body to consider adding this day to their calendar, taking the time to remember the saints, and what they have given to us.

Monday, October 29, 2012

Pac Beach

The Pacific Beach Resort (Pac Beach) is located in the town of Pacific Beach, about 15 miles north of Ocean Shores.  This facility is operated by the US Navy's MWR for the benefit of all active duty and retired military and DoD employees.  The resort has 30 cottages (3, 4 and 5 bedroom houses), hotel, RV park, restaurant, gift shop, bowling alley and other recreational activities and sits on a bluff overlooking the Pacific Ocean.

I have been there with family and friends a number of times over the years and we have always enjoyed the stay.  The wife and I, along with 2 other couples, went back to Pac Beach this past weekend, renting a 3 bedroom house along the bluff and enjoyed a relaxing retreat away from the usual daily activities.

All of the houses have been newly remodeled and were reconditioned inside and out.  They had always been a nice place to stay, but now had a spiffier feel to them.  The house this weekend had 3 bedrooms (2 with queen beds and one with a pair of twins), 2 baths, and a spacious and open living area with an adjoining kitchen and a garage.  The house had linens and bedding, basic cooking and eating stuff and a TV with cable and DVD.  All you need to bring is your own clothes, personal stuff and food.

The weekend was rainy and a bit windy, although not to bad.  Sue and I enjoyed a trio of walks along the mostly deserted beach.  Once you are dressed warmly and the rain gear is on, the weather becomes mostly a non-issue.  Fortunately most people don't believe that, leading to a beach that you don't have to share, except for the gulls and sand pipers. I really like the winter time beach walks

The rest of the time we stayed tucked into the house with friends; talking, eating, playing games, watching football and having Bible study.  The opportunity to get away with the wife and close friends was a great one, and one I am very thankful for.

If you are eligible to spend time at Pac Beach, I would encourage you to take advantage of it and enjoy the quiet and solitude, or take friends and family and enjoy the extended time together.

Thursday, October 25, 2012

Aging Gracefully - Not Gonna Do It!

Not too sure just when it happened, but I think I have finally started to get old.  And I don't like it very much.  Granted, the age related discounts at eateries is a bonus.  And being retired is definitely a good thing.  But what my body is doing to me is not much fun.

My hair has been slowly turning gray over the past 30 years.  And over the past few years I have started to notice wrinkles on my hands that are not supposed to be there.  But none of that really bothers me all that much.  Having gray hair and wrinkles does not slow me down, or get in the way of doing anything.

I used to like the floor.  I would just as soon sit on the floor as I would a chair, sprawled out reading, watching the boob tube or just talking.  But over time the floor has become something that I generally avoid. It's not that I dislike being on the floor.  It's just that getting there and back has become more difficult; especially the getting back up part.  The floor seems to be getting harder as well.  It may be that the laws of physics are changing on us.

I have never been on to just pop up out of bed and be ready to go.  But recently it has become more than just being sleepy and fuzzy minded.  My body is trying to get in on the fun now.  Trying to get all the joints moving freely is taking a few minutes in the morning now, before they decide to cooperate and work together.

On a related note, long car rides are becoming a bit more of a challenge.  I used to be able to drive all day long on cross country trips with little problem.  Now, an hour in the car is about all I can handle without getting out to stretch and answer the call of nature.

Over the past few years I have developed a relationship that I would just as soon be able to terminate, but the other party is pretty obstinate.  Arthritis has been hanging around making a nuisance of himself, refusing to go away and leave me alone.  I don't care for him at all; but he seems not to care a whole lot about my opinions.

I also find myself drawn more and more to medical websites, trying to figure out what new trick my body is trying to play on me, and how I might be able to thwart it.  So far my body is winning, but occasionally I manage to win a round.  One of the disconcerting things I have discovered is just how many things can go wrong, and what little I can do about much of it.  But it has also given me a greater appreciation for the complexities of our bodies: we are indeed wonderfully made.

I think it is getting darker at night also.  And if it keeps up much longer I am going to have to abandon night time driving.  It is fortunate that I no longer have to commute to work.  The combination of dark wet roads, on-coming headlights, darkly dressed children playing chicken on their way to school in the morning, and increasingly darker skies in the early morning, is an accident just waiting to happen.

While there are some aspects of being nearly 60 that I enjoy, I think I'm ready for the process to slow down some.  So far, being older has not kept me at home in a wheelchair.  But when it forces me to leave the mountains and forests behind, I am going to be really peeved and will complain loud and long.  Consider yourselves forewarned!

Monday, October 22, 2012

Be Holy

Therefore, with minds that are alert and fully sober, set your hope on the grace to be brought to you when Jesus Christ is revealed at his coming. As obedient children, do not conform to the evil desires you had when you lived in ignorance. But just as he who called you is holy, so be holy in all you do; for it is written: “Be holy, because I am holy.” - 1 Peter 1:13-16 NIV
I love this passage while at the same time finding it to be one of the most challenging to follow.  Peter tells me where my hope should be as well as how to live while waiting for it.  I really like the hope part.  But that part about being holy is kind of scary.

With Alert and Sober Minds

How much of the time do we wander around in a daze, especially concerning spiritual matters.  All too often I find myself preoccupied with meaningless things.  And as a result I often find myself lost.  A few years ago I was out on the trail and was listening to my music player as I hiked.  Eventually I came to and realized that I was not where I thought I was.  I had been so engrossed in the music playing in my ears that I lost sight of the trail and got myself turned around.  I find I do that in my spiritual life as well.  I end up focused on some trivial thing to such an extent that I end up losing my way.  I waste way too much time backtracking and starting over again.

Peter tells me here that I should have a mind that is alert and sober.  Don't let the music playing in your ear distract you from life.  Be focused on the goal and don't let anything distract you from that.  If you find yourself wondering 'What am I doing" or "Where am I going", then you need to get refocused on the goal; tune out the distractions; and march down the path that will get you where you need to go.

Set Your Hope on the Grace

What is the goal I need to focus on?  Peter tells me that it is the grace that will be brought to me at Christ's return.  Grace is God's favor that is given to me.  Sometimes it refers to my salvation.  Other times it refers to the way he equips me for service in his kingdom.  In this passage it is referring to the life, and work, that I will be given at Christ's return; when I move from the earthly realm and into the heavenly one.

I have a goal of hiking the entire Pacific Crest Trail over the course of the next few years.  But that won't happen by accident.  Nor will it happen if I do not consciously work toward it.  It requires advance planning and preparation; mentally, physically and materially.  This is not an all consuming goal, but it is one that requires me to be focused and working toward it.

I have another goal in my life that is much more significant than walking through the woods for a few months.  I want to stand before my creator and hear him say "Well done, good and faithful servant!"  And that also will not happen by accident.  It is something I need to consciously work toward, with my mind alert and sober; keeping focused on the goal.

Not Conforming to Evil Desires

Peter gives two broad directives in how to stay focused on the goal, one negative and the other positive.  The first is do not conform to the evil desires you had when you lived in ignorance.  This passage may well be offensive to many, especially those who consider themselves to be wise and well educated.  But anyone who lives without God is living in ignorance.  Is it not ignorance to live without knowing your creator, his purpose for you, and his provision for your life?  What is more important in this world than knowing him, and why you were created?

Before I came to know God I lived in a certain way.  While there were definitely some rough edges, by and large I lived in a way that many would have considered to be good.  But I was generally living and following my own desires: I did what I wanted to, at least as much as I could.  But those desires were not God's desires, nor did they bring me closer to him, or glorify him: they focused on making me happy.  And so they are evil, self-centered, causing me to fall short of God's expectations for me.

Are those desires gone now that I have been a follower of Christ for 40 years?  I can't say that they have.  Many of those self-serving desires I had as a young man are still with me as I transition into senior adulthood.  And I have come to accept that it is likely they will hang on to the end.  But that does not mean that I need to fulfill those desires.  Peter tells me not to conform to them.  I may have the desire to get back at the person who cut me off in traffic; but that does not mean I have to act on that. I do not have to respond to the desire that is aroused by ads I might see on-line.  I do not really have to have the latest and greatest phone, car, house or clothes.

Being Holy

Instead, just as he who called you is holy, so be holy in all you do.  God is holy, and we in turn are challenged to be holy.  But really, who wants to be holy?  Don't you have to live in a cold damp monastery, wear a burlap robe, take a vow of silence, and have no fun to be holy?  Not really!

Think of the word holy as meaning 'set apart' or 'special'.  In my house there are two cabinets where we keep dishes.  One of these cabinets is in the kitchen and it contains the plates, bowls, cups and glasses that we use every day; the Corelle and plastic stuff.  The other cabinet is in the dining room and it has all of the fancy stuff, at least as fancy as it gets in my house.  This stuff is reserved for company or special occasions: it is, in a sense, holy, while the stuff in the kitchen is common.

Now personally, I prefer to drink out of a cheap plastic glass rather than a crystal glass.  But I am called on to be like the crystal glass; set apart for God's use rather than being plastic, or common, like the rest of the world.  Being holy does not mean I am perfect.  It does not mean I cannot have any fun.  It does not mean that I have to quit my job and be a missionary someplace far from the world I know.  It does mean that I have committed myself to do what the master wants of me.  It does mean that I am going to be different than the world around me.  It does mean that I should value the things of God above the things of this world.

Being holy in the midst of a world that has little interest in the things of God can be challenging.  Being holy instead of following my own desires can be challenging as well.  But if my hope is set on the grace to be brought to me when Jesus Christ is revealed at his coming then I will be choosing to keep an alert and sober mind, will not conform to the desires I had in the past, and will set myself apart to serve my master as he sees fit.

How will you answer the master's call to be holy, because I am holy?  Will you dare to be fine crystal, or are you satisfied with being plastic?

Saturday, October 20, 2012

An Annual Get Together

I spent most of the day today attending the annual meeting of the churches of the Olympic Baptist Association (OBA) at Clear Creek Baptist in Silverdale.  We had 52 members from 14 churches and 4 representatives from outside the Association in attendance and had a good time, at least I think we did.

There are several reasons I enjoyed attending this meeting.  Maybe the biggest, at least for me, is the opportunity to visit with so many believers from our associating churches.  As the Ambassador I have the privilege to travel to all of our churches, and visit with them, at least once a year.  But it is still nice to get them all together in one place and catch up on what is happening around the Olympic peninsula.  We have a great group of pastors and leaders serving in each of the churches.

I also enjoy the reports that are made during the meeting.  We have some pretty cool opportunities for service within the OBA, and this is a chance for us to hear about what has gone on over the last year, as well as to get a glimpse of the upcoming opportunities for the next year.

I enjoy the worship.  The old hymns were especially powerful today, and I think I saw a few lights shaking.  The special music, and the accompanying testimony were meaningful.  And the challenge to stand firm from the 6th chapter of Ephesians was timely.

All in all it was a great day.  I look forward to the coming year for the OBA, working with each of you.  And I offer my thanks to our host church today.  The hospitality and meal were wonderful.

Thursday, October 18, 2012

The US Constitution and the President

In case you have not noticed, it is time to elect a new President for the US.  It is hard to imagine that this is news to anyone since the campaigning has been going on almost since the last election.  But I wonder how many of us really know what the job of the President of the US is?  From listening to campaign promises and the debates, it would be easy to get the impression that they are some kind of demigod, able single-handedly to accomplish great feats such as: reducing taxes while also reducing the national debt; putting everyone back to work; bring peace to the world; solving world hunger; putting an end to disease; keeping America #1 in the world.

So I decided to take a look at the US constitution, a document that I am ashamed to admit I have not read in many a year.  Article II of the constitution concerns the President.  Most of it is relatively uninteresting, but there are a couple of clauses in Section 3 that are worth noting and commenting on concerning the job of President.

Article. II.
Section. 3.
He shall from time to time give to the Congress Information of the State of the Union, and recommend to their Consideration such Measures as he shall judge necessary and expedient; he may, on extraordinary Occasions, convene both Houses, or either of them, and in Case of Disagreement between them, with Respect to the Time of Adjournment, he may adjourn them to such Time as he shall think proper; he shall receive Ambassadors and other public Ministers; he shall take Care that the Laws be faithfully executed, and shall Commission all the Officers of the United States.

Make Recommendations to Congress

He shall ... recommend to their Consideration such Measures as he shall judge necessary and expedient.

Congress has the responsibility to enact laws.  But the President has the responsibility to make recommendations to Congress concerning new laws.  What this tells me is that our presidential candidates, rather than telling us what policies they are going to implement, should really be telling us what agenda they will be attempting to get Congress to enact.  It is the role of the Congress to pass laws, impose taxes, approve expenditures of money.  The President may recommend, but it is Congress that determines what course we will take as a nation.

So it seems proper to me that our candidates have an agenda.  Let me know what you will be recommending to Congress, and pushing for enactment, should you get elected.  Don't make promises to me about the number of jobs you will create, or what you will do with taxes or the economy: that is not the job of the President, at least how I read the Constitution: it is the job of Congress.  If they are unable to convince Congress to support the agenda they were elected to "recommend to Congress", we should not blame them for failing to keep their "promises"; although we might fault them for their inability to persuade   We should probably hold Congress responsible for not doing what we wanted; as reflected in our chouice of President.

Faithful Execution of the Law

He shall take Care that the Laws be faithfully executed.

The second interesting clause, at least for me, is that the President is responsible for the faithful execution of laws that have been enacted by Congress.  Even if he disagrees with them.  Even if they are contrary to his campaign promises.

If I do not like the policies enacted by the Congress and executed by the President, then my outrage should be directed toward the Congress rather than the President.  If he is faithfully executing the laws duly enacted by the Congress then he is simply doing his job.  We might not like it, but what choice does he have?

If the President acts in ways that are contrary to the Constitution or duly enacted laws then he should be removed.  If he fails to promote the agenda he was elected under, then we have reason to complain about him; he was elected under false premises.  But how can we fault him if he does his best to guide Congress to enact his agenda (that we approved when we elected him) and they fail to act on that.

And yes, I am aware that the President himself does not directly execute all those laws.  But he is the head of the Executive Branch of the government that does have that responsibility.  He is responsible to see that the branch of government he is leading is properly doing its job.

The President of the US is indeed in a powerful position with a lot of responsibility.  But he is not a demigod; only a man (or woman someday).  Realize that he cannot enact his policies into law: that is the role of the Congress.  And do not fault him if he carries out the laws enacted by Congress: that is his job.

Evaluate the vision that the candidates have for the US (I only wish it was easier to discover), and vote for the one whose vision most closely mirrors yours.  And then also vote for congressional representatives who will also support that vision, regardless their party affiliation.

And regardless who is elected, remember to pray for them.

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Are You Ready?

In the 24th chapter of Matthew, Jesus shares with his disciples some information about his return and what to expect as his return draws near.  He concluded that teaching with a warning (24:36-44) about being ready because the time of his return will not be known until it occurs.  When he comes back, it will be suddenly and without warning, and some will be taken and others will be left.  And what will determine who is taken and who is left?  He answers that question in a pair of parables that follow.

The first, in Matthew 24:45-51, is about a servant who has been left in charge of the master's household while he is away for an unspecified period of time.  Eventually the master returns and checks up on the servant to see how he has done.  If he is doing what the master left him to do, then all is well and he is rewarded.  If he is not following his masters direction, but is doing his own thing instead, he can expect nothing but punishment.  In this case, being ready equates to being faithful to the master until his return.

In Matthew 25:1-13 we find the second, and better known, of these two parables.  In this parable we find a group of ten virgins who have gone out to meet a bridegroom.  The bridegroom takes longer than expected to arrive and they all fall asleep.  When he does come they awaken, and five are able to light their lamps while the other five are not, but have to go into town and buy oil for the lamps.  While they are gone the five virgins with oil in the lamps are allowed into the wedding banquet while the others are denied entry when they finally return.

This parable is a bit strange to most of us because it does not really picture the way we do weddings today; at least in the US.  Donald Carson, in the NIV Bible Commentary, says this about the setting of this parable.
The setting is fairly clear from what we know of the marriage customs of the day.  Normally the bridegroom with some close friends left his home to go the the bride's home, where there were various ceremonies, followed by a procession through the streets - after nightfall - to his home.  The ten virgins may be bridesmaids who have been assisting the bride; and they expect to meet the groom as he come's from the brides house.  Everyone in the procession was expected to carry his or her own torch.  Those without torches would be assumed to be party crashers or even brigands.  The festivities, which could last several days, would formally get under way at the bridegroom's house.
Given the context of this parable (the 24th chapter of Matthew), the bridegroom's coming would seem to represent Christ's return for his people, with the ten virgins being similar to the two working in the field (24:40) or the two grinding at the mill (24:41).  One of the workers in each pair was taken and the other left, just like five of the virgins join the procession and five are left out in the cold.

So what is it about these ten that determines who is taken and who is left behind?  All ten are described as virgins.  All ten had lamps.  All ten  went out to meet the bridegroom.  All ten  fell asleep while waiting for him.  So far there is nothing that would allow us to tell one from the other.  What is different is that five of them take along oil for their lamps, while five do not.  While they are waiting for the bridegroom, this oil, or lack of oil, seems not to make any difference.  They stay together and all do the same things, including taking a nap.

But what happens at midnight when the bridegroom comes?  The announcement is made, the virgins wake up and attempt to light their lamps so they can join into the festivities.  For five of them this is no problem.  They have planned ahead and are ready.  But the lack of preparation on the part of the other five now comes back to haunt them.  Too late, they get oil and return, only to find themselves locked out and excluded from the party: they were not ready when the bridegroom came, and were left out.

The moral of this parable appears to be clear: be ready for Jesus return.  What does it take to be ready?  Look back at the virgins in this parable.  I find it interesting that all ten of them apparently wanted, at some level, to be included in the festivities.  And all of them probably looked alike and spent their time waiting together.  So it would seem like hanging out at church, accumulating merit badges, and learning all the Bible stories does not get one ready for the bridegrooms coming.

Five of them were foolish, apparently believing that just showing up was enough.  So how can I be ready for his return?  Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and you will be saved (Acts 16:31)!  But belief is not a one time experience, nor is it solely an intellectual activity: it is a commitment of ones life to the lordship of Jesus.  The first of the two parables illustrates this.  If he is your Lord, which is known if you obey him, then you are ready.  If not, it's not yet too late.

Friday, October 12, 2012

Eagle Creek and Tunnel Falls

There are a number of alternate trails on the PCT in Oregon and I took three of these because of the promised scenery.  As a south bound hiker I actually started off on one of the alternates, the Eagle Creek Trail.  This moderately difficult trail starts a couple of miles west of Cascade Locks on the Columbia and travels along the Eagle Creek for the first few miles before climbing up to join the PCT at Indian Springs, a distance of about 15 miles.  Eagle Creek flows through a fairly narrow, but deep, canyon that cuts through the basalt cliffs on the Oregon side of the Columbia River.  In the first 6.5 miles, heading south, this trail passes along shear cliffs, deep gorges and a lot of waterfalls.

If you are traveling the PCT, and willing to take alternates, this one is highly recommended.  If you are just looking for a day hike and are in the Portland area, it would be hard to beat the 13 mile round trip up to Twister Falls.  This trail was constructed in 1910, and is probably not reproducible today: using dynamite in wilderness areas is frowned upon.

Punchbowl Falls has about a 35 foot drop into a big bowl.  This area is very popular and can be crowded with people coming to enjoy the view, play in the water and jump off the cliffs into the deep pools.  It is a fairly step side trip down the the creek from the main trail, but is worth the extra few minutes, 

Loowit Falls drops about 90 feet into a pool just above Eagle Creek.  This fall  is on the far side of the creek  but is near the High Bridge that crosses the creek and there is a way trail to the base of the falls.

This is a sample of what portions of the trail are like.  The trail is blasted out of the cliff and is visible to the top left of the picture.  The creek is flowing over 100 feet below the trail, and nearly straight down.  

Tunnel Falls is easily the highlight of this trail and is almost 6 miles south of the trail head.  The fall has a 175 foot drop with the trail blasted out of the cliff wall behind the falls.  You can see the tunnel entrance and exit on either side of the fall about halfway up the cliff.  The trail, especially to the right, is also blasted out of the cliff and has a cable attached to the cliff to use as a hand rail for those who are acrophobic.

Twister Falls, or Eagle Creek Falls, is about a half mile south of Tunnel Falls.  This fall cascades and drops about 200 foot altogether although is is not possible to get a picture of the entire falls from any one place: this picture is just the upper portion.  You can see the trail running past at the top left of the falls and this is a good place to stop for a snack, or even lunch.  It also makes a good turnaround point for a 13 mile day hike.

A portion of the Vertigo Mile between Tunnel and Twister Falls.  The cliff falls up to 200 feet down to the creek and is pretty shear.  You can see the cliff wall above overhangs the trail.  You can also see the attached cable to the right of the trail.  This is a pretty cool section of the trail, but is not for those afraid of heights.

Monday, October 8, 2012

Why Do Politicians Lie?

Is there anyone who really believes everything their favorite candidate for national office says during their election campaign?  Granted, there are some politicians who are honest and tell it like it is.  But they seem to be the exception rather than the rule, unfortunately.  But why do they do it?  And why do we let them get away with it?

Could it be that we want them to lie?  After a great amount of thought (nearly an hour), extensive research (read another blog), and consultation (talked with my wife), I have come to the conclusion that most of us want to believe that our nations problems are solvable and at little or no cost to ourselves.  But is that a realistic outlook?  I don't think so!  While we may eventually be able to solve some of our nations more pressing problems, the solutions will come at a cost to us personally.  It may be in the form of higher taxes, reduced entitlements, eliminated sacred cows, higher retirement age, more expensive gas, etc.  But we have to realize that the solutions will not be easy.

But what candidate running for national office has a chance at election by taking a stand for higher taxes, an increase in the Social Security retirement age and elimination of your favorite pork barrel?  That's right, they would lose in a landslide.  And why?  Because we don't want to hear the truth.  We want to hear that our candidate will be able to single handedly solve all of the nations problems while at the same time lowering my taxes, reducing my retirement age, raising my salary and expanding my favorite pork barrel.  In other words, I am going to vote for the most convincing liar who reflects my ideal view of the US, while at the same time decrying the other candidates for lying to the American public.

And until we face up to the challenges that face us as a nation, resolve to do whatever it takes to solve them, and quit rewarding those who promise easy solutions, I believe we are going to continue to encourage and reward those who are best able to sugarcoat the problems and most effective transfer the blame to their opponent.  I honestly do not know how to resolve this issue, but I am convinced that encouraging our politicians to lie to us is not the way forward.

Friday, October 5, 2012

Hanging Out in the Woods

It's 2:30 in the morning.  Will this night ever end.  I feel like the princess sleeping on a pea.  The difference being that she had a mountain of bedding between her and the pea, and I had only a thin pad between me and the ground.  My hips and back are hurting so bad that I can't bear laying in one position for more than about 15 minutes and am thrashing about so much that I feel like a noodle in a stir fry.

It's night 4 of a 6 night trip and the ground isn't getting any softer; if anything it had gotten harder over the years.  I was using a Big Agnes Insulated Air Core that year, and even its 2.5 inches could no longer cut it.  The combination of hard ground and bruised hips from a too heavy pack conspired to make my nights endless.

But the next day was life altering, at least as far as my backpacking was concerned.  One other guy was staying at the lake with us and he was in a hammock from a company called Hennessy.  He claimed to love it and that it was very comfortable to sleep in.  I had tried several cheap hammocks over the years, and had looked at ads for more expensive ones.  But the cheap ones were uncomfortable after a while, and I was not willing to spend the money on a more expensive one without some assurance it would work.

One of the first things I did after getting home was to do a bit of research.  I found the Hennessy web site and looked at their offerings.  I also found the Hammock Forums and spent a lot of time there, reading about hammocks and accessories, watching how-to videos, and trying to digest all the material I had found.  I would have never dreamed that there was so much to know; definitely had my head spinning for a while: hammocks, ridge lines, suspension systems, tarps & other weather protection, under quilts, top quilts, pads, etc.

Ultimately I pulled the trigger and bought a Blackbird, a hammock from a small company called Warbonnet. This seemed to be the most popular hammock on the forums and, more importantly, promised that I would be able to sleep on my side.  I am not much of a back sleeper and was apprehensive about being able to lay flat of my back all night.

My Blackbird finally showed up in the mail (at the time they were individually made when ordered) and I set it up out on the back deck to give it a try.  The Blackbird is indeed a very nice hammock.  It has a double bottom (at least mine does) for inserting an insulating pad, along with a fully enclosed bug net.  The sides can be staked out to expand the living space and create a storage shelf on one side.  It was indeed a fairly comfortable hammock and I could lay on my side without much issue.  One thing I did note right away is that turning over is a bit more complicated than when laying on the ground.  A hammock moves along with you when you move, so you have to grab hold of it so that you can kind of hold it still while you flip.

It took a lot of reading and experimentation over that winter, and to some extent over the following couple of years.  But I now have what I consider to be a good setup that will keep me warm down to freezing (I am seldom out colder than that), dry in inclement weather, and is fairly simple to setup and tear down.  In addition to my hammock, reconfigured to use whoopie slings, I have a Phoenix under quilt and a foot pad to keep me warm on the bottom, a now discontinued No-Sniveller top quilt from Jacks R Better to keep me warm on top, and a MacCat Deluxe tarp to keep the weather off of me.

This setup is about comparable weight wise to my solo tent/20 degree bag/Big Agnes pad setup, but it offers a much more enjoyable camp experience, assuming you are below tree level: hammocks are not of much use if there are no trees to hang from.  I find that I no longer dread the nights and anxiously await first light.  Instead, snuggled down into a warm hammock can make it difficult to face a cold morning.

A hammock also makes a nice camp chair.  If I have much camp time I find that I spend a lot of it sitting it my hammock, sometimes snuggled up in the quilts and sometimes not.  I can even pull the bug screen over me to have a bug free environment.  It definitely beats any other camp chair I have tried for comfort, although it is not really movable.

The covering tarp gives me a nice work area as well if the weather is wet, which is not uncommon here in western Washington.  The tarp is generally strung about 4-5 feet high at the ridge line in order to be higher than the hammock.  While that is not high enough to walk under, it does offer plenty of room.  I generally have the back side staked down fairly close to the hammock, but will frequently stake the front further out and then prop up the two tie-out points in front with my trekking poles.  This gives me a nice porch to work under.  At bedtime, if it is windy, I can drop the poles, re-tighten the guy lines and cut the amount of wind blowing across me.

Site selection can be the biggest problem when using a hammock.  I need to find of pair of trees with diameters between 5 inches and 3 feet, spaced 13 to 20 feet apart and with a minimal amount of low branches and brush between them.  Most established camp sites are configured for tents or tarps and many of them do not have the needed trees.  Sometimes trying to put a hammock into the established site can take a bit of creativity; other times it is just not possible.

But, if you are willing to venture away from the established site, I have found it easier to find spots to hang than to sleep on the ground.  With the hammock I don't care about rock, roots, level ground, where water might pool:  find two trees with a clearing between them and hang in comfort.

I have traveled throughout the Olympic National Park and on the PCT through all of Oregon and 1/3 of Washington with a hammock.  I have yet to find a place I could not hang.  I realize that there will be some place I will eventually go that will require sleeping on the ground, but for every other place I will continue to enjoy the luxury of swinging between two trees in my bear burrito.

This picture shows the hammock set up but with the front side of the tarp thrown back out of the way.    The  bug screen staked out in front can also be thrown back to allow for easy access to the hammock or for use as a chair.  At night everything, other than the food bag, either goes into the hammock with me or under the hammock to keep it out of the weather and close at hand.

Same location as before but now the tarp is fully deployed.  The ground here is not too bad, but would be pretty challenging for a ground sleeper.  It is not flat and has quite a few roots at the surface.  But it works well for me.  The river side is the front.  Throw back the tarp and bug net and the hammock becomes an easy chair with a view.

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Living in Accordance With the Flesh or the Spirit

I have been reading through Paul's letter to the Romans recently and have gotten stuck on one passage that I keep coming back to over and over.  I am stuck on it, not because it is particularly difficult to understand, but because it has just grabbed hold of me and won't let go.
Those who live according to the flesh have their minds set on what the flesh desires; but those who live in accordance with the Spirit have their minds set on what the Spirit desires. The mind governed by the flesh is death, but the mind governed by the Spirit is life and peace. The mind governed by the flesh is hostile to God; it does not submit to God’s law, nor can it do so. Those who are in the realm of the flesh cannot please God. - Romans 8:5-8 NIV
This passage provides a test.  Am I living according to the flesh, or according to the Spirit?  In this passage the flesh refers to my own nature, who I just naturally am.  In our natural state we all live according to the flesh, and in that state our minds are set on what the flesh desires.  Is this a bad thing?  Not in and of itself.  It is just what we are.  For some, the flesh desires things that are hurtful to self and others and we condemn the expression of those desires.  For others, the flesh desires things that are helpful to self and others, things of beauty, knowledge and understanding, peace and love.  We hold these in honor and set them as examples.

But what both of these extremes, and any middle ground, hold in common, according to Paul in this passage, is that they are hostile to God, unable to please him, and lead to death.  It is not to challenging to apply this to a serial killer.  But it is altogether different to apply it to a great humanitarian who dedicates his life to helping the helpless.  But Paul is clear that if I am following the desires of my own nature I am in deep trouble, regardless where those desires might lead.

Paul contrasts this state with the one whose mind is set, not on what they want, but on what God's Spirit wants.  That one will experience life and peace in relationship with their creator.  It is ironic that only in dying to self will I find true life.  Only in giving up will I discover what I was created to be.

It is so easy to read and study this passage without actually taking the test:  I have done it for several decades.  But it is demanding an answer now.  As I walk through my day, do I do what I want, or what the Spirit wants of me?  Do I take the time to inquire of the Spirit what he wants?  Or do I just act on my own desires?

Am I trying to please God?  Or am I doing what I want and hoping that it is pleasing to him?  According to this passage, if my response is the latter, then I am not pleasing him, and am actually hostile to him.  No matter how good my actions might be, if it is in response to my own desire rather than at the Spirit's leading, I have fallen short.

I am afraid too much of my life is lived without regard for the Spirit's leading.  But this passage is stuck on a continuous replay cycle, calling on me to change the channel and listen to the Spirit rather than my own nature and desires.  Will I dare to let go of the reins I have held on to so tightly for so long?