Wednesday, May 30, 2012

The Network is Down

As a person who has become highly dependent on the network to do his job, these are just about the worst words I can hear; at least in relation to the job.  I work part time, from home, as a manager for a contractor with a remote headquarters.  Just about 90% of what I do requires access to the internet as well as my companies local network.

This past weekend the company migrated its network from one service provider to another.  It was a move that had been long planned for and many people had spent countless hours preparing for the move.  At this point I don't know how well it did, or did not go.  Because my work provided laptop still cannot connect to anything.  After a day and a half with no email, I at least have that now, from my personal system, and can begin to do my job.  And tomorrow I will get to take my work laptop into the local office and attempt to get it on line there.  Maybe by days end tomorrow I will finally be back in business.

Computers, and the networks that connect them together have really become essential to many types of jobs.  They have also invaded our personal life in a big way.  I watched a TV show tonight that was streamed over the internet directly to the TV.  My cell phone connects to a Network Extender that acts like a small cell tower in my living room, and connected to the internet.  Most of the news I read comes over the internet.  I download books over the internet onto my Kindle to read.  And then there's email, Facebook, this blog, as well as nearly everything I do for work.

When the network is down, my life is really disrupted.  And how sad is that; really!  I've got to get off this computer for a while.  Right after I get this blog published.  And after I check Facebook one more time.  Probably should also make a last check of my email and maybe see what is happening in the world.  Then it's time to disconnect, head off to bed, and get ready for another wired day tomorrow.

It will be interesting to see how well I fare come August and a month on the trail with minimal computer access.  It may well be more than I can handle!

Monday, May 28, 2012

The Mark of Discipleship

In John 13-17 Jesus shares one last evening with his disciples before he goes to the cross.  One last time to prepare them for the time when he would not physically be present with them.  A time to reemphasize the most important teachings, making sure they are fresh in their minds.

In John 13:34-35 Jesus says: “A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.”  This was a new commandment, something Jesus had been demonstrating throughout his ministry, but now sets down as something they are to do as well: "Love one another".

Jesus had earlier identified the greatest commandment from the Old Testament Law as loving God with all ones heart, soul, mind and strength.  This command is followed by loving ones neighbors as oneself.  This second command seems very similar to the new command Jesus issues here, but is actually quite different.

Under the Old Testament law I am to love others in the same way I love myself.  This essentially says that I should be treating other people the way I want to be treated, similar to the 'Golden Rule'.  And it for sure it is generally a good guideline for interacting with people around me.

But under this new commandment that Jesus gives, I am to love other believers in the same way that Jesus loved me. This narrows the scope to fellow believers rather than all the world.  And it also changes how I am to love them.  Rather than loving them like I love myself, I am to love them like Jesus loved me.

Jesus gave his life for me.  If I am to love in the same way then I need to give up my life for others within the body of Christ.  While I need to treat all people with respect and dignity, I need to go beyond that with my brothers and sisters in Christ and actively seek to do what is best for them within the body.

How will the world know that those in the fellowship I belong to are disciples of Christ?  By the way we treat each other.  If they come into gatherings and see little difference from what they would in any other group of people, then we have fallen short.  But if they come in and see that we love each other with a self sacrificing love, then they should take notice and realize that there is something different in us; that we have been with Jesus.

Saturday, May 26, 2012

One Day At A Time

Life can sure be interesting.  Just as my kids are grown and leaving home, we brought another family member into our home. My mother-in-law had been living alone for about 6 years after the death of her husband.  She was living in an RV out in the sticks and with limited ability to get out and around.  Winters were long and cold for her and social interactions were minimal.  So one winter, about 4 years ago, we invited her to come into our home to live.  It has been an interesting, and ultimately very rewarding journey.

Bringing a wife into my home 28+ years ago was an adventure.  Merging together the households and lives of two 30 year old single folks took time and patience.  But we worked through it all and have developed a very comfortable and wonderful relationship.  Adding children a few years later was also quite an adjustment, but one that we managed to make and to love.

But what would happen with the subtraction of the kids and addition of a mother-in law?  How disruptive would it be to have your mother-in-law come to live with you?  Fortunately, at least for us, it was not too bad.  She is quite, fairly low maintenance, and tries very hard to not 'be a burden'; something she generally succeeds at.

In the past few years Mary has become more and more a part of the family and I have enjoyed the opportunity to get to know her better.  It has really been a blessing being able to bring our sole surviving parent into our home and care for her at this end of her life; like all of our parents did for us at the other end.

We have watched Mary slowly age over the past few years, but she had still been fairly healthy and able to do most things for herself.  But we got a wake-up call earlier this month about the issues facing the elderly.  So many things can go wrong very quickly in our bodies, especially as they age.

We realized one afternoon, a few weeks ago, that something had happened to Mary.  She was pretty out of it and expressed that she had some confusion, numbness in a hand and some speech issues.  We packed her into the car and made the 5 minute trip to the hospital emergency room where she jumped right to the head of the line and quickly back to a room.  We spent 6 hours in the ER, another week in the hospital and a second week in a rehab facility before finally making it back home.

While the final diagnosis is still somewhat unclear to us, we do know that she suffered a least one small stroke, which fortunately did not leave any significant lasting damage.  She had several more episodes that appeared similar to the first while she was in the hospital that were initially thought to be strokes as well.  She also suffered from periodic extremely high blood pressure during a part of her stay.  Ultimately, after a plethora of tests, the doctors ruled out additional strokes and appeared to be mystified by what had taken place.

While we have had one more 6 hour trip to the ER since she has been back home, overall Mary appears to be doing well, although pretty weak.  We have invested some time in making the house safer and more comfortable for her as well as keeping a closer eye on her condition, her medications and her blood pressure.

All of this is challenging for a stubborn old lady who wants to be independent and not a burden.  And it does add a bit more challenge to the care giving.  But we are walking through it together and trying to keep the whole experience humorous and as stress free as possible.  We will continue to take each day as it comes and make the most of the time we have.

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Homosexuals: Lock Them Up and Throw Away the Key?

I read an article yesterday that I found to be very disturbing.  Seems like Charles Worley, pastor of the Providence Road Baptist Church near Maiden N.C. decided to spice up his Mother's Day sermon by advocating that all homosexuals should be rounded up and put into a big fenced enclosure until they had all died.  Although he was generous enough to permit helicopters to fly over and drop them in some food supplies.
“I figured a way out, a way to get rid of all the lesbians and queers but I couldn’t get it pass the Congress – build a great big large fence, 50 or a hundred mile long. Put all the lesbians in there, fly over and drop some food. Do the same thing with the queers and the homosexuals. And have that fence electrified so they can’t get out.

And you know what? In a few years they will die out. You know why? They can’t reproduce. If a man ever has a young'un, praise God he will be the first.”
Now to be clear, I am not an advocate of homosexuality, and personally find it disturbing.  And there are some crimes that I believe deserve death.  But I do not believe that homosexuality is either a crime, or deserving of death.  In fact, while I disagree with the lifestyle, I do believe that those who practice it should enjoy the same protection and personal respect as any other law abiding citizen of our country.  To advocate that they should be jailed or killed for it is outrageous.

Yes, a case against homosexuality as a lifestyle could be made from the Bible.  But it also speaks against greed just as strongly.  Interesting that those who speak out so strongly against homosexuality are silent on the topic of greed.  I wonder why?

As a Christian I look to Jesus to determine how I should respond or act in any given situation or personal encounter.  And I find it interesting to look and see how Jesus would respond to Charles Worley.  In Matthew 9:9-12, Jesus calls the hated and despised tax collector Matthew to be a disciple and then goes to a party that Matthew throws at his house.  And who came to the party?  Other tax collectors and 'sinners'.  And Jesus, to the annoyance of the religious Pharisees like Charles Worley, partied with them.  And he rebuked the Pharisees for their unwillingness to reach those who most needed God's love.

I suspect that many Christians today would be appalled to find that Jesus, rather than condemning homosexuals, would actually hang out some with them and dare to share a meal with them.  And if he would act lovingly toward them, who am I to tell Jesus he was wrong, and condemn them?  Maybe I should try and follow his example.

Monday, May 21, 2012

Out With the Old, In With the New

In the first part of Ephesians 4, Paul talked about life in the body and concludes with the importance of each body part effectively functioning within the body, helping the body to mature and grow into Christ, our head.  In the remainder of this chapter Paul gives us some practical ideas of how to live in community within the body.

In vss. 17-19 Paul describes the life of unbelievers and challenges us not to be like them.  He has two primary negatives that he shares in relation to the Gentiles, or unbelievers.  The first has to do with their way of thinking.  It is described as futile, darkened, and ignorant.  I suspect that most unbelievers would take offense at this characterization of their thought processes.  But if God truly does exist and has a purpose for me, would it not be foolish and ignorant for me to consider life apart from him; to exclude him from my thought processes?  It would be to some extent similar to trying to plan a trip to the moon without taking gravity into consideration.  It would result in failure and would induce pity in those who knew better.

The second negative is that they have given themselves over to sensuality.  We oftentimes think of sensuality in terms of loose sexual morals.  But it really goes beyond that.    One definition of sensuality is “the condition of being pleasing or fulfilling to the senses.”  If you are living in the realm of the physical senses, looking for things that will be pleasing to them, then you are living in sensuality.  If good tasting food, hot cars, quiet and beautiful scenery, music, clothes, beautiful people, etc. are what you are living for, then Paul’s comments in this passage are directed toward you.  We should not live like that.

Instead, in vss. 20-24 Paul tells us to put off that old person, who is living for self and leaving God out of the equation, and to be made new.  We are to be made new in the attitude of our minds, factoring God into the equation and recognizing his place in our lives and in the creation.  We are also to put on a new self, created to be like God, living for him in righteousness and holiness, rather than living for self in sensuality.  The new life we are to live deals with both of the negatives that Paul has described concerning unbelievers, being renewed both mentally and in our conduct.

The remainder of the chapter gives us some clues as to how to live this new life.  Included in this list are admonitions to:

  • Speak truthfully to each other within the body.  If we are going to be a body, we need to be able to trust each other.  And lying to each other will shatter that needed trust.  So why are we tempted to lie?  Seems to me it is mostly because I am either trying to hide something I did, or bring harm to someone else.  And neither of those is desirable for developing close personal relationships within the body.
  • We need to deal appropriately with anger.  Paul does not tell us to avoid anger, but rather to avoid sinning in our anger.  There are times when anger may be an appropriate response to some event or situation.  But we need to be careful how we respond when angry, and we need to deal with anger quickly.  Don’t allow it to fester and build up inside you.
  • Taking from others needs to transform itself into giving to others who are in need.  Stealing is a self first action, while giving is an others first action.  Which is better for life in the body of Christ, or in any other community?
  • Our conversation is another area of concern.  Take the time to listen to yourself.  How often is what you are saying helpful or useful to the ones listening to you?  It seems often that our conversation is ‘talking about’ other people, or something that really has no value.  How much conversation would survive the ‘helpful to others’ filter if we applied it to ourselves?
  • The Holy Spirit is actively at work in the life of the believer.  We can follow his direction, which is pleasing.  Or we can choose to do our own thing, which would grieve him.  This is really very similar to a parent and child.  How often does a child disobey and thus grieve their parent; although that does not make them any less loved, or terminate the relationship.  In a similar fashion, when I disobey God it causes disappointment, but does not necessarily remove me from his love.
  • And finally Paul gives us a list of things to avoid in our interactions as well as a sample of more positive approaches.  Bitterness, rage, anger, brawling and slander all serve to disrupt relationships in the body.  Kindness, compassion and forgiveness serve to build up those relationships.  If what you are doing or feeling hinders the life of the body, then stop it.  Look instead for ways to build up the body of Christ.

I do not believe that Paul’s list above should be taken legalistically or as a complete set of requirements.  Rather look at it as some general direction that will help us to live as members of the body.  All of these things will help us to live within the body.  But more important than just jumping on these few things is to adopt a new mental attitude and to try and live in a way that would be pleasing to God and helpful to your fellow believers.  Are you willing to subvert your own interests in favor of being a new person in Christ?  Are you willing to do what is best for the body regardless the personal cost?

Sunday, May 20, 2012

2012 Portland Rock & Roll Half Marathon

Today was the inaugural running of the Portland Rock & Roll Half Marathon.  It seemed like a good event to start off the 2012 season so I signed up for it several months ago and have been preparing for it since then.  All the signs were pointing towards a good run this weekend so I was excited about it.

We went down on Saturday to pick up the race packet and go through the expo and see if there was anything there I just had to have.  Amazingly enough, there was not.  We got Sue a couple of things, but I couldn't find anything to spend my money on: bummer!

After the expo we checked into our hotel and then walked down to the waterfront park where the race was to start and stop.  It was a bit cool, but sunny; and the crowds were out.  Lots of folks walking, running or biking along the riverfront walkway, along with others just sitting on the grass either watching the crowds or being watched by them; quite a variety of people, and unlike any I had seen recently.

Race day dawned somewhat overcast but fairly pleasant.  I was up at 5:00 and had some breakfast and then laid around for a couple of hours until time to head out.  By the 8:00 start time I was lined up with 11000+ other people who were ready to tackle a 13.1 mile jaunt through the streets of Portland.  I was in corral 5, out of 23, so got a fairly early start: about 8:06.

The course is basically a loop, although it winds around some to make it long enough, and is moderately hilly; with the biggest challenge being a couple of miles long, from about mile 4 to 6.  Shortly after we started the mist also started to fall and it steadily increased until it was a full blown rain by the end.  But there was never any noticeable wind so the rain was really not an issue.

My previous best half marathon was a 1:59, but recent training indicated I might be able to best that by as much as 7 minutes.  Alas, that was not to be.  To make that time I would need to run an 8:30 pace, and for the first 4-5 miles that seemed doable.  But the legs just couldn't continue that pace through out.  I ended up with a 1:55:49, which was still  a personal best for me, and a time that I was satisfied with.  And I ended up finishing 1971st out of 11014 overall, and 45th out of the 202 in my division.

One of the best things about running an event like this are all the other runners around you.  Early on they are a pain because it is so crowded.  But as we spread out a bit they don't get in the way as much, and I am able to enjoy the people watching more.  The wide variety of body shapes and outfits is pretty amazing.  Most of the folks pretty much blend into the crowd, but there are always a few who stand out and entertain the rest of us.

All in all it was a pretty good trip.  My feet are sore and I am still physically drained.  But I mostly enjoyed the trip and feel good about the race.  Now to prepare for the Seattle Rock & Roll next month.

Friday, May 18, 2012

Huckleberry Finn

This is a book that I had read way back in high school and remembered little of, other than the basic story plot; a young boy and a runaway slave floating down the river on a raft.  It was a story that had left a favorable impression on me as being an interesting read.  I also knew that in the years since I had read it, that it had become somewhat controversial and even banned in some places because of its treatment of blacks.


So a few weeks ago I download the complete works of Mark Twain onto my Kindle and began a second trip through this story.  I did enjoy the trip down the river by a 13 year old boy, running away from an abusive father, and Jim, an older slave running away from a sale that would take him away from his family.  The adventures they encounter along the way, including an extended journey with a couple of con artists, and the adventures with Tom Sawyer and his aunt as they attempt to free Jim from imprisonment. The story as a whole is a bit hard to swallow, but it does have the ring of something that 13 year old boys would at least attempt to do.


But what was all the controversy over?  After all, slavery is a part of the history of our nation.  Whether we like it or not it did happen.  And yes, the word ‘nigger’, which is used a lot in the story, is considered offensive by most people today; but I have read plenty of other stories with offensive terms, including this one, that are not being banned in schools. So what’s the big deal?


It took a while before it finally struck me.  In this story it is just accepted by all that the blacks are not really people, differing from other animals that people might own only in that they could talk, cook, clean house, and work the fields.  The subtle signs of this attitude are there throughout the story, but it didn’t really hit home until a couple of passages mid story.  The one that sticks out most to me concerns the yarn that Huck spins to explain how he came to be at Tom’s aunt’s house.
“It warn’t the grounding – that didn’t keep us back but a little.  We blowed out a cylinder head.”
“Good gracious!  Anybody hurt?” 
“No’m.  Killed a nigger.” 
“Well it’s lucky; because sometimes people do get hurt.”
The message here is clear, niggers are not people.  And yet the argument is made by many people that the book is actually an indictment against slavery and racism; that Twain is showing parallels between a young boy fleeing an abusive environment and Jim, also fleeing the abusive institution of slavery.  Huck's changing attitude toward Jim is also taken as a growing enlightenment that would overcome racism.


Should this book be banned from our schools?  I have mixed feelings about it, but I am more inclined to not support its banning.  Yes, it does paint an unfavorable impression of blacks.  But it also paints a negative picture of the whites who treated them that way.  And it should cause us to examine our attitudes toward slavery and racism, which were even bigger issues when Twain wrote.


As said earlier, it is a part of our history, and keeping it from students and others will not change that.  Banning a book only makes it more desirable, and in today’s world it is so easily accessible to anyone that banning would probably just increase its popularity.   If needed, put a warning label on the book and put it back on the shelves.  Why should we try to hide our past or rewrite our history?  Why not accept it, learn from it, and move on?  Racism is a sign of immaturity and insecurity.  Take a journey along with Huck and learn to view others in a new light.

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Wanna Play Some Football?

What makes a church successful? According to Paul it is generally the same things that make a football team successful: committed ownership, good coaching, good teamwork, good understanding of the game plan, a commitment to the plan, lots of hard work and practice, and teamwork. While individual talent on a football team is good to have, without the other things it won't win a championship.  In Ephesians 4:11-16, while Paul does not directly compare the church to a football team, he  does describe it using many of those attributes that make pretty much any team, or organization, successful.
11 So Christ himself gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the pastors and teachers, 12 to equip his people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up 13 until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ. 14 Then we will no longer be infants, tossed back and forth by the waves, and blown here and there by every wind of teaching and by the cunning and craftiness of people in their deceitful scheming. 15 Instead, speaking the truth in love, we will grow to become in every respect the mature body of him who is the head, that is, Christ. 16 From him the whole body, joined and held together by every supporting ligament, grows and builds itself up in love, as each part does its work. 

Ownership

It is important for a football team to have an owner who is willing to foot the bill for all the expenses necessary for a winning team.  Without the deep pockets, and a willingness to make a significant investment, the team will end up mired in mediocrity, or worse.

So who owns the church?  Too often we end up believing that we do; it is our church, or the pastor's church.  And as a result we look to our own resources to be successful as a church.  But if we are truly a church, then we belong to Christ.  He is the owner, and as the owner he is willing to do what is necessary to ensure that we become what he wants us to be.  Paul has earlier prayed in this letter that we would come to understand the plan and purpose he has for us, the resources that are available for us, and his power that is at work in us.  If we are not successful as a church, it is not because the owner is tightfisted.

Coaching 

In vs. 11-12 Paul tells us that the owner, Christ, has given the church some coaches: apostles, prophets, evangelists, and pastor/teachers.  All too often those of us in the church look to our pastor as if he were hired to do the work of the church, and while we might volunteer to help out a bit, the work is really his to do.  That is kind of like the football team expecting their coaching staff to take the field and play the game, while they stand on the sidelines and cheer them on, or criticize their failures.

But Paul tells us here that the role of our coaches is to equip, or prepare, us for accomplishing the work of the church.  The coach has a very important place in the working of the team, but we should never expect the coach to be taking the field to do our job.  The coaches responsibility is to lead in the development of the game plan and then to properly train the players to execute the plan.

My pastor's role, according to this passage, is to train me to do the work of the church.  And to do that effectively, he needs to be working with the owner to develop the game plan for the church.  Once that is done then he will be able to equip me to accomplish it.  Without the coach having a good game plan, what will he be equipping me for?

My job, as a player on the field, is to allow the coach to train me, and then go out and give my best.  My job does not include second guessing the coach, or doing what I want.  Imagine what would happen to a football team if every player ignored the coach and did what they wanted to.  Why should we suppose it would be any different for a church?

Understanding the Game Plan 

The coach, in his equipping of the people, should have a goal in mind, and should be working from a plan designed to accomplish that goal.  In vs. 12-13 Paul gives us the desired result of that game plan; the development of a unified, mature and Christ-like body.  While the ways a church may use to reach that state will vary from body to body, the desired end state is the same for all of them.

While the coach has responsibility for the development of the plan that will enable the team, or body, to reach that end state, it is also important that the players on the team understand the game plan as well; if we don't, how will we ever hit the desired end state of a unified, mature, Christ-like body.  I need to know where we are going and how I fit into the plan to get us there.

Commitment to the Game Plan 

How important is commitment, or buy-in, to the game plan?  Without it there will be the tendency to change direction every time some more appealing ministry plan comes along, or anytime we don't get instant results.  A football team, with a good set of coaches, will not let setbacks early in the game throw them into confusion.  They don't dump the game plan and immediately try some other approach at the first sign of failure.  Instead they stick with the plan until it bears fruit.

One of the goals of developing a unified, mature, Christ-like body is that we will not be turned aside to some other course when success does not come instantly.  There are so many 'programs' available, some good and some not so very good.  Jumping from program to program trying to find something that will work will leave a body in a constant state of upheaval, going nowhere.  We need to stick to the game plan put together by the coaching staff and approved by the owner.  It's the only way for us to be successful.

As a church we also need to be holding firmly to the truth.  There are so many deceptive doctrines, with just as many proponents of those falsehoods, that are looking for fertile soil to put down roots and corrupt a church body.  As we are properly trained, and committed to God's word, and his way for us, we will learn to recognize, and be resistant to, falsehood.

Hard Work and Practice 

You've got a game plan, and you're committed to the plan.  Now it's time to begin to do the things the coach has been telling you.  It's much easier to just sit around and watch everyone else turn to and get to work.

We need to speak the truth in love.  Unfortunately that probably doesn't mean that I need to share your faults with you in a loving way.  If I am to speak the truth, and Jesus is the truth, then I would suspect that Paul is telling me that I should be talking about him, what he has done, is doing, and will do.  Don't get blown around with false teaching, instead focus on the truth of Jesus.  And do that recognizing the extent of his love for others.  Share the truth with each other, as well as with those on the outside; let love be what takes you to those who need the truth.

And as we do that we will become a mature body of Christ.  Until we are committed to the game plan, and putting into practice the teachings of our coaching staff, we will be immature, falling short of his design for us.

Putting the Team First

On a football team it is important that each player do the job they are selected to do.  If even one player fails to do their job, or attempts to do someone else's job, the whole team will suffer.  It is only when each player performs their best, and according to their spot on the team, that the whole team will be successful.

A church is the same way.  It is only as each member of the body undertakes to be the body part that they have been equipped and trained to be, that the body will be most successful.  The result of each member being faithful to their calling is a church that is growing and being built up in love.

Thoughts

Yes, the church is not exactly like a football team, and our pastor is not exactly the same as a football coach.  There is much more to being the church of Christ than there is in playing a game.  But I believe there are some lessons we can learn from the comparison.

Has Christ placed you in the church as a coach?  Then please lead and train the rest of us to do the work of the church.  A half hour sermon once a week probably won't do that.  Know your players, their strengths and weaknesses, and where they fit within the body.  And then equip us to be that.

Has Christ placed you into the church as a player? Then follow the leadership of your coach; be committed to the team; know your place in the body; and give it your all.  Realize that if you are not taking your place within the body, that you are leaving a hole, and thus are hurting the body of Christ.

Let's all work together to become a unified, mature and Christ-like body.

Saturday, May 12, 2012

The Ten Commandments & Christianity


As a Christian, am I supposed to obey the Ten Commandments and all the other laws in the Old Testament?  Just some of them?  Or can I pretty much ignore them?  Many Christians that I know would say yes to the first question, until you looked at the materials tag on their clothing, then they would change their answer to a yes to number 2.  Few would likely admit to a yes to the third question, yet in reality I think most of us really do in practice.  It appears like we follow some subset of the Old Testament law, but I suspect that is more coincidence than by design.  Most likely what we are really doing is following the moral standards of the culture we grew up in, which for me was somewhat similar to the moral teachings of the Old Testament.

But regardless how we actually respond to the initial questions; how should we respond?  I'm going to go out on a limb here and say #3, I can pretty much ignore them.  After all Paul told me that I am no longer under the law, but am under grace; and he belabored the point quite extensively in Galatians.

Fulfilling the Law

But, you might ask, what about Jesus statement, in Matthew 5:17-19, that he came not to destroy the law, but to fulfill it?  This is often times used to argue that we should still be living in accordance with the Old Testament Law, of which the Ten Commandments are a subset.  But is that really what he meant by this statement?

Look at the rest of Matthew 5 and see what Jesus says.  Six times you see him saying something to the effect of “You have heard that it was said … But I say to you …”.  Some of these were concerned with traditions, but many of them were dealing with OT laws, including two of the Ten Commandments.  While Jesus is not countermanding any of these laws, he does give fresh meaning to them and does it as one who has a higher authority than the Law, as one who is not bound by it.

Let’s look at another of Jesus teachings concerning the OT Law.  In Mark 7:14-19 Jesus shares what it is that makes a man unclean, and notice that it does not include the food he might eat.  The conclusion made by the author of Mark is that Jesus has declared all foods as being clean.  And one does not have to read much of the OT Law do know that this statement is in serious conflict with the dietary portions of that law.  If Jesus was demanding adherence to the OT Law, surely he would have not told us we could eat what we wanted.

How could Jesus be both fulfilling the Law, and negating part of it?  Unless fulfilling the Law meant something other than advocating that we should still be living under that Law.  Maybe, just maybe, Jesus meant that what the Law was intended to do, he himself actually accomplished; he fulfilled the intent of the Law.

So just what is the intent, or purpose, of the Law?  Paul has a very interesting discourse concerning the purpose of the Law in Galatians 3:19-25.  In this passage he says that the purpose of the Law was because of our sinfulness and was to be in effect until Christ had come (3:19).  In verses 21-22 he says that the Law was put in charge to lead us to Christ, so that we might be justified by faith.  And now that faith has come we are no longer under the Law.

So if the purpose of the Law is to bring sinful man to faith in Christ, and its purpose has been fulfilled when one comes to faith, then has Christ not fulfilled the Law for me?  Indeed, the Law is still about, it is not abolished.  But it is no longer applicable to me; it has accomplished its purpose and is no longer in charge.

Sacrifice

A significant requirement of the OT Law was concerned with animal sacrifice, with a significant amount of that dealing with sin and its forgiveness.  When I would break the requirements of the law, sacrifice was required to bring me back into a right standing with God.

The first 18 verses of Hebrew 10 discuss these OT sacrifices and compares them to the sacrifice of Christ on the cross.  Of most significance is that the blood of bulls and goats was unable to really deal with the sin in our lives, resulting in the requirement that they be offered repeatedly.  And this is unlike the sacrifice of Jesus, made one time, and able to permanently deal with sin.  And now, with my sin dealt with by the blood of Christ, there is no longer any need for sacrifice.

Here again we see a fulfillment of the Law.  The OT sacrificial system was simply pointing ahead to the more perfect sacrifice of Jesus.  And once that had been made, the OT sin sacrifices, an integral part of the Law, no longer had any value.

The Jerusalem Council

 One of the early conflicts in the new church dealt with the question of applying the Law to Gentile believers.  Just exactly what was required for a Gentile to be in relationship with God?  Was faith alone sufficient, or was adherence to at least some part of the OT regulations required, in particular circumcision.  While circumcision actually predates the Law and is not actually a part of it, the issues is still a valid one for this discussion.  Need I be concerned with the requirements of the OT?  Or not?

Acts chapter 15 finds the early church wrestling with this problem.  And the result of this council is the recognition that circumcision, and the OT Law, are not applicable to Gentile believers, which includes me.  Other than a handful of suggestions to keep them from being offensive to Jewish believers, there are no additional requirements imposed on the Gentiles, either to come to faith, or to live as believers.

So What About It?

All this is not to say that I am free to do whatever I want as a believer.  I don’t believe that at all.  But as a disciple of Jesus, it should be sufficient for me to follow his teachings.  And they are, interestingly enough, summed up in a pair of passages from the OT:
Love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind and strength.
Love your neighbor as yourself.
Rather than get hung up with a bunch of rules to live by, simply seek to love God with all I am, and look out for the best interests of those around me.

For what it's worth, I have no argument with any of the Ten Commandments, although I do with some of the rest of the Law.  In my life I generally do fairly well with keeping this set of commandments, even though it is not done intentionally as a way to be acceptable to God.  But I find it disturbing that so many people get bent out of shape over them being removed from court houses and schools.  And most of those folks probably couldn't even tell you what all 10 even are.  Let's focus on loving God, and our neighbors, and not try to enforce, or advocate, a code of conduct that we ourselves don't follow for the most part.

Discussion

To discuss this topic, or express an opinion, please tune into the Hitler post on Rational Christianity.

Thursday, May 10, 2012

Blogging

 This blog started in November of 2010 with just an occasional entry.  But blogging about my life was pretty boring; how many times can one talk about the day’s run, weeds pulled out of the yard or the number of lines of code written.  If I was in the public eye that kind of stuff might be more interesting, but few people care about how an average Joe spends his day.  The first 10 months of A Clay Jar consisted of 15 posts, mostly centered around my journey with cancer (which was a little exciting), but also including holidays, running, hiking, a trip, and a couple of Bible studies.

Two things happened in September of 2011.  The first is that my go to the office job terminated and I suddenly had a lot more free time.  And the second is that I decided that there must be someone in the world, other than my wife, who might be interested in what I have to say.  And so I began to write much more frequently; mostly concerning the Bible or other things related to Christianity, but also about things I have done and opinions that I had previously kept to myself.

At that point I started trying to write a couple of posts a week and more recently have upped that to 3 a week.  And this is now post number 101.   It’s kind of hard to believe that there has been so much inside me wanting to come out.  What has been even more unbelievable is that there are a few people who actually seem to care about what has popped out of my head.  It always amazes me when someone will tell me that they have enjoyed reading something I wrote.

The average post I write is read by about 50 people, although that is greatly skewed toward the ones about backpacking.  Most posts are cross-linked to Facebook and Google+, but the backpacking one are also listed in the North West Hikers forum.  My top 10 posts are all backpacking posts and get their lofty status because of bored readers on NWHikers.net.  I generally consider a post to be successful if it gets 30 reads, although there are some that fail to reach half that total.  It seems to some extent to depend on when I post it, and how appealing the tag is on Facebook.

Most of the views of a post come within a few days of its being posted.  But I am starting to find that there are more and more hits against older posts.  It appears like I am starting to show up in some of the search engines.  Although some of it is also likely because a new reader with nothing better to do will look through the index and find something that appeals to them.

One of the primary rules I have read for blogging is that to be successful you need to focus on some particular topic.  But I have violated this rule and have chosen to write about whatever I want to.  While most of my blogs are related somehow to Christianity or the Bible, with a smaller number about backpacking, I have also been known to ramble about work, homeowner stuff, running, and pretending like someone else might care about my opinion on a variety of topics.  And my intention at this point is to continue with the same approach.

Fundamentally this blog is really more for me than it is for anyone who might read it.  I do indeed care that others read it and find value in its words.  But more importantly it is a discipline that I am working on, to focus my thoughts more clearly by committing them to a printed form in a way that hopefully is clear and makes sense.  Writing has always been something I have used to bring my thoughts into focus.  Committing to a blog schedule keeps me focused on doing that regularly and consistently.  Without the blog it is just too easy to skip the writing; because after all, it is hard work.

If A Clay Jar has value to you now, and in the future, great.  And I appreciate any feedback you might give.  Hopefully I will continue to write as long as I have thoughts that I would like to sharpen into something somewhat concise and cohesive.  But as a word of warning, you may find that some of those thoughts are unexpected and not what you might look for from me.  Thinking can be a dangerous activity and can lead down unexpected pathways.  But regardless where it takes me, there is joy in the journey.

Thanks again to those who read this.  And here’s to the next 100 posts!

Monday, May 7, 2012

Working Worthy

One of the most fascinating creatures to me is the Portuguese Man o' War.  Many people mistakenly think of the Man o' War as a jellyfish, but in reality, while bearing superficial resemblance, it is something else all together.

The Man o' War is actually a colony of four distinct types of polyps.  The float/sail is a single polyp, and the original polyp of the colony.  Attached to the sail are collections of three additional polyps; one for food capture, a second for digestion, and a third for reproduction.  This colony of organisms are so tightly integrated together that they are unable to survive apart from the colony.  The only exception to this is the sail polyp from which all the others are formed.

So what does this have to do with walking worthy?  In Ephesians 4:1-6 Paul urges us to walk worthy of the calling we have received.  He then proceeds to tell us to be humble, gentle, patient, put up with each other, and to make every effort to live at peace.  Followed by a long list of things for which there is only one: body, Spirit, hope, Lord, faith, baptism, and God & Father.

Paul has been talking about what Christ has done to heal the division between Jew and Gentile, working to produce a single man; 2:11-22.  And then discussed the revealed mystery of Christ, that we are to be members of one body; 3:2-6.  And he is going to go on from here to challenge us to live as a single body growing and building itself up in love; 4:11-16.  The common theme to all of these passages is that the body of Christ, rather than being like a herd of zebras racing across the savanna as independent creatures who travel together, should seek to mimic the Man o' War, to be a single body.

If I am called to be a part of a body, then how do I walk worthy of that calling?  Some will look at this expression and see in it a call to live such a good life that I become worthy of God's calling.  But given the context I believe he means something else altogether.  I walk worthy of my calling as a body part by functioning as best I can as that part, losing myself for the good of the body.

The body parts for the Man o' War are simple; you're either transportation, food capture, digestion or reproduction.  There is no question about your role, and each member of the colony does its job to the fullest.  The body of Christ is much more complex, with many more parts, and each part with a history of acting independently.  But none-the-less, I believe the Man o' War has a powerful lesson to teach the body of Christ in the unity we are called to achieve.

Walking worthy of being a body part is actually pretty hard for me, it is contrary to my nature.  So how can I pull it off?  By being completely humble, by being patient, by bearing with other body parts in love, by making every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace (4:2-3).  All of those actions are concerned with interpersonal relationship within the body, looking to put the interests of the body ahead of my own. The Man o' War does that and prospers as a colony, resulting in the individual members also prospering.  Is it not possible that if we all put the good of the body ahead of our own good that the body would prosper, and that as it did we would also?

Stay tuned for part 2.

Saturday, May 5, 2012

Trillium Galore, and Some Snow

Sue and I headed out this morning to hike up the North Fork Skokomish River in the Olympics.  It was a bit cool and lightly overcast but looked promising.  We were a bit late getting away from the house and didn't get to the trailhead at Staircase until about 9:30.  And for the first time ever we pulled into an empty parking lot; although 3 other cars followed us into the lot, a group of 11 younger folks.

Our goal was to make it up as far as Camp Pleasant, nearly 7 miles up the trail, eat lunch and then wander on back to the car.  All looked well for the first 4 miles.  But then we hit Spike Camp and found the snow.  The next mile and a half was patchy snow with the last mile and a half almost continuous snow of about 2-3 foot deep.  Most of the snow was fairly soft which resulted in some post-holing and a lot of slow travel.

In addition to the snow, the trail had seen no maintenance so far so there were a lot of trees and branches on or across the trail.  I threw off most of what I could lift, but were was still a lot of stuff that I couldn't handle, including one tree over 4' in diameter and a number of massive blowdowns that we had to fight through or around.  In the end we came just short of Camp Pleasant because of a blowdown that was just too big an obstacle.

The highlight of the trip for me, beside being in the woods with my love, were the flowers, primarily the trillium.  I probably saw more trillium today than I have the rest of my life combined.  They were thick in places, at least until the snow started and then they disappeared.  There were also a few yellow violets and an occasional random flower, but the trillium stole the show today.

All in all it was a seven and a half hour trip up and back with few people, cool but dry, lots of snow, lots of trillium, and a good time in the woods with the wife.  Over all, a pretty good day.

Western Wake Robin ?
The mighty Banana Slug out on the prowl
Great White Trillium ?
Turning pink as it ages
Bracken Fern Fiddleheads
Obstacles in the trail
Several times there were pairs of trillium growing together
Clumps of trillium
Here's a triple shot
A trillium bouquet
Walking in the snow around Spike Camp
The fall above Madeline Creek bridge
Skunk Cabbage just getting started
Quite a bit of elk prints and poop
Shelf Fungus
Another trillium boquet
The first creek crossing with a few extra obstacles
Quite a few yellow violets as well
Some of the rocks on the drive out were covered with a little yellow flower

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

A Weed by Any Other Name


What makes something a weed?  Interestingly enough there is no botanical definition for a weed.  Instead, it is a term that is generally used to describe any plant that is growing where it is unwanted.  Usually the plant is growing in a human controlled setting, is fairly aggressive, and is a nuisance.  Just about anyone who has a lawn or garden has identified one or more plants as weeds, even if they did not know any other name for them.  And there are some plants, like dandelions, that are almost universally identified as being a weed.

Grape Hyacinth

But not all weeds are so universally recognized.  What one person might consider an ornamental flower, their neighbor considers a weed and tries to eradicate.  The best example of this for me is the Grape Hyacinth.  At my house they grow everywhere.  Some of the lawns are so thick with them that it is dangerous to mow; the ground gets so slimy that it is hard to get good footing.  In the lawn I have generally ignored them, other than mowing them down with the rest of the weeds and the grass.  It is in the flower beds though that I have fought a losing battle for the past 20+ years.  The best I have been able to do is to minimize their numbers and keep them from completely taking over many of the beds.  It just seems impossible to find all of the tiny little bulbs.

Yet I see nurseries selling pots of Grape Hyacinths.  And obviously many unsuspecting people must buy them and plant them in their gardens.  To me, that is akin to picking a dandelion seed pod and gently blowing it out over your lawn.  I even had friends think they were doing me a favor by bringing me a pot of them as a gift.  Pretty sure they got thrown away.

Bluebells

Bluebells are another blub that grows pretty prolifically around my place.  Most of them are indeed blue, although some are also white or pink.  And they are indeed a pretty plant.  But they grow everywhere without bounds.  After a 20 year fight I think I am about to surrender to this pest though and limit my attacks to just a few of the beds where they don’t fit in.

Columbine

A few years ago I bought a few Columbine plants and put them alongside the apartment.  The next year I had several new Columbines coming up within about 20 feet of the originals.  Now, about 5-6 years later they pretty much come up all over the front gardens as well as in the driveway.  They are fairly easy to control and not overly prolific, so I generally let them grow; but weed status could easily be in their future.

Lupine

Two years ago I planted some wildflower seeds in a front bed.  Included in that mix were a few Lupine seeds.  The next spring, I noticed that all of the original plants were coming back, along with several dozen more.  I let them go and the garden was beautiful.  This spring, all of last year’s plants are back, all the cracks in the driveway are filled with new little plants, and the nearby lawn is full of little Lupine starts.  Have they now become the latest weed?