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Archive for April, 2010

 “I will ransom them from the power of the grave; I will redeem them from death. Where, O death, are your plagues?  Where, O grave, is your destruction (Hosea 13:14)?”

One minute you are enjoying an early spring evening in the mountains with a friend, and the next you are fighting for your life.  This was young Christina Floyd’s experience.

Sitting at an overlook on the Blue Ridge Parkway in Virginia, the high schooler  turned to see her friend Tim Davis groaning and bleeding.  He had been shot by an attacker, who then tried to toss Christina over a cliff.  Fighting mightily for her life, Christina managed to escape the man with a shotgun and was picked up by a passing car.  She survived, but her friend Tim died a few days later.

One minute you are working as a mechanic in a garage in Virginia.  The next minute you are on an overlook shooting someone to death and trying to murder that person’s companion. When asked why you are doing this by the person you are seeking to kill, you tell them, “Because I’m crazy”.  Ralph Leon Jackson allegedly was the perpetrator of this crime.

Is it any wonder that we seek safety in this world?  In the country of Finland where I lived for some years, one of the benefits of residing there was the  lack of crime and violence.  It was the kind of place where little children could bike around by themselves and not fear. Foreigners like me were amazed by this freedom.

Most of the world isn’t like this, however.  The wise man of Proverbs says,”Death and Destuction are never satisfied, and neither are the eyes of man (Proverbs 27:20).”  It’s a jungle out there, and not because of the animals.  The world is a confused mess because of the humans who act like them.

Life here on Planet Earth can be hard and dangerous.  It can be depressing.  The Psalmist sure felt this way at times.  He describes a period when he was down and out.  His life was full of trouble.  He had no energy. In fact, he thought he was a living dead man (Psalm 88:1-5).

Who did the Psalmist blame for his problems? God, of course. Don’t we all. When times are tough, we shriek at Him.  The Psalmist was no different.

He blamed God for making life the pits.  Also, He accused God of taking away his friends and for his sense of overload.  The Psalmist thought of God as a terrorist (Psalm 88:6-18).

 The truth is, it is God who will rescue us from this fallen world. One day He will throw Satan and his followers into a place called the lake of fire forever.  Then he will bring in a new heaven and earth free from the kind of pain that Christina Floyd and the Psalmist experienced (Revelation 20:10,15; 21:4,8).

The cavalry is coming.  In the meantime, we just have to hang on and persevere, and try to bring some others along with us.

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“Blessed are those who wash their robes, that they may have the right to the tree of life and may go through the gates into the city” (Revelation 22:14).”

Along with others on the medical team, Dr. Taub is treating a female patient who is, as usual on the medical drama “House”, exhibiting unusual symptoms.   While treating the woman, Taub learns she is in an “open marriage”, in which she and her husband sleep around.

Taub already has had an affair, but at least gives lip service to faithfulness to his wife now.  However, he is tempted by a nurse at the hospital who is obviously attracted to him.  While having dinner with his wife, Taub brings up the patient’s open marriage, causing great insecurity in his wife.  Taub never discusses patients with his wife, and she wonders why in the world this subject is coming up now.

While diagnosing the patient, Taub and colleague Dr. Hadley discuss the former’s discussion with his wife.  Hadley, a woman, tells Taub he has guts to bring up that subject with his wife and that she thinks it is good he did so. She then notes a study she has read which indicates some men have a certain disorder which causes them to be unfaithful.

Hadley tells Taub, “Maybe you’re just one of those guys.” Taub replies sarcastically, “So my cheating is biologically pretermined. That’s good.”

Hadley says, “I thought you’d be relieved. It gets you off the hook.”.  Hadley goes on to tell Taub that it’s not good for him or his wife for him to deny his predisposition.

The Bible doesn’t agree with the esteemed Dr. Hadley’s diagnosis of her colleague Taub, except that it does say humans all have a disorder. It’s called sin.  It’s our inward inclination to break God’s rules and go against His order for our lives.

There are a multitude of sins Taub is committing in this episode, including the obvious ones of lust and unfaithfulness to his wife.  There’s one other sin that has not been mentioned so far, however: Taub is a workaholic.  Instead of being home with his wife, he spends all his time at the hospital working for the renowned Dr. House.

King David of Israel had the opposite problem. He was lounging around his palace when he should have been at work, out on the battlefield  fighting wars.  Instead, his idleness led him to his roof, which led him to gaze on someone else’s wife bathing ( a soldier’s wife who was out fighting). David’s intentional staring led to sending for the man’s wife, (prerogative of kings), which led to adultery, which led to a pregnancy, which led to the murder of the husband (II Samuel 11:1-16).

Neither David nor Taub had a biological issue, except for wandering eyes.  Those eye problems came from the erring heart, which is never satisfied (Proverbs 27:20).

It didn’t help them that they were in the wrong place at the wrong time, either.  Taub for one should have been at home more, developing his fractured relationship with his wife (Proverbs 27:8).

In the scope of eternity, we had better make sure we are in the right place at the right time.  One day we either will or won’t recieve an invitation to the marriage supper of Jesus, where he will take His people to Himself forever.   James Dobson, noted pyschologist, said to his son to “be there” when the book of life is opened during this period.  If we’re smart, we will be there too (Revelation 19:9; 20:15). 

As I entered the coffee shop to write this entry today, a man behind me was building a model ship with his elementary school-aged son.  Here was a man in the right place at the right time.

My son just called and wondered when I’m coming home. He wants to play a game with me.  It’s time to clean up my own act and go home where I belong.

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“The commandments, ‘Do not commit adultery,’ ‘Do not murder,’ ‘Do not steal,’ ‘Do not covet,’ and whatever other commandment there may be, are summed up in this one rule: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ Love does no harm to its neighbor. Therefore love is the fulfillment of the law (Romans 13:9-10).”

What is it in us that makes us look out for number one?  This innate selfishness comes to light even in the smallest things.

Last night was my oldest daugher’s birthday celebration.  When the ice cream was ready, we were told to come and get  our bowls.  It was like feeding time at the pig trough.  It was every man, woman and child for himself, each of us for the best combination of flavors and the largest size.

I sleep with a lot of pillows, but I still steal my wife’s, adding one more to my collection.  When she complained of this last night I told her that this is what bigger countries do to the small ones next to them. They say,”It sure looks nice over there!”  Then they go after their smaller neighbors. Covetousness affects the big and small.

This morning on the way to church (it figures), I looked to my left on Main Street and there was this black Rolls Royce driving by. This made me think of the white one I saw the other day, and of the white Jaguar belonging to one of my colleagues.  Then I went on to the communion service, trying to shake off the envy.

Perhaps God saved the most troublesome of the 10 commandments for last: ” “You shall not covet your neighbor’s house. You shall not covet your neighbor’s wife, or his manservant or maidservant, his ox (riding mower) or donkey (Lamborghini), or anything that belongs to your neighbor (Exodus 20:17, additions in parentheses my own, not God’s).”

It’s a good thing there was communion this morning because I was beginning to wonder with all these ideas concerning coveting going on in my head if God was trying to get through to me.  Was He trying to tell me I was covetous?

If so, at least I could bring it before the Lord in communion. I hadn’t been to one of those services in a long time, so long that I didn’t even grasp this particular church’s communion procedures.  They had a piece of  flat bread and I was the first to get the basket.  I figured out that I was supposed to just break off a piece.  The grape juice aspect in the plastic cup I was used to.

One thing they didn’t do at this church, however, was repeat the words of Jesus at the first communion.  “This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins (Matthew 26:28).”  I was going over a version of this in my head because this is the tradition I grew up with.  Someone did, however, refer to the blood of Christ during this informal time.  I was reminded that Jesus shed His blood for my past, present and future sins.

Something I remembered today about covetousness is that when we are bitten by it, it is a sign that we are doubting God’s goodness.  When want something others have,  we are questioning the adequacy of His provision.  Ouch!

As the service progressed, we sang “Amazing Grace”.  The fourth stanza stood out to me.

“The Lord has promised good to me.
His word my hope secures.
He will my shield and portion be,
As long as life endures.”

So, God is good.  The 10 commandments, including the one about not having an inordinate desire for the stuff of other people,  are a reflection of this.  As a believer in Christ, I ought to be good, too.  This means to do no harm as a result of my covetous heart.

So the next time the piranhas circle the ice cream, I ought to give way.  And the next time I pass a luxury car on the street,  I should give thanks for my 18-year old Ford, and rejoice in that driver’s good fortune

Besides, God’s given me some good stuff, like a great wife and kids and a beautiful setting in which to live, for example.  There actually might be someone out there coveting my stuff. If so, they’d better go to communion.

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“This is why it is said: ‘Wake up, O sleeper, rise from the dead, and Christ will shine on you.’ Be very careful, then, how you live—not as unwise but as wise, making the most of every opportunity, because the days are evil (Ephesians 5:13b-16).”

One thing I like about living adjacent to a major university is the abundance of cheap, even free, events on campus.  This week the performing arts department of the school is putting on a play, so I asked my wife to go with me.  She agreed, so I bought some tickets and we went.

The play is one I remember vaguely from childhood, “Our Town” by Thornton Wilder. I don’t remember exactly when I saw it, but I believe it was in high school.  I recall it as a renactment of the rustic, traditional features of the way America used to be.  I sometimes mourn the passing of the old America, so I wanted to see this play.

Actually, while the plot did reveal the nature of small-town New Hampshire at the turn of the 20th century, its theme was much broader than that.  The “Director’s Note” in the program I received explains:

“This play is not about nostalgia, or the goodness of American life at the turn of the 20th century or in the 1930s.  In fact, it’s not about any sort of nostalgia.  This play is about right now.  It’s about you and me sitting here in the seats of this theatre together –today, right now.  It about what we spend most ouf our daily lives worrying over and how that’s keeping us from remembering what’s eternal.”

For me, the most stirring part of the play is the final act.  In this section, Emily dies in childbirth, leaving a young husband and children.  She joins earlier townspeople in the cemetery, reflecting on the nature of life. 

Emily realizes that she has the capability to view her old life from her place in eternity. The others counsel against it, but she decides to go back and view her 12th birthday.

Emily observes the seemingly mundane activities in the household of her childhold, such as her mother preparing breakfast and getting the kids off to school.  While watching this scene she jas an epiphany from her perspective in eternity: every minute should be valued.  She asks the narrator if people understand this, and is told, “No. Saints and poets maybe. They do some.”

We saints do in fact understand a little about eternity.  Therefore, we have a responsibility to live life to its fullest, but not in fulfilling our selfish ambitions.  What sits in the back of my mind nagging at me is that people are sleepwalking through life and will one day face eternity, and that it is my job to wake them up, yet I am slumbering along with them.

The wise man of Proverbs tells believers:

Rescue those being led away to death;
hold back those staggering toward slaughter.

” If you say, ‘But we knew nothing about this,’ 
  does not he who weighs the heart perceive it? 
  Does not he who guards your life know it? 
  Will he not repay each person according to what he has done?”

As people who know something about eternity, we ought to be lovingly reminding others of it.  What keeps me from doing this other than plain cowardice is the battlefield of life. It puts a stranglehold on my time, and my mind, will and emotions.

Yet, in reading the Psalmist it seems to me that God is there to protect and watch over those who are still alive, yet are engaged in living for Him.  Part of living for God is to prepare  for eternity, and to bring others along.

Why else am I still here?  It’s definitely not so I can build the big house with the mountain view or hit all the games of my favorite football team.  There’s nothing wrong with these things really, but they should be done in the context of living and serving Jesus Christ and bringing others to Him for all time.

The director of the version of the play we saw last night tells us to wake up:

“Many of us say we couldn’t live without texting or Facebook, or a lot of money, or how our career makes us someone, or something to do on the weekend. Whatever it is each of us worries over, can it be that we are all among those whom Thornton Wilder suggests is forgetting the fact that something in us knows about the eternal?  Look, it’s not fashionable to walk into a party or a classroom or an interview saying, or even thinking, things like ‘something is eternal in my bones.’ So much in our culture begs us to forget, to rise up and be successful, to move fast and keep up. And yet each of us, regardless of our perceived successes and failures, really does know that something is eternal in our bones.”(Andy Belser)

Every moment does count somehow in God’s scheme of things.  It’s time to wake up and smell the coffee, and pass some  along to our friends, relatives, colleagues, even the stranger on the street in our town.

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The “Boss” Boss

“As the eyes of slaves look to the hand of their master,  as the eyes of a maid look to the hand of her mistress, so our eyes look to the LORD our God, till he shows us his mercy (Psalm 123:2).”

These days I feel like an Israelite. You know, the guys who were told to make bricks without straw.  They were slaves in Egypt. I’m a slave in Virginia.

Desmond Dekker, a Jamaican musician, captured how I feel at the moment in a song called “The Israelites”.

” Get up in the morning, slaving for bread, sir,
so that every mouth can be fed.
Poor me, the Israelite. Aah.”

Sounds like self pity, but I can relate to the lyrics. By the time I get to Friday, I am a wasted loon because I am in a period of my life where I am working a lot of overtime just to barely make ends meet. 

Don’t get me wrong: I’m grateful for the money. But, money isn’t everything, right?

It’s tough to live without money, though.  Desmond Dekker wrote the song after he heard a couple arguing while he was walking in a park.  They were arguing about money.  The woman wanted some and the man said the work he was doing wasn’t giving him enough of it. 

All the marriage experts out there tell us that at least in American culture that disagreement about money is one of the biggest reasons for a breakup. 

“My wife and my kids, they are packed up and leave me.
Darling, she said, I was yours to be seen.
Poor me, the Israelite. Aah”.

My class of international students have been discussing marriage this week.  Today we looked at a list of factors which Americans believe to be the most important to a successful marriage. Money is up there on the list, but the top characteristic that Americans believe makes for a good marriage is faithfulness. 

We discussed the meaning of this term, and one of my students used words like trust to try and define it in her mind. I finally resolved her confusion and told her that faithfulness in this context means keeping oneself committed sexually to the other partner.

However, my student touched on something that is true of faithfulness in a broad sense.  When we trust someone, we expect them to be loyal to us, to keep their promises.

Someone who is faithful in this sense is God.  He gives us strength in tough times, and keeps us fresh despite them (Psalm 92:2,10,12-14).  He’s worthy of our trust.

“Poor me, the Israelite.
I wonder who I’m working for.
Poor me, Israelite,
I look a-down and out, sir.”

Desmond Dekker’s lyric reflects the truth that one of the reasons I feel like a slave is that I have forgotten who I am working for.   The reason I feel “down and out” is because I have not been mindful of the truth that it is God who is my boss (Colossians 3:23,24).  I’m not just working for the “man”, or a paycheck. I’m trying to please God in working the overtime.

So what pleases Him as I do the hard work?  A couple things come to mind.  First, He expects me to take care of my family (I Timothy 5:8).   So the overtime is a means to obeying Him in that area. Second, He doesn’t want me working the overtime as a means to enrich myself,   focusing on the money as an end in itself . He’s more interested in me gaining some wisdom from my experiences on the job (Proverbs 23:4-5,23).   

So while the overtime is tough, I can gain energy from the fact that I’m doing it for God. He’s an excellent and benevolent boss.

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“Your statutes stand firm;  holiness adorns your house for endless days, O LORD (Psalm 93:5).”

A look at the headlines from a news website today is like reading a tabloid.  A star quarterback is suspended for immoral conduct involving women; a man has his finger yanked off when a thief  pulls a bag with an expensive item from his hand; a British politician is hit by an egg as he campaigns for election.

The world is a wicked place sometimes.  Reading the news today, I also was reminded of a riot at a university in my state.  This school is located in a beautiful valley location in a normally quiet small city.  However, the place became chaotic one night when a large number of students had too much to drink and did things like set fires. I recall one quote in an earlier report about the incident in which one person said  that they could not believe how some people could treat others this way.

Yet, in a followup to the case, the local prosecutor, in what appears to be some grandstanding, got a search warrant and invaded the offices of the university newspaper in order to get some photos they took of the riot.  There has been an uproar from media advocates about the violation of the constitutional rights concerning freedom of the press.  Clearly this law enforcement official overstepped her bounds and actually committed an illegal act.

In the examples above, where I label the behavior as wicked, I am stating my personal opinion. It could be asked,”Who are you to pass judgment on these people?” I agree. I’m not the authority on what is right or wrong.

However, there is One who is, God.  A quick look at Proverbs tells us that He detests pride, lying, violence, and selfish desire.  It seems to me the situations I have recounted fit into these categories (Proverbs 21:4,6,-7, 25).

In contrast to the wicked people we encounter in this world, there are some who meet God’s approval. The apostle John was given a vision in which the kind of folks who please Him are standing on Mount Zion in Jerusalem with Jesus.  They are described as people who had kept themselves morally pure.  John says they are blameless, without fault (Revelation 14:1-5).

I don’t think most of us know how holy God really is.  We tend to put God into our box.  We assign Him our own characteristics or those of other humans.

In John’s vision, he sees a time when God’s wrath will be poured out on those who chose not to follow His ways. I’d sure hate to be in that crowd because it’s not going to be pretty.  John’s response to what he saw was, “This calls for patient endurance on the part of the saints who obey God’s commandments and remain faithful to Jesus (Revelation 14:12).”

With all the evil swirling around us Christians today, it’s difficult to obey and remain faithful.  Yet, that’s our task.  We have to keep on keeping on because this situation is just temporary. Our eternal reward is that one day we’ll get to live in God’s house where the decorations are sublime instead of in a world of filth.

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” Unless the LORD had given me help, I would soon have dwelt in the silence of death.  When I said, ‘My foot is slipping,’ your love, O LORD, supported me. When anxiety was great within me, your consolation brought joy to my soul (Psalm 94:17-19).”

Monday’s are a bummer, especially if you’ve worked on the weekend like I just have.  Monday morning life seems bleak.  It’s culture shock. going from a more laid back weekend atmosphere to the daily grind. When it comes to Monday, Garfield is my guru: like him, I hate the day.

Monday morning is a time to whine (not shine).  My theme song on Monday is the old black spiritual from the 19th century, “No One Knows What Trouble I’ve Seen”:

“Nobody knows de trouble I’ve seen
Nobody knows but Jesus
Nobody knows de trouble I’ve seen
Glory Alleluia!
Sometimes I’m up, sometimes I’m down
Oh, yes, Lord
Sometimes I’m almost to de groun’
Oh, yes, Lord”

Only one thing can get over my self pity and stupor on Monday morning: trust in Jesus.  It’s a jungle out there, and only He can see me through it. 

Walking through the swamp of Monday morning, most people I run into are generally pretty nice, but one bad apple spoils the whole bunch.  There are some folks who are wicked, arrogant and self-centered (Psalm 94:2-6). They make life difficult.

Everyone has trouble, whether they admit it or not.  I suppose some have more than their fair share, though.  Because we are individuals, no one can truly share our sorrows, or joys for that matter (Proverbs 14:10).

We all share the same source of relief, however: God (Psalm 94:13).  Our hope on Monday morning is for Him to come through in what looks to be an exhausting day and week.  My heart seeks Him to lighten, even remove, my load and stress.

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