Saturday, April 29, 2017

Old Erich Proverb - Answers

Just when we think we have all the answers, life gives us a whole new batch of questions.

Friday, April 28, 2017

A Voice from the Past - Lewis

If a man can't be comfortable and unguarded, can't take his ease and 'be himself ' in his own house, where can he? That is, I confess, the trouble. The answer is an alarming one. There is nowhere this  side of heaven where one can safely lay the reins on the horse's neck. It will never be lawful to simply 'be ourselves' until 'ourselves' have become  sons of God.

C. S. Lewis, 1898-1963, The Sermon and the Lunch, God in the Dock, Part III, 3 (Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing, 1970, p. 286).

Should Christians be themselves? Should we in some ways avoid being ourselves? What is the distinction?

Thursday, April 27, 2017

The Servants

A scientific entrepreneur had been murdered. This would not normally be a case for John Talltree of the Terran Investigation Corps. But the murdered man had claimed to have invented a working universal teleporter. The existing teleporters worked perfectly well on inanimate objects (there was some question about plants), but for animate living things, what they produced at the other end, was an exact duplicate with no life in it. Some from my own Christian position had used this to argue that this proved a living being had a soul. The materialists, naturally enough, claimed it was a glitch in the process and expected it to be quickly resolved. But the bottom line was that a universal teleporter would be a highly valuable commodity, and the Terran empire wanted it, or at least to be sure an enemy did not get it. And the plans for it had been deleted off of the entrepreneur's vid. So I was on the job.

The entrepreneur, who was Qes, a Foermarian, was found dead in his office, with evidence suggesting a servant revolt. The Peinokazians had served (it was not clear if they should be fully classed as slaves) the Foermarians for many generations. The Foermarians were tall, thin humanoids (about a head's height taller than a Terran) with a fringe of tentacles around their heads. The Peinokazians were about half the height and looked like nothing so much as a Terran pig that walked upright and had hands and feet in the place  of hoofs. The Peinokazians were on the whole domestic servants or industrial workers. They claimed they were happy and were in a much better situation then when they had been living in mud huts. There was no consistent history of violence between the two races. But near Qes's body were pieces of Peinokazian clothing and traces of Peinokazian DNA, as if there had been struggle. Als,o two of Qes's Peinokazian servants, Bemzo and Fuwno, were missing. 

I entered into a room full of people. Geurnore, the governor, stood in the corner and said nothing. At the table in front of me were Tef, Qes' wife, and Par, his daughter and collaborator. Next was Oiroum of Laudig, a Click, surprisingly far from Earth, and Durponan, Qes' assistant. Next were Pok, Qes's backer, and Nou and Kaj, investors competing with each other to purchase the teleporter. Then there were Porlo, foreman of Qes's Peinokazian servants, and a couple of Foermarians in the back who I took to be security officers or police."I will have to ask you all to come forward with an alibi if you have one," I stated. "This is not a matter of suspicion, but just a matter of routine. The more people we can eliminate up front, the easier the investigation will be." 

Since no one seemed to be volunteering I continued, "Who found the body?"

"Mister Pok and I (Click),"stated Oiroum, "Mister Pok said he needed (click) to see Mister Qes urgently(CLICK), and we found him murdered (CLICK). We left everything the way it was (Click) and called the police."

"Why did you need to see Qes?" I asked Pok, "If you do not mind telling us."

"I was going to tell him I wanted him to quit dragging his feet in the negotiations," stated Pok, with a hint of suppressed anger. "I wanted some return on my investment."

"Did you ever see this teleporter work?"

"No, but Qes, Par, Oiroum, and a number of their assistants claimed they had seen it function and gave me detailed stories of what it had done. Their stories were all consistent."

I turned to Oiroum, "You have assistants?"

"Qes, Par and I (click) did all the real research," replied Oiroum. "But we have a crew of Durporanains (Click) who do technical work and run errands (click)."

"Are any of you capable of reproducing the plans for the teleporter?"

"(CLICK) Not without Qes (CLICK) or his plans."

"Who was the last person to see Qes alive?" I asked.

"Nou and I," stated Kaj. "We had come to say we both found his price unreasonably high. He claimed he had another buyer who had offered that, and we thought he was lying. In the end he agreed to consider our offer, and we left him, still quite clearly alive."

"How much time between when you left and Pok and Oiroum came?"

"We figure it was approximately sixteen Terran minutes."

I turned to Porlo, "Tell me about Bemzo and Fuwno and their relationship with Qes?"

"They were, as far as I knew, good Peinokazians," he replied. "I saw no tendency to rebel against their master."

"Were there problems between them and Qes?"

"There are always minor difficulties and rubs in life. But I know of no continuous problems."

At this point another Peinokazian wearing a strange costume came barging into the room. He looked at me and said, "I must speak to you in private."

As I began to rise, Tef jumped to her feet and yelled, "Get that outsider Peinokazian out of here. I will have no loose cannons in my house."

As the two Foermarian, who had been standing in back were dragging the interloper out, he turned to me and shouted, "The teleporter is a fake."

As I was leaving, Par came up to me and said, "I was unwilling to mention it in public, but I do have an alibi. I was with my lover, Bol. My father objected to him, but I saw him in secret anyway. Even though my father is gone, I am unwilling to mention casually what I did. But if it comes down to a murder accusation, he will support me. Also, there are members of his household who can swear they saw me come and go."

"Is there some way I could speak him, purely off the record? If this all comes out I would like to be able to tell my superiors I followed up on your story."

"I will ask."

I was entering my rented room, wanting a chance to think about the case, when everything went black.

Being hit on the head is never fun. And this time I woke up to shaking and words, "Get up, you lazy Terran. I am not going to carry you. If you cannot  walk, I am leaving you here." Coming into focus, I saw a light brown snout and vaguely remembered it belonged to a Pie-something-or-other. I also had some memory of someone with that face and those clothes being forced out of a room.

"Give me a second," I yelped. "You must have a hard head, if they knocked you out too and you have recovered this fast."

I sat up, which proved a mistake. But after the world stopped spinning and the pain subsided, I looked around. We were in a desolate desert place, with a few scrub bushes and a number of large rock outcroppings. It seems someone had left us out to die.

"You can find the way out of this wilderness?" I asked.

"Yes," he replied, "the safe-house is north by northwest."

"You know directions from here?"

"So Terrans are like the Foermarians? Unable to read magnetic lines?"

"I have many fine qualities, but that is not one of them."

"Well, mister soft-headed, magna-blind alien, can you make to shelter?"

"So much for the fabled Peinokazian politeness and subservience."

"When you get to the safe-house, you will be given a choice. Swear to reveal nothing of our location and plans, or be put to death. If you take the oath, you are a friend and friends do not talk servant-speak. If you make the other choice, it will not matter."

"Well, with your permission, I will put that decision off until I know more. But could I have just a few minutes to look this place over for clues."

"Once the detective, always the detective."

"It is in my blood. But the way I look at it, someone tried to kill me. And if we can work out an agreement where you let me live, I would like to know who else is standing in line. Did you notice anything about the guy who clubbed you?"

"Only that the blow seemed to come from high up. Probably not a Peinokazian."

"Mine did not seem to come from below, but that is easier to fake. Do you think it was done by one person?"

"It could have been, but Nuo, Kaj and Pok all have bully boys they can use to do the hard work. You do realize it was probably one of the people in that room where I did the shout out. Stupid of me, I know, but I had no better plan."

"That will help if I ever come up with some suspects that were not in that room or closely connected to someone who was. Is what you said true or merely intended to get my attention?"

"The whole thing is a fake, intended to allow Qes to make money off of the successful buyer. Porlo and his people will support me in this"

I got up off my hands and knees and nearly had my head explode again. "Well?" he said.

"Standard off-road air-car, probably of the Sarkian make. No footprints, probably just tossed us out the back door and took off. If I had a full lab, I might be able to tell more. But I figure, by the time I can get the instruments here, the wind will have blown everything away. Lead on, mister hard-headed, magna-detector."

"Maybe we should share names," he suggested as he walked off. I stumbled behind him as best I could, but it did console me a bit to see that he was also stumbling a little as he walked.

"I am John Talltree," I responded, "I do not stand much on formality. Any reasonable combination will do."

"I am Dorino of Madegon, though the second half is illegal in public, and mine, especially mine. I am descended from one of the old royal families dating before the Foermarians came."

"Does that put you in charge of this shooting match?"

"Sort of, though I have very little real enforceable power. Also there are five others like me, but they are on different parts of the planet."

"And what is this thing you are in charge of?"

"It really is true we are better off under the Foermarians than we were before them. But we have made a behind-the-scenes organization to work for Peinokazian interests. It helps that the Foermarians tend to think we are substandard mentally. We also try to restrain hotheads from causing trouble prematurely. We hope someday to acquire enough of  Foermarian technology to take over or at least leave and find our own planet. But we do not want to show our hand too early."

"But do the Foermarians never mistreat you?"

"They believe it is bad luck to mistreat a Peinokazian. Bad things tend to happen to people who do such things."

"Some of which might be deliberately engineered?"

"It is a possibility."

"What about Qes?"

"That we should have done something so totally incompetent would be incredible. We have experts who handle these things. There was no real black mark against the Qes family. Tef is a little hard-headed, as you saw. But it is the kind of thing one laughs about over a hot mug of gloutin in the evening. I had hoped the death of her husband and the presence of a Terran investigator would calm her down, but I proved wrong. But it would have been unjust and stupid for us to move against them like that."

I shivered a little bit that Dorino seemed to consider the slight to his competence more important than the justice of the matter. "Could Bemzo and Fuwno have simply lost control and responded to something Qes did?" I asked.

"Bemzo and Fuwno were good Peinokazians," he explained, "and there is no record of any bad blood between them and  Qes. But if something like that happened they should have run off to a safe-house. We have handled the disappearance of Peinokazians before. They turn up on a different part of the planet with another name. But Bemzo and Fuwno did not show up. We think that someone killed them as part of a plan to frame them for Qes's murder."

"Then you have as much stake as I do in solving this murder."

"How devoted are you to the empire?"

"I am a Christian. I believe in doing what is just. In some cases that means upholding those who are the appropriate governing authorities. But not always. As for my opinion of the Empire to say anything about it that is not positive will get me in a heap of trouble; therefore, I prefer to remain silent."

"Then I will be frank with you. This whole thing looks to us like a potential disaster. It could produce a war between us and the Foermarians. A war we are unprepared for and unlikely to win. But worse, it could bring the empire down on us, with their not uncommon policy of wipe everyone out. Yes we could use help in this investigation."

We came into a tunnel in the side of a rock outcropping that looked like the other outcroppings to me. "How did you know this was the one?"

"We build our safe-houses in places with high concentrations of magnetic ores," he replied. "Sticks out to us like a sore thumb."

We were met just inside by a young Peinokazian with a vid. It showed an underground advertisement of a teleporter for sale. I turned to Dorino and said, "Now you will have to decide how much you are willing to trust me."

The warehouse was dark, and the only light was in the center of the room. My leg was starting to cramp when several figures in black walked into the center of the room. "Hold it right there, came a voice from the darkness. Four went for their guns, but fell down dead. Some Peinokazians, however docile, were crack shots with a blaster.

But the chief figure in the center was already running away back into the shadows. "Hold it right there Oiroum," I yelled. "I know who you are and will hunt you down if I have to."

He turned, ripping off his mask and yelled in anger, "How in the (clickety, clack, clack) do you know who I am?"

"Sixteen minutes is plenty of time to murder a man, spread some false evidence, and delete some files, if you know all the passwords and codes and other requirements to get into the files. But I could not imagine a scoundrel like Qes leaving his files unprotected, especially since one look would blow his fraud. So either one of you was an incredible computer expert, which none of you looked to be, or the culprit had already been given access and knew the procedure. That meant you or Par. Par had an alibi, which was not unbreakable, but it made sense. That left you. But why?"

"We were tired of being Clicks doing all the Terrans hard work," he said (somehow he seemed too agitated to click). "We did not want to be servants, we wanted to be masters. But we knew Qes would vanish into the woodwork, leaving us with what he felt was our share, maybe nothing. I wanted it all. So I killed him and was planning to sell the plans myself and keep the full price. Then that meddling servant came in and said the plans were all fake and caused the obvious buyers to want to back out. So I was reduced to this. I tried to blame the whole thing on the Peinokazians because I thought their acquiescence to service disgusting. And now I do not regret it.'

"Glad to be of disservice," remarked Dorino from the darkness.

I rounded up Oiroum and his remaining accomplices to turn over to the authorities.

Then came the moment of truth. "I cannot agree with all the things you do or might do. But I did not come here to seek you. And you have been of great help to me in my real quest. Also, the idea of seeing the empire on another killing spree does not appeal to me at all. So while I cannot even guarantee we will be on the same side next time we meet, I am willing to swear I will not give away your secrets. Is that acceptable?" I asked.

"Given the difficult nature of the situation, we accept it." replied Dorino.

And I walked away with a really bad taste in my mouth. Was I now responsible for whatever they decided to do? But all I could see was large numbers of little piglets being blasted for, however misguidedly, trying to produce a safe place for themselves in a dangerous galaxy. So I walked away sad, but I walked away.         

Wednesday, April 26, 2017

Perspective on Suffering

We live in a fallen world, under sin and a curse. This explains why things happen the way they do. This is not limited to the sinfulness of human beings but involves nature as well. When God created humans, He put nature in subjection under them (Genesis 1:28-30). But when Adam and Eve fell (Genesis 3:1-6; Romans 5:12-20), they drug all nature down with them (Romans 8:19-20; Genesis 3:16-19). Therefore, not only do human beings behave badly, but nature also can be hostile. Now it is clearly not true that everyone in this life gets just what they deserve. The book of Job is written as an answer to that, as are a number of the remarks of Jesus (Luke 13:1-5; John 9:1-5). But the picture we get from Scripture is not that God pours out evil things on innocent people. Rather, He pours out good things (Matthew 5:45; Acts 14:17; Romans 2:4,5) on people who do not deserve them (Romans 3:23; Isaiah 64:6, Jeremiah 17:9). On this principle He holds back judgment even on those we feel most deserve it because of His grace and mercy. He also sometimes causes His people to go through trouble in order that they may be made better people by it (Romans 5:3-5; James 1:2-4; 1 Peter 1:6,7). While all these things are worked for our benefit by God, who is in control of our lives, if we are believers (Romans 8:28-30; Ephesians 1:11; 2:10). But also through this we can have hope (Romans 8:24,25).   

It is important to put sufferings in perspective (Romans 8:18; 2 Corinthians 4:17,18; 1 Peter 5:8-10). What we suffer now is minor in the light of eternity, when God will wipe away every tear (Revelation 21:4; Philippians 3:20,21; Psalms 16:11). Therefore, if a person trusts in Christ and Him alone for salvation (Ephesians 2:8,9; Romans 4:4,5; Titus 3:5,6), then they can be assured that God will bring them through the troubles of this life to dwell forever with Him (1 John 5:11-13; John 10:27-30; Philippians 1:6). If you do not currently have faith in Him, God invites you to trust Him (Acts 16:31; Revelation 22:17; John 3:16-18). But for those of us who have, we possess a hope that God will one day remake this fallen world to be as He originally intended it to be before sin entered (Romans 8:21-23; 2 Peter 3:10-13; Revelation 21:5-8). But it is not always easy to live in light of this truth. We have a desire to have things now and not to wait for them. But those who live for the present day will lose it all in the world to come (1 John 2:15-17; James 4:4; Philippians 3:18,19). Therefore, though we will have troubles in this life (John 16:33; 15:18-21; Acts 14:22), let us look beyond that to where our real treasure is (Matthew 6:19-21) so that we might have that abiding hope (1 Corinthians 13:13) and face the trouble in life knowing we will ultimately be victorious (Romans 8:35-37).

Tuesday, April 25, 2017

Peace with the World?

The angels at Jesus’ birth declared peace on earth (Luke 2:14). But Jesus Himself said He came to bring, not peace, but a sword (Matthew 10:34-36). How does this fit together? The peace of God is based first of all on relationship with God (Romans 5:1). This overflows into our relationship with others (Ephesians 2:14, 15; 4:3). Ultimately, this peace will cover the entire earth (Isaiah 9:7). But the world rejects this message of peace. It thinks that peace can be obtained by not making waves and going along with what other people say or at least not stirring up a fuss over things. Take, for example, the Roman Empire at the time Christianity first came on the scene. The Romans thought it totally unreasonable not to be willing to offer incense to Caesar as a god. It was not that they themselves very seriously believed this, but it was obstinate not to go with the flow. These Christians who were too fanatical to see this obviously deserved to be put to death. 

We have today a similar situation, where Christians are seen as intolerant for not going along with the current social ideals. How are we to respond to this? First, we need to exhibit the peace of God (John 14:27), the peace which comes from our relationship with God and the hope we have in Him (John 14:1-3). We also need, from that , to become peacemakers to reach out to these people opposed to us (Matthew 5:9; Romans 12:18). I am not at all saying we should compromise truth, but I am convinced we need to approach the situation with the correct attitude (2 Timothy 2:24-26). If we let ourselves be pulled down into meeting them on a level of anger and animosity, we can end up simply alienating them and making them harder to reach. It is not always easy to follow this course. I know, for myself, my pride gets in the way. (I want to win the argument even if it makes it harder to win the person.) But if we go to God for His peace, a peace grounded in our hope in Him, we can show that peace in times of trouble, knowing Christ has overcome the world (John 16:33). Then we can begin to reach out to those around us with the peace God offers.

Monday, April 24, 2017

A Touch of Humor - Being Real

How can we be real? Are there any pitfalls to this?

Saturday, April 22, 2017

Old Erich Proverb - The Unlovable

God calls us to love those who, from our perspective, are unlovely and unlovable.

Friday, April 21, 2017

A Voice from the Past - Chrysostom

For He espoused her as a wife, He loves her as a daughter, He provides for her as a handmaid, He guards her as a virgin, He fences her round like a garden, and cherishes her like a member: as a head He provides for her, as a root He causes her to grow, as a shepherd He feeds her, as a bridegroom He weds her, as a propitiation He pardons her, as a sheep He is sacrificed, as a bridegroom he preserves her in beauty, as a husband He provides for her support.

John Chrysostom, 347-407 AD, Eutropius, and the Vanity of Riches, Homily II, 15 (Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers, Philip Schaff, Hendrickson Publishers, 2012, pp. 262, 263)

What does it mean that the church is the bride of Christ? How does that help us to understand our relationship with God?

Thursday, April 20, 2017

Duns Scotus - The Critic

The path of extreme intellectualism is a dangerous one. This is not because reason or reasoning is an unreliable thing. But we are sinners and find it very easy to twist our reasoning to serve our own purposes. That is why we need God's revelation. Also, there is a temptation in reasoning to tear other people down to build  our own ego. Thus we can end up sceptics who tear things down without building up anything in their place. This was the direction taken by Duns Scotus.

The early scholastics, such as Thomas Aquinas, attempted to build up an intellectual defense of the Medieval church and ended up going too far that way. Duns Scotus critiqued the reasoning of those defenses. He then claimed he still believed the positions were proved. But he did it based on the authority of the church and not because they could be shown to be true by reasoning. He also subjected the Bible to that same authority, claiming that the church created the Bible. (It was really the other way around: the Bible created the church.) Scotus also tried to claim that things were what they were, not by nature, but by God's choice. Good and bad were such because God chose them to be, and He could have chosen otherwise. The plan of salvation was also something God arbitrarily chose and that could have been something else. (Why God would, as a purely voluntary option, pick a plan that involved death on a cross seems strange to me.)

Now there are advantages to this approach. If you believe everything is based on authority and claim it is all arbitrarily chosen, then you make it hard to refute or undermine. But you also make it hard to convince anyone on the outside of the truth of what you hold. In fact, if there are not some shared understandings agreed on by both parties, it is hard to even meaningfully communicate. And without any external support from Scripture or reason, your authority becomes viciously circular. It is a mistake to pin too much on reason. But it is also a mistake to throw reason out entirely. Even if it makes you vulnerable to the other persons reasonings. For meeting him in that arena may be the only way to reach him.   

Wednesday, April 19, 2017

What Is Wisdom?

What is wisdom? And how do we get it? Biblical wisdom is not simply knowledge or the accumulation of facts (2 Timothy 3:7; 1 Corinthians 1:18-25; Colossians 2:8). Nor is it simply a matter of God putting knowledge into your head. (God can do that, but that is not what wisdom is.) In the classic illustration of wisdom, Solomon was confronted with two women claiming the same child (1 Kings 3:16-28). God did not simply drop into Solomon’s mind which was the right woman. Rather, Solomon used his knowledge of human nature to determine which was the mother. Wisdom, therefore, does not primarily consist in the obtaining of new knowledge but in the ability to use the knowledge we have.  Therefore, when we pray for wisdom (James 1:5), we are not asking God to zap us with truth, but for God to give us the ability to properly use the knowledge we have.

Where, then, do we get wisdom? The beginning of wisdom is the fear of God  (Proverbs 1:7; Romans 1:22,23; Colossians 2:2,3). It also is found in God’s Word (Psalms 19:7; 119:97-100, 1:1,2). But there can be a problem here. It is possible to simply acquire information on spiritual things without obtaining real wisdom. Now I do not believe you can know God without knowing about Him (Jeremiah 9:23,24; 1 John 4:1-6; Isaiah 43:10). But knowing God and having the wisdom that comes from that involves more than just knowing information (1 Corinthians 2:1-5; 1 John 4:7,8; John 13:17). So how do we go from merely possessing information to real wisdom?

The fear of God is the beginning of wisdom. This means that we need to understand God’s greatness and His holiness. Now it does say in Scripture that perfect love casts out all fear (1 John 4:18). But the problem is, we want to shortcut the process. We need to walk in the steps of Isaiah who saw a vision of the glory of God and realized he was a man of unclean lips (Isaiah 6:1-8). Then God forgave Isaiah’s sin and called Isaiah to be His prophet. We need to start by recognizing that we are sinners (Romans 3:23; Isaiah 64:6; Jeremiah 17:9) and that God is holy (Romans 1:18; Matthew 5:48; 1 Peter 1:17). But Christ paid the price (1 Peter 1:18,19; Ephesians 1:7; Colossians 2:13,14) so that those who put their faith in Him (Ephesians 2:8,9; Romans 4:4,5; Philippians 3:9) can come with confidence into the presence of God (Romans 8:31-39; 1 John 4:17; Hebrews 4:16). However, if we try to bypass this and approach God without a realization of His holiness and our unworthiness, we can fail to develop a real understanding of who God is. For paradoxically, the way to wisdom is humility (Matthew 18:1-6; Luke 18:9-17; Proverbs 16:18). For it is only as we realize how little we really know (1 Corinthians 3:18; 8:1-3; Proverbs 26:12), that we become open to learning what God wants to teach us.