Reminder of God
October 20, 2006Taught a graduate seminar today on Michael Adas’s great book, Machines as the Measure of Men. In so doing, a realization came to mind. Ask most folks what they do for a living, and you do not get a direct response. Case in point? “What do you do for a living?” Answer—“I’m a teacher,” or “I’m an accountant,” or “I’m a systems engineer” etc. etc. etc. The answer is not what they do for a living. Instead, they are presenting as a definition of themselves, what their job, or career path, is. If they were answering what they actually did for a living, the answer would be “I teach,” or “I compile financial statements,” or “I program computers.” In stating what they are versus what they do, individuals are limiting their definitions of themselves, but also, they are inserting themselves into a hierarchy. If one’s self definition is one’s job, then those who hold lesser jobs may, or must be…inferior. Maybe even less…human. But the systems analyst also may have children, and be a parent. The accountant may be a spouse, or fiancé, and the teacher may direct a nonprofit that reaches out to the homeless with shelter and food. Yet so many of us, despite our greater roles, let our jobs define us. Properly understood, jobs, or careers, are a means to an end, not an end unto themselves. Paul, the ultimate career man, came to understand this.
“More than that, I count all things to be loss in view of the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for who I have suffered the loss of all things, and count them but rubbish in order that I may gain Christ, and may be found in Him, not having a righteouseness derived from the Law, but that which comes from God on the basis of Him…”
What is your identity found in? Is it your career? That will come to an end. Is it lifestyle? That too, will end. The only firm anchor comes not from an identity found in work, or in lifestyle, but one found in Christ. A self-identity found within God, that lasts forever. How long will your identity last?
October 16, 2006Had a much needed break Saturday, thanks to Glenda’s caring encouragement. Glenda and I took Blossom and Millie, our two dogs, out for field trials at a friend’s farm on Saturday. The task at these trials was for the dogs to find and point quail. Since Blossom’s a retriever, not a pointer, she hung back with the dogs at the farmhouse and played cards, shot the breeze, etc. Millie however had a workday. Have you ever seen a Gordon Setter do their thing? It’s amazing. The birds had been set in a field about ¾ of a mile from the starting point. Two dogs at a time were let off lead, and they instantly went into action. They rand 25-50 yards out in front of us, and began making a zig-zag pattern through the field. They always kept their eyes on us, though, to see which direction we were heading. In that fashion, we cleared the distance to the lower field where the birds were. In field trials, the dogs have fifteen minutes to find the birds. Ten minutes were taken crossing the first field to the setting area. As we reached the lower field, Millie (never inactive except when asleep) became more alert than I’d ever seen her. She sniffed the wind, and ran straight to a clump of bushes. There, she lowered her head, held up her right front leg, set her tail up, and pointed straight to a bird, waiting for me to flush the quail out. I did that, the bird flew, the blank gun fired, and Millie was off to find the next bird, zig-zagging and testing the wind as she went. Millie found all four birds in less than four minutes. When the trial was over, it was hard to get Millie to quit. She knew what it was that she was supposed to seek, and there was no pulling her off it.
“Therefore do not worry, saying ‘what shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?” for after all these things the Gentiles seek. For your heavenly Father knows that you need all these things. But seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things shall be added to you. Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about its own things. Sufficient for the day is its own trouble.”
Millie is a smart dog. She didn’t pause in the middle of the course to negotiate her feeding schedule. She knew we would feed her, and that she needed to seek the bird. As well, she did not sit in the field and wait for the bird to come to her. She knew she had a responsibility, and performed that with diligence. What is it that you spend most of your time seeking? Is it money, popularity, affluence, peace, revenge, status, vindication, or a certain lifestyle? Most people I know spend the most time in their lives seeking one of these things. Even the folks I know in the Church. Funny, but the other dog Millie was pared up with in the trial was an experienced hunting dog. Millie had never been in field work before. The other dog, well she was distracted, meandered, sat down to rest—and didn’t find a single bird. Mille, not having grown up in an outdoorsy type environment, she was excited about what she was supposed to seek. Funny how that can be a very similar parallel about some who have been raised in the Church and take grace for granted, versus those who have not, but when they find grace, perceive it as the gift it is, and seek the grace giver with gusto. God is not inherited. As my friend David says often, growing up in Church doesn’t make you a Christian any more than sitting in a garage can make you a car. What are you seeking? With what diligence are you seeking? These are some of the deepest questions a person can strive to answer, if they strive to answer them truthfully. Or they can be assumed and ignored, which of course is an answer in itself.
October 11, 2006Millie, Our Gordon Setter, has had a few evenings over the past couple of weeks of bad dreams. We’re getting Millie ready to show, part of this involves having to train her to stay in a crate for an extended period of time. We’re up to about half an hour now. Gordon Setter’s, as hunting dogs, hunt within eyesight of their masters. They may be a long way away, but they always keep their master in sight. So, for her to be in a crate, out of our sight, for twenty minutes to half an hour is hard for her. And it shows up in her dreams. Her response in dreams has been the same a few times in a row now. About half way into the night she’ll jump up, tail knocking everything off of my nightstand onto the floor, and jump on the bed, running up to Glenda’s and my heads, nuzzling (forcefully) us to make sure we’re ok. When she’s convinced we’re really there, each of us will get a bath as she licks us profusely, and then goes back to sleep, wedged in between us (a 70 lb dog can wedge itself in with a good deal of vigor). Her actions make clear that she is worried we won’t be there, and she seems intent to move any and everything out of the way to make sure she can find us! Funny, but we all want to know that our loves are with us. That their can be some tactile pleasure in physically verifying their presence. Sometimes that’s what’s tough about faith in God. Oh, to be sure, Christ came as the visible expression of the invisible God, but He’s seated at God’s right hand at this time. However, He did leave us His promise of everlasting love:
“I will not leave you as orphans; I will come to you. After a little while the world will behold me no more; but you will behold me; because I live, you shall live also. In that day you shall know that I am in my Father, and you in Me, and I in you. He who has my commandments and keeps them, he it is who loves me; and he who loves me shall be loved by My Father, and I will love him, and will disclose Myself to him.”
There are two groups of people referenced in the above passage: the world, and those who have trusted in Christ. Which group do you fit into? The ones who know Christ have the comfort of knowing that their fellowship with Him will never end, but instead will increase. Millie needs tactile assurance that Glenda and I are still with her. We however have God’s promise that He is with us. In the greatest issues in life, the truth is that sensate experience is trumped by faith, and believing, well believing is seeing.
October 6, 2006A bit of transparency here. Driving home very late from the university (usually I can miss late rush hour) and the traffic is moving about 80 miles per hour, fifteen or so feet between cars. This bushy haired gal in a big black Lincoln SUV cuts straight over in front of me, missing my bumper by about 10 inches. I honk, she gestures. I imagine her car slammed against the guardrail. Justice. Almost everyone I know has thought the same thing. Funny thing about wronging someone else and being wronged. When we do something wrong, we assume that grace will be given. When we are wronged, we hope that the other will face justice. Or, am I the only one that shallow? I was deeply moved by a tragedy this week. A man invaded an Amish schoolhouse and killed several very young girls before killing himself. Reporters parked in front of the homes of the girls who were killed caught an Amish man, one of the fathers, leaving his home about 4:00 in the morning to walk. They intercepted his private moment, and asked a pointed, insensitive, question: “we know you can never forgive the man who did this, but can you forgive his family?” His response stopped me in my tracks. He said “I forgive his family, and I forgive him.” “How could you do that?” asked the reporter incredulously. “By turning to God for His help every minute” was his reply. I pastored a Church in the Amish country for several years. The close-knit nature of the community is impossible to describe. Yet an outsider, who killed this man’s daughter, was forgiven. However, the man was trusting God, to give him the ability to forgive, every minute. Out of this tragedy, I have seen perhaps the best example of what forgiving truly means. This man depended on God every minute to forgive, for the anger returned every minute. We like to think of forgiveness as a one time thing, but that is a shallow understanding of forgiveness. Forgiveness is an on going act. Time and time again, as the remembrance of the wrongs assault us, each of those times is an opportunity to, challenge to, need to, forgive. Think on this:
“And be kind to one another, tender hearted, forgiving each other, just as God in Christ also has forgiven you.”
We have a fast food, instant gratification culture. Yet that is not life. Even in love, Eros, in sexuality, truly making Love is an act that demands time. Oh, an orgasm may occur in a moment, but satisfaction…that takes time, practice even. And that is pleasure—angst, anger, are much more difficult. Here’s the deal: if we think that we can forgive without God’s help, we’re mistaken. And if we think we can be forgiven without God’s help, we are mistaken. Yet when we forgive, in that act, whether we need to repeat it to the same person for the same wrong time and time again, when we forgive, that is when we are most like God.
October 4, 2006I was discussing a research project with a professor last week, and he referred to one of the authors in the study as a “tremendous moralist.” I responded that he wasn’t a moralist, but an apologist. His reply was “What’s the difference? Christianity is about encouraging moral behavior, isn’t it?” My answer was no, it’s not, and we had a good conversation following that. The intensity of the misrepresentation of Christianity being about morality leads me to tackle this subject about once a year. Here’s the problem: I am firmly convinced that “morality” is the Satanic counterfeit of “Holiness.” The word “morality” never appears in scripture once. The word “moral” appears twice in the New American Standard translation, but is poorly translated from the Greek word that really means “virtue.” So what would be the difference between “morality” and “holiness?” The principle is simply the difference between a set of rules and regulations verses Love. Morality gives a set of rules that one must obey if one is to be “moral.” The problem is that this list is often arbitrary. It is also a means of keeping score, to see how one stacks up against one’s neighbor. Inherent in this is being able to accuse one’s neighbor of being wrong, and, oddly enough, the job of “accuser” belongs to Satan. Holiness is based on Love. It is regulating one’s behavior in a Christ-like manner out of a sense of Love for God, and a sense of Love for one’s neighbor. Holiness understands liberty. I have the liberty to eat what I want, to have a beer or glass of wine, or to dance. However, if I am with someone who is offended by one of those behaviors, out of Love, I set aside my liberty. Holiness involves a sense of self-sacrifice of one’s liberties, while morality is a means of feeling superior to others. Literally, holiness means to be “set apart.” That is, set apart to God, to find one’s identity in Him and in so doing set forth unconditional love to others, as God has loved you unconditionally. Presenting Christianity, then, as it is most often understood, as a set of “moral” behaviors is to remove grace and Love from the equation, and these are central to a true understanding fo the Christian faith.
“For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; not as a result of works, that no one should boast.”
Christianity is not a form of or excuse for elitism. It is a recognition that our best attempts to reach up to God fail, and thus we are accepting that out of Love God has reached down to us, through Christ, and through faith in Christ we can have fellowship with God, forgiven for our shortcomings. When people understand they are a recipient of grace (unmerited favor) from God, it is difficult then to try to enforce “morality” on others. If we are set apart to God, then we reach out in love and Grace, just like He does, across behavioral and cultural differences.
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“Therefore do not worry, saying ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ For after all these things the Gentiles seek. For your heavenly Father knows that you need all these things. But seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things shall be added to you. Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about its own things. Sufficient for the day is its own trouble.”
We all have two sets of priorities: those we tell ourselves and others, and those we actually live. The first are our ideal priorities. But who lives in an ideal world? The latter are our real priorities. Where does God fit in that? What do we really, with our actions, seek first?
September 29, 2006I had plans for a ROG formulating in my head based on the latest experiences Millie and I have had at conformation class but that will have to wait until later. As I prepared myself for writing this one, I prayed and went to Scripture. I am currently studying the book of Acts and just happened to be at Chapter 17, Paul’s great address to the Athenians, his Mars Hill address. Moved to tears by what love my God has for me, I simply offer to you a recitation of Paul’s inspired words. May they fill you with the hope and the love that never ever disappoints and always meets you right where you need it.
Acts 17: 22-31
Men of Athens, I perceive that in all things you are very religious, for as I was passing through and considering the objects of your worship, I even found an altar with this inscription: TO THE UNKNOWN GOD. Therefore, the One whom you worship without knowing, Him I proclaim to you; God, who made the world and everything in it, since He is Lord of heaven and earth, does not dwell in temples made with hands. Nor is He worshiped with man’s hands, as though He needed anything, since He gives to all life, breath, and all things. And He has made from one blood every nation of men to dwell on all the face of the earth, and has determined their preappointed times and the boundaries of their dwellings, so that they should seek the Lord, in the hope that they might grope for Him and find Him, though He is not far from each one of us; for in Him we live and move and have our being, as also some of your own poets have said, ‘For we are also His offspring.’ Therefore, since we are offspring of God, we ought not to think that the Divine Nature is like gold or silver or stone, something shaped by art and man’s devising. Truly, these times of ignorance God overlooked, but now commands all men everywhere to repent, because He has appointed a day on which He will judge the world in righteousness by the Man whom He has ordained. He has given assurance of this to all by raising Him from the dead.
Do you sometimes feel as though you’re pleading for help from someone who is just not out there? Do you beseech a silent listener? Do you not know to whom you pray or even what you believe in? Do not base your conclusions on the harsh blows dealt you by human hands in the past. Regardless of how thoughtless people, Christian or otherwise, have treated you in the past, God is still God. He still loves you. In him you, live, and move and have your being. Sometimes silence is necessary to attune your ear to the still and quiet whisper of the God who loved you enough that He gave up his only Son to die on your behalf. He who loves you that much will not leave you to falter, He is the One who holds your hand.
Romans 8: 32-39
He who did not spare His own Son, but delivered Him up for us all, how shall He not with Him also freely give us all things?... Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword?...Yet in all these things we are more than conquerors through Him who loved us. For I am persuaded that neither death nor life, nor angels nor principalities nor powers, nor things present nor things to come, nor height nor depth, nor any other created thing, shall be able to separate us from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.