Tuesday, January 31, 2017

Putting Others First

Christians are commanded to put others before ourselves (Philippians 2:1-4; Romans 12:10; James 2:8,9). But this is not an easy thing to do. Take the example of King Saul and his son Jonathan. They had very different reactions to David. Saul hated David, a man who had done him no wrong, because David had greater fame.  In his jealousy and fear that David might replace him as king, Saul tried to kill him and ended up driving him into exile. But Jonathan, though Saul’s heir and the next in line to be king, befriended David and helped him. He even expressed the anticipation that David would one day be king and he would serve at David’s side (1 Samuel 23:17). How can we more like Jonathan than Saul?

We need to start by realizing that God is in control of our lives (Romans 8:28; Ephesians 1:11; Isaiah 43:13). Also, He is at work in them to accomplish His purposes (Ephesians 2:10; Colossians 1:28,29; 2 Corinthians 3:5,6). This means we can trust Him with our lives  (Psalms 127:1,2; 37:3-6; Proverbs 3:5,6). It does not mean that we do not work hard and do our best at what we do (1 Corinthians 10:31; Ephesians 6:5-8; Colossians 3:22-25). But at the end of the day, we put it in God’s hand. We do not have to fight and claw our way up at the expense of other people (James 3:13-18; Galatians 5:15; Romans 12:14-21). Nor should we try to judge our own place in the gallery of fame, but trust God to judge it (1 Corinthians 4:3-5; Romans 14:4; 2 Corinthians 5:10). Therefore, we need to trust God with our place in life, even if it is not what we would have wanted. Jonathan saw God’s plan to make David king and accepted it, even if it meant loss of position for himself. Saul also perceived God’s plan but rejected it, at least most of the time (1 Samuel 24:20).

But today we have an even clearer example than Jonathan. That example is the Lord Jesus Christ, who came down from heaven to die a criminal’s death to save us from sin, and who calls us to follow in His footsteps (Philippians 2:5-11;  2 Corinthians 8:9; Mark 10:42-45). Further, as a result of this salvation we are put in a secure place before God (Romans 8:31-39; 5:1,2; Galatians 4:4-7) if we put our faith in Christ (Romans 4:4,5; Ephesians 2;8,9; Philippians 3:9). This results in a desire to serve God (Titus 2:11-14; 1 John 4:19; 2 Corinthians 5:14,15) by loving others (Romans 13:8-10; Galatians 5:13,14; Matthew 22:36-40). Which puts us in the position where we can truly trust God and put others first. This is not always easy. Our pride and jealousy get in the way. But it is what we are commanded to do.

Monday, January 30, 2017

A Touch of Humor - Reboot

How do we decide between those that have opposite opinions on the same subject? What are the causes of this problem?

Saturday, January 28, 2017

Old Erich Proverb - Anger

We reach more people through love than sternness, and very few through anger.

Friday, January 27, 2017

A Voice from the Past - William Carey

In respect to the danger of being killed by them, it is true that whoever does go must put his life in his hand, and not consult with flesh and blood; but do not the goodness of the cause, the duties incumbent on us as the creatures of God, and Christians, and the perishing state of our fellow men, loudly call upon us to venture all and use every warrantable exertion for their benefit?

William Carey, 1761-1834, An Enquiry into the Obligations of Christians to Use Means for the Conversion of the Heathens. (goodreads.com)

How far should we go to seek the salvation of others? What things will keep us from doing this?

Thursday, January 26, 2017

Raymond Lullus - Missionary

The Crusades had failed. The Crusaders had gained Jerusalem and lost it again and eventually had lost all the rest of their possessions in the area. Near the end there arose a more Biblical approach to dealing with Muslims. It was begun by Francis of Assisi and involved sending unarmed preachers to try to persuade Muslims of the truth of Christianity. But the key person to try to further this approach was Raymond Lullus.

Lullus took this approach seriously, making three journeys into Muslim territories to preach to them. On his last journey he was stoned to death. He also attempted to start schools to teach Arabic and other relevant languages as well as theological knowledge to prepare missionaries to reach out to Muslims. He also wanted to use these schools to prepare students to reach out to Jews. He tried unsuccessfully to get papal support for this. Also, in my opinion on a more dubious level, he came up with his own mystical and esoteric approach to theological knowledge that he hoped would help convince Muslims.

In the end Lullus' approach also failed. This could be due to lack of support. It could be others were unwilling to follow Lullus into a situation where they would have a high probability of losing their lives. Also, the Crusades had hardened Muslims against Christians, making them unwilling to listen. I further suspect his complicated approach to theology repelled rather than attracted people. But at least he was approaching this the right way, the way of peace rather than the way of force.  

Tuesday, January 24, 2017

Walking on the Edge

There is a tendency with children of getting as close as they can to whatever they are told to stay away from. You tell them not to touch the hot stove, and they move closer step by step just to see if you will stop them. Sometimes as adults we do the same thing. We play around on the edge of sin, feeling we are not really going that far. And then we fall over the edge. Like the man who makes a habit of watching movies that are “not that bad” sexually and ends up in bed with his secretary. Or the person who cherishes each little grievance until they end up a bitter, cynical person. Or some cut corners “just a little bit” in their business until they end up a sneaky and dishonest businessman. And it is easy to be led step by step down that slippery road. One approach that does not work is to create a lot of legalistic rules. The problem is that what is a serious temptation for one person is not necessarily one for someone else. This can end up denying people things which are for them innocent, but ironically it can also encourage people to engage in things on the grounds they are not in the rules. Nor does it work to withdraw from anything that possibly might be a temptation. In the end we must judge for ourselves what is a real temptation and what is no longer a temptation but just plain sin. The problem is we are not always the best judges. 

1 Corinthians 8-10 tells us about dealing with doubtful things. We are generally familiar with the idea of causing a brother to stumble (1 Corinthians 8:7-13) and being all things to all men (1 Corinthians 9:19-23). But there are other important principles in this passage that are sometimes missed. We are not as strong as we think we are (1 Corinthians 10:12,13). Also, God does not promise the ability to endure temptations but a way of escape (1 Timothy 6:11, 2 Timothy 2:22). Further, we are told we have an enemy who is out to destroy us (1 Corinthians 10:19-22). We need to realize he is behind these things that are waiting to ensnare us (1 Peter 5:8,9; Ephesians 6:12,13). Also, we are called to see the Christian life as a contest in which we are asked to set aside even innocent things to reach our goal (1 Corinthians 9:24-27). God has a purpose for our life, and that may require was to give up things we might normally like in order to reach that goal (Hebrews 12:1-3; Philippians 3:12-14). Now I do not want to be totally negative and encourage paranoia. I do affirm that God is with us and can bring us through the difficult places of life (Romans 8:37; Philippians 2:13; Ephesians 2:10). But I would urge caution and not letting ourselves thoughtlessly drift further and further down the path of sin.

Monday, January 23, 2017

A Touch of Humor - Change of Course

What difference of perspective is there between the leaders and the congregation? How might these be helpful in answering different questions?

Saturday, January 21, 2017

Old Erich Proverb - Hopeless

When things seem hopeless, remember there is a God who intervenes to bring hope.

Friday, January 20, 2017

A Voice from the Past - Athenagoras

If we satisfied ourselves with advancing such considerations as these, our doctrines might by some be looked upon as human. But, since the voices of the prophets confirm our arguments—for I think that you also, with your great zeal for knowledge, and your great attainments in learning, cannot be ignorant of the writings either of Moses or of Isaiah and Jeremiah, and the other prophets, who, lifted in ecstasy above the natural operations of their minds by the impulses of the Divine Spirit, uttered the things with which they were inspired, the Spirit making use of them as a flute-player breathes into a flute;
Athenagoras, 133-190 AD, A Plea for the Christians, Chapter IX - Testimony of the Prophets, (translated by Rev, B. P. Pratten, Fathers of the Second Century: Hermas, Tatian, Athenagoras, Theophilus, and Clement of Alexandria, Philip Schaff, Christian Classics Ethereal Library, 2004, p. 180)

Is that how the prophets should be understood? What are the implications?

Thursday, January 19, 2017

The Tunnels

The hole was about four inches in diameter, and my arm only went up it so far. But a murderer seemed to have made it all the way through. "What is this for?" I asked.

"It is for maintenance, Mr Talltree," replied Orsodia. Like most Burusians he reminded me of an alligator that stood on two legs and had lost its tail. "They did not want any service opening in a cluster of interrogation booths that a human could walk into. As you know, the clusters are designed so the interrogator locks himself into the main interrogation room and those to be examined are locked in the booths. The interrogator speaks by vid and uses whatever methods he deems appropriate. But the examined have no access to him. So they built these and use robotic arms to reach back in there and do repairs. They wanted to avoid incidents like this."

"I have read the reports, but tell me again what happened."

"Interrogator Famex was locked in his room and had four subjects in the booths. Famex was known for being hard core and good at his work. He had all four brought in at together on the theory that waiting  and not knowing when he would start on them helped break people down. He was giving his opening speech to all four at once, with hopes of starting the process. But he used pictures that were calculated to get to people. There was no visual recorded. Suddenly, there was the clang of the cover of the tunnel coming off and falling to the floor and a series of thuds. Later Famex was found dead, having been beaten to death by the horn of a wunbei beast from his home planet. He had killed the wunbei in a hunt in his youth, and he kept it in his interrogation room, claiming it brought him luck. The cover was left off the tunne,l suggesting it was the way of entrance. The covers in the subjects rooms were all in place, but the culprit had plenty of time to put one back. But I do not see how it could have been done."

"What type of persons were those being examined?"

"They were all aliens, each of a different kind. But they are all of approximate human size. There is, at the shortest distance, 100 yards of tunnel between the booths and the interrogation room. Far further then any of them should have been able to reach. We are continuing to investigate whether any of them could have an unusual ability to be able to do that, but so far we have found no evidence of one. We have also searched them and the entire cluster for any sign of a mechanical device that could have been used for this purpose and have found none."

"Who besides Famex could have unlocked the door to his room?"

"Only the commander of the base, the deputy commander, and the chief maintenance officer. But the clank of the cover coming off clearly preceeds the thuds of Famex being attacked. I cannot see him sitting there while someone removed the cover without asking what he was doing."

"Was Famex armed?"

"There was a blaster sitting on the table beside his chair. It did not look like it was ever moved."

The first subject was Cas-Rasmir, who was a bulbous head above a swarm of tentacles. He was thought the best suspect because of the tentacles, but they only looked to be about five feet, and there was no evidence they could stretch to 100 yards or that his head could fit into the tunnels. He had been arrested for placing a bomb in a public building.

"I have nothing to say to you, representative of an oppressive regime. You and your kind shall be swept away by the strength of the revolution. I did not kill the lackey of the regime, but would have gladly done so if I had the opportunity."

"Did you see any indication of who did kill him?"

"No, and I would not give the killer away to you if I had."

Lourama Wasinel was an insectoid. She was a tall, fragile-looking thing, all arms and legs. But the main body parts, though small, were too big to fit in the tunnel. She was there because her mate had been suspected of espionage and had been killed when they tried to arrest him. It was thought she knew something of his activities.

"Please let me go," she pleaded. "My children need me. I know nothing of spies. I just want to get back to what is left of my family."

"Do you know anything about who killed Famex?" I asked.

"I heard a clang and some thuds, and that is all I know. Please let me go."

Juddaredaffula resembled a giant slug. He was obviously too big around for the tunnels, though I found myself wondering if he could somehow elongate that amorphous-looking sack of a body so it was thin and long enough to pass though. There was no evidence his people were able to do this. He had been arrested as part of a protest against the Empire's taking a mount his people regarded as holy to use for a governor's palace. It was hoped that under interrogation he would reveal his co-conspirators.

"Do you know anything about who killed Famex?" I asked.

"I do not know anything about killing," he replied, "I do not want to kill. I do not want to be involved with killing. I just wanted to protect the sacred ground. The ground of my ancestors. No killing. It is what I said at the very beginning."

Derg of Mushaz seemed the least likely to fit in tunnels. He was humanoid, but stockier and slightly taller then a man normally would be. He had a hard time getting through a doorway, let alone into a tunnel. He and some of his friends had gotten drunk and gotten in a fight with some enforcers. He was here because his friends had escaped and he had refused to identify them.

"What is the deal?" he snorted. "If you are going to shoot me, shoot me. But let's quit all this dancing around. What is the trouble now?"

"Do have any idea who killed Famex?" I asked.

"I don't know and I don't care. Just go on with this, or let me go;"

I sat staring at Famex's records describing his past cases. I felt myself struggling. I was not sure whether to reveal Famex's killer or give him a medal. I struggled over what was the right thing to do. I could get away with it. Even if it came out later, no one would know I had figured it out. I would face nothing but a slight loss of reputation. But what was the right thing to do? I thought and prayed far into the night. Then I made my decision.

Orsodia put out the word that Lourama Wasinel Had been taken into custody having put forth some evidence that would reveal the killer.

I sat in a dark corner, waiting as the doors lock slowly opened. A dark figure stealthily entered the room and brought down a metal bar on the figure on the bed. And he winced back, the bar stinging his hands as it hit metal and not soft flesh. The lights came on, and Orsodia and his troopers charged and were immediately meet by a flurry of blows. The intruder was brought down by the first blaster shot. Seeing his obvious ferocity made me feel better about what I had done. 

"Pursa Boursa, Chief of Maintenance," blurted out Orsodia. "I do not understand."

"I am not a biologist, but I just could not believe anyone could get through those tunnels," I explained later. "But there was one person who could come in and remove that cover without even arousing Famex's curiosity, and that was the Chief of Maintenance. He must have arranged it beforehand, and Famex did not want to interrupt his speech by greeting him when he entered. He deliberately dropped the cover and then attacked Famex before he realized what was going on. The fact he knew the horn was there to be used for a weapon indicated someone familiar with Famex and his habits. Then he left, leaving us with the impression that someone had made it in through the tunnels."

"Why?" asked Orsodia.

"I cannot prove it, but Pursa Boursa was a Uroik'ian. There were two Uroik'ian brothers who were smugglers. One of them was taken and refused to give away the other. He died under interrogation by Famex. I suspect Pursa was the missing brother, out for revenge."

I stared up into the stars, thinking. What if Pursa had been someone who was clearly innocent prior to the empire interfering in his life. What should I have done? Was it ever right for me to take the law into my own hand by letting someone else take the law into their own hands? Or should I just say, a murderer is a murderer and as such needed to punished? I felt that taking the law into my own hands was never an acceptable option. But I prayed I never had to make that decision.


Wednesday, January 18, 2017

Idol of Power

What is power, and who is guilty of desiring it? We often think of power as referring to prominent politicians or tyrannical dictators. But even ordinary people can be involved in exercising power over others. Husbands over wives or wives over husbands, parents over children or children over parents, employers over employees or employees over employers, pastors over congregations or congregations over pastors. None or us is immune. Now that does not mean there should not be positions of authority in society. God commands such structure (Colossians 3:18-4:1; Hebrews 13:17; Romans 13:1-7). But Scripture turns the normal pattern upside down and makes the leader the servant (Mark 10:42-45; Ephesians 5:25-32; 1 Peter 5:1-4). The ultimate example of this is Jesus Christ, who is God Himself but humbled Himself to pay the price for our sins (Philippians 2:5-11; 2 Corinthians 8:9; John 13:1-17).   

But we live our lives in the midst of petty power struggles. We also commonly live with the fear that if we do not fight back, we will be run over roughshod. If we do not play office politics, we will lose our job, or at least our chance of advancement. If we do not find a way to control our spouse, we could lose our marriage or at least be henpecked or dominated. If we do not control the lives of our children, we can lose them to all those damaging influences out there. If we do not steer our church in the right direction, we will be spiritually stunted. If we do not force people to do what we want, we will lose out on any hope of personal fulfillment. And the irony of this is that by trying to manipulate these things, we can bring about everything we are trying to avoid. We can ruin our jobs, our marriages, our children, our churches, and our lives. It seems the harder we try to hold on to something by pure human effort, the more likely we are to strangle the life out of it. What we really need to do is step back and trust God with these things (Psalms 127:1,2; Proverbs 3:5,6; Matthew 6:25-34). Now what I am advocating is not total passivity but approaching life with a new attitude. One of not worrying if I am in control but trusting God that He is. This results In facing problems with calm assurance rather than self-centered desperation (Philippians 4:6,7; 1 Peter 5:7; John 16:33). And we will then have confidence to do but not overdo the things that need to be done. I am far from claiming to have reached this point. I still have the strong temptation to want to run my own life and to turn to God only when I have run it into the ground. Be if we really accept that God is in control of our lives, we can begin to break the habit of wanting to control everything and everybody ourselves.