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Archive for August, 2011

 “My heart is stirred by a noble theme as I recite my verses for the king; my tongue is the pen of a skillful writer.  You are the most excellent of men and your lips have been anointed with grace, since God has blessed you forever.  Gird your sword on your side, you mighty one;  clothe yourself with splendor and majesty. In your majesty ride forth victoriously  in the cause of truth, humility and justice;  let your right hand achieve awesome deeds (Psalm 45:1-4).”

It’s not exactly news that Hollywood movies  and TV dramas and sitcoms seem to glorify the profane. The nature of these media is contantly debated.

Novels and biographies also seem to glorify the seedy aspects of the human race as well. It is perhaps because I read a novel the night before whose protagonist is a less than stellar man that I woke up thinking about  why the characters in our electronic and paper-based productions are so popular.

I came to the conclusion that it is because the people in our movies, TV shows and books are interesting.  This led me to ask,”Why can’t righteousness be interesting?”

Being holy and good conjures up images of boring churches,  tedious activities and mundane people. Who wants to be bored? Life is hard enough.

Oh, occasionally our press glorifies the godly among us. Mother Teresa was praised for her work among  the poorest of the poor in India, and rightfully so. Yet, when this saint died on the same day as Princess Diana, the glamourous, yet troubled, royal personage of England, guess where all the attention went?

Even this week there was a TV program in which Diana’s secret tapes were aired. They were full of self loathing, adultery and dysfunction.

I haven’t seen much on Mother Teresa since her death. I guess her life of hard work, suffering and self sacrifice  just isn’t something we want to dwell on.

The formula that works in novels and stories is a crisis that builds and gets progressively intense.  The storyline is exciting and the characters involved are at risk.

Much of the risk in our current day cultural realia is caused by the destructive actions of struggling people. This is what draws our interest.

The majority of us, as Henry Thoreau said, “lead lives of quiet desperation.” More than likely, these days, we are desperately bored.

This is one of the factors cited as the cause of recent violence across the globe by young people.  Some say their riots and destructive actions aren’t the result of political disenfranchisement or poverty.  These kids just have too much time on their hands and need to stir up some excitement.

What makes immoral behavior and violence thrilling? I believe that what appeals to us about wretched TV doctors, illicit and stupid fathers, sensual vampires and bloody  crime scenes is their extreme natures.

Even  our  sports exhibit extremity. We want far out danger and we want excessive risk when we either participate in them or watch them. Folks are even willing to give up their lives to get the thrill.

Is it possible to go to extremes of goodness? How about engaging in a high degree of holiness and out-of-this world kindness and compassion?

Would this get people’s attention? Can there be  enough risk and danger involved in righteous activities and enterprises to titillate the senses of people? Is the personhood of God sufficient to stimulate us?

Many, many times the people of Israel didn’t think God was exhilirating enough for them.  For example, at one time Israel was ruled by God Himself,. His prophets carried out His governance.

This system wasn’t  adequate for the people of Israel, despite God’s previous miracle working among them. They wanted glamour and pomp, so they asked the last of their judges,a man named Samuel,  to find them a king.

Samuel did so, but as he stepped aside he gave the people a little history lesson. He reminded them of God’s supernatural deliverances in the past, including one worthy of a Hollywood production: the dividing of the Red Sea which allowed the Israelites to escape from the armies of Egypt (I Samuel 12:6-10).

As a parting exhibit of God’s electrifying capabilities, Samuel arranged for the Lord to send a major” shock-and-awe” weather event. The people were sufficiently “wowed”, even to the point of fearing for their lives.  They got the message that God was pretty awesome and exciting (I Samuel 12:16-19).

Samuel’s response to the people’s change of heart was to tell them to serve the Lord in goodness  with all their heart.  When they were tempted to get bored,  he advised them to think about all the crackerjack stuff  God had done for them in the past (I Samuel 12:20-25).”

If you want something in the media that will thrill you, and reflects how wondrous God is, try this on for size.

I know that even when I focus on  God’s greatness in my own life that I will still get intrigued by the screw ups of those portrayed in movies, on television and in books. However, I have to draw the line at admiration.

What is admirable is the glorious God we worship and the people who get it and mirror His greatness.

Jesus demonstrated how awesome the good work of God could be:

Soon afterward, Jesus went to a town called Nain, and his disciples and a large crowd went along with him. As he approached the town gate, a dead person was being carried out—the only son of his mother, and she was a widow. And a large crowd from the town was with her. When the Lord saw her, his heart went out to her and he said, “Don’t cry.”   Then he went up and touched the bier they were carrying him on, and the bearers stood still. He said, “Young man, I say to you, get up!”  The dead man sat up and began to talk, and Jesus gave him back to his mother.  They were all filled with awe and praised God. “A great prophet has appeared among us,” they said. “God has come to help his people.” 17 This news about Jesus spread throughout Judea and the surrounding country. (Luke 7:11-17)

Jesus comforted a heartsick woman. He was compassionate. Jesus brought a dead boy back to his Mom.

Isn’t that pretty awesome?  The people who saw it thought so. It surely made headlines!

Why should my life be boring? It doesn’t have to be.

God definitely has the wherewithal to stir things up. He just wants all the excitement to be of the righteous variety.

I think I will start my own reality show which focuses on God’s goodness and greatness in my life and in the lives of others as He works through me. Sound uninteresing?

Stay tuned.

 

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 “And do this, understanding the present time: The hour has already come for you to wake up from your slumber, because our salvation is nearer now than when we first believed. The night is nearly over; the day is almost here. So let us put aside the deeds of darkness and put on the armor of light. Let us behave decently, as in the daytime, not in carousing and drunkenness, not in sexual immorality and debauchery, not in dissension and jealousy. Rather, clothe yourselves with the Lord Jesus Christ, and do not think about how to gratify the desires of the flesh (Romans 13:11-14). 

I am a little less than halfway through a book right now called “The Sportswriter”. I picked it up from the public library because I wanted to be one of those scribes when I was a young man.

Shoot. I had been one and dropped it for other things I thought more important in life. In retrospect, it was a big mistake.

At first, I was sympathetic to the main character, a 38-year old man named Frank Bascombe. However, as his tale has been weaved in the book. I have become less enchanted with him.

At first, there was a lot to like about Frank. He is a talented writer, something I admire.

In addition, he loves his community. Although he lives in what some people may consider a drab New Jersey town, Frank is one of its biggest advocates.

There are many things I can relate to when I read Frank’s story as well. For example, he was a successful first-time novelist, but he  gave it up for the more day-to-day life of a journalist.

What makes Frank sympathetic at the beginning of the book is that life has thrown him a load of pooh-pooh and he  is dealing with it. He is in the middle of aftershocks from the death of his son and a divorce from his wife.

I can identify with Frank’s struggles to try and make sense out of his life. In the midst of the narrative, Frank discusses his ways of thinking as he walks through his mess.

One of the reasons Frank gave up writing is that he is what he calls “dreamy”.   Frank describes what this means:

Dreaminess is, among other things, a state of suspended recognition, and a response to too much useless and complicated factuality. Its symptoms can be a long-term interest in the weather, or a sustained soaring feeling, or a bout of the stares that you sometimes cannot even know about except in retrospect, when the time may seem fogged.

As a novelist, Frank couldn’t keep an interest in the story.  He says that he had “lost his sense of anticipation”, the “sweet pain of to know whatever’s next”. 

I like Frank because Isee myself in him. I would like to write a book, but I think my own dreaminess leaves me unable to keep at it. This is why I have written one page in two years on a novel I have in mind.

I think defining your terms is important, and Frank does this when he talks about his life. When he describes himself, he explains what he means, as he did when he elaborated on the term “dreamy”.

Frank also admits his own inability to be within other people.  Although he craves intimacy, he doesn’t really know how to get out of himself.  Frank has stopped worrying about what he thinks he should feel, and just feels what he feels.

Frank admires what he calls literalists.  He defines a literalist by comparing them with what he calls a factualist:

 “A literalist is a man who will enjoy an afternoon watching people stranded in an airport in Chicago, while a factualist can’t stop wondering why his plane was late out of Salt Lake and guaging whether they’ll still serve a snack.”

As Frank goes on in life, he is becoming more literalist about his life.  It is what it is. To me, that’s healthy.

Frank is a sad character really. He explains to a member of his “Divorced Men’s Club” in response to question  that he has no one to confide in (not even his girlfriend Vicki, whom he claims to love and want to marry).

Frank never really opened up to his first wife either. They discussed a lot things, but really didn’t know each other.

In fact, Frank doesn’t think people should really know what others are truly thinking.  Some things are better left unsaid.

He likes writing about athletes because they are simple. They are within themselves, i.e. simply selfish.

Although I enjoy Frank’s philosophizing, I am troubled by his actual behavior.  He is an unloving, immoral man.

As the book unfold, the reader learns that Frank busted up with his wife because she discovered letters from another woman. It is ironic that this particular relationship was platonic because in the period after his son’s death he has counted that he slept with 18 women in his travels on the job.

He lacks intimacy, but he is searching for it in these women. He describes an encounter he had with a woman he was with for four hours in which he asks a lot of question and  wants to know all about them.

When the sex is over, he leaves. Frank knows this is false intimacy.

Furthermore, Frank demonstances his detachment from real life even further. He visits a palm reader for comfort about his future and those of his kids.

Frank is a careless lout. The friend from the group of divorced men he is talking to in the book has asked to meet with him because he needs to unload. Frank doesn’t care because he wants to run by his girlfriend’s place before she goes to bed.

When the friend shares a dark sin with him, Frank blows it off. It is more than he wants to hear or believes should be shared.

As I said, I am only halfway through the book. It will be interesting  to see how Frank’s character develops. Will he remain a thoughtful, but carnal, louse or will he develop meaningful relationships.

As a man in mid-life, pushing forward into the old-age pensioner lot, I see myself as a “Frank”, one for whom the final story hasn’t been written. I am grateful for that because there is a lot of garbage left behind in my wake.

Frank is right about one thing. He enjoys mystery and thinks that life is one. As Forrest Gump said,”Life is like a box of choclates. You never know what you are going to get.”

This is illustrated in the Bible story of a man who seemed to have a lot of promise. As Chapter 11 of the book  of I Samuel opens, a young man named Saul has just been anointed as Israel’s king by the prophet Samuel. 

When one of Israel’s cities is threatened, Saul rises to the occasion. He exhibits strong leadership, drafts an army and defeats the foe.

The chapter closes with a big celebration. Saul is confirmed in his kingship by Samuel (I Samuel 11:1-15).

The rest of the story after this chapter isn’t so positive for Saul. He shows major character flaws that cause him to lose everything. 

In “The Sportswriter”, Frank knows his character and past are not particularly good.  He calls them “at most inconclusive”.

However, Frank is a minimalist in terms of his expectations for himself.  He says that, in his life, he has “done these two things: Faced down regret. Avoided ruin. And I am still here to tell about it.”

Frank has no pity for either himself or a crippled athlete he has met because he says it is “too close to regret”. He exclaims,”I don’t want to  feel it and I won’t”.

I expect more from myself and so does God.  I ought to do more than just defeat the negative in my life.

Instead of walking around in a sleepy dreaminess, congratulating myself on what I have avoided or overcome as Frank did, it is my task to live positively. I indeed ought to live within other people, i.e, to be compassionate and think what they are thinking and not be so self absorbed. 

This can’t happen if I live only within myself and for myself. It can only occur when I live for Jesus Christ. He is the starting point to love.

I hope when I turn the page to what’s next in my own story that I will have made the necessary changes to live completely for Christ and others. Hopefully, it will turn out to be a good yarn.

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“Those who trust in the LORD are like Mount Zion, which cannot be shaken but endures forever.
As the mountains surround Jerusalem, so the LORD surrounds his people both now and forevermore (Psalm 125:1,2).”

This morning I was having coffee with a German colleauge of mine. We got to discussing disasters, perhaps because there was an unusual earthquake in my home state yesterday.

I commented to him that I couldn’t understand why people in California build in hazardous areas. For example, one city in the Los Angeles area is known for its mudslides. Other areas are hit with flash fire.

One occurred in a city near LA I used to live in and destoyed a lot of homes a few years ago.  The authorities debated the cause of the fire and learned that a car coming down the freeway nearby sparked it.

According to the Orange County (CA) Register, lack of water may have contributed to the inability to contain the fire. In addition, high-tech temperature control systems in the modern homes actually sucked in flaming embers, setting houses on fire.

In a fire in another southern California community the year before, it wasn’t embers that caused destruction. It was the lack of brush clearance in the area.  

Hundreds of homes are destroyed when these events occur. Yet people keep building in desert areas and in canyons with loose mud.

My German friend told me they do similar things  in his country, too. People like to build on flood plains.

I told my friend that this topic sounded like a good one for an English class I am teaching to engineers who speak other languages. I bet there will be a lively discussion.

Dr. Matt Davis, a professor at a university in California, has some presentation slides on the Internet  related to risk. They concern the psychology of disasters and why people react the way they do.

I looked through his slides to see if he had anything to say about WHY people put themselves in risky situations.  Dr. Davis did indeed have some things to say on this issue.

First, he notes that because of increasing world population, people are living in more dangerous places.  Dr. Davis indicates 75 of the 100 most heavily populated urban areas in the world have at least one hazard.

He poses the question: why do people live around such natural phenomena as volcanos and earthquakes?

Dr. Davis indicates that in some places in the world, people have nowhere else to go. In addition, he says people have family and cultural connections.

Furthermore, there are benefits to living in these dangerous places. Dr. Davis  cites such advantages as natural beauty and scenery, economic benefits and the availability of natural resources.

Still, when a person builds a million dollar home on a hillside that is prone to slipping soil, even though they can’t get insurance, you have to wonder. The wise man of Proverbs tells me that even bringing up the issue will not make me any friends:

“As a north wind brings rain, so a sly tongue brings angry looks.” Proverbs 25:23

I suppose I have my own reasons for wondering why people continue to do such risky things as live in places that can kill you, or minimally, destroy your property. It just seems like common sense to avoid doing so.

When I look at the Scriptures, God did command us to fill the earth and subdue it. However, in context this exhortation in Genesis 1 appears to refer to ruling over the animals, fish and birds.

I think commentator Matthew Henry hits one something when he discusses the following verses in Proverbs:

“Like a muddied spring or a polluted well are the righteous who give way to the wicked.  It is not good to eat too much honey,  nor is it honorable to search out matters that are too deep.  Like a city whose walls are broken through  is a person who lacks self-control.” (Proverbs 25:26-28)

Henry says in his interpretation:

Two things we must be graciously dead to:-1. To the pleasures of sense, for it is not good to eat much honey; though it pleases the taste, and, if eaten with moderation, is very wholesome, yet, if eaten to excess, it becomes nauseous, creates bile, and is the occasion of many diseases. It is true of all the delights of the children of men that they will surfeit, but never satisfy, and they are dangerous to those that allow themselves the liberal use of them. 2. To the praise of man. We must not be greedy of that any more than of pleasure, because, for men to search their own glory, to court applause and covet to make themselves popular, is not their glory, but their shame; every one will laugh at them for it; and the glory which is so courted is not glory when it is got, for it is really no true honour to a man.

Applying Henry’s comments to the folks who build nice homes in the California deserts and canyons, I would say there is something more at work than the benign desire for scenery. At heart is greed and the wish to follow the old American value of “keeping up with the Joneses”. Some of them end up losing their homes and having people like me shake their heads, even laugh at them.

In discussing verse 26 of this passage, Henry comments that it is “a very lamentable thing” for supposdly good men to submit to the evil desires of ungodly people.  I am sure there are government officials in California and in my friend’s land of Germany who become cowards and are corrupted in the face of greed.

Henry seeking out excellent things is an excess which we should not be troubled by. Presumably, he means that God will get glory from it.

However, he infers  that when men look into things beyond their ability to bear for their own selfish devices, then they will suffer harm.  Dr. Davis says that people who suffer natural disasters deal with the risks they place themselves in by thinking that nothing will happen to them or that they will deal with it when it does.

He emphasises educating and getting people prepared for the natural disasters that WILL occur in their lives. This stress is a little bit to me like handing out condoms to teenagers so when they have sex they won’t suffer the potential consequences of an unwanted pregnancy or disease.

What would be better is if we humans got more involved in abstinence. Refraining from risky behaviors is easier said than done.

The presentation slides from Dr. Davis discuss communication during incidents. They stress two way communication between the parties involved.

That’s a good idea. The Bible tells us that two-way communication with God is a good thing.

As believers, our response to God involves our trusting Him. His reply is one where He is present with us, protecting us from harm.

Of course, right motives and a little common sense when we consider risky behavior wouldn’t hurt either. These things are especially important when we make use of our wealth and tremendous technical know-how these days.

 

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“Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us,  to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, for ever and ever!  Amen.  As a prisoner for the Lord, then, I urge you to live a life worthy of the calling you have received (Ephesians 3:2o-4:1).”

I know there are a lot of times that I personally try to arrange my circumstances, and when things turn out in my favor, I call it a “miracle”.  I let out a little information here, tell a friend there, and salvation is in my corner.

Yet, on other occasions the inexplicable happens. Sometimes the series of events are life changing.

For example, I once visited a beach resort the year I graduated from high school with a friend. Our main goal was to have a good time.

However, we decided to go to a gathering of people up the boardwalk somewhere. In this crowd was a group of young men from a Christian group.

A few months later, I was walking on the campus of my university and recognized one of the fellows I had met at this rally at the beach. This led to a several year involvement with this Christian group which radically changed my life.

Numerous times I have been given money out of the blue. It has happened on so many occasions that I cannot remember them all. These monetary provisions were unsolicited.

I have visited places I thought I would never see again. Then, one day, I find myself living and working in them.

Of course, not all of the unexpected happenings have been positive. On several occasions I have been laid off a job or quit before the inevitable occurred. It seems, though, that I have always bounced back rather quickly when this happens.  

There is an amazing story in the Bible, recorded in I Samuel 9,  involving a young man who suddenly had his whole life change around. This fellow named Saul was just out looking for his father’s donkeys when the totally unexpected occurred.

Out of food and just about out of money, Saul’s servant suggested they go visit a prophet he knew about to see if they could get some help finding the donkeys. Saul checked his wallet and told his servant that couldn’t do so because they didn’t have the funds to present the customary gift to the prophet.

Saul’s servant dug in his pocket and found a little silver. They went looking for the prophet.

When they found him, Saul was astounded at the greeting he got. The prophet, a man named Samuel,  began fawning on the young fellow.

Samuel said to Saul:

“Go up ahead of me to the high place, for today you are to eat with me, and in the morning I will send you on your way and will tell you all that is in your heart.  As for the donkeys you lost three days ago, do not worry about them; they have been found. And to whom is all the desire of Israel turned, if not to you and your whole family line?” (I Samuel 9:19b,2o)

Samuel was nonplussed. He told Samuel that he wasn’t but a young feller from the least family in the least tribe of all of Israel. How in the world could Samuel be telling him these things.

Samuel treated Saul to a royal dinner. The next morning he told him to send his servant away because he had a message for him from God.

What Saul didn’t know was that God had approached Samuel the day before and forewarned him of the visit.  God said to Samuel:

 “About this time tomorrow I will send you a man from the land of Benjamin. Anoint him ruler over my people Israel; he will deliver them from the hand of the Philistines. I have looked on my people, for their cry has reached me.” (I Samuel 9:16)

When Saul showed up the next day, God told Samuel, “This is the man I told you about yesterday.” Thus ensued the royal treatment Saul experienced.

What blows my mind about this story is how God arranged everything up to the minute. He had it all worked out.

A critic might say that God only told Samuel what He knew would occur. This cynic would say that God arranged nothing.

However,  the Bible reflects this not to be the case. In another example, it tells how God gave Abraham a son at  the exact time He had said it would occur (Genesis 21:2). There was a miracle here not only in timing, but in God providing a child to an old woman.

A similar miracle occurred with a woman the Scriptures calls the Shunammite. Elijah told her she would have a son at a certaim time the following year, even though her husband was old and presumably infertile, and it happened (II Kings 4:8-17).

The wise man of Ecclesiastes says that God makes everything beautiful in its time.  He also says God sets a time to judge good deeds and bad. And speaking of good and bad, this wise man says that God makes the positive times as well as the negative ones (Ecclesiates 3:11,17; 7:14). 

The apostle Paul told the Athenians that Jesus is the governor of our lives. He said to them,

“From one man he made all the nations, that they should inhabit the whole earth; and he marked out their appointed times in history and the boundaries of their lands.  God did this so that they would seek him and perhaps reach out for him and find him, though he is not far from any one of us. ‘For in him we live and move and have our being.’ (Acts 17:26-28).”

Grover Gunn says of God’s divine foreknowledge that its nature is active, not passive. He notes that God doesn’t just have a heads up on the future, but arranges it in detail.

This is beyond my comprehension. How God can work it all out so that His plan is carried out is just incredible to me.

It is also beyond my understanding as to whether or not I can mess up God’s plan for me. I suppose that is a topic for another day.

However, knowing that God is arranging every minute of my existence to bring about His good purposes motivates me. It challenges me to live in such a way, i.e. in accordance with his will, so  that I DO NOT potentially screw things up.   

Every minute counts.

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“We also have the prophetic message as something completely reliable, and you will do well to pay attention to it, as to a light shining in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star rises in your hearts. Above all, you must understand that no prophecy of Scripture came about by the prophet’s own interpretation of things. For prophecy never had its origin in the human will, but prophets, though human, spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit (II Peter 1:19-21).”

It’s only about 7oo0 words long, but its impact on the world is enormous. I am talking about the Constitution of the United States of America.

George Washington, the first President of the United States, said of the document,” The Constitution is the guide which I never will abandon.” Thomas Paine said of  it, “The American constitutions were to liberty what a grammar is to language: they define its parts of speech and practically construct them into syntax.”

The main issue with understanding the Constitution today is that it was written by men using English of the late 18th century in America. In addition, while the Constitution is said to be a paper which the common man of  the time could grasp, it still contains some specialized legal vocabulary.

Indeed, the website USConstitution.net says,”The Constitution is often hailed as a marvel of brevity and of clarity. It was, however, written in the 18th century, and many of the ideas, concepts, words, phrases, and euphemisms seem odd to us today, if not down right foreign.”

Furthermore, the website USConstitution.org adds that the words of the Contitution are the ideas of people long dead. As a result, interpreters  note that we must develop “mental models of their mental models” in order to come to a proper understanding of the document.

The website expands on the “foreign” nature of the language of the Constitution:

This leads to the admonition that the English used in the Constitution and other legal documents of the 18th century should be read as a foreign language, putting aside today’s meanings of what seem to be the same words we use today, and attempting to decode the meanings from various clues we can find. This is not only wise for 18th century English, but for almost any communications, even among people who communicate with one another daily, because no two people mean precisely the same thing by the same words on every occasion. When both speaker and listener are alive they are able to interrogate one another to arrive at a common meaning, but when the author is dead we have to find evidence in other things he or his correspondents wrote.

There are those today who want to interpret the Constitution as a “living, breathing document”.  Proponents of this view believe that the Founders wrote the document in broad terms so that it could evolve in later generations.

Thus, the essence of those who see the Constitution as “living” is that its meanings can change over time. This allows for pragmatic interpretations consistent with the times.

Personally, I tend to come down on the side of the originalists, i.e., those people who rely on the original sources and intentions of the authors. I suppose this is because I hold to this view when I interpret an even larger and more important document: the Bible.

The same kind of debate concerning interpreting the Constitution is common today among believers in Jesus Christ. Thus, hermaneutics is an extremely important aspect of a student’s training in a Christian Bible college or seminary.

I was taught in a school which held the Bible to be inerrant and infallible. It saw the Bible as the Word of God. I still personally hold to this teaching.

One of the former presidents of my biblical seminary, Robertson McQuilkin,  and one my former professors, Brad Mullen,   have written: “Although Scripture is infallible, one’s intepretation of it is not infallible in every detail  because understanding is limited by one’s preunderstanding, spiritual receptivity, level of intellectual acumen, mastery of and faithful adherence to the disciplines of hermaneutics (classically defined) and the amount of hard work invested in the effort.” Thus, as an individual Christian I have to be careful how I interpret the Bible and not lean to hard on my own personal understanding of it.

However, my former seminary professors, while noting the necessity of using valid hermaneutical principles to delve into hard to understand pasasges, also say,”But the major teachings of Scripture are so plain that Bible believers have uniformly recognized and affirmed them, as seen in the great catholic creeds of the Church.”

 The authors add that there are at least 600 clear commandments in the New Testament alone. Here is the rub.

The real problem with my Christian life is not one of understanding, but one of obedience to what is clear in the Bible. Somehow, over the course of my life, I have gained some vague sense of questioning when I think of what the Scriptures clearly say. I sometimes question the validity of these truths somewhere in the recesses of my mind.

This questioning or perhaps lack of faith in the clear words of Scripture has  lead to my personal disobedience. “Why, God doesn’t understand my situation”, I might say in such incidences where I  succumb to temptation.  This is only one  example of  an excuse I might use for sinning.

Yet, I agree with McQuilkin and Mullen when they write that the words of the Bible correspond to reality. They also add another aspect besides the truth of the text itself which should influence my obedience: my ability to receive it.

McQuilkin and Mullen note:

Any bilingual person knows how words lack precision, especially when referring to incorporeal or abstract concepts. But evangelicals have traditionally held that words can convey truth without error, can express accurately what is in the mind of the speaker. Merely because one can demonstrate that we are incapable of comprehending all truth, even about any given subject,does not prove that we cannot apprehend a portion of the truth with accuracy. Our contention is that God’s nature as the determined Communicator,and his deliberate plan to create us on his pattern so that we can receive that communication with saving efficacy, demands some correspondence theory of truth. But it is not merely that our theology demands this. The Bible views itself in this light.

Take for example the biblical exhortation for me to pray. I do pray, but part of me questions why I should do it. After all,  God knows what I need.

However, when I read about godly men in the Bible, they don’t ponder such ideas as mine. They just pray because they believe God responds to prayer.

An Old Testament story illustrates what I mean. Samuel was a the chief justice  of his day, and he called all of Israel together. He told them to gather in one town and he would intercede with God for them (I Samuel 7:5).

The Israelites were facing a tough enemy in the Philistines. When their enemy mobilized, they were afraid.

However, they had learned their lesson from Samuel. They told him,”Do not stop crying out to the LORD our God for us, that he may rescue us from the hand of the Philistines (I Samuel 7:8).”

I read nothing in this story of Samuel and the Israelites about a debate over the need for and the efficacy of prayer. It was obviously a part of Israelite tradition in their role as God’s people, and there were numerous earlier Scriptures testifying to its use and powerful results.

 While the Constitution is a wonderful document, it is not the Word of God and I cannot necessarily apply biblical interpretation principle to understanding its meaning..  Still, I get a little nervous when I read such statements as those from the website USConstitution.net:

“The Constitution is many things to many people.”

” There is no one right way to interpret the Constitution, and people often do not always stick to one interpretation.”

I try to imagine believing these ideas in the realm of Scripture interpretation. Such thinking applied to approaching the Bible gets me extremely frustrated.

I also get shaky when modernists rely on their own opinions or the opinions of those they trust instead of on the written Constitution. The Founders made a provision for updating the Constitution. They’re called amendments.

I would rather trust in the words of the Constitution and the intent of those who wrote it. The document has served us well for over two hundred years.

The Constitutions as written is powerful today. One of the principles of constitutional construction (interpretation) is that its words have power.

One constitutional source notes:

None of the words are without force and effect, except those superseded by amendments, unless such amendments are repealed. Except for the statement of purpose in the preamble, every word was intended by the Framers to be legally normative, and not just advisory, declaratory, aspirational, or exhortatory. Verba intelligi ut aliquid operantur debent. Words should be interpreted to give them some effect. (www.constitution.org)

Furthermore, Abraham Lincoln said of the Constitution,”Don’t interfere with anything in the Constitution. That must be maintained, for it is the only safeguard of our liberties.

The written Word of God similarlly protects my freedom in Christ. How much more should I put my trust in the words of the Bible. They are the supernaturally powerful words of the living and breathing God, whose Spirit is in my heart.

The Bible isn’t just advisory or a source of inspiration, although it can be both at times. It is authoritative.

Therefore, I ought to closely heed its words and obey them. What I think doesn’t matter.

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“Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says. Anyone who listens to the word but does not do what it says is like someone who looks at his face in a mirror  and, after looking at himself, goes away and immediately forgets what he looks like. But whoever looks intently into the perfect law that gives freedom, and continues in it—not forgetting what they have heard, but doing it—they will be blessed in what they do (James 1:22-25).”

“Don’t matter how many times you get burnt, you just keep doin’ the same.” – Bodie, in an episode of the HBO series “The Wire”.

In the hard streets of my hometown of Baltimore, as they are portrayed in the TV show “The Wire”, drugs are a hot commodity. In fact, they are a “hot potato”.

You might remember this children’s game. A group of kids stand in a circle and pass around a bean bag (the hot potato) while music is playng. When the music stops, the person left holding the “hot potato” is out of the game.

In once scene of an episode called “Time After Time”, a squad of police are planning a sting on a corner drug deal operation. The sergeant of the group tells the officers to ignore a “runner” when they show up because, inevitably, he will not have the stash of drugs.

When the police arrive, a runner comes down the street as expected. He runs to a hiding place and picks up a bag and keeps running.

The sergeant changes his mind and the police pursue the boy. However, he loses them and the drugs indeed remained in the hands of the dealers in any case.

In another scene, a legendary drug runner named Cutty is released from jail after 14 years. A drug boss in the prison with him gives Cutty a phone number to call when he gets out so he can receive a homecoming “gift”.

The present is a large amount of narcotics. Cutty sits in his house amidst the stash thinking about how to deal with it.

Cutty observes a dealer one day making sales and approaches him. He doesn’t want to sell the stuff himself as he just got out of jail and doesn’t want to risk going back.

Cutty makes a deal and turns his drug stash over to the dealer. Of course, when Cutty returns for his money, the dealer stiffs him.

Cutty has no recourse because the dealer pulls a weapon on him. There isn’t any paper trail either.

In “The Wire”, the dealers, especially the big bosses, are very careful to avoid being caught with any connection to the drug trade. To them, the drugs are a hot potato to be kept out of their hands.

The police try awfully hard to position themselves to catch the leaders with drugs. However, this is well nigh impossible because the dealers are clever and know the game. They don’t want to be tossed from the game and end up in prision.

The Bible had its own “hot potato”. It was called the Ark of the Covenant.

The Ark was built in Moses’s time to house the Ten Commandments, which were written by the hand of God. It was a holy piece of furniture, not to be treated cavalierly.

How one fared when they came into contact with the Ark all depended on their attitude toward it. If they treated it with holy respect and treated is as the gift of God it was, then they fared well. However, if anyone disrespected the Ark and its status as coming from the Holy God, then they suffered for it.

The Ark once fell into the hands of Israel’s enemy, the Philistines. They put it on display next to their god Dagon.

The Philistines casual atttitude in handling the Ark, treating as a symbol of another god in a pantheon, was not pleasing to God. After their god had been half demolished and their people afflicted with tumors, the Philistines wanted nothing to do with the Ark. 

When the leaders called for the priests and diviners to tell them what to do, they were given a history lesson. The religious leaders told them:

“Why do you harden your hearts as the Egyptians and Pharaoh did? When Israel’s god dealt harshly with them, did they not send the Israelites out so they could go on their way? (I Samuel 6:6).

The religious leaders of the Philistines told their boss’s to send the thing away and to do it with a proper honorarium. They did just that, sticking it on a cart with some golden symbols and sending it in the direction of Israel.

When the first town in Israel received the Ark, the people rejoiced. They held sacrifices and a celebration.

However, some of the people were no better than the Philistines. They treated the Ark as a carnival-like curiosity and pried off its lid to see inside. These people died.

When this town saw this, they didn’t want this hot potato. They sent it away to another town.

The people of this new town obviously knew how to respect God and His Ark. They appointed a priest, who guarded it. This town kept the Ark for 20 years (I Samuel 7:1,2).

The Ark obviously could be detrimental to your health. It was no wonder people treated it like a hot potato.

One man touched the ark on its cart when the oxen stumbled, and the Scriptures called it an “irreverent act” .  God killed him right then and there  (II Samuel 6:6,7).

King David was not happy about God’s actions here. Indeed, he was angry and also afraid of God afterwards.  He dished it over to someone else like a hot potato (II Samuel 6:8-10).

This fellow named Obed-Edom The Gittite housed it for three months and his whole family was blessed (II Samuel 6:10-11).  Perhaps this Ark was not such a hot potato do be gotten rid of after all.

We believers today may not have an Ark pass our way anytime soon, but God does offer us its equivalent: His holiness. My experience with this modern “ark” is that I treat it like a hot potato, also.

I say I want it, but I am not willing to take it seriously. When I interact with this thing called “holiness” and don’t follow God’s recipe, I end up getting burned like the people of old in Palestine who didn’t handle the Ark correctly.

Like them, I am just to cavalier about God and obedience to Him. God doesn’t take kindly to this kind of double-mindedness (See James 1:5-7).

Like the Ten Commandments in the Ark, my new birth in Christ is a gift. I actually have His Word and His Spirit planted in my heart (James 1:17,18).

Is it any wonder that God smacks me when I ignore the holiness He has given me as if it was an old relic in a box to be pulled out when I felt like it?  When I get mad or sulk over His rebuke, it just sends me farther away from what God wants of me (James 1:19-21).

Those Ten Commandments that were from the hand of God are now imprinted on my soul. If I am serious about them, I know where to find them.

The question is,”Am I?” Or do I intend to keep playing with fire and getting burned?

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“You then, my son, be strong in the grace that is in Christ Jesus. And the things you have heard me say in the presence of many witnesses entrust to reliable people who will also be qualified to teach others. Join with me in suffering, like a good soldier of Christ Jesus. No one serving as a soldier gets entangled in civilian affairs, but rather tries to please his commanding officer (II Timothy 2:1-4)”.

It’s the middle of August, and I’m cold. I am sitting in the  harbor in my Finnish town,  late in the afternoon.

I am cold physically, but as I reflect  I know my whole spirit is chilly. I am in a blue funk, one that is not caused by the weather.

Oh, the weather exacerbates it. I mean, there are few places in the Northern Hemisphere like Finland in August.

The summers here are short but intense. Now, the holiday is over.

The resort-like atmosphere at the harbor is gone. So are the people.

The kiosks are not busy at all. There is no one but me buying a cup of  coffee.

I am pretty much alone.

I later talk to a friend, telling her that I am in a state, but I don’t know why. She tells me that it is easy to know.

She says,”You miss your wife. You miss your kids. And you wonder what the hell you are doing here.”

I think she hit the nail right on the head.

Yesterday, the work I came here to do began to pick up steam, also. As the shock of the initial move settles down,  I am faced with the reality of working, working, working, and not having my loved ones around for support. That reality hurts.

In my mind, I came here to support my family financially, and that is what I intend to do. I can’t get away from the idea, however, that this exile is some kind of disciplinary measure from the Lord.

I am thinking,”Couldn’t you have whacked me back in the States just as well, with my family and friends nearby?” I guess not.

I chose to do this. It isn’t the Lord’s fault I suppose. I just couldn’t see any other way out of our financial mess except by working in my field, which pays much better abroad than it does in my own country.

The apostle Paul didn’t have to make tents. He had as much right as the rest of the apostles to get his support from those to whom he was ministering.

Paul also had the right to move around with a wife, also. The other apostled did.

However, in Paul’s walk with the Lord he determined that he should minister AND work for a living. He also apparently had foregone marriage.  His  plan was within the will of God for him (I Corinthians 9:1-23).

This choice wasn’t going to be easy to implement for Paul. He saw the need for a lot of discipline to carry it off (ICorinthians 9:24-27).

In my own case, I have a lot of independence here to do what I want. However, I know it would be self-destructive to use it wrongly.

Knowing this, I see the need to build some structure for myself in order to accomplish what I came here for. At the moment, I am mulling over exactly how it is the Lord would have me use my time when I am not engaged at work.

If the Lord has it in mind to discipline me, than discipline it shall be. I have a role model in Sergeant Thomas “Gunny” Highway.

In the movie “Heartbreak Rídge”, Gunnery Sergeant Highway (Clint Eastwood) has been assigned to train a bunch of slovenly, undisciplined Marines, whose previous leader had allowed to slack off. When he shows up with his gruff, demanding ways, the platoon rebels.

One of the Marines in rebellion is Corporal “Stitch” Jones, a self-absorbed trickster and night club singer. Gunny Highway is partícularly hard on him because Jones, not knowing who Highway was, stole his bus ticket on the way to camp and left him to pay a bill at a diner.

The Marines  even go so far as to sic their most powerful and muscular member on Highway. “Gunny” is not intimidated, however, and despite the age and size difference he beats the young man handily. He continues with his rigorous training program.

Highway eventually brings the men around. They learn to respect him for his methods and his heart because they know their sergeant’s motivation is to keep them alive.

In addition, his men have learned that Highway knows what he is talking about. In a previous war, he won the Congressional Medal of Honor.

When they actually enter combat, their training pays off. They are successful against their enemy.

While teaching his men, “Gunny” Highway is in his own training program, one involving how to relate to his ex-wife and win her back. She is initially hostile, and Highway goes so far as to read Cosmopolitan Magazine in order to learn about the female mind.

Highway is eventually successful in this endeavor, also. At the end of “Heartbreak Ridge”, he wins his wife back.

Highway and Corporal Jones end up with a mutual respect. Jones has proven to be a capable soldier under Highway’s leadership. He goes so far as to tell Highway he intends to make a career  in the Marines.

The Scriptures state the obvious and the not so obvious when it comes to training. The book of Hebrews notes: “No discipline seems pleasant at the time, but painful. Later on, however, it produces a harvest of righteousness and peace for those who have been trained by it.” (Hebrews 12:11). 

What is clear is that discipline hurts. What is not so obvious at the time we endure it is that it has a positive effect in the long run.

The passage in Hebrews 12 also gives some other perspectives:

* God’s discipline is a sign of his love and that we are truly members of His family;

* God disciplines us so that we will live;

* God wants us to become like Him, i.e., holy.

With this perspective, the writer of Hebrews tells us what our response should be. He tells us not to lose heart in the midst of the discipline (Hebrews 12:5b).

We are told to respect God for what He is doing for us and to submit to Him in the training. His intent is for us to build up our weak and lame areas and be healed.

God’s boot camp for me isn’t going to be easy, but in the midst of the hardship there is His grace. He wants to heal me and keep me alive, and He is there to teach me.

Keeping this knowledge in front of me will help me avoid the blues.

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