Friday, March 31, 2017

A Voice from the Past - Thomas a-Kempis

It is good for us that we sometimes have sorrows and adversities, for they often make a man lay to heart that he is only a stranger and sojourner, and may not put his trust in any worldly thing.

Thomas a Kempis, The Imitation of Christ, First Book, Chapter XII (translated by Rev. William Bentham, 1999, from Project Gutenberg).

Is this indeed a benefit of adversity for the believer? How does this come about?

Thursday, March 30, 2017

To Prevent a Murder

I was sitting at my desk on earth when Sophia Wildman and Guriuop of Korbiow came rushing into my office. Sophia was a compact, brown-haired woman who was my immediate superior, though I usually got my orders from Bill Samuels, the Old Man. Guriuop, her assistant, was one of those called the Clicks, the insectoid immigrants who did many of the hard jobs that remained on earth which Terrans did not want.

"John Talltree," said Sophia, "the Old Man wants us for a briefing immediately."

I got up and followed them to the briefing room. The room was crowded with other members of Terran Enforcement Corps. The Old Man took the center podium. Bill was an older man and my oldest and best friend in the Corps. He had been my mentor and had taught me what I needed to know to be an agent of the Corps.

Bill began, "We have a problem. You all know about the upcoming Boundaries Directors meeting involving four area directors from the four chief imperial trouble spots. We have received a number of mechanical messages saying that they will kill one of the directors during the meeting. This could be by a crank, but our analysts do not think, so or at least do not think we can take the chance. The killing of one of these directors would set imperial policy back many years in their area and produce considerable panic and chaos. We have been asked to prevent this."

Doug Gershon, who was in charge of the patrol branch, stood up, "I will put a large number of Clicks out into the area surrounding the meeting to protect the directors."

"Then the investigative branch will do everything we can to find the perpetrator,"  remarked Bill.

Sofia turned to me, "I will get my army of Clicks checking out all the information we can on the directors and who might want to kill them. You go out and work your magic.'

"I wish people would quit looking at me as so much of a wonder worker," I said. "Someday my 'magic' is liable to completely fail me. But I will do what I can. But let me know if you turn up anything."

"Certainly, Sherlock, I will get the Baker Street Irregulars on the case."

Conversations like that always make me nervous.

I went up to Bill and asked, "Have the directors been notified about this, and if not, are they going to be?"

"I suppose they will have to be," he returned.

"Then can I volunteer for the job. It will give me an opportunity to meet the directors and their households and to look them over."

"Certainly, go to it, young man."

Director Joe Morgan was a stocky, muscular man in a  military uniform. With him were his son, Ben, and his daughter Sue, both also in military attire. I understand their mother had left him some time ago. "Thanks for the heads up," stated Joe. "I am not afraid of them. But I will keep my eyes peeled."

"Do you mind if I ask you a few questions?" I asked. " Just to try to help track the culprit down."

"Go ahead, shoot."

"Do you know of anyone who would want to kill you?"

"Oratius, ruler of the Xuroxia, or even more likely Yurtia, his minister of war. I have been slowly slicing off pieces of their territory for some time. Of course, they could not have come themselves. The Xuroxians are very recognizable. Insectoids with small bodies and large wings. And they are not found inside the empire, except in specialized cases under close watch. But they could hire someone or use a client race."

"Anyone else that might want to kill you?" I asked.

"None I know of. I run a tight ship."

"How many are there here with you?"

"Just me and the kids and Furidianus, our Quitpozian housekeeper, and a ten man military honor guard."

I remembered the four-armed Quitpozians. I wondered if they had some reason for hiring themselves out as domestic servants.

I had thanked him for his time and was on the way out the door, when Ben met me. "You need to know that father had an assistant named Saul Warner. He was highly competent and well liked by the troops, more than father, as he was more friendly with them and father is a strict disciplinarian. Father dismissed him with no good reason, and he or someone under him may be holding a grudge."

As I approached my air-car I noticed four reptilians with blasters lounging in front of it. "Where do you think you're going?" asked the leader. "This is our neighborhood and we want to know who you are before we shoot you down."

I turned to one side and said, "What was that, officer?" These were obviously not professionals. One of the oldest tricks in the book, and they fell for it and looked. I had three of them down with my pocket blaster before they realized what was going on. The other one ran away as fast as he could, right into the arms of a Click patrol squad.

"Investigative Officer John Talltree," I stated, showing my ID to the Click in charge.

"These Guruineds are criminal (click) scum (CLICK)." he replied, "I will see (Click) they are taken care of (Click)."

"Just see none  of them get to the director," I replied.

I was surprised at Director Anthony Duncan's residence to find the door opened by a Puglatonian. He was clothed in Terran garb and looked very close to human. He met me and with all politeness and escorted me into Anthony's presence. After presenting my news, I asked "You have Puglatonians on staff?"

"Certainly," he replied, "these are honor bound to serve me for various reasons. Much more reliable then human servants. Besides, it gives me the opportunity to study them close up. If I am to use scientific methods of dealing with people, I must understand their mentality and their habits."

"How many do you have?"

"Eight in all."

"Do you know of anyone who would want to kill you?"

"Not that I know of. There is  High Second Officer Purthan Davanus among the Puglatonians, who is fairly challenging. But I try to rule in a carefully planned, scientific way to reduce tensions. And I think they know if they killed me they would just get another director, who might be worse than me."

"How many people in your party?"

"Other than the Puglatonians, just me and my companion, Sheila."

On my way out, somehow I missed my Puglatonian guide and got turned around, going the wrong way. As I turned a corner, I glimpsed a woman with long, black hair, presumably Sheila,  kissing a Puglatonian. We all three turned and hurried away in opposite directions.

As I approached my air-car, as a habit I checked my door monitor. My air-car had a state-of-the-art security system, but there were always state-of-the-art security system disablers.  So I had added a monitor to tell me if any doors had been opened since I was gone. Someone had opened a door. I stood a distance away behind cover and punched the remote door opener. The air-car went up in a ball of fire. After explaining things to the Clicks and going back to the motor pool for a new air-car, I proceeded to the next director.

The way into Raymond Robinson's office was covered with objects d'art, many of which were made of silver and gold with costly stones. I found him behind his desk, accompanied by his major domo, Triskijoi from Oijpo, an avian species. He stood a little higher than a human, with arms under his wings. I went in and delivered my message. Then I asked, "Is there anyone who would want to kill you?"

"I cannot imagine who," he replied. "We are all one big happy family, right Triskijoi? If we can just keep the horrid Kamortians out, everything will be fine."

"You have quite a collection of artworks here."

"Splendid, is it not? I am a collector. Would you like me to show you through it?"

"Maybe some other time. But I still have one more director to warn. How many are there in your party?'

"Other then Triskijoi here, I have twenty Busgodian fighting men as my body guard. They will not find getting to me easy."

As I walked out, Triskijoi met me in the hallway. "I probably should not be saying this," he remarked, "but I believe you need to know. The director pays for his collection with multiple types of exactions from the various peoples of his area. Many small-minded people have claimed this is cruel and unjust. Some of these might take it into their minds to try to kill him."

"Why are you telling me this?" I asked. "If certain people are unhappy with the director, why are you trying to protect him?"

"You Terrans can do things some see as questionable. But I have heard the Kamortians are large slugs who eat other rational beings. I do not want the area to fall to them, no matter what."

I did not know if that was propaganda or really true, but he clearly believed it.

I approached my air-car very carefully. I did not see any obvious danger. I tried opening the doors from a distance, and nothing happened. I was thinking I might be jumping to conclusions, but I decided to try one more thing. I started the air-car by remote and sent it up slowly into the traffic pattern. Just then, a large cargo carrier came careening around the corner. It ran into the top of my air-car, smashing it in, causing the air-car to fall in a huge wreck. The motor pool was not going to be happy with me for destroying two air-cars in one day.

 As I entered Director Charles Galvin's quarters, I heard music playing.As I entered into his sitting room, the director was on a sofa, watching a dance by Noiterianasian females. The Noiterianasians are like a jellyfish with legs, and I could not imagine the dance being sensuous to anybody but another Noiterianasian, (though there was a certain beauty to it). I cannot say the same of the various human females attending the director, who were in a greater state of undress then I regarded as really appropriate. I explained to the director my errand. "What a batch of spoilsports," he remarked, "killing a director, what fun is there in that?"

"Do you know of anyone who would want to kill you?" I asked.

"I cannot imagine why. Granted there are various people near our area who are a little testy. But I have visited their worlds and greatly enjoyed them. There is this wonderful bar on Hiontetias. I do not see why they would see the need to kill me."

"How many are in your party?"

"Well, the dancers you have seen, and my assistants. And I have this wonderful band from Yutpek. I also have  a human comedian, named Sidney Snead. It's a shame that jokes do not communicate well between species. But won't you pull up a seat and have some wine, or something stronger if you prefer."

It was only with considerable difficulty I was able to beg off this invitation, and I heard a few of the "assistants" giggling behind my back as I left.

As I stealthily approached my air-car, I saw a man leaning against it. He had a blaster out, and the way he moved he looked like a professional. I carefully made my way around the area and came out to the side and slightly behind him. "What are you doing to my car?" I yelled . He turned but was not quick enough. I left him for the Clicks to clean up and went out with deep regret to do what I needed to do.

I got Bill on communications. "I have information that I do not feel comfortable giving to you over the air. Can we meet someplace?"

"I am out and about, running some important errands," he said, "but meet me at these coordinates and we can talk."

The coordinates turned out to be a bad part of town, with no one on the streets. I walked out, blaster drawn. "Drop it," said Bill coming out from behind a pillar behind me. I dropped my blaster.

"Why?" I asked.

"I had no choice - orders. It was you or me, and if they killed me they would only send someone else to get you. This command was from high enough up I could not say no. How did you know?"

"Twice may be a coincidence, but four times is a deliberate plan. And you were the only one who knew where I was going."

I still had my pocket blaster, but Bill knew I still had my pocket blaster. I think I got the trick from him. And Bill was one of the best shots in the corps. But even if I somehow got the drop on him and killed him, I was still in trouble. Killing your superior officer, unless you had witnesses or hard evidence, was always an executable offense, and I had neither. Even if Bill's recorder disabler allowed me to record his statements, his claim he was following orders would only be the last nail in my coffin. I had not seen and still did not seen a way out of this one.

"Sorry kid, goodbye," Bill said. And he was hit by two blaster bolts. Sophia and Guriuop came into view around a building. "I guess we better report this," she stated.

"How do we explain it?" I asked.

"We don't." she replied. "For some strange reason, Bill went crazy and tried to kill one of his operatives. Let them try to explain this, if they dare."

"Then you figured all this out?"

"No. Elementary, my dear Sherlock, Bill told us. He said he could never live with himself if he killed you. but if he rebelled he would simply be taken out of the way and someone else sent to kill you. And if he did a crummy job they would kill him and still go after you. But Guriuop and I were still free to act. And if we caught him red-handed before three witnesses, it would at least make them stop and consider before trying again. But he had to hope you would make it through his not too obviously feeble attempts to kill you to bring this to a personal confrontation."

"You realize that you may have involved yourselves in my troubles."

"Risk is our business. But I am not having one of my best operatives killed because someone upstairs does not like your face. I just wish there was some way we could have done it without sacrificing the Old Man."

"I agree with that, but what about the murder threat?"

"That was all rigged to get at you."

So I had an enemy. Someone high enough in the hierarchy that Bill could not refuse them. Someone high enough up that they felt they could send the whole enforcement division on a wild goose chase just to get one man. Some days it just did not pay to leave the office.        

Wednesday, March 29, 2017

Proper Use of the Tongue

The human tongue can be a powerful instrument for evil, as explained in James 3:1-12. But it can also be used for good. We can use it to encourage people (Hebrews 10:24,25; 2 Corinthians 1:3-7; 1 Thessalonians 5:11). We may also need to correct people (Galatians 6:1; 2 Timothy 2:24-26; Matthew 18:15-20). There are also instruction and evangelism, but to look at those is too much for one post. Now all these need to be done in love (Matthew 22:37-40; Romans 13:8-10; Galatians 5:13,14).  

To encourage people we need to have sympathy (Romans 12:15,16; 1 Corinthians 12:24,25; 1 Peter 3:8). This can be hard, because if you really sympathize with someone, you hurt with them. We need to start by listening. If we do not listen to them, they will probably not hear what we have to say. But it is so much easier to come up with a quick cliché and walk away. A Bible verse can be used as a cliché for this purpose. Now I am not against using Bible verses to encourage people. But we need to show we care before we bring out the Bible verses. I remember one time I was in the hospital and I was visited by a pastor, a former pastor, and a pastor in training. They all read me some Scripture, but they spent time first talking and listening. After that, the Bible passages were a good thing.

Correction can be even more difficult. In this respect I am convinced it is important to follow Matthew 18:15-20 and to start with a meeting between the accused and the accuser. Also, the part about winning your brother implies there needs to be some give and take; an effort needs to be made to convince the person that they are wrong. There should be some effort made to give them a chance to present their side of the story (Proverbs 18:17; 25:8-10). But even if what they have done is indefensible, they may need clarification; they may need to know if their repentance and offer to change or make amends satisfies the accuser. There is no way they can do this through a third party. In the Old Testament the accusers of a person were to be the first ones to pick up the stones to stone them (Deuteronomy 17:7). Also, if the accusation was false there was to be an investigation to see if it was deliberate, and if so, the accuser got the penalty sought for the accused (Deuteronomy 19:15-21). The point is that anyone making an accusation against anyone should confront them openly and directly. Now it might be said this is hard, but making an accusation is meant to be hard. There is a place for passing over minor offenses (1 Peter 4:8). But if we need to correct anyone, we need to do it right.

There are many positive ways to use the tongue, but they must be used carefully to be done right.

Tuesday, March 28, 2017

The Gospel and Suffering

The assumption is often made that the Christian life is one of continuous cheerfulness. It is also often assumed that Christianity is consistent with being comfortable in the current world and the current cultural context. But this is not what the Bible says. Rather, we are told to expect trouble in this life (Acts 14:22; John 16:33; 2 Corinthians 4:17,18). Also, we cannot simply conform to the world (Romans 12:1,2; 1 John 2:15-17; James 4:4), but should expect hostility from it when we follow Christ (John 15:18-21; 16:1-4; Matthew 10:16-22). We are not told to expect a trouble-free path through life, but that there will be struggles and difficulties. This is not surprising, because we are told we are in the midst of a battle between good and evil (Ephesians 6:10-13; 2 Corinthians 10:3-6; 1 Peter 5:8,9). But it makes a clear difference what attitude we take toward the situation.  

Any response made to this reality must be based on who we are and what Christ has done for us. Christ has paid the price necessary to redeem us (1 Peter 2:24,25; Colossians 2:13,14; 2 Corinthians 5:21) and therefore gives salvation and eternal life to all who put their faith in Him (Romans 4:4,5; Ephesians 2:8,9; Philippians 3:9). The result of this is that God begins to work in our life to transform us into who He wants us to be (2 Corinthians 3:18; Philippians 2:13; 2 Peter 1:3). And God is also at work through us to accomplish His purposes in the world (Romans 8:28; Ephesians 2:10; Colossians 1:28,29). Now God is not just at work through us as individuals, but He has made us part of a larger community, which works together to help and encourage one another (Romans 12:4,5; 1 Corinthians 12:12-27; Hebrews 10:24,25). This affects how we face trials. If we believe we belong to God and will be with Him forever, we are less likely to be devastated by the trials of this present life (Romans 8:18). If we believe God is at work in our lives, we can recognize that trials are part of the process He uses to change us into who He wants us to be (James 1:2-4). Also, if we are the agents for carrying out God’s purposes in a sinful world, we should not be surprised by opposition, but should trust that God will bring us through it victorious (2 Corinthians 2:14). And if we are in this together, we can encourage one another to continue on through trials (Hebrews 12:13). Troubles and problems are inevitable in this life. Christianity does not claim to eliminate them. But it gives us a better basis on which to face them.

Monday, March 27, 2017

A Touch of Humor - Balance

Is balance a good thing? In which cases? Are there cases in which we should not try to find balance?

Saturday, March 25, 2017

Old Erich Proverb - Humility

True humility is not not putting ourselves down, but seeing ourselves realistically.

Friday, March 24, 2017

A Voice from the Past - Thomas Watson

We aim at God’s glory when we are content to be outshined by others in gifts and esteem, so that his glory may be increased. A man that has God in his heart, and God’s glory in his eye, desires that God should be exalted; and if this be effected, let who will be the instrument, he rejoices.

Thomas Watson, 1620-1684, A Body of Divinity, 2: Introduction, 1: Man's Chief End (p. 16)

What is the right attitude toward good work done by others? How do we cultivate this attitude?

Thursday, March 23, 2017

Marco Polo - The Traveler

The Mongols conquered China and then began to move westward toward Europe, leaving destruction in their wake. This had the unintended consequence of bridging the gap between China and Europe and making contact between the two cultures. The medieval church sent missionaries to bring Christianity to China, but nothing much came of it. But there were also those who went as merchants, with the intent to make money in trade. Marco Polo, with his father and uncle, was one of these. And his accounts contained things so strange as to be dismissed as fictional.  (There were some fabulous elements, mostly heard about second hand, but some of the true elements also appeared to be fabulous.)

From China Europe learned of things like black rocks that burn, printing presses, and gun powder. It is unclear how many how many of these types of things came over from China and how many were invented or discovered independently, but the Chinese at least  pointed the way. But the main thing this did was to show the Europeans that there existed things that were beyond their current knowledge and technological development, Which, I am convinced, helped encourage the scientific and technological revolution in Europe. Also, while I cannot prove it, I have often wondered if the knowledge of gunpowder did not contribute to the development of impetus mechanics, which opened the way for the Copernican revolution. Aristotle had claimed that an object would not move unless it was being pushed by something directly in contact with it. In the case of something thrown, the motion was supposedly the result of the air moving behind it and pushing it. Impetus mechanics laid the groundwork for the correct theory of inertia, that objects in motion stay in motion until the friction of the air and gravity bring them down. This allows the motions of the planets to be explained as their simply remaining in motion, and allows for the earth going around the sun and being just one more instance of such a planetary motion. Rejection of Aristotle in this area made it easier to reject him in other areas. But be that as it may, knowledge from China put coal on the fire of the scientific and technological revolution.          

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

Reaching Children

One of our problems with making disciples or raising children is a dependence on superficial morality rather than the gospel. I have noticed this tendency to major on moralism, particularly in curriculum designed for children. Now there are two types of legalism. There is the old-fashioned type of legalism, based on a multitude of rules and strict standards. Then there is a kinder, gentler legalism, based on loving people and being kind. Now the second kind seems much nicer and more attractive than the first. And as far as the content of the standard, it is more biblical (Matthew 22:35-40; Romans 13:8-10; Galatians 5:13,14). But the problem is that we are sinners and cannot properly keep either standard (Romans 3:23; Jeremiah 17:9; Isaiah 64:6).

Scripture says that Christ came to pay the price for sin (1 Peter 1:24,25; Colossians 2:13,14; 2 Corinthians 5:21), and we receive this through faith in Him (Ephesians 2:8,9; Romans 4:4,5; Philippians 3:9). Now this should result in a changed life (Titus 2:11-14; Ephesians 2:10; Romans 12:1,2), but it is not a result of our ability (John 15:5; Romans 7:14; 8:8) but of God’s power working in us (2 Corinthians 3:18; Philippians 2:13; Galatians 5:16). Therefore, what people need is not simply a set of rules but to be connected to the power of God.

But sometimes we forget this when it comes to children. We get this distorted idea that children are innocent and not really sinners who need to be saved. I sometimes wonder if these people do not remember what it was like to be a child or have not ever worked with children. Children can be cruel, selfish, petty, and a number of other things that adults also are, but we adults have learned to hide it better. Another problem here is that we want children to mind, so we spend a lot of time teaching children that they need to mind. Now there is a place for this, but what we all need is not just to learn to mind; we need to be saved. We do not want to build superficially moral children who will dump it all when they get to college. We want to build adults who have the truth of God firmly rooted inside them. To do that we need to speak to the inner heart of the person (Proverbs 2:1,2; 23:26; 4:23). We must turn them to something beyond themselves, to trust and fear God (Proverbs 1:7; 2:3-5; 3:5,6). But to accomplish this we need to begin with the gospel.