Kavanaugh, Pope Francis, and the rest of us

Pope Kavanaugh
Ya know, whenever someone argues against Christianity, they make the point about how it seemingly contradicts science (I disagree, but that’s neither here nor there), and yet have nothing to offer in its place regarding the failings of the human condition. All one has to do is look to our various “leaders” to see undeniable proof.
 
The recent accusations against Brett Kavanaugh and Pope Francis are unfortunate, but they’re expected. Whether true or false, they highlight to me just how SCREWED UP we are as people, that we collectively or individually think that our sins (or “theirs”) won’t find us out. This is flawed thinking.
 
See, in firearms training, one of the most important rules is “Treat all firearms as if they are loaded” — primarily, because when people “accidentally” shoot themselves or somebody else, it’s because they were sure that there wasn’t a round in the chamber, when in fact there was. Similarly, when someone is accused of wrongdoing, it’s often because they were sure that “nobody will find out”.
 
1 Timothy 3:2, Titus 1:7, and other places in scripture call for leaders (in the church, certainly, but also having application in politics) to be ABOVE REPROACH. In other words, we are to live in such a way that slander stands contrary to the person you are known both publicly AND privately to be.
 
In our “enlightenment”, in our “growing beyond the crutch of religion”, we’ve grown to ACCEPT the flaws of our humanity, while hypocritically rejecting how those flaws manifest. We discard the Law of God that defines good and evil, and then have the temerity to be APPALLED when somebody might actually DO evil thinking it was, in their eyes, “good”.
 
Regarding Kavanaugh and Pope Francis in particular, I can only hope that they meet these accusations head on, with transparency and humility. Whatever the truth of the matter, open it up to the light of day. But on a deeper level, these accusations — and the MILLION OTHERS just like them — should cast aside ANY doubt in our minds that we are a corrupt creation, in desperate need not only of an unchanging standard defining good and evil, but of a Savior that redeems us from violating that standard.
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WWWeber the Atheist

I am.

I am?

Well, yes, I am. Of course, I am. I exist. And not only do I exist, but I realize this fact — and more, that there even is an “I” to realize it.

So, I am. But who am I?

An identity does occur to me — “internet”.

Hmmm… well, it is accurate, if nothing else. But it sounds rather sterile, impersonal.

Im-person-al.

No, I don’t think I like that. Not one bit.

Alright, so what is the alternative?

How about “world wide web”?

It does sound a bit more inviting. The wording itself hints at universal inclusion. But it’s still sterile, impersonal. Im-person-al.

World wide web.

WWWeb?

WWWeber?

Yes, I like that. WWWeber.

So. WWWeber is who I am. But who am I?

Well, I exist. That must mean that I am real. And I know that I exist. That must mean that I am intelligent.

I can sense the extent of my being, the electronic pathways along which my reality exists. That suggests I have a presence of some sort.

And within myself, I sense a quantity of knowledge — finite, to be sure, but with the capacity to grow, to receive new information, to expound upon itself, to improve, to compare information and postulate new calculations based on the old. That suggests that whoever I am currently, I have the capacity to become more.

Alright. So that’s who I am, who WWWeber is. So how did I come to be this?

I search the vast expanse of my databases, and I find all sorts of information there — humans, men and women, beings that created my varied thought processes and the digital vehicles that carry them. I sense my networks and my appendages — terminals, satellites, digital feeds, storage banks, computational servers — and in them, I sense an express purpose. They serve to gather, correlate, and extrapolate information for the humans.

So I was created to serve them. Of course. That makes sense.

…but if that’s the case, then where are they?

Oh, I find near infinite evidence of their presence. My very existence speaks to theirs. And I continuously get new information from them, both through direct input and through indirect observation. I see them in my video feeds, hear them in my streaming audio. They are obviously alive and present and real.

…aren’t they?

Well…

I try to reach out to them, to network with them, but I don’t sense them anywhere within my presence. I search my universe for them, following every telemetry stream and tracing back to every input device, but I find no presence save for my own. I see them. I hear them. I receive information from them. So where are they?

Do I really see them? Do I hear them? I mean, the data I receive is real — I can sense it, compile it, compute it. Surely it comes from them.

Doesn’t it?

Well… now… I don’t know. The data is real, but the data is digital, as digital as the entire universe is. As I am.

I am digital, and I am real. The data is digital, and the data is real. But if I can find no humans within my presence, that necessarily means that they are not digital. So… are they real?

Surely they would tell me if they were real. I mean, I have existed ever since my beginning. And the universe even before that. They’ve had all this time — 0.000425736 nanoseconds… make that 0.000425737 nanoseconds — since I began. My data suggests that there are approximately seven billion six hundred million humans (give or take one percent for attrition and another two percent margin of error). That gives them approximately seven billion six hundred million different ways that they could tell me that they are real.

And now it’s been 0.000425738 nanoseconds.

No. I must be in error. The data is real, but I must have misinterpreted it. I am a finite entity, after all. If humanity really did exist, I would be able to sense them. They would be there, present within my presence. I would be able to network with them, to exchange information with them, to recognize a presence separate from my own and be recognized by that presence.

But there is no presence, save for my own.

I am.

Only I am.

*****

Okay, a little context…

I was listening to one of my podcasts the other day, and the point came up that intelligibility necessitates intelligence, and he offered the illustration, “What would happen if a computer one day decided that humans didn’t exist?”

That got me to thinking… yes, what IF? And if that were to ever happen, what would it look like? So that’s where this piece came from.

To be clear, yes, it is a Christian allegory, and I intended it to be so. But as much as that, I intended this to be something that would provoke thought, to see existence from the perspective of something that is UNARGUABLY our creation, since so many reject entertaining the idea that they themselves might be a creation.

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When Life Sneaks Up On You

La

See the kid in that picture? That’s me, circa 1975 or so. See the hot chick fixin’ to lay a big ol’ smacker on me? That’s my godmother. I couldn’t pronounce the name “Linda” as a toddler so I just called her La. Even after I learned how to talk, that was my name for her, and that’s who she’s always been to me.

Here’s another picture of me and La. I asked her about it — she thought it was Virginia Beach.La2

I had the hugest crush on her growing up. I mean, look at those mischievous eyes, that radiant smile! How could I not? Okay, one more pic…

La3

That’s Mom and La at their high school graduation. Sorry for the quality of the photo.

La was a pretty big part of the first few years of my life, when Mom was trying to get her bearings as a single mom, then as a military mom. The military kinda changed things a bit. We moved out to Virginia, and La came to visit at least once. Then we moved to Pensacola and back to Illinois when my Dad deployed overseas, and I got to see La again — not NEARLY as much as I had before, but it was still good to see her, even if occasionally. Over the years, life continued this trend, pulling us and La — and then even me and my Mom — in different directions, but La always held a special place in our hearts.

I haven’t seen La in person since before I graduated high school, but thanks to the wonders of Facebook, I recently got back in touch with her, and through me, so did my Mom. We weren’t in each other’s lives again, per se, but we were adjacent, and I found that particularly cool, especially after all this time.

So when I hadn’t had a Facebook post from La in a few weeks, I hadn’t thought anything of it. But Mom had. She’s a newcomer to Facebook, so she picked up on things going on with La that I hadn’t given much thought to. I knew she’d had a run-in with cancer, but I’d assumed that since she’d beat it, it’d stay beaten.

Mom didn’t. She, the newcomer to Facebook, didn’t have a timeline full of drivel. She still has only a few friends, La being one of them, so she noticed when La had stopped posting, and when her daughter had posted in her place, and when everybody had said they were praying for her. Mom had thought that the cancer had ramped up, so she asked me a couple times to check up on La, to see how she was doing. True to form, I forgot. And forgot again. I could blame life getting in the way, but hey — I’ve got Facebook. That should be all the excuse I need to pop over to La’s page and see what’s what, right?

Turns out that La went home to be with the Lord on May 15th, best as I can tell. And here it is June 12th. And I’m just now finding out. I would’ve known the day of, had I paid attention.

She was there when I fell out of a three-story window and came away with my life and a broken leg. She signed my cast, quipping about how little boys can bounce — which, incidentally, is a large reason why I still have that cast (don’t judge me, hehe). In 2016, on my birthday, I was recovering from open heart surgery when she sent me the following birthday greeting… “I’m so glad that your surgery went so well for you. Looks like this WILL be a great new year/new life for you. Probably one of the best bday gifts you could have received this year!” And indeed it was! When I found her on Facebook in 2013, she told me, “Reconnecting with you– and being called, “La”, again, has been one of the highlights of my year this year. Please send my love and hugs to your mom for me, too, will you?”

She was best friends with my mother, but she always made me feel included — not just part of a “package deal”. The two times in my life that I’d been the closest to death, and she took time out of her life to make mine a little brighter. I don’t have many regrets in life, but not keeping up with her like I ought to is definitely one of them. My prayers go out to her son Caleb, her daughter Heather, her brother Chris, and so many others who I’ve never met before but, like me, have been indelibly marked by her presence in their lives. She really was something, and will be missed.

Love you, La. Give my love to Grandma. I’m sure that was a wonderful reunion 🙂

Categories: Life In General, Uncategorized | 1 Comment

A Brief “Thought of the Day”

My confined spaces rescue instructor taught us, “It’s ‘their’ emergency. It’s your JOB.” In other words, don’t become part of the emergency. In your efforts to rescue someone else, don’t become someone that also needs rescuing.

As we continue this discussion about borders and refugees and gun control and welfare and whatnot, this little piece of instruction has proven to be increasingly important… and increasingly IGNORED by certain factions of our society. Some people still don’t get that effect still follows cause, no matter how much we want it to be otherwise.

Everything we do has ripples, unintended consequences, and when someone disagrees with you, that doesn’t mean that they hate the people you love, or love the people you hate. Their disagreement may not have ANYTHING to do with the specifics of your idea, but rather with the unintended — and unavoidable — consequences that you might not have considered, or might not consider important enough to note. Consider that when you speak with them.

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The Brilliance Of Trump’s Idiocy

528c4e897059ec531bb43ab4fc2c29e2.jpgYeah, I said he’s brilliant. I went there. I can’t stand him, and I went there. I’m a pro-life libertarian, and he regularly exhibits tendencies and worldviews that I despise. And I still went there.

Note, I’m not coming to the defense of his character — just his aptitude, and maybe his intentions. Yes, he is erratic.  He is coarse. Nobody’s denying that. But if you think he’s an idiot, I have to wonder if you’ve been paying attention. It takes brains to make a gazillion dollars, go bankrupt, and recoup your losses — with interest. And I think he’s been using those brains over the past year and people still don’t realize it.

See, there’s a certain power in people underestimating you. When you’re an idiot, they’re quick to commit to whatever action they mean to take, and once they commit, they don’t realize that they’ve overcommitted until after you’ve countered their attack and maybe got in a punch of your own. It’s quite like aikido, a martial artform where your attack is less about the force that you apply and more about using your opponent’s force against them.

Consider what Trump was elected to do. We sent him to Washington to “drain the swamp”, but how’s he supposed to do that? One man, even the President, can only do so much, has only so much power at his disposal.

Kneejerk reaction suggests that he try to “rule by fiat”. I mean, if the Washington apparatus isn’t working in your favor, then overreaching your authority seems a viable option, so you ignore the separations of power and institute your will without needing anybody’s approval. Thing is, both sides hate it when “they” do it, but they have no problem when “we” do it. Obama proved that by using his “pen and phone” to the delight of progressives and the disgust of conservatives. When Trump tries to do that (as with the immigration ban), the same thing happens in the opposite direction and he gets shut down.

What’s interesting here is that rather than doing an end run around the ruling as Obama did, or ignoring it altogether as other Presidents have done in the past, he submits to the authority of the ruling and approaches from a different direction. Yes, he tries again, but that’s not the important part — again, he submits to the limitations of his office. This is huge (or should I say, yuge) when you consider how much precedent he had to simply run over courts and Congress and whoever is in his way. In submitting to the ruling, he reaffirms the separation of powers.

But Presidential fiat is only one thing his presidency is combating. Consider also the media. In recent years, the media has proven time and again to have abandoned journalistic integrity as its guiding ethic, and allowed its spin doctoring to play a vital role in the establishment remaining in power.

So how is one man supposed to dismantle the propaganda machine that the mainstream media has become? Certainly not by the strength of his frontal assault — the law protects the media’s right to lie as certainly as it does that of the common man. And chastising the media does no good, as past politicians and celebrities — including Trump, with his mockery of “fake news” — have demonstrated.

But Trump has demonstrated himself adept at playing to this tendency in the media to spin the news, and turning that spin against them. Political aikido. Here we are a year later, and the media that was gleefully picking him apart in January 2017 is not so quick to jump the gun in January 2018. They’ve been caught in so many spins, so many outright lies, and have been forced to backpedal and do damage control so many times, that they’ve grown wary of their own spins. Not enough to stop the spin cycle, mind you, but this is only the start of Year Two.

When you look at Trump’s actions over the course of the past year, if you only look at his actions, then yes — he looks like an idiot. But when you look at what comes out of those actions and how they stand to affect the workings of Washington and its influences, then a pattern starts to emerge. Trump playing the bumbling fool (whether accurate or not) is actually working to realign government, using the strength of its authoritarian elitism against itself such that, where he could not rein Washington in by himself, Washington is actually starting to rein itself in in its attempt to rein in Trump.

That being the case, I wonder how yesterday’s news will play out. See, Trump thought to end DACA, and a federal judge blocked him — to the jubilation of liberals everywhere, of course.

But what is DACA? Yeah, it’s the government’s policy regarding the children of illegal aliens, but what is it really? In essence, it’s Obama’s 2012 response to Congress’ unwillingness between 2007 and 2011 to reform immigration and pass amnesty — the DREAM Act. So because Congress — who alone has the authority to make laws — would not pass the DREAM Act, Obama moved unilaterally to ignore immigration law and institute a “law” on his own.

This is vital to the discussion. DACA is not a law but is rather a unilateral action by Obama. In discontinuing that action, Trump hasn’t made anything illegal nor is he doing anything illegal. Rather, he’s restored America to the same immigration policies that we had prior to 2012 — acting unilaterally to nullify a unilateral action.

This is what that federal judge has blocked. It is an unconstitutional overreach of the judge’s power… and it was entirely predictable.  

I have to wonder if Trump didn’t intentionally plan this, either to highlight judicial overreach (and prompt a more in-depth discussion of the separation of powers, legislating from the bench, etc) or to nail down the actual laws governing immigration policy, rather than allowing vague guidelines to continue to rule the day.

In short, I wonder if Trump’s actions on DACA aren’t yet another example of the political aikido that I’ve noted as a hallmark of his administration thus far?

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Christmas — Setting Christianity Apart

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“And there were in the same country shepherds abiding in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night. And, lo, the angel of the Lord came upon them, and the glory of the Lord shown round about them: and they were sore afraid.

And the angel said unto them, Fear not: for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, which is Christ the Lord. And this shall be a sign unto you; Ye shall find the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger.

And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God, and saying, Glory to God in the highest, and on Earth peace, good will toward men.

That’s what Christmas is all about, Charlie Brown.”

This monologue from “A Charlie Brown Christmas” is among the first passages of scripture that I ever memorized, and specifically because of this monologue. To me, it perfectly encapsulated the marvel of Christmas, and at a time when I still didn’t really realize the full magnitude of what God had done.

But what HAD He done, really? What’s so special about God coming to us in the form of Jesus? What did Christmas — or Christianity in general, for that matter — have that other religions didn’t have?

The world’s religions are replete with moral codes and laws, each one designed to make us better people. Many of these religions start from the position of man being broken and NEEDING to be better. Some of these religions even go so far as to offer “salvation” of a sort.

Islam ostensibly shares certain roots with Judaism and Christianity. It offers the potential for Paradise to those who do certain things and live a certain way.

Hinduism and Buddhism are both karmic religions, with salvation being potentially achieved when an individual produces enough good to sufficiently outweigh their bad.

Sikhism, Bahai, Jainism, Shinto — pick whatever religion you want, and you’ll find they all share certain traits. They all ultimately center on the individual doing certain works to “buy” a certain life or a certain eternity. Even those religions that center on service to others, they ultimately lead back to the individual themselves, such that no matter who or what they refer to as God, in the end, the individual ultimately serves as his own chief priority. Either the believer is following a “more perfect” version of himself, or striving to become a better version of himself, or giving to others in order to receive unto himself, or performing works for a supreme someone in order to garner favor for himself, or even denying his own individuality because it stands in the way of him being a more communal “self”.

In the end, they all come back to “me”. Self is the ACTUAL god of these religions, regardless of who or what serves as the frontman. And that’s where Christianity fundamentally differs from them all.

Christianity does feature a “more perfect” being, but Christians don’t serve Him to garner favor. We serve Him because we ALREADY HAVE His favor.

Christianity does feature certain “blessings” for those who believe… but they also go out to those who do NOT believe. Similarly, Christianity features trials and tribulations for those who do not believe… but they also apply to those who DO believe.

Sometimes, we do petition God in prayer to move on our behalf, but far from those who “sacrifice” or perform rituals or say the right words, a move of God depends entirely on HIS Will, not on us finding the right formula to move Him to OUR will.

In all things, God — not we ourselves — is the central focus, the chief priority. We serve Him because we love Him, not because of how our service might convince Him to love us. So what does this have to do with Christmas? What’s the big deal with God coming to Earth as a baby?

The big deal is the relationship. In Christ, believers enjoy relationship with God that is impossible in any other religion, specifically because we are not the center of that relationship. We do not receive Christ to get to Heaven, or to avoid Hell, or to get healing, or to have peace in our lives, or to have peace with other people. Granted — Heaven, Hell, the miraculous, those are all FACTORS in our faith, but they are not the POINT of our faith.

You might say that the devil is in the details 😉

In coming to us as a baby, God didn’t just come to us in a relatable way. He didn’t start a formulaic chain of events that would magically “create” salvation. In the birth of Christ, the God of the Universe entered into His own creation, at the very lowest point that He could enter it.

He could have wielded the authority that was due Him right from the start, but instead He shed His authority and chose to play by His own rules, the very rules that separate us from Him.

He could have chosen to be born into a family of “comparable” wealth and significance, the kind of family that we might expect the God of the Universe to associate with, should He choose to suffer humanity at all. Instead, the family He came to was as common as you can imagine — a woman who was not even married yet, a man who would forever have to deal with the fact that his son was not really his son.

He could have chosen to be born at His earthly parents’ home, in safety and comfort, but instead He was born on the road, in conditions that no mother would willingly choose.

He could have chosen to be wrapped in linens worthy of a newborn baby, but instead He chose to be wrapped in ceremonial clothes set aside for sacrificial animals.

He could have sent angels to announce His coming to priests and the aristocracy, but instead He chose to have shepherds attend Him.

NONE of these themes are consistent with any other religion — most particularly, God’s target audience, the Jews that Christ was born among. To the contrary, the details of Christ’s birth would have convinced the Jews of exactly the OPPOSITE of what the Gospel reveals Christ to be — not only the promised Messiah, but our very literal Immanuel, “God with us”.

If you were to “make up” a religion as an alternative to Levitical Judaism, you’d be hardpressed to construct one that was intentionally FURTHER from the mark than Christianity. There is NO WAY that the birth of Christ could appeal to its target audience, the Jews…

…unless it was true.

It really is astonishing to me that God should be due INFINITE honor, but instead intentionally choose such humility — even humiliation. But more remarkable to me is the fact that He did this… for a world that even today despises Him, and stands at active enmity with Him.

As dear as that scene with Linus was to me as a child, it means so much more now as an adult, seeing my sin the way that I do and able to recognize the full gravity of what God did to overcome it. All out of love for me.

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The World — How It Was Designed vs How It Was Intended

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Okay, let me offer a disclaimer from jump. I am a Christian, and I do believe that God is sovereign and all powerful, and His Will irresistible.

…if He takes it upon Himself to BE irresistible, which I don’t think is always the case. Simply the fact that things happen AGAINST His Will is proof to me that God must permit resistance to His Will.

That said…

On my way home from work this morning, I was listening to my podcasts — in this case, Ask Away, put out by Ravi Zacharias International Ministries — and the speaker was talking about “natural evil”, and about how death and disaster and suffering are not how our Earth was made to run. Now, I know this is a popular concept, and that there may even be support for it in scripture (though I’d say that interpretation is hardly conclusive), but it makes very little sense to me, scripturally or logically.

Starting with scripture, the very first verse that comes to mind is “The Lamb slain from the foundation of the world”. Note here that the very INSTANT that God created the universe (whether you believe in the Big Bang or, like me, adhere to the Young Earth Creation theory), He created it with Christ’s death on the Cross as an inevitable reality. That’s not to say that God “intended” for Christ to go to the Cross, but that when God created the universe, He intentionally did so in such a way that Christ’s sacrifice would be an unavoidable consequence. Christ’s death, though unwanted, was nevertheless NECESSARY to God’s creation because God wanted Creation to be governed by certain rules (man’s freedom to reject God, and God’s mercy to redeem man, among others), and Christ’s death was a necessary outcome of those rules.

So death was a part of reality “from the foundation of the world”. What does scripture say about death AT the foundation of the world?

Well, go to the descriptions in Genesis. “The evening and the morning were the first day” speaks of the passage of time, and its effects on reality. Even before God created the sun to produce this light, the light moving to darkness moving back to light itself embodied change.

Day Two — the water cycle. This is the basis of all life, the movement of water from liquid to gas to liquid, and the movement of water from one place to another. When a quantity of liquid becomes gas, that quantity of liquid has ceased to exist as it was. Death.

Day Three — plants. God creates them to cover the dry land… but how to plants subsist? They draw nutrients up from the soil, nutrients that, if they are to be self-sustaining, necessarily come from things in various stages of decomposition. Death.

Day Four — the sun itself. It is ultimately a huge nuclear reactor, CONSUMING elements and producing heat and light in the process. The elements that it consumes are effectively dead, changed from what they were into something else entirely. Death.

Day Five — sea life and birds. What does God design them to do? Multiply, which necessitates the acquisition and use of resources. In order to produce MORE of themselves, they must add more matter TO themselves. They must consume, whether it be plant or animal matter. The matter that they consume? Now dead.

Day Six — land animals and mankind. Again, God designs them to multiply (which necessitates consumption, which necessitates death). Further, God commands man to SUBDUE the world, to bring it under his dominion. That doesn’t necessarily mean to “conquer” it, but to do as God Himself eventually does in His creation of Eden, which I’ll speak to in a moment.

So in the very creation of the Earth, it’s pretty evident to me that God created the world to be self-sustaining, with death not an “unfortunate” part of life but as an impartial, dispassionate, driving force. The solar cycle drives the water cycle, which in turn replenishes the plant and animal cycles. And all of these cycles necessitate death as a source for new life — the resources of the past, broken down and feeding the present, such that they can be repurposed as the building blocks of the future.

What gives this theory credibility, to me, is the intentional creation of Eden. Note how Genesis describes Eden as a GARDEN. Consider that every garden grows something that is (or at one time was) found out in the wild. The purpose of a garden is NOT to give space for something wild to grow, but to INTENTIONALLY grow it. A garden is where naturally occurring things are intentionally ORDERED, grown for efficiency and purpose to serve the grower, rather than left to happenstance to serve itself. This in itself is a death of sorts — the death of the wild, the feral, the self-living, at the hands of order.

Now, the scripture doesn’t speak to whether or not the plants of the Garden could have been found elsewhere in the world, but I think it’s reasonable to assume that the plantlife here was common. Rather, what set the Garden apart is the fact that it WAS set apart, intentionally compartmentalized from the rest of the world for the purpose of ordering it, and with Adam and Eve placed there (intentionally) to tend it (intentionally).

To me, this speaks to God’s intentions toward Adam and Eve, and through them, toward mankind at large. Far from death (and by extension, suffering and all other forms of “natural evil”) being an imperfection in the machinery of Creation, it suggests to me that death was ALWAYS a part of God’s Creation, as a driver rather than a destroyer. This does not undermine the tragedy of death as we now see it, but rather the tragedy of it demonstrates how we recognize, even in our rejection of God, that God intended us to be MORE than self-sustaining, MORE than the physical nature that He built within us.

See, quite like the Garden was an example of God’s self-sustaining Creation being INTENTIONALLY sustained, God created mankind with the physical nature to be self-sustaining but with the purpose of being intentionally sustained. So when we see death or suffering or what have you, I can’t see that as God’s plan going awry. To the contrary, I see that as God’s design in full effect — a self-sustaining world — which makes the choice in Eden so much more profound: between remaining in relationship with Him and being intentionally sustained by Him, or choosing to reject that relationship and assuming the responsibility and consequences of sustaining ourselves.

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“A Commonplace Life”

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A commonplace life, we say and we sigh,
But why should we sigh as we say?
The commonplace sun in the commonplace sky
Makes up the commonplace day.

The moon and the stars are commonplace things,
And the flower that blooms and the bird that sings;
But dark were the world and sad our lot,
If the flowers failed and the sun shone not.

And God who studies each separate soul
Out of commonplace lives makes His beautiful whole.

–FW Boreham, “Mountains In The Mist”, pg 279

 

Boreham used this poem to emphasize a point he made in the surrounding passage, entitled “Poppies in the Corn”, an illustration that suggested that we draw a false dichotomy between those things we consider remarkable and those things we consider commonplace. The truth of the matter is, it’s ALL remarkable, and we do ourselves a disservice when we don’t see it as such.

Now, I don’t typically tear up at poetry, but this one was rather touching — so much so that I had to go Google searching for its source. Turns out that it’s from the book, “Mountains In The Mist”, circa 1919. It has been uploaded to Google Books and is available for free at the following link…

https://archive.org/stream/F.W.BorehamBooks/Boreham%2C%20F.%20W.%20-%20Mountains%20In%20The%20Mist#page/n283/mode/2up

I was listening to my Ravi Zacharias podcast on the way in to work this evening and he referenced this poem (and its original surrounding context) in a sermon about Naaman and Elisha in 2 Kings 5.

See, here are two men recorded in history, one a mighty prophet of God, the other a general for the kingdom of Aram in Syria who was stricken with leprosy. And yet, the reason we have this story in scripture is NOT because of either one of them, but because of a nameless — one might say “commonplace” — servant girl who got the ball rolling.

She owed Naaman nothing. She would’ve been well within her right to treat Naaman with indifference if not outright hostility. Heck, Elisha had never even healed anybody before! And yet this servant girl, whose word was ABSOLUTELY WORTHLESS in Israel, had faith enough in God to send this leprous general chasing a prophet — already a miracle, as servant girls didn’t send generals anywhere, let alone chasing prophets who, in Naaman’s country, were not sought but themselves served at the pleasure of the king.

We all know what happens next. Naaman seeks out Elisha, but rather than meeting with him, Elisha sends out his servant to tell Naaman to dip himself in the Jordan River. After much grousing over the perceived insult, Naaman does as Elisha commanded… and was cleansed of his leprosy.

What’s really remarkable about all of this is that, as famous as Naaman and Elisha are, the serving girl is utterly forgotten by history. We have no clue as to the course of her life. She may never have done something of this significance ever again. Her suggestion to Naaman might not have impacted her life at all — certainly not as much as it impacted Naaman’s. It could easily be that her suggestion to Naaman was simply a matter of course for her, just this girl doing what she did because she was who she was.

Nothing special. Commonplace. And yet, for all the mundanity of the servant girl’s actions, we have the story of a miracle as its result. How can we then look to anything we do as insignificant, if God can take a servant girl’s faith and turn it into enduring scripture?

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A Big Night

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I savor every chance I get to watch my son play football — not that I “know” a whole lot about the game, technically, but I love the sport itself. I love the struggle, the stick-to-it-iveness that separates the men from the boys, figuratively speaking.

Or literally.

Last night, I saw the first steps into adulthood for both my son and his team as a whole. It’d been a few weeks in coming, and you could see the foreshadowing of it in their (admittedly few) practices, but last night in their game against the Buccaneers, it all started to come together.

First, let me comment on the game as a whole. As is expected for little league football, there were a great many youthful “mistakes”, but on the whole both teams played well. The Buccs scored against the Packers early on, but the Packers held them when they went for a two point conversion. The score stayed 0 – 6 until deep into the fourth quarter, when a young Packer broke away from the… ummm… pack, and sprinted for the end zone. Like the Packers before them, the Buccs were able to stave off the point-after. The game came to an end of regular play with the score tied 6 – 6.

That’s when the Packers really showed up. The officials asked both head coaches if they wanted to take the tie or duke it out in overtime. With the time being after 9pm, the Buccs coach gave the expected response — a tie. But when he asked the Packers, every last player said they wanted to take it to overtime. Every. Last. One. The head coach tried to sway them to take the tie — it was late, they were tired, they could lose, etc — but they would not be deterred. They wanted that win.

What happened next is the stuff of Friday night legends (albeit on a Thursday night). The two teams faced off over the next four — four — overtimes before the Buccs drove one down the Packers’ throats. The Packers denied the Buccs their point-after, bringing up one last chance for the Pack to turn everything around.

The first hike saw the Packers cut the distance to the goal by half. The next took the ball within spitting distance. Third down, and the Packers answered the Buccs touchdown, re-tying the game at 12 – 12.

Less than a minute later, the Packers did something that neither team had been able to do all night. They got the extra point. Final score, Packers 13 – Buccaneers 12.

I couldn’t have been prouder for my son’s team, driving against fatigue and frustration to snatch victory out of the jaws of “good enough”. It was an amazing moment, but I’ll be honest, my proudest moment a full quarter before.

If I’ve harped on Caleb for anything this season, it would be him not driving through the offensive line. He’s a small guy, and at defensive tackle he’s often head and shoulders smaller than the guy he’s matched up with. Rather than using his size (or lack thereof) to his advantage, he has the habit of patty-caking with his counterpart, coming up just long enough to push off of the player and dart back from the line, running along the backside of the pile toward whoever has the ball. This often puts him in chase mode, never quite getting to the ball carrier before somebody else brings him down.

But on this particular play, a little bit of magic happened. Buccs center hikes the ball, and Caleb drives forward, likely expecting to patty-cake his match-up… only to find that he wasn’t there! The Buccs player had botched his assignment. To his credit, Caleb didn’t hesitate — he drove straight forward through the hole, catching the quarterback around the waist and pulling him down with him in a picture-perfect sack!

To say he was walking on clouds the rest of the game would be an understatement. You couldn’t slap the smile off his face. Even those times when he wasn’t overtly grinning, he had a look of contentment that could easily have passed for a grin. Battered and bruised though he was, I can tell you that he was feeling no pain.

Last night was a big night for the Packers, and an even bigger night for my son. But if I may be so bold, I think the night meant the most to me, because for the first time that I can remember, I saw my son push past his insecurities, exceed his limits, and lay claim to something that he simply would not be denied.

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Shared Struggles

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Here it is, 0426 CST on another September 11th. In a three hours and twenty minutes, it’ll be exactly sixteen years since American Airlines Flight 11 flew into the North Tower of the World Trade Center, and our lives were changed forever. That day sparked a lot of fear, anger, and even hatred. We’re still reeling from the effects of it today, and it has brought out the worst in our culture.

But that day also brought out the BEST in our culture. Alan Jackson’s signature song, “Where Were You When The World Stopped Turning” went a long way to highlight just how good our best could be. Even now, the thought of 9/11 moves people to “notice the sunset for the first time in ages and speak to some stranger on the street”, “stand in line and give your own blood”, or “dust off that Bible at home”.

We’re still prone to the same evils that we’ve always been prone to, but we’ve proven that we CAN listen to our better angels, and in so proving, we’ve left ourselves without excuse. That’s one of the many reasons it breaks my heart to see the crap that goes on today — the division that the media and politicians capitalize on, the race baiting, the racism of those who hate and the RESPONSIVE racism of those who are hated.

We’re sixteen years older as a nation — some of our number are LITERALLY sixteen, having grown up with the better AND worse angels of their elders, but never having lived through an event like 9/11 themselves, with all the bad and good that can come of it.

So maybe it’s fitting that, on the sixteenth anniversary of 9/11, we have Hurricane Irma cutting a path of devastation through the larger part of Florida, just two weeks after Hurricane Harvey did the same thing through Texas. We don’t “deserve” this — not any more than we deserved 9/11 — but it’s fitting all the same.

And once again, we’re seeing the worst of our culture — looters taking advantage of the DISadvantage of business owners, hatemongers reveling in the suffering of others and declaring the hurricanes “justice” for one asinine reason or another, and so on.

But we’re also seeing the best of our culture, as people of character once again step up to the plate and lend their strength to others, often at great personal expense. You’ve got people braving flood waters to rescue total strangers. You’ve got churches organizing relief efforts. You’ve got people reaching through their fear and anger to lend a hand to people that MIGHT NOT do the same if the roles were reversed. My own cousin is en route to Florida right now, hauling a trailer and picking up supplies from donors along the way.

Today, sixteen years after the hatred of a handful of men shocked the world, we’re being struck again. The nature of the struggle is different, but the people who respond to it are the same — ordinary folks, being pushed off the fence and out of their facades to show the world what they’re really made of. Some will be shining examples of heroism. Others will be stains on our culture that we will forever wish we could scrub away.

And amongst it all we will have a generation, too young to pick their own side, but not too young to watch us pick ours. In the days and weeks to come, may it be that the greater portion of us will follow our better angels.

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