Monday, January 28, 2013

Gun Control

Con control!  It is amazing to me the amount of passion that these two little words seems to generate.  I must confess, being a non gun owner/user, that I do not understand why this is such a hot button issue for so many people.  My Facebook news feed is filled with claims from both advocates for gun control and those opposed, although my 'friends' seem to overwhelming oppose anything that even hints at any form of control.  But just why eludes me.

The second amendment of the US Constitution reads:
"A well regulated militia being necessary to the security of a free state, the right of the people to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed."
As best as I can tell from what I have read, the intent of this was to allow a citizen militia to be able to stand against a standing army that is trying to oppress the populace.  If my reading of this is correct, we citizens have fallen well behind in the arms race with our standing army (military).  I suspect that my neighborhood, city, county, state would not last for long against an attack by any branch of our military.  Seems like SAM and  anti-tank missiles should be available to us regular citizens as well; wonder what an F-16 would sell for at Walmart?

I wonder what the chances are of our military turning on us?  Or of a President turned Emperor attempting to use the military to limit the freedom of the populace?  And if your worst fears were realized, and such a President did arise and threaten us, would he actually have the support of the folks who would actually be pulling the trigger?  I personally have a hard time imaging that, but even if it did happen, what recourse would we have against our army?  Are we willing to be gorilla fighters like the Taliban?  No doubt there are some in the US who would be able to pull that off, but I can't think of many I know that would last long, regardless what the movie Red Dawn portrays.

Another argument I hear frequently is that being armed would allow me to defend my home and family from 'the bad guys'.  And yes, it might, assuming you were ready for them when they came, and trained to be able to effectively use your weapons.  But what happens when the bad guys come when you aren't home, and your weapons become their weapons?  Or they come when you have your weapons locked in a safe to prevent them from being stolen or used accidentally?  Or someone you love is a victim of friendly fire?

I have no doubt that there are those who would be able to effectively protect their home and loved ones from armed robbers with evil intent.  But I have just as little doubt that I am not one of them. If I had guns, they would be locked away and unavailable to me, unless given sufficient warning.

Please do not get me wrong here though.  If you want to have a gun, I would not dream of trying to prevent you.  It is, after all, a constitutionally guaranteed right.  But please, if you have guns, be responsible in their use, keeping them away from children and bad guys.

And please quit using emotional appeals like "Guns don't kill people.  People kill people."  While it is correct that bullets rather than guns actually cause the bodily harm, guns sure do make it a lot easier to take the life of another, or multiple others.  If there were no guns, there would be no gun deaths!  While we could always find another way to kill folks, it would at least take more effort without guns.

Saturday, January 26, 2013

Living as an Alien

Have you ever wondered what an alien from another world might look like?  Oftentimes we might visualize ET or one of the critters from MIB.  But all you really have to do is look at a Christian, at least one who is truly a follower of Christ.  According to Peter, we are aliens, foreigners to this place, belonging to another world, citizens of the kingdom of God.
17 Since you call on a Father who judges each person’s work impartially, live out your time as foreigners here in reverent fear. 18 For you know that it was not with perishable things such as silver or gold that you were redeemed from the empty way of life handed down to you from your ancestors, 19 but with the precious blood of Christ, a lamb without blemish or defect. 20 He was chosen before the creation of the world, but was revealed in these last times for your sake. 21 Through him you believe in God, who raised him from the dead and glorified him, and so your faith and hope are in God.
- 1 Peter 1:17-21 NIV

An Empty Way of Life

This passages talks about redemption, or being delivered from one way of life to another. The life we are delivered from is described as the empty way of life handed down to you from your ancestors, a life that we were born into, but also a life that is empty, without meaning.

What purpose did your life have prior to Christ?  It might have been to enjoy life; to survive; to raise your children; to make the planet a better place for those who follow after you; to grab all the gusto you can.  But eventually you die and either cease to exist, or continue on in some other form after death.  And what difference then will it make how much you enjoyed life, or how many toys you were able to accumulate; what difference will it make how many trees or salmon you saved; what difference to eternity will anything you do now make?

We are born into this life, live a relatively small number of years, and are gone.  And it is a rare person who is even remembered long after their death.  The life we were born into was empty, without purpose.  But God has redeemed us from that and into a life with purpose; a life that is just now beginning, and will stretch out into eternity.

Exiles and Aliens

This letter was addressed to God's elect, exiles scattered throughout what is today the country of Turkey.  But I think it is safe to say that is is also written to God's elect, exiles scattered throughout the world today.  We oftentimes identify ourselves as God's elect.  But how often do you think of yourself as an exile, enduring a forced absence from your home?

In the passage shown above, Peter also gives us some instructions on how to spend our time as foreigners, or aliens, here.  This really carries the same idea as being an exile.  This world is not really where I belong.  It is where I find myself temporarily until I am able to go home, to be with Christ.
21 For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain. 22 If I am to go on living in the body, this will mean fruitful labor for me. Yet what shall I choose? I do not know! 23 I am torn between the two: I desire to depart and be with Christ, which is better by far; 24 but it is more necessary for you that I remain in the body. - Philippians 1:21-24 NIV
Paul expresses the same sentiment in the passage above where he expresses his internal conflict between staying here in the flesh where he might be useful to other believers, and leaving this life to be joined with Christ; identifying the second option as preferable.  Paul was here on Temporary Assigned Duty (TDY) and looking forward to finishing his tour and going home.

As citizens of the kingdom of God, this world is really not our home.  We are here only for a short time; and yet what we do during that time is important.  This section of Peter's letter is really about living as an alien during our sojourn here; making the most of the time we have here.

Living In Fear

17 Since you call on a Father who judges each person’s work impartially, live out your time as foreigners here in reverent fear.
Verse 17 in the NIV tells us to live out our live in reverent fear, but the word reverent is not a part of the original text.  We are called to live out our lives in fear (fear, dread, terror).  That, at least for me, is pretty hard to grasp because that kind of fear is foreign to me, nor is it something I am really interested in experiencing.  So why does he give me this instruction?

Because I call on a God who will impartially judge my works.  It is all too easy for us to just live life here as if it really didn't matter; I am redeemed and all is good, regardless what I do now.  Romans 14:12 says "each of us will give an account of ourselves to God."  That should make clear to us that how we live now, even as believers, makes a difference, and we will be called to give an account to God when we stand before him.  Note also the Parable of the Talents and the accountability that is expected from the servants.

Now I do not believe that we should be paralyzed by fear, but we really should not take God, and his judgement, lightly.  Someday I will stand before him to give an account.  If I really believe that, it should make a difference in what I do today; just thinking about explaining some of my actions and attitudes to God makes me shudder.

When I was stationed overseas, my neighbors judged the US by how I lived and interacted with them.  In the same way, I am a foreigner here, and this world where I temporarily reside is watching me.  Are my actions reflecting well on my King, or do they put him into a bad light.  Live here as a foreigner, in fear of the God who will impartially judge me, in a way that will glorify him.

Bought With a Price

18 For you know that it was not with perishable things such as silver or gold that you were redeemed from the empty way of life handed down to you from your ancestors, 19 but with the precious blood of Christ, a lamb without blemish or defect.
While not always true, the things I value most are frequently the ones that cost me the most.  In general, the more valuable I consider something, the more I am willing to invest in it.  And the cost is not just a financial calculation.  Cost can also include personal sacrifice and personal investment of time and effort.  The financial cost does not generally identify the value of something to me nearly as much as my own personal cost in obtaining it.

Peter here expresses that the cost of my redemption was not an impersonal sum of money.  Rather it had a very personal cost; the blood of Christ.  That should tell me something about the value God places on me.  And it should make a difference in the way that I respond to God.  He did make a very personal and costly investment in me.  Should I think that he will not care what I do with that investment?

There should be a certain amount of fear involved, realizing that he has invested a lot in me, and probably expects a lot out of me.  I should be driven to live my life here in a way that he would find pleasing, rather than in a way that I find comfortable.  I find it hard to believe that he would invest so much in me, for me to be no different than the people around me.  Am I living up to his expectations?

Chosen Before Creation

20 He was chosen before the creation of the world, but was revealed in these last times for your sake.
It seems common for Christians to believe that God created a perfect world, put perfect people into it, and expected perfection to continue throughout the earth's history.  And then Adam bit into the apple that Eve offered, the world fell into sin, and God's plan was frustrated.  As a result he had to develop a fallback plan, a way to bring us back into the relationship with himself that he desired.  While you may not believe all of that, it is likely that, assuming you are a Christian, you believe, somewhere in the back of your mind, that we messed up God's original plan and forced him to do something different.

Yet Peter says that before Eve gave Adam the apple to bite, before this earth was formed, before the Big Bang; Jesus was chosen to be our redeemer.  Do you catch the implication of that?  We did not mess up God's plan in the garden; Jesus death was not something that had to be done to get things back on track; it was the original plan.

It was a plan that was kept hidden until about 2000 years ago.  A plan that brought Jesus to this earth to live among us, die for us, and then rise from the dead.  A plan that then offers redemption to all who will respond to Jesus death and resurrection in faith.

Faith and Hope in God

21 Through him you believe in God, who raised him from the dead and glorified him, and so your faith and hope are in God.
God raised Jesus from death and seated him in a place of honor.  By believing in Jesus, and what he did, I escape from the empty way of life handed down from by ancestors and become a citizen of the Kingdom of God.  As a citizen of God's kingdom, I live here now as an alien in this world, waiting for the time to come when I will enter into his presence.  While I am here, I should live in reverent fear, as one who does not belong to this world, knowing that I will give answer to my King for my actions here, and knowing the price he paid for me.

My faith should be in God, not in my own personal strength, my investments, the economy, science, or the nations military.  And my hope should be in God, in what he has prepared for me, rather than in the temporary things of this life.

Saturday, January 19, 2013

Atrial Fibrillation

Over the past 20 years, or so, I have had periodic episodes where my heart decides to start periodically skipping beats.  I made it in to see a doctor a couple of times when it got particularly bad.  They would run a test or two and ultimately tell me that it was normal and not to worry.  So, last spring when the latest, and worst, episode started I just ignored it.  That is until early November when my pulse would occasionally jump to over 200 bpm when out running (I wear a monitor for training purposes).  Initially suspecting an equipment malfunction, I changed batteries and heart rate monitors, but ultimately none of that seemed to be the problem.  Nor did it do it every time, at least initially.  But eventually it reached the point where I went back to see my doctor, who referred me back to a cardiologist.

Last week I finally got the appointment with the cardiologist, who wanted me to wear a heart event monitor for a couple of weeks prior to my appointment.  I got checked out on the monitor, finding that I did not have to wear it except when I anticipated having some kind of 'event' to record.  This unit only recorded in 45 second blocks, and only two of them before having to upload its data over a phone line.  Unfortunately none of our cell phones would work for this, and we do not have a land line.  So I ended up taking it to church with me the first time and uploading data.  

Then Friday morning I sent it to work with my wife to upload a second pair of 'events'.  The first was shortly after a workout when my pulse dropped below 40 bpm for a short time, and the second was during a 7 mile run that morning, with the pulse briefly spiking up over 200.  When Sue uploaded that one, they sent her back home to take another reading, which she did.  Seems like something had got their attention.  A few hours later I got a call on the phone from my health care provider, who told me I had Atrial Fibrillation and needed to 1) come in and pick up some medication, and 2) quit any strenuous exercise until after my visit with the cardiologist.  Yikes!

That visit is still about 2.5 weeks away, so in the mean time I am researching Atrial Fibrillation.  What is it, how did I get it, what can be done about it?  So far the most useful site I have found describes AF as

AF occurs if rapid, disorganized electrical signals cause the heart's two upper chambers—called the atria (AY-tree-uh)—to fibrillate. The term "fibrillate" means to contract very fast and irregularly.
In AF, blood pools in the atria. It isn't pumped completely into the heart's two lower chambers, called the ventricles (VEN-trih-kuls). As a result, the heart's upper and lower chambers don't work together as they should.
So it appears my hearts electrical circuitry is going haywire: that's a bit disconcerting.  There are quite a few possible causes for AF, but the only one that even comes close to being a concern for me deals with caffeine, which I get in abundance: time to cut way back there.  Treatment is much more confusing so far.  It appears the medication I have been given does noting in particular for AF.  It is given to lower the base pulse rate so that when the heart goes into fibrillation it will do so at a lower and less dangerous rate.  That seems OK, except that I already have a resting pulse in the low 50's to upper 40's.  Not sure I want it to get much lower.  Another use of this drug is to help with high blood pressure.  Mine is low enough already.  Not sure I want it any lower.  I will need to keep an eye on this for the next few weeks.

AF has two complications: stroke and heart failure.  I would say those are complications!  At the very least they got my attention.  That, and the quick turnaround from my health provider make it clear to me that I really need to be good for a while.  I wonder if taking the trash out can be construed as strenuous exercise?

So far I have more questions than answers, but will continue to research and be ready for the visit to the cardiologist.  Hopefully I will be able to run again, and not be hindered from hitting the trail this summer.  But time, and the old ticker, will tell.  Getting old is sure not without its perils!  But God is good!



Friday, January 18, 2013

A Living Hope

The epistle of First Peter is traditionally attributed to the apostle Peter, although many modern scholars dispute that today.  Regardless of the human author though, it is a very inspiring letter; and one filled with encouragement for believers who are suffering for their faith.  While not many of us in the US actually suffer for our faith, this letter is still very deserving of our study and meditation.

The introduction to this letter addresses it to God's elect, those he has chosen to be his.  No reason is given here for why God chooses us, apart from his foreknowledge; God knew us long ago and has chosen us.  Following this introduction the letter reviews where we stand with God, and the reason we can face challenging times with confidence.
3Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! In his great mercy he has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, 4and into an inheritance that can never perish, spoil or fade. This inheritance is kept in heaven for you, 5who through faith are shielded by God’s power until the coming of the salvation that is ready to be revealed in the last time. 6In all this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while you may have had to suffer grief in all kinds of trials. 7These have come so that the proven genuineness of your faith—of greater worth than gold, which perishes even though refined by fire—may result in praise, glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed. 8Though you have not seen him, you love him; and even though you do not see him now, you believe in him and are filled with an inexpressible and glorious joy, 9for you are receiving the end result of your faith, the salvation of your souls. - 1 Peter 1:3-9 NIV
This passage starts with a word of praise for what God has done for us.  And note that it is not something he did because we were deserving of it; rather it was because of his great mercy.  Because he has compassion on those he has chosen, God gives us new birth.  New birth implies starting afresh.  What we were and what we had to look forward to are left in the past.  God has transformed us, making us new, giving us both a new hope and an inheritance.

A Living Hope

As God's chosen ones, he has given us birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus from the dead.  Vines Expository Dictionary defines hope as a "favorable and confident expectation".  What is this hope?  Given the context, I believe it is referring to to a confident expectation that we will share in Jesus resurrection, knowing that where Jesus is now, we will someday be.

That this hope is living would seem to mean that it is not something that I have put on a shelf to pull down someday.  Rather it is an active part of my life now.  Does it make a difference in my life now that Jesus rose from the dead, and that I can expect to follow him?  If it does not, then is it really a living hope?  We all know that life in this flesh is short; but my hope is in a life that will not end.  Why live as though this life is all I have?

An Inheritance

He has also given us birth into an eternal inheritance.  We often think of inheritance in conjunction with the death of the person leaving the inheritance.  But here, the only death is, in a sense, ours.  Having a new birth implies that we died to the old life, and in this new life we have an inheritance that is awaiting us; awaiting us until we indeed die to this life and enter into heaven.

This inheritance can never perish, spoil or fade and is safely kept in heaven awaiting us.  It does not need polishing or dusting.  It is not at the mercy of an investment broker and the economy.  It will not go out of style or spoil.

It is really easy to get caught up in the here and now, focusing on the temporary and volatile things that surround me and make up my life now.  But I have something waiting for me that is so much better.  I have no reason at all to be concerned about the little I have now.  No reason to hold onto it so tightly.  No reason to fear losing what I have here.  None of it will last.  None of it is worth taking with me.  Something much better is waiting.  Let go of the cheap trinkets of this life and embrace the glorious inheritance that awaits you.

Shielded by God's Power

We have new birth, a living hope and a glorious inheritance.  But we still live here in this world.  And the people of this world are not generally fans of Gods chosen ones.  Life can be hard: we face all of the difficulties that come from living in this world, as well as the challenges presented by people who take offense over those with a living hope, who look forward to a glorious inheritance.

But we are assured here that God's power serves as a shield to protect us while we are here.  Many would like to apply this shield to every aspect of our lives, but I do not believe that is appropriate.  God's people face hurricanes along with everyone else who lives along tropical coastlines.  All of us are equally at risk from disease and drunk drivers.  I believe Paul explains this shielding in 2 Timothy 1:12: "I know whom I have believed, and am convinced that he is able to guard what I have entrusted to him until that day."  Paul had entrusted his eternity into God's hands, and was convinced that God's power would be a shield around him until he ultimately stood before God.

There is another interesting aspect to this passage here, and that is the role of faith.  I believe this is also explained in the 2 Timothy passage: Paul had entrusted something to God and was convinced he would guard it.  Paul, through faith, had given himself to God, and in faith believed that God would guard, in spite of what was going on around him.  We can be assured that God will guard what we entrust him with.  Will you trust him with yourself?

The Refiner's Fire

Do you ever find your surprised, and a bit discouraged, when you find yourself in the midst of challenging times?  Somehow many Christians have developed the feeling that God should shield them from all of the owies that life throws our way.  And so, when something unpleasant comes along, they are left to wonder why.

But it is unrealistic to expect that your life as a believer will be a bed of roses, nor is that really even a desirable goal.  We are told here that we may well have to suffer grief in all kinds of trials.  Some of these trials come simply because we live in this world, while others come about because of the worlds opposition to Christ.  But however they come, we can rejoice because of the hope we have and the inheritance we look forward to.  As Paul says in Romans 8:18: "I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us."  Rather than moaning about what is happening now; look ahead to what is to come.  The present cannot begin to compare with our future.

Peter then compares our trials to a refiners fire.  I have never seen gold refined, but I did use to watch my dad as he prepared lead sinkers for fishing.  He had a small pan he put on the stove and added lead to the pan.  The lead would melt and he would scrape off the dross from the top before pouring the pure lead into molds for his sinkers.  I understand that the same process is used for gold: it has to be taken to the boiling point before the impurities can be stripped away.

But instead of gold, it is our faith that is being refined here.  How do you respond to difficult times?  Do you collapse or do you persevere?  Persevering is a demonstration of the genuineness of your faith, and is the desired outcome of the testing times.  Those challenges should lead us to trust ever more in our creator, and ever less on the temporary things of this world.  Instead of dreading the refiners fire, we should welcome it because when our faith is proved genuine, it results in praise, glory and honor in the end.  Hang in there during life's challenges, and rejoice in what they are accomplishing in your life; getting rid of the unimportant, and preparing you for a wondrous "Well done, good and faithful servant!"

An Inexpressible and Glorious Joy

The return of Jesus is still in our future.  Those of us living and following him now have never seen him, either in the past or the present.  But not seeing him with my eyes does not prevent me from believing in him, and loving him.  The world will scoff at faith, because it seems foolish to them.  Yet the foolishness of faith brings me into God's presence.

What is the goal of faith?  It lets me know God.  But the end result of faith is the salvation of my soul, the "me" that inhabits the shell I walk around in now.  I find it interesting that we are even now receiving the salvation of our souls.  It is not just something to look forward to at death, or at Jesus return.  But even now that goal is being accomplished.  The more I come to know God, experiencing his presence in my life; the more I experience the refining of my faith through the trials of this life; the more my soul is delivered from the bondage of this flesh and into the glory of his presence.  And that should fill me with a glorious and inexpressible joy.

Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ!

Friday, January 4, 2013

Lazarus and the Rich Man

In Luke 16:19-31 Jesus tells us a story about two people who are on opposite sides of the social strata for 1st century Israel.  Lazarus is a poor sickly beggar while the second character in the story is a rich man who had everything he could dream of.  There is some debate as to whether or not this was a parable, rather than a rendition of an actual event, but I tend toward believing it to be simply a parable.  At the very least, Jesus tells this story with the intent to impart a lesson to us.

The Setting

This is a story with two scenes, the first being at the rich man's house, and the second being after both men had died.  In the first scene we see Lazarus, described as a beggar covered in sores laying at the gate of the rich man's house begging for the crumbs falling from the rich man's table, with dogs licking his sores.  In contract, the rich man is dressed in purple and fine linen, and living in luxury every day.  The contrast between the two could hardly be greater.  One at the height of the social strata; the other at the bottom.  One with everything; the other with nothing.  Scene 1 closes with both men dying.


When scene 2 opens these two men find their positions reversed.  Lazarus is carried to the bosom of Abraham (which some equate to Paradise) where he is comforted, while the rich man finds himself tormented in Hades.  And between the two is a great gulf that cannot be crossed.  Again, the contrast between these two men could not be greater.

Requests

We now find the rich man making two requests of Abraham.  The first is that Abraham would send Lazarus to him to bring just a drip of water for his tongue, bringing him some relief in his agony.  Abraham's response to the rich man makes it clear that it is not possible to cross the gulf that separates the rich man from Lazarus.  Once you find yourself on one side, or the other, of the gulf, you have no chance to move to the other.

The next request of the rich man was that Abraham would send Lazarus back to the world of the living to worn the rich man's brothers of the fate that awaited them, hoping that would change their lives and thus avoid their brothers fate.  Abraham responds that they have the writings of Moses and the prophets, who give warning of the fate awaiting those who are disobedient.

But the rich man persists in the request, expressing that one returning from the dead would surely be more convincing.  But Abraham declares that the one who would not heed the warning of the prophets, would also ignore the words of one returning from the dead.

The Point

While there is much in this account that we could focus on, if it is indeed a parable, then there is a specific point that Jesus is trying to make here.  And personally I believe it to be delivered in Jesus final statement: "If they do not listen to Moses and the Prophets, they will not be convinced even if someone rises from the dead."  I believe Jesus is looking ahead to his own resurrection and the response that people will make to it.  There are some who had chosen to follow God's call based on the writings of the prophets, and to them Jesus resurrection was a wonderful, and confirming, sign.  But to those who were not responding to God's earlier message, even Jesus resurrection would be unconvincing.

This makes me think about the many times I have heard someone say that they would believe in God only if he would do some amazing trick that could only have been produced supernaturally; as if the very existence of the universe is not enough.  But I wonder; would any miracle, or series of actions, be enough to convince someone who did not want to be convinced?  Probably not!

A Mistake

I believe a mistake often made when reading this parable is to make too much of the setting Lazarus and the rich man find themselves in after death.  For any parable to be effective, it must have a setting that is understandable to the people hearing it.  Jesus is not likely introducing some new concepts to them concerning the fate of the dead.  Rather he places his story in a setting that is familiar to them already: a setting that seems to have been introduced into Jewish thought after the close of the Old Testament.

Is Abraham's bosom heaven, the final resting place of the righteous?  Or is it an intermediate resting place?  Is Hades the final home of the unrighteous?  Or is it also an intermediate resting place?  Or do we find ourselves in some entirely different situation when we leave this life?  You can find those who will support any of those views, as well as any number of others.  As for me; I do not think it is relevant to the lesson Jesus is trying to make.

Take Away

I actually take two lessons away from this parable.  The first is that our place in eternity is determined here in this life and cannot be changed in the life to come.  And that those who are inclined to believe will do so, while those who choose not to believe will not be convinced regardless the proof, the miracles they claim would convince them, or the fulfillment of some list of demands.

Accept God's message for us today, and live with him for eternity.  Reject the message he gives to you today, and spend eternity separated from God.