Looking at the world around us, it is easy to become cynical. It is easy to let rational logic declare that man is a hopeless creature given to lust, greed, and lawlessness. I read an article this week that made me rethink some things. It is an article that pictures God counselling with the angels on the creation of man. After all, the Text does tell us that when it came the time to create man God did say, “Let US make man …” The story goes something like this.
When God decided to create man, Truth appeared, falling before God's throne, and in all humility begged God to refrain from calling into being a creature who is beset with the vice of lying and who will tread truth under his feet. Peace came forth to support this petition describing man as a “creature so full of strife and contention so as to disturb the peace and harmony of creation itself.” Then the soft voice of Charity exclaimed “Sovereign of the universe, create a being in Your likeness, for it will be a noble creature striving to imitate Your attributes by its actions…. I see him now in spirit seeking out those who are distressed and wretched to comfort them, drying the tears of the afflicted and despondent, raising up them that are bowed down in spirit, reaching his helping hand to those who are in need of help, speaking peace to the heart of the widow, and giving shelter to the fatherless. Such a creature cannot fail to be a glory to His Maker.' The Creator approved of the pleadings of Charity, called man into being, and cast Truth down to the earth to flourish there.
This story teaches us that in the balance of things, the acts of unselfish courage, the selfless deeds, the automatic humane impulse to rescue, and the noble acts of goodness that man is capable of, tip the balance in his favor in spite of all the evil he is also guilty of. This gave God, He who knows the end from the beginning, the go-ahead concerning the creation of man.
As we get together in families over the holiday season, may we look at our kin, especially those who rub us the wrong way, with the eyes of God who felt that the potential of goodness imbedded in that person makes him a worthy candidate to existence. After all, even a broken clock right twice a day!
It is said that our brain is not fully formed until we reach the age of 21. As such, the reasoning of someone under that age might be somewhat skewed since he does not have all the parts necessary to make fully rational assessments. I am aware of that when I teach teenagers in school. The main subjects I teach are current events, politics, religion, civic and social studies. I personally feel a sense of mission teaching these subjects to these young souls. I suppose that I will still be alive when they vote in less than 4 years, so I want them to vote intelligently.
I want my teaching to be relevant to them so my classes involve a lot of discussions about what is going on in the world today. Hearing what they have to say teaches me a lot. And mostly, it teaches me to recognise an unseasoned immature mind.
Teenagers often (notice I didn’t say always) find peace and stability in black and white extremes. Extremes are clear. Black and white reasoning keeps us safe from these complicated shades of grey. It is easy; it is simple; … but it is incomplete.
It is easy to simplify issues by polarising them we are faced with a situation that is too big for us or that we don’t understand. But human relationships are not always like Algebra. They don’t become simpler just because we simplified the equation. They just become unrealistic or untrue. They sometimes require all their elements to be properly assessed.
The easiest thing is to create 2 imaginary positions, “for’ and “against”, and polarise them out of any possible compromise. Isn’t compromise a sign of weakness? It is within the cocoon of these sad immature human-created imaginary situations that enmity, divorce, suicide, and even later on war between nations, emerge.
There is little saying I often repeat to my students. It has become a joke and they even finish the sentence for me when i start it. It is, “When 2 people vehemently argue opposite positions, it is usually because they are both … right!” I explain to them that since there is rectitude in both argument, they hold on to it, and that peace and understanding can only come when both sides try to find the rectitude in the other’s point of view. May we, who have grown to be adults teach our children the most important path they may travel in their lives: the one that meets someone halfway!
Sometime we look up to people that have much knowledge; that are knowledgeable. But is possessing knowledge always a sign of virtue? Some knowledge is good, while some is bad. How do we make the difference? It has been said that a tree is known by its fruits. It is a great statement but one that assesses a situation after the fact, like “Oooops, maybe I shouldn't have learned that!” I can right now think of a girl my wife and I helped to go to college. We housed her and gave her free childcare so she could get an education. Looking back now, we realise that whereas she learned some good things, a particular class that appealed to her wrecked her life and she is now in prison. How do we get ahead of the curve then? How do make sure to chose good knowledge?
It's like fishing. We do not prepare a fishing line with a bait if we desire to catch a whale, neither do use a harpoon to catch sardines. We first think of our targeted catch, then we prepare the equipment necessary to catch it. The same goes with safari hunting. We wouldn’t catch an elephant with lasso, nor a rhinoceros with a net.
It is important therefore, before launching into a study, that we first define what it is that we want to learn and why. What are the desired results?Do we want to learn economics so we can be sure to be one step ahead of everybody, or so we can create economic systems that promote parity? Do we learn science and chemistry in order to build bombs or create médecine?
As the type of food we want for dinner will define the tool we will use for fishing or hunting, the role we seek to fulfil in society should define the direction of our training and learning.
God has put in front of us the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. While giving us the freedom to chose, He forbade us to eat from that tree; I guess He could see the results ahead of time. Today, as science and knowledge increases, this choice is still set before us as we wake up every morning. May we keep positive goals before us so our hearts will be drawn to the knowledge that makes us into individuals that positively benefit society.
Happy fishing, hunting, and learning!
Both my wife and I were born in temperate regions close to the 45th parallel. Christina was born in Portland,OR, I was born in Paris, France. As such we have been used to notice the changes of the seasons. When we were in Asia, we very much appreciated the charm of the tropics but somehow missed the metamorphosing of the landscapes that comes with the passing of time. In SE. Asia, there seems to be only two seasons: hot and humid, and rainy and humid.
Since coming back to the Western part of the northern hemisphere, we take great joy at observing the changing coat of the earth. In the Spring, it wears a vibrant, almost fluorescent vivid green dress, only to leave in a flashy scarlet fiery coat in the Fall. Whereas the green of Spring reinvigorates us into a sense of rebirth after a long winter, the profound fiery colors of Fall tell us of the beauty of old age.
In the Northwestern hemisphere of the world, a place where humankind are evaluated by the efficiency of their productivity, old people are often set aside, seen as inefficient and backward. This results in discouragement, depression, and a fear of old age. They say that in SE Asia, the effects of menopause are lessened because in these regions of the world old folks are appreciated, almost venerated for the wisdom that comes from having lived so many years. People there sometimes even follow the biblical injunction of rising from their sitting position at the arrival of an older person in the room. Nature teaches us this beautiful concept of how God sees the ending of our days. A fiery flame giving the beauty, the heat, and the warmth of its wisdom to all that come near it.
Though some may say, “Oh, come on, I know many old people, and they are not like that. They are cranky, obnoxious, mean …!” But who knows if they are just responding to the way they are treated; trying with everything they’ve got left to keep a dignified head above the condescending waters of human prideful mockery that would otherwise swallow them.
It is easy to hold a grudge against our parents. As adults, we easily sit in judgment of their words and deeds. With disdain we point the finger and say, “ How could they…” We do not realise that in turn one day our children will point that same accusatory finger at us.
What is worse is that, since our parents are not often present in the realm of our imaginary kangaroo court and even sometime within the realm of humanity itself, we judge and condemn them in absentia. Not only does the Bible forbid such an illegal court, but it also forbids taking a reproach against people.
A young adult I know just told us of a story. He was on a nature hike with his young when suddenly a menacing stone rolled down the cliff. The father quickly adjusted his backpack and grabbed the child. To the amazement of both, the stone fell near the place where the child stood. Shaken but thankful, father and son continued their trek. Later that evening when telling of his day to his mother, the child said in a disconcerted voice, “... and Daddy let go of my hand….!” Yes Daddy let go of his hand but it was only to readjust his backpack so he could take the child into his arms. But to this day, even after the child has grown up, all he remembers is that at that traumatic moment, Daddy let go of his hand.
This presented the Daddy in question with a crucial lesson. He remembers things from his youth for which he holds a grudge against his parents. Many details are vague now, and even distorted, but he still holds a grudge. The trekking episode with his own son made him wonder if perhaps his judgment was not a little clouded by the immaturity of childhood.
The Dad in question started rethinking at the things he held against his parents and realized that maybe things were not necessarily the way he thought them to be; that maybe his accusation against his own parents were as ill-founded as his son's accusation of desertion at a time of danger.
This was a landmark for this young father and a good lesson. We are coming near the holiday times when families get together for family dinners and reunions. Let us try to withhold this accusatory finger against our parents. It may be that Dad was just ‘re-adjusting his backpack!’
I am not ashamed to admit that I am an avid Star Trek fan. The famous Vulcan blessing rings well in my ears and here is why.
Life is full of complicated choices. As we hopefully make better decisions the older we get, there is often a very little of anything that we can do about these messy choices of our immature youth. Sometimes they follow us for a lifetime.
I have made bad decisions in my youth which led to lessons learned, to wishing that I had the opportunity to take the test again. I have noticed that very often, life presents us with the opportunity to take the test again and hopefully make the right choice this time. It doesn't do much for the people we may have hurt but it helps clean the slate of our soul. This is where longevity helps: As long as we are alive, we have the opportunity to a second chance; to sort of clean up our mess. I do believe that God allows second chances. So when we wish someone a long life, we extend to them the hope of a second chance. When we try to stay alive as long as possible we allow for these second chances to happen.
In his role as a Vulcan, Léonard Nimoy used a hand gesture as he gave the Vulcan blessing. Being openly Jewish, he used the hand gesture from the ancient Jewish Temple ritual of the Aaronic blessing issued by the priests over the nation of Israel. The gesture copies the Hebrew letter 'shin’ which represents the Name 'El Shaddai’. That blessing says, “The LORD bless you, and keep you: The LORD make his face shine upon you, and be gracious unto you: The LORD lift up his countenance upon you, and give you peace. (Deuteronomy 6:24-26).
May the blessings of His contenance turned towards us allow us all second chances.
One day, while sitting by a brook, a shepherd noticed a steady trickle of water hitting a rock. It was only a drip, but it was constant – drop after drop after drop. The man observed something incredible: A hole had been carved out by that steady drip of water. He wondered how that could be. He concluded: If something as soft as water can carve a hole in solid rock, how much more so can the Word of God – which is hard as iron – make an indelible impression on my heart.
That marked a turning point in this indentured shepherd’s life who did not even have his own flock. Though at the age of 40 he was still illiterate, he committed himself to studying the Word of God, and went on to become one of the greatest scholars of his generation. He worked hard at what he wanted to learn. He was consistent at it and as a result people from all over came to him for answers.
Sometimes we look at people who are good and know a lot about their field. They are good at what they do; they seem to naturally flow with it and we wish we could be and do the same. It is easy at these time to forget that knowledge is not transferred to our brains with a flash drive, it is learned unit by unit; that efficiency is not passed on by downloading an upgrade, it is drilled exercise by exercise.
At drill last Wednesday Mark kept saying, “We learn for knowledge and drill for efficiency!” There is really no other way to develop a well of knowledge than by going through facts unit by unit. Sometime it may feel like drops of waters working away at a stone, but our shepherd rightly acquiesced with the Word of God that “Water wears away stones” (Job 14:19).
As it is with skills, it is with virtue. We cannot expect to be the people that we need to be just because of one repentant prayer. It takes the daily practice and drill of making the sometimes hard but right decision with every situation we meet. Then it becomes second nature to do and think what is right.
So when we see people who seem to have a good handle on either skill of virtue,we must remember that it is mostly though the daily dripping of learning for knowledge and drilling for efficiency. The great pianist Paderewski was once asked how come he could play so fluidly. He said, “Like anyone else, I practice seven hours a day! If I miss one day, I know it. If I miss two days, my friends know it. If I miss three days, the world knows it.”
Two weeks ago I went to the drill at the Clackamas training center by 130th and 112th. It was a cool breezy evening. Night fell as firefighters practiced their skills.
The exercise was to ventilate a burning building by cutting openings on the roof. Trying to keep their balance on the sloped surface, one by one the firefighters took turn at the chain saw. The biggest problem was the sawdust which kept causing them to slip. The solution was to have one, two, even sometimes three other firefighters behind for safety.
I found this exercise quite interesting.
The main job was to cut an opening with a chainsaw on a sloped surface. It looked dangerous. Slipping and falling while operating a chainsaw could have devastating results. I saw firefighters losing balance several times. Each time they were rescued by the crewmates behind them. In order to do this cutting, the “cutter” had to completely trust his crewmates. It is this trust that allowed him to let go of trying to keep balance and do his job.
It made me think about many things in life. Sometimes we try to do things on our own and we find ourselves slipping on a dangerous slope resulting in life changing errors of judgement causing injuries, hurt, and pain which could have been avoided had we engaged the help and support of others.
Working with, though, or even under the covering of others, be it technical, legal, spiritual, or emotional, has its benefits. It helps us not have to carry the whole load by ourselves. With the cover, vetting, and support of those around us, we have the assurance that someone ‘has our back’, and we can do our job more effectively.
“HELP! I’M UNDER ATTACK!”
I saw an article this week on Facebook where someone was complaining of being under attack. It did not specifically say so, but the idea seemed to be that the person in question was under spiritual attack from demonic forces. In that person’s mind, her projects were so important that the cosmic forces of evil were out to get her and that’s why she had all the trouble she had.
I do not doubt the reality of forces of evil being at work in our world, but what I have noticed is that we do not need them in order to make a mess of our lives. I have, in fact, made the great cosmic discovery that we are often our own worst enemy; and that with friends like ourselves, who needs enemies?
At the end of the day, most of the time (and I did not say 'all the time’), a house burns down because of unattended fire; illnesses are often the results of unhealthy lifestyles, and financial problems are due to unrealistic handling of money. Our problems with relatives, neighbours, and collègues are also often due to our lack of wisdom or even worst, to our vindictive, vengeful, and selfish attitudes. Everything could change or be different were it for a little more carefulness, healthy habits, austerity, kindness and being less self-centered. As long as we blame external circumstances, we will never find solutions. I think this principle works from the individual up to every institution of life, even government doesn’t go anywhere as long as they blame the other side.
Not only that, but to think that the forces of evil are out to get us attributes an undue sense of importance which ot only feeds our natural pride, but keeps us from looking the problem in the face and finding solutions .After all, “It's not my fault”; “The devil made me do it!” In both cases we absolve ourselves of responsibility thus continuing the vicious cycle of denial through blame.
Maybe realising mistakes are never free but that their fixing always involve some sort of fee somewhere either by us or someone else would help us to live more consciously. Another thing I found out is that many mistakes can be avoided if we stop being so proud and enroll the help of others. Like they say, “Two are better than one!”
This was the question a friend of mine was asked this week. For lack of better terms, social media is “flooded” with “fiery” observations and comments concerning the non-stop onslaught of disasters about whether this is some like of ‘judgement”. Whether they are human caused or as Insurance companies call them, “Acts of God” is clearer for some than for others. I have always wondered about Insurance companies suddenly acknowledging God at such times. Is this a way to tell us, “Look, we don’t have to pay; it’s not our fault; it’s God’s fault; ask Him for restitution of property!”
Going over the unbridled comments on FB, one things seems to be sure, that it is at such a time people do stop looking down at their digital devices and start wanting to take a look inside themselves as well as up! While the social media rhetorical venum is already toxic when observations are mixed with the already acrimonious politics of the day, it is fatal when it is mixed with religion. A sad state of affair where instead of joining the ranks of the brave dedicated people who fight the waters and the flames, they sit home placing blame at the other denomination, or political party, and/or God.
While my wife and I were on the road this summer, we dodged a very bad hail event that could have destroyed our car, much of our equipment and put an end to our tour. With one less vehicle, it would have also rearranged our lives and finances for the worst. We decided to leave the freeway at the last minute just because my wife was hungry. Then while at the restaurant, we get a weather alert of hail as big as softballs right in the direction we were going, at the time we would have been there. As we passed by later, we saw about 25 cars with shattered windshields, and two overturned semis. In the middle of summer, they were cleaning the roads with snow-plows. We felt very honored to have been spared and thank God for it. But my wife kept asking the question, “Why? These people also have lives to get to. They have families; children; jobs; financial issues. There are also in the mix people who do well by God. So why were we spared?”
These are valid questions. Some try to simplify the answers by saying that God spares people because their job for Him is important; that He loves them; or they are part of the right political party and/or religious affiliation. They feel that God favors them because of a certain sense of righteousness that they have. These are very dangerous conclusions because it implies personal goodness while deducing that others are villains. As we do that, we lose the sense of compassion to help others feeling that they get their just dessert, but we indulge ourselves in the delusion that we are sort of righteous chosen ones while the others are bad. These are erroneous conclusions that are against many biblical injunctions.Why God does things, we are not able to always tell, but it is not our job to tell anyways. We’re We say don’t get a say in it. Our job is to come to the rescue of those around us who need help. "Judge not, that you be not judged. For with the judgment you pronounce you will be judged, and with the measure you use it will be measured to you. (Mat 7:1-2)
I have travelled all around the word and lived with people of many different colors, religion, and political views. I do not think that we have within us the ability to rightly discern who is just and who is unjust; who is punished for sin or who like righteous Job is being tested. We certainly can’t define it by people’s religions or politics. I have witnessed with my own eyes the words of Jesus, the only wise judge who knows the depth of the heart of man, He who judges true righteous judgments, not by what his eyes see, or decide disputes by what his ears hear, (Is 11:3); discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart (Heb 4:12); and who says that His Father makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust. (Mat 5:45).
I guess this could be a part 2 from the previous article, “Curse not the deaf!”
All week we have been following the devastations of Hurricane Harvey. It is all the more strange for us because it will be hitting near some of the areas of the Southeast where my wife and I were last month.
Thursday night the news related of someone known as Jim McIngvale, or, Mattress Mack who opened the doors of his 160.000 square foot Gallery Furniture showroom as a shelter for the Houston flood victims. “These are my people; black, white, brown, white it doesn’t matter; these are my people and I’ve got to help my people!” he says.The call of the people having lost everything made him do this, he declared.
It was not the first time for Jim. Hurricane Katrina was also a time when the call to help overwhelmed him. “That’s who I am!” he says, “That’s what me and my wife try to teach our children: service above self!”
This is what he teaches his children, but what I found the most amazing is that when the journalist interviewing him commented, “I get the feeling that you don’t say ‘no’ very often!”, Jim answered, “My father never could say, “no! I don’t either!”’”
Apart from pointing out the beautiful fathers-to-sons heritage of compassion brought out in the story, it came to me that there is One in Heaven that many of us call “Father”, and He doesn’t say “No” to anyone. Should we?
We meet all sorts of people during our travels. Recently we spent four days at the hobby-farm of family of home-schoolers. They are raising 9 children; seven of them still in the house and I must say that it was one of the most peaceful happy households we have ever stayed in.
These people had a notion of limiting their activities to a pace where the family had the time to appreciate each other, spend time in spiritual activities, and overall enjoy living.
One of the children was in a wheelchair due to a spinal birth defect. When my wife told the mother, “It must have been so difficult to find that your newborn was handicapped!!”, the mother replied, “Oh no; we knew at 12 weeks during the pregnancy. They gave me the option to “terminate” the pregnancy! But I would not and I am so glad I didn’t.
My wife and I spent several days with the children of that family. Christine taught some jewlery skills as well as how to cook a Thai dish. I gave a Hebrew class. All the children of that family had a something special, but the one on a wheelchair (a 12 year-old) was particularly gifted in History, Geography, languages, and Bible so he and I had some good conversations. From the wonders of the Hebrew alphabet we went on to Bible stories in the chinese letters. He was such a positive, happy, and bright child. He was not given any special ‘pity’ treatment. He was like one one of the others pulling his own weight with his own share of chores which was to mow the lawn using riding mower.To think that in many countries and many cases in the States these children are aborted!
All in all, we were still amazed by the attitude of the mother, until we met her father. Her father was deaf. Since we know sign language we could easily communicate with him. One of the first thing he told Christina in sign was, “You know God talks about the deaf in the Bible!”. I knew about Isaiah’s messianic prophecy “On that day the deaf will hear the words of a book…”, (Is 29;18) but he had a different one in mind. He quoted, “You shall not curse the deaf …”(Lev 19:14). Then he said, “You see, the deaf have a purpose: to test people’s hearts!”
I can’t help but trace the powerful attitude of the mother to the attitude of the father who, instead of seeing his handicap as a curse from God, saw it as a tool in the hand of a caring God who also provided a protective legislation for the deaf in His Word.
This coming Monday we will witness a rare celestial event: a full eclipse of the sun. While in ancient times skilled astronomers paid much attention to such events, modern technology allows us today to know its exact path minute per minute. As such, people from around the world are coming to the United States to get front row seats for the formidable celestial play.
Locals also have seen the signs of the skies. Hoping to gather earthly wealth from these heavenly events, many have converted their properties into temporary campgrounds. City officials do not miss their clue either. Expecting an unprecedented influx of people creating monster traffic jams, in some places, the National Guard has been deployed and fire engines scattered in key places.
It is good that people prepare for such things. It reminds me of something Jesus said to farmers of his days. In an attempt to awaken them to their contemporary social and political situation He said to them,, "When it is evening, you say, 'It will be fair weather, for the sky is red.' And in the morning, 'It will be stormy today, for the sky is red and threatening.' You know how to interpret the appearance of the sky, but you cannot interpret the signs of the times. (Mat 16:2-3)
Farmers and herders in the days of Jesus knew how to read the sky and take appropriate decisions concerning their fields and flocks. But at the same time, Jesus hoped that the people would read the events of their days and see the proverbial “handwriting on the wall.” Genesis 1 tells us that the heavenly bodies have been given to us for signs (Gen 1:14). A sign usually carries a message that may invoke a particular action. Such an eclipse was visible in Jerusalem at the moment of the death of Jesus
There is a particularity to this eclipse: it will be only visible from the United States, and it will cross it from West to East. So if sign it is, it is a logical to assume that it is a sign for the United States, not for anyone else. The hard part now is to define what is its message. From times unmemorable solar eclipses have been seen as omens of warning. Many feel very free to share their conclusions generated by their own political preferences or religious opinion, and there seem to be no-one to arbitrate the flow of assumptions. Very often, we only understand these things long after the fact, but one thing is certain, Someone is telling us something!
A friend called me this week asking me about a discipleship program at their church. The program was based on the reading of a particular book.about discipleship. I went over the book and it seemed to be a very good book explaining the particulars of discipleship in biblical times.
I told my friend though, that while the book may be very good, the idea of discipleship in the Bible is different than indoctrination, such as one might learn from a book. Indoctrination, by the way, used to be a positive term referring to the full intense learning of a subject or doctrine.
Discipleship is not about a transfer of knowledge from master to pupil. It is rather about the pupil learning to live by closely following the example of his Master. It was about doing, not just learning about how to do. It was clinical, not mental.
When the Galileans wanted to become the disciples of Jesus, they asked, “Master, where are you staying?” (Jn 1:38) That is because in Israel in those days, a would-be disciple left home to live and even become part of the family of his master/teacher. To their surprise, Jesus answered the disciples that he didn’t have a home, thus exemplifying the idea that the true believer's home is not of this age but of the World to Come. As it happened, the disciples then spent the rest of their time with Jesus travelling the dusty roads of Israel as the itinerant preacher their Master was.
This made me think of a documentary I saw long time ago, The Woman who Willed a Miracle.This woman became the foster parent of Lemke, a blind, cognitively impaired boy with cerebral palsy. When the child became older, she brought him to the fence in front of her yard so he could stand there. It is then that this frail woman decided to strap this boy who couldn’t stand by himself and much less walk on her back, body to body, arm to arm, leg to leg. Little by little, his muscles strengthened and, to the surprise of everyone, he learned to walk. More happened to him but I will not spoil the story for you. Maybe you can get the film, I will put a link to a short video of the story at the end of this posting.
In the eyes of God, our attempts to live in His righteousness are make us similar to that boy who couldn’t walk. We learn to walk, and our spiritual muscles are strengthened by strapping ourselves onto Him, body to body, arm to arm, leg to leg,following in His every step and move.
That‘s what discipleship is: imitating the Master; walking in His footsteps.
Come to think of it, the best teachers teach using the clinical method: they teach by example.
I had several talks with a young man raised in conservative missionary group this week. As he became a young adult, the founder of the group died. As a result, the group started unravelling. Many of this young man’s peers left and even abandoned their relationship with God. He himself hangs on to his relationship with God but sometimes wonders why.
This is a problem that often occurs with the second and third generation of a Church or fellowship group. Parents join those because of an already established relationship with the Almighty. The Church or the group becomes for them a vehicle or a tool to practice their already established faith so to speak. For their children it is different. Being born in it, the Church or the group becomes to them the actual matrix from which their faith is generated. This dependency on a leader, Church, group, or denomination is a fragile spiritual position to be in. Leaders can fail; and Church, group, fellowship, and even denominations grow and change, sometimes for good and sometime for bad. That’s what the Children of Israel learned when they went into captivity in Babylon. Having lost the Temple which was their vehicle of worship, they had to get closer to God by studying the only thing they had left: The Torah, the Word.
I explained to this young man that relationship with God must rather be based on a personal tangible experience, not appartenance to a doctrinal group. He said then that he couldn’t pinpoint such a time in his life. This made me rethink my answer.
There are many ways that a relationship with God begins and some are not always pinpointable. Some establish it through the vehicle of a sincere prayer; some remember the happenstance of a miracle; a convincing argument; an emotional rush. There are even times when people realized that they had it but didn’t know it. It just grew on them. But all of those probably started with a conscious or subconscious search. Even fighting against God is a sign of having a relationship with Him. It may resemble a very bad marriage, but unless you are crazy, you can’t fight against an entity that doesn’t exist.
But back to my friend.
I’d like to compare relationship with God to marriage. When we marry we make a conscious rational decision that will change our lives for better or for worse. It is a financial, logistical, and sometimes even a religious decision. In any case it will drastically change the way we live in every way. Whereas we can pinpoint the day we marry, we may not be able to pinpoint the day we fall in love. Yet falling in love leads to very tangible rational (sometimes irrational) and drastic decisions. Like getting married, dedicating our lives to God is our tangible answer to a relationship that started in a time and way we can’t really pinpoint and explain. That’s the decision that we make and no one does it for us. That time of decision then becomes becomes our reference point.
I want to take the analogy a little further. The most important part of a wedding ceremony is the sharing of the vows. Everything revolves around that. The vows are the promise that two people make to each other. In the Bible the breaking of vows is so unthinkable that Jesus said that it was better not to make vows than to make one and break it. Many things can go awry in a marriage; but at the end of the day, when the emotions, the violins, the pink clouds, and the butterflies are gone, if it it is based on the reference point and notion of an unbreakable and unshakable promise and not on external conditions, it will never break. It is the same with our relationship with God.
Here is a clip from the movie, A Beautiful mind.
I arrived in America in 1995. Because my wife is a native of Portland and the fact that her family lives in the area, we decided to make Portland our home.
After three days at my in-laws, I decided to take the bus to downtown Portland. When I told the blond lady bus-driver I had just been in America three days, she exclaimed, “Welcome to GOD’s country!” I got off at the last stop near the main train station, by the Rescue Mission. This was my first impression of a city in America. On my way back, the driver stopped the bus because of a young teenager toting a gun. Again I thought, “They do call it the Wild-West!”
Maybe it was due to these first impressions that my wife and I started a ministry to the Portland area street-kids and youth-at-risk. This ministry lasted about 10 years. Many young people joined us to help and we got very close to some of them. In our hearts, we were doing something for God and so were they.
During our summer ministry tour this year, trip we have had the opportunity to reconnect with some of these young people that worked with us. We were surprised to see that while some had kept their relationship with God some others didn’t, and even grew bitter against Him.
Indeed many things can affect our attitude towards God. As I wrote in a previous article, we are often mad at God because He didn’t do such-and-such that we expected Him to do, when actually the “such-and-such” were not things God had promised to do. We often fail to read the ‘contract’ that we have with Him. While angry, people say that they reject God and don’t want to have anything to do with Him. This is not unbelief; this is anger.
That is why it is important that our relationship with Him be not based on false premises or promises. Preachers who promise the ‘moon’ to potential believers actually do a disservice to the cause because God has never promised us the ‘moon’. But even more than that, what is ‘true faith’?True faith is like getting married. A wise husband-to-be will not promise the ‘moon’. He doesn’t know what the future holds. Like with any healthy marriage, our union with God can never be conditional to happiness, health, or wealth. The knowledge that we are united with our Creator should also have nothing to to do with format, practices, or doctrines; only as the Good Book tells us, “Faith working through love.” (Gal 5:6 ESV)
The Good Book also tells us of those ancient patriarchs who died in faith seeming to never have received what God had promised to them. That’s true faith, faith that is not dependant on the answer, but on obedient love. I am reminded of the three Judean captives who were asked to bow down before an idol. As true followers of God, they couldn't do that and were to be thrown into a fiery furnace. so they said to their oppressor, “...Our God whom we serve is able to deliver us from the burning fiery furnace, .... But if not, be it known to you, O king, that we will not serve your gods or worship the golden image that you have set up." (Dan 3:17-18 ESV)
This is a story about Pig-Pen. Pig-Pen felt bad because of the flies that pestered him. He really didn’t like the flies. “What should I do?” he kept wondering. He didn’t realize that the flies were attracted to the cloud of dirt and filth that hovered around him in a cloud. And Pig-pen loved his cloud of filth. One day he was caught in a short but heavy downpour that showed him clean. This is when he exclaimed, "In one minute the rain has washed away what took me all day to accomplish.” He sometimes referred with pride to the cloud that surrounded him as the “dust of ancient civilizations.”
He wanted to impress Violet of whom he was quite fond. He cleaned himself up for a little time but then was totally unrecognizable, so that didn’t help. Another time he tried to fool Peppermint Patty by keeping only one side of his body clean. It didn’t last long as soon enough the flies revealed the trick.
He himself didn’t look at himself as dirty. In his eyes, his dirt represented a very valuable commodity. “Don't think of it as dust. Just think of it as the dirt and dust of far-off lands blowing over here and settling on me!. It staggers the imagination! I may be carrying the soil that was trod upon by Solomon or Nebuchadnezzar or Genghis Khan! One then may think, “Poor Pig-Pen; he is a relic of history, yet no-one appreciates him. He is harassed by these naughty flies and he can’t even get a girlfriend. That’s not fair.” Poor Pig-Pen indeed. Instead of realising that where there is no filth there are no flies , he had rationalised the dirty and lazy habits of his life into a lie that he himself believed. He had even convinced others that he was the victim and not the cause of his predicament. Once, after bathing and dressing in clean clothes, Pig-Pen stepped outside his house, and instantaneously became dirty and disheveled, whereupon he declared "You know what I am? I'm a dust magnet!" On another occasion, Pig-Pen decided it was important to have clean hands, but after failing to wash them, he gave up realizing that he had "reached a point of no return." So he also had a problem with consistency and determination.
Whereas Pig-Pen is fictional character, we may need to realise that there is truth to learn through Pig-Pen’s predicament. If we live life with integrity and honesty, we do not have a problem with negative rumors against us. Or if we do, like flies who will not remain in a clean place, these rumors and gossip will go away through our own transparence because, “Where there is no dirt, flies don’t stay!”
My wife and I have been out on a ministry tour for a month now. We have another two months to go. For the last two weekends we have been in the neighborhood of Minneapolis, Minnesota. We are now on our way to Iowa.
We spent the 4th of July in the little town of Lyons, Nebraska, population: 814. Downtown feels like something out of a movie on the A&E channel. The 4th of July parade seemed to have been composed of half the city parading for the other half, their friends and relatives, in the audience. In the evening, the fire department hosted the town’s dinner.
There were quite a few events on that 4th of July and my wife and I strolled the town looking at what was happening. One of the events particularly drew my attention. The flyer said, “Blind Tractor Race”. Were these local farmers really going to drive their tractors blind? It sounded quite reckless to me. I wanted to see this.
As I arrived I was delighted to see what was really happening. The driver of the tractor was really going to be blindfolded, but standing beside him, sitting and holding the best he could to whatever he could find, was a seeing person who gave verbal instructions to the blindfolded driver.
People sometime talk farmers down, but according to someone I know, these farmers were actually pretty smart: they had the seeing leading the blind!
Many lessons can be drawn from this. First, it is a real exercise of trust and humility for the driver who is put in a position of vulnerability and dependence. It is also an exercise of integrity for the seeing person who has to make sure to give clear instructions and be patient.
There was one team of a father and an young teenager who reminded me of what it feels like to raise teenagers in the world. Another team was a team of women who didn’t seem to have good communication so the tractor went all over the place.
In the Bible, blindness is used as an imagery for ignorance. So I felt that this exercise presented a good illustration of what it to be a teacher. All in all, I felt that it was a good illustration of what it is to be It is a good illustration of what it is to be a teacher.
SEE FOLLOWING VIDEOS
Calendar disputes have plagued history for centuries. Even in the days of Jesus. Pharisees, Sadducees, Samaritans, Essenes, all had their take on how the calendar should be followed. The Gregorian calendar the western world follows today has had several revisions but if we are to be able to operate together, we must agree to a consensus to follow the same calendar.
One very special day in the Jewish calendar is Yom Kippur in the fall. It is believed that that day is the last of ten when the heavens were opened to receive the people’s prayers of repentance. Until today, it is the most important day in the Jewish calendar. It a day of fasting and prayers; even non-religious Jews fast on that day. People neither travel, carry money, nor work. On that day, everything is closed in Israel. There is no traffic in the streets and people stroll on the highway with their children and families.
There was a time when 2 Rabbis from a well known academy disagreed on the calendar and therefore on the day of Yom Kippur that year. That school was the most important academy in the Land after the Romans had shut down the country of Israel. This school was actually in charge of the program to preserve Judaism through the coming long years of exile. The younger of the two rabbis who ran the school, wanted to make his mark as a leader so he forced the older rabbi (who had been his teacher) to come to the school for a dinner on a certain day, day which the older rabbi felt was actually the day to fast.
The old rabbi wrestled with his conscience but finally decided to go; why? He weighed the pros and the cons. He realised that if he allowed himself the luxury of following his own hunches regardless of how right they are, everyone would start doing the same and as a result, not only the country will be finished, but the Jewish people themselves. He felt then that in this situation, it was a better ‘obedience’ to the commandments to follow consensus than to follow his own convictions of what is right.
A very famous Rabbi commented on that episode between the two religious leaders of that academy. He said,“Sometime you must break the Torah in order to obey the Torah.” What he meant was that the word of God requires us to learn to live together in love and unity, and sometimes to accomplish that, one may feel like he is breaking another demand of the Word, but consensus, love, and unity trumps individuality.
I think that a great lesson can be learned from this for marriages, associations, organisations, religious groups, even for the members of our government. The ideas of consensus and unity for the love the greater good are more important than trivial details. As the old saying goes, “If we don’t hang together, we will surely hang separately!”
There is an excellent story about choice of leadership in the Bible. It came at a time after Gideon had delivered Israel from his enemies. Like even the best of men, Gideon eventually died. He left 70 sons behind. One, Abimelech, who was actually the son of one of Gideon's concubine, was hungry for power. Thinking that his half-brothers had the same thirst for vain glory, Abimelech used his peculiar family status to propose to the nascent nation of Israel the argument of all arguments. Reminding the people that “Too many chiefs spoil the broth“ he asked” Which is better for you, that all seventy of the sons of Gideon rule over you, or that one rule over you?” Opting for one tyrant instead of 70,Abimelech was elected. The Bible tells us that as a result, Abimelech hired worthless and reckless fellows, who followed him. And he went to his father's house at Ophrah and killed his brothers the sons of Jerubbaal, seventy men, on one stone. But Jotham the youngest son of Jerubbaal was left, for he hid himself. (Judges 9:4-5)
Jotham eventually came back to haunt Abimelech. He challenged the people’s wisdom and choice with the following parable. The trees once went out to anoint a king over them, and they said to the olive tree, 'Reign over us.' But the olive tree said to them, 'Shall I leave my abundance, by which gods and men are honored, and go hold sway over the trees?' And the trees said to the fig tree, 'You come and reign over us.' But the fig tree said to them, 'Shall I leave my sweetness and my good fruit and go hold sway over the trees?' And the trees said to the vine, 'You come and reign over us.' But the vine said to them, 'Shall I leave my wine that cheers God and men and go hold sway over the trees?' Then all the trees said to the bramble, 'You come and reign over us.' And the bramble said to the trees, 'If in good faith you are anointing me king over you, then come and take refuge in my shade, but if not, let fire come out of the bramble and devour the cedars of Lebanon.' (Jdg 9:8-15 ESV)
On this parable Bible expositor Matthew Henry comments, To rule, involves a man in a great deal both of toil and care. Those who are preferred to public trust and power, must forego all private interests and advantages, for the good of others. And those advanced to honour and dignity, are in great danger of losing their fruitfulness. For which reason, they that desire to do good, are afraid of being too great. Jotham compares Abimelech to the bramble or thistle, a worthless plant, whose end is to be burned.
Indeed, the bramble didn’t mind ruling because he had no goodness to lose. To this idea proposed in this chapter of the Old Testament can be added Jesus’ statement that certainly, The tree is known by its fruit! (Mat 12:33)
As is the case with many other people, I require the use of glasses. This is because while my left eye sees normally, my right eye is very weak. I do pretty well with most things, except for things like aiming when practicing shooting.
Isn’t it strange how we see defects in others that we do not see in ourselves? I read in an article one time that this is because unbeknownst to them, most people carry the same spiritual ocular handicap as I do. Yes indeed, we all see with two different eyes. A weak eye that seems to be almost blind to small details of imperfections, and that that is the one we use to look at ourselves. We also have a strong eye that is very kin at discerning even shades of imperfections, and that is the one the we use to look at others. As a result, while we are very careful not to be negatively affected by the imperfections of others, we excuse ours and allow them negatively affect the lives of others.
I think that it would be more efficient to do it the other way around. We should use our very good eyes to look at our own imperfections and the weak eye to look at those of others. After all, we would not need to be so watchful about other’ imperfections since they would also use their good eye to introspect. It may also make for better relationships based on trust and empathy.
A famous teacher roaming the earth 2,000 years ago made the same observations. He asked people who had the tendency to look at themselves with their weak eye and at others with their strong eye, Why do you see the speck that is in your brother's eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye? Or how can you say to your brother, 'Let me take the speck out of your eye,' when there is the log in your own eye? (Mat 7:3-4) Indeed, isn’t it strange how we can so easily discern the faults in others that we are blind to in ourselves? This teacher then answered his own question with, You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother's eye. (Mat 7:5)
Anyone who has read the story of the Exodus in the Bible is awed by the person of Moses. Armed with his simple humility and pragmatic obedience to God, he brought a proud nation with an even prouder ruler to their knees. He also helped establish the constitution of the new nation of Israel.
Moses had a big sister, Miriam. Like all big sisters, she was always trying to boss her kid brother around. There was no exception for Moses and Miriam. One time she accused her kid brother of thinking too much of himself; of having an inflated ego; of not being a team-player. The Bible tells us that this action displeased God who afflicted Miriam with leprosy as a punishment .
To me, bringing down plagues, bringing Pharaoh to his knees and dividing the Red Sea are not the only marks of Moses’ greatness. The reaction that he had toward his sister tells us of a kind of greatness that only comes from God. A greatness that is the proof of God’s presence in a man or a woman; a greatness that would immediately create Heaven on earth if it were owned by every person who claims to believe in the God of the Bible.
The Bible tells us that after he saw what happened to his sister because of her criticism, Mose cried to the LORD, "O God, please heal her—please. (Num 12:13).
Our natural response when people do us wrong is to return the attack in some form, even sometimes with extreme subtlety. We do not take it lying down. For example, if you were to maybe lose your job because of someone’s vicious verbal attacks against you, how would feel towards that person? Would you pray for their welfare and against God’s punishment for their evil deeds?
This reminds me of a story I once heard. There was a private who constantly criticised his commanding officer, even sometimes publicly. One day that very same commanding officer was asked what he thought of that private’s soldiering. The officer gave the most glowing report. Another officer thought to inform the first and said, “Don’t you know that this is the private who openly criticises you?” to which the officer answered, “I was asked for my opinion of him, not for his opinion of me!
I read about a strange ritual in the Bible today. Moses instructed the Children of Israel that if a woman is suspected of adultery, her husband is supposed to take her to the priest. Among other altar rituals, the priest then unties her hair and gives her to drink a solution made of water, dust from the floor of the Tabernacle, and the washed down ink from a specified curse containing the Sacred Name of God that has been written on papyrus. All the details can be found in the fifth chapter of the Book of Numbers.
To understand the depth of this ritual, it is important to know that until this day, the Children of Israel never write the name of God wherever it can be erased or defaced. In this case, we have the Ineffable Name being both erased and defaced. The idea understood by this ritual is this. Suspicion of adultery is fatally toxic for a marriage. But God is so intent on protecting the stability of our families that, though He is innocent of any wrongdoing in the matter, He is willing to let His own name be erased and defaced to salvage the situation.
I believe that discipleship is the imitation of God. As a husband and believer, this ritual teaches me a great lesson. Many things can go wrong in a marriage. Some can be easily solved with a rose, a ring, a meal at a restaurant, extra duties, or a simple, “I’m sorry!” Other can be more serious and difficult. In my many years counseling couples I have discovered that the three main fatal issues in a marriage revolve around money, children, and religion (not necessarily on that order for everyone). When leading new couples into marriage, I usually try to hit on these three issues.
I am an old-fashioned person. I believe that a man is the head of his family. I also believe that because of this title, the buck stops with him, and that even as God is willing to let His own Name be besmirched in order to preserve our unions, we should be willing, guilty or not, to take the brunt of the blame all for the sake of keeping it together.
A clergyman I heard about understood this. A woman who used to attend his teachings came home late one day. Her husband was so mad that he told her, “If you go back there, don’t come home unless you spit in his face!” When the teacher heard that, he said, “Spit in my face seven times and tell your husband you did even more than he asked!” Like in the ritual of the woman suspected of adultery, this humble clergyman understood that it was better for him to be shamed by this action than to see this marriage in tatters.
This week was the 50th anniversary of Jerusalem Day, the day people remember the restitution of Jerusalem to its rightful owners. I know this is a touchy subject as even to this day some people, even within our present administration, consider Jerusalem occupied territory. I certainly respect their views, but being a generous man, I also welcome everyone to my own opinion.
Whether one believes in God, the Bible, or in the rightful ownership of Jerusalem by the Israelis or not, it is undeniable that this event from the 6-day War in 1967 was one of the cataclysmic events of the 20th century. It is one of those events which changed the geographical, political, and religious landscape of the world. Never in the history of the world has an ethnic group returned to its own land, revived its own language, and re-established its own capital after 2,000 years of exile. This has been the major eschatological event of the age and many who believed that the Jewish nation was a thing of the past had to go back to the drawing board of Biblical understanding.
CBN produced a docu-movie on the 6-Day War called, ‘In our Hands, the Battle for Jerusalem’. There were showings only on one day this week, the day before Jerusalem Day. The movie captured the events which led the Israeli soldiers to the Temple Mount and eventually to the Western Wall. Many of the people who participated in that battle are still alive today and gave testimony.
In that war, as usual, Israel was defending itself against an attack by three surrounding major nations who had sworn to throw them back into the sea. No food could come to Jerusalem. The people were starving. The situation was hopeless so the army came to help. The capture of the Temple Mount was an afterthought. It was not in the original plans. It is as they arrived that it dawned on them of where they were. It is almost like they responded to a long forgotten homing-beacon that called them back to where they belonged. Pondering the situation during dinner with a local family, an old lady who had been living in Jerusalem realises what was happening. She gets up and gives an old Israeli flag to one of the officers charging him to hang it on the Temple Mount as they get there. From then on history and destiny took over. The Temple Mount,called in Hebrew ‘Har HaBayit’, or ‘The Mountain of the House of the Lord’, was captured alongside with the Wall. Yielding to political pressure, Israel had to renege authority over the Temple Mount but still kept the Wailing Wall. The full return is for another day. Presently, anyone is allowed to pray on the temple Mount, except Jews.
The soldier who led the way to the Western Wall gave testimony. He said that everybody says how great it was to recapture the Temple Mount and Wall but he confessed that at that moment he was just following orders. He was told to fight that battle and to win it so as a good soldier he did. This shows that history and destiny are not static; a great force moves them with a purpose. It also shows that great things get done when we just follow orders and just faithfully do what we are supposed to do, just do our job.
Patrick Lumbroso is a teacher, writer, musician and part time Chaplain for the Estacada Fired Department. This site has been created to share different lessons and thoughts from his experiences as a Chaplain for Estacada Fire #69