Friday, December 30, 2011

What Time? Is It?

Another year draws to a close.

What is a year?

I like very fundamental questions.  Sometimes things are so common to our thinking that we get misled by the supposed obviousness of the situation.  Or maybe it's just a man's perspective as opposed to God's.

A year:  365 days?  What's a day?  24 hours?  What's an hour ... well, you get the picture.  We define time by more time.  But what is time really?  We call one cycle by the earth around the sun a year.  Or the perception of the sun rising 365 times.  But the sun doesn't really rise, the earth rotates us into it's view.  More perspective issues.  We normally think of all these things as being the passage of time. 

I propose that time is not real.  It's a concept.  It's an illusion of sorts.  We are subjected to changes as we are born, mature and die.  We call that the passage of time.  We use the concept of time to place events in a sequence.  We use a ticking clock to count off seconds and minutes and hours and call that time.  The other illusion that accompanies it is the idea that we've got plenty of it. 

God is not impacted by this concept of time.  How is that?  He doesn't change.  He doesn't get old.  He isn't any different now than yesterday or a million years ago, or a billion years ago, or...how far back can we go?  It doesn't matter because time is irrelevant when you talk about God, or eternity.  To speak of eternity as being timeless is more accurate than to speak of it as being unending time.

Here's the important part:  Life is short.  What are you doing with it?

We are repeatedly told by our Creator that life is a vapor, a mist, a flower that blooms in the morning and is gone by evening.  In other words - brief.  Why?  What's the point?  A couple of things come to mind.  As I said earlier, we have this incorrect idea that we've got plenty of time.  Is there something important we need to do?  We'll get to it - eventually.  Yet, the reality is - we aren't guaranteed even 1 more breath after this.  Also, we like to think very highly of ourselves.  We can accomplish great things.  Build huge monuments to our cleverness and ingenuity.  But we quickly fade away.  Even the monuments crumble and disappear over time.

What is truly lasting?  Only God, life for the believer, and those things we do by and for Him.
The spiritual is more 'real' than the physical, yet we are usually dominated by the physical.

No matter how old you are - 'time' is almost up.  Make the most of it.  Get started.

“All people are like grass...the grass withers and the flowers fall...but the word of our God endures forever.”

Friday, December 23, 2011

Are You Rich?


1 Timothy 4:6  But godliness with contentment is great gain. 7 For we brought nothing into the world, and we can take nothing out of it. 8 But if we have food and clothing, we will be content with that.

Are you broke yet?

With all the Christmas shopping going on, it’s hard to stay on budget. 

Steve and Micah have already encouraged us to slow down, take the hectic out of the holiday, and meditate on what it’s really all about.  I’d like to take this opportunity to remind us of how blessed we are, even as the over-emphasis on material trappings (interesting word in this context – trappings) of this time of year seek to cloud our vision and rob us of contentment.  You may have heard what follows before but it’s worth repeating.  We can so easily lose perspective in this culture.  We are the proverbial frogs that slowly get the heat turned up around us until we’re boiling to death and we didn’t even realize it.  WAKE UP!

If you are an American, you are rich.  If you have electricity, are able to purchase food at a grocery store without having to own land, plant, and harvest your own, own a cell phone, go to the bathroom indoors and have a toilet to flush, have running hot and cold water, live in a place that has a refrigerator, own clothes that you did not weave or kill an animal to get, you are rich.  If you have a computer, air conditioning, central heating, an automobile, live in a dwelling that’s more than 500 square feet, you are super rich.

It wasn’t that long ago that there was no air conditioning and heat came from a fireplace, not piped into your bedroom. 

The majority of people around the world – billions of them – have very few of the luxuries that American’s possess.  What does it mean when one of our greatest health problems is obesity?  We’re too rich for our own good.  Storage facilities populate the landscape of our cities to hold possessions that we can’t fit in our homes and apartments.  

Are you rich?

The answer is not as dependant on your checking account balance as it is on your perspective.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

The Gift That Keeps On Giving


Ricky Bobby: "I like the Christmas Jesus best when I'm saying grace. When you say grace you can say it to grown-up Jesus, or teenage Jesus, or bearded Jesus, or whoever you want. Dear Tiny Jesus, with your golden fleece diapers..."
Cal Naughton: "I like to picture Jesus in a tuxedo T-Shirt because it says I want to be formal, but I'm here to party"

Forgive me for starting a Christmas post with a quote from Talladega Nights, but the dinner table scene quoted above does bring up one valid point: Jesus wears many hats. He has many faces, if you will.

You have Jesus the Christ, Jesus the Son of the Living God, Jesus the King of Kings, Jesus the Intercessor, Jesus the Word, Jesus the Good Shepherd, and many other roles that Jesus fills. But during the Christmas season, more so than at any other time of the year, I'm reminded of Jesus as God's Gift to the world. God had a plan, and that plan was Jesus. Humanity had a problem, and the solution was Jesus.

I don't know about you, but I find myself surrounded by people who seem to get no joy from Christmas. I see posts on Facebook, and hear conversations from coworkers, that express frustration over Christmas. People feel harried, hurried, and hectic trying to "get everything done". When I think about Jesus as God's greatest gift, you know how I feel? Grateful. When I think about God's plan that comes through that gift, I feel hopeful. During the Christmas season, as I soak in the carols and choruses that sing of the birth of the world's savior, I'm continuously reminded of this gift that makes me grateful and hopeful.

I wish that my coworkers and Facebook friends who seem so stressed out by Christmas could share in the gratefulness and hopefulness that I feel. If you're a Christian and feel worn out by the season, I'd encourage you to meditate on the generosity of God in giving us this great gift, and the hope that you have because of it.

Merry Christmas!!

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Prepare A Place For Him


Luke 2

1And it came to pass in those days, that there went out a decree from Caesar Augustus that all the world should be taxed….

3And all went to be taxed, every one into his own city.

4And Joseph also went up from Galilee, out of the city of Nazareth, into Judaea, unto the city of David, which is called Bethlehem; (because he was of the house and lineage of David:)

5To be taxed with Mary his espoused wife, being great with child.

6And so it was, that, while they were there, the days were accomplished that she should be delivered.

7And she brought forth her firstborn son, and wrapped him in swaddling clothes, and laid him in a manger; because there was no room for them in the inn.

Over the last couple weeks I’ve been doing something that is definitely in my top ten most hated things to do: Moving.

But as I’ve been moving I’ve discovered two very important things. First, I have entirely too much junk. Over the course of moving I’ve thrown away literally 15 bags of trash or things I just don’t care about anymore, given away 8 bags of clothes I’ll never wear again that were just taking up space, and cleaned out stuff I’ve been carrying around with me from when I was in grade school!

And second, I need to prepare a place for the one that I love. I’m about to get married, and the biggest thing about getting married is that it means you’re going to share your life with someone. But how do you share your life with someone when it’s already full of junk? You have to dig it out and throw it away. You have to prepare a space for them to be in your life. And really, everything else in your life needs to fit around them – if something is going to conflict with your marriage relationship, then it needs to go, that’s how important marriage should be!

And here’s how this all ties into the birth of Jesus. That last little line of Luke 2:7 – she “laid him in a manger, because there was no room for them in the inn.”

Back in the 1300’s there was a guy named Thomas a Kempis, and he said Christ will come to you, and impart his consolations to you, if you prepare a worthy dwelling for Him in your heart.” He was pointing out that we let so much junk into our hearts that it crowds out Jesus. We need to clean house so to speak.

Jesus wants to make his dwelling in our hearts, he wants to be with us, and he wants to be in a relationship with us that is deeper than any marriage. But we walk around with entirely too much junk in our hearts and we don’t take the time to prepare a place for him. Like the people of Bethlehem, there’s often just no room for Jesus in our hearts.

So this Christmas, take the time and energy to prepare a place for Jesus in your heart, and get rid of some of the junk that’s crowding him out!

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Food Fast

Anybody who knows me will probably think the title of this post means I want some food and I want it now.  But the truth is - I've just come off of a 4 day fast from solid food.  I know that when you fast for spiritual reasons, you're not supposed to tell everybody and be a starving martyr.  But I'd like to explore some important issues - related to eating - surrounding this event for me.  

This is the second fast I've done in the past year.  The last one was for 7 days.  If I've ever done any fasting before these, I don't remember it and it definitely wasn't for more than a day or two.  My fast was a liquid one.  I allowed myself to have any liquids such as water, milk, juice, coffee, Coke Zero, and sweet tea.  I minimized any sugar, caffeine or alcohol intake.  I had a glass of juice in place of a meal.  I had chicken broth, tomato soup or a protein drink for 1 meal - usually dinner - to keep some nutrition up.  

Here's some observations:  Many times I wanted to eat, but wasn't really that hungry.  One thing this points out to me, which I am well aware of already, is that I want to eat whether I'm hungry or not.  Sure, I 'feel' hungry when it's meal time or food's cooking, but that seems to mostly be a result of my desire to eat, not actual hunger.  The fact that I am accumulating weight over the years means I am taking on more calories than I need.  True hunger is not a reality for me.  The desire to taste and chew on food is.  I point out those 2 aspects of eating because I think those are the primary drivers.  My main goal isn't to make my stomach stop growling, or make it feel full.  My main goal is to enjoy the experience of eating, which is experienced through taste and texture.  This is the idea behind 'diet' foods and drinks.  They give us (close to) the flavor and texture, things we really want, plus the physical sensation of eating, without the calories (or at least as many).

My primary goal is spiritual development through fasting.  But I also hope that, through these fasting experiences, I can learn a couple of life-long lessons about eating. 
1)  I NEED far less food, on a daily basis, than I consume.  The human body is amazingly economical with calories.  For proof, just observe the number of calories you have expended on a device that tracks them, such as a treadmill, after nearly killing yourself from exhaustion - 300? - that's a single cheeseburger at McD's.  I never get less than a double.
Even their GRILLED chicken club is double that.
And 2), I CAN control my urges to ingest calories.

Interestingly, it actually seems a bit easier to do when I have 'set' my mind and KNOW I can't have anything.

One of the things I, and many others, have said regarding dieting, is that you need to be careful about dramatically reducing your calories because of the slow-down your metabolism would experience.  I'm beginning to think that's an excuse.  There is some truth to it, but the end result of that kind of thinking for me is little to no reduction in consumed calories in the interest of keeping my metabolism up.  And the main reason I want to keep my metabolism up is so I can consume the maximum amount of calories.  The thinking is all wrong.

What are your thoughts or tips on this topic?
It's a big one, especially this time of year, that resonates with a lot of people.
The multi-billion dollar diet and exercise industry can attest to that.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Generate Good

Today we're going to contemplate the mystical and powerful realm of DNA, chromosomes and genetics.  

It's well-known that there exists within all of us genetic predispositions.  Usually, these are talked about medically as causing us to have a higher likelihood of heart disease, cancer, high cholesterol, and other health-related problems.  Problems we can't specifically control (except possibly through medications for some).  There are factors we can control, but the ones we can't are the genetic ones.  We get it from our parents and there's nothing we can do about it.

However, there is a growing body of evidence to suggest that certain behaviors have a genetic component.  Alcoholism is one such behavior.  Or is it a disease?  A study in Sweden followed alcohol use in twins who were adopted as children and reared apart. The incidence of alcoholism was slightly higher among people who were exposed to alcoholism only through their adoptive families. However, it was dramatically higher among the twins whose biological fathers were alcoholics, regardless of the presence of alcoholism in their adoptive families.  What caused this?  Was it a genetic abnormality that helped cause the alcoholism?  Or is it possible that the excessive consumption of alcohol altered the genes of the biological parents, which in turn were passed on to the kids?  This is one of those 'which came first' type questions.  I saw a study once that claimed to show there were differences between the brains of homosexuals as compared to the brains of heterosexuals.  The point trying to be made was that people are born gay (an argument I don't see the need to get involved with).  But what if gay behavior caused the brain difference?  What about taking drugs?  Legal and illegal.  If alcohol can do it, surely drugs could.  
What about behaviors that affect brain chemistry like gambling and pornography?  

Can you change your genetics for the worse?  

Obviously, our behavior affects our kids in that we are training them by example.  And that, itself, can be passed on through generations.  But if you can alter your genetics by behavior, what kind of responsibility does that place on us?  

In Exodus 20, while giving the 10 commandments, God says:
I, the Lord your God, am a jealous God who will not tolerate your affection for any other gods.  I lay the sins of the parents upon their children; the entire family is affected—even children in the third and fourth generations of those who reject me.  But I lavish unfailing love for a thousand generations on those who love me and obey my commands.

Later, in the New Testament, the disciples asked Jesus about a man blind from birth.  Was this situation because of the man's sin, or the sin of his parents?  Jesus answered neither, at least in this case.  But the disciples saw a strong connection between sin and effect, even to the children of the sinner.

How could it be fair to punish the children for the sins of the parents?  I like the unfailing love part in Exodus 20, but what is this 'affect' for the entire family and generations to come?
Is it a learned behavior?  Genetics?

And if we can alter our genes for bad, what about for good?
Could it be possible to improve our genetic makeup through good behavior?

We can, at a minimum, recognize the role of example and behavior in affecting generations.  But if there is any validity to this idea of genetic alteration, the stakes have been raised to a whole new level.

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Wonderful Incarnation Day

Hello frosty December!  I've heard a lot said about how Christians need to be sure to say 'Merry Christmas' this time of year instead of the heretical 'Happy Holidays'.  After all, the heathen Baal-worshippers said that I guess.  I am glad to use the word Christmas, or Christ, whenever I can.  But when you think about it, who says 'merry' anymore.  The only time that word is used, other than in Merry Christmas, is when someone quotes Shakespeare, or KJV, by saying 'eat, drink and be merry'.  So it's an archaic word.  Kind of like singing My Old Kentucky Home, where some group of people are 'gay', oh yeah, that was 'darkies' who were gay.  Another word that has mercifully been removed from current language.  By the way, what homosexual genius thought 'gay' would would work nicely as a descriptor for sexual orientation?   

Anyway, I guess Happy Christmas, or Joyful Christmas doesn't have the same ring to it.  
And there is an old-time nostalgia to the perennial greeting of Merry Christmas.  But if I, as a self-avowed and practicing Christian, find the debate over saying Merry Christmas a little silly, how do you think all the non-Christians find it?  I'd file this under 'Pick your battles wisely'.

Wonderful Incarnation Day to you all.

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Is the Glass Half Empty or Half Full?


This whole past week I've had blessings on the mind. Preparing for a sermon for the weekend after thanksgiving will do that to you I guess. Anyways, looking at all the blessings we have as Christians and as Americans I was overwhelmed with the question of how we look at the glass of our life - is it half full or half empty with God's blessing?

I mean we live in America, where we stuff ourselves with turkey and call it a holiday. We have stores who compete against each other to open just that little bit earlier so everyone can rush in to shop for black Friday on the day before (Gray Thursday?). We even have commercials of crazy middle-aged women who apparently had a bad experience last year shopping and are convinced they need to condition like someone competing in the Iron Man so they don't pull a muscle this year and miss out on all the deals (here's looking at you Target).

Don't get me wrong I'm all for getting good deals and making the most of our money as God's stewards. But seriously, in America we're conditioned to ask the wrong questions. Is my glass half empty or half full? I think if we as Christians see our glass as anything other than overflowing, we're looking at it from the wrong perspective. God has blessed us immeasurably with Jesus' sacrificial and saving love on the cross. Everything else is icing on the cake, and he wants us to share the cake with others. Our lives should be so filled with Christ's love that we're literally overflowing with it!

So, what's your glass look like this Thanksgiving?

Friday, November 25, 2011

The Reason

Stephen R Covey has been credited with the saying "The main thing is to keep the main thing the main thing." While not necessarily even religious in nature, I find this statement to be particularly true when describing one's Christian walk. Perhaps moreso at this time of year than any other, when the world seeks to distract us with doorbuster sales and lit-up houses and flying reindeer and sugarplum fairies and fat men in red suits.

How do YOU keep the main thing the main thing during this time of year? Do you have any special traditions that keep the focus on Christ during the Christmas season?

One thing I've done in years past, and that I'm doing again this year, is to listen to nothing but Christmas music from Thanksgiving until Christmas. I listen to music like a fish drinks water. All day long at work, in the car, at home. A lot. All of that is going to be Christmas music for the next month.

Understand, also, that when I say "Christmas music", I'm talking about songs and carols that herald the birth of my savior Jesus Christ. I'm not talking about "holiday music" that sings of Rudolph or jingling bells or chestnuts roasting over an open fire. At best, those songs remind me of my more selfish years when I thought that Christmas was all about me and scoring as many great toys as possible. At worst, those songs actively irritate me, as they attempt, and succeed, at ripping the focus of the season away from The Main Thing.

On my morning commute today, I had tears in my eyes as I heartily sang "Joy To the World" in my car along with Third Day. It was wonderful. I look forward to another month's worth of celebrating Jesus' birth. How about you?

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

GrAttitude

Excerpt from the First National Proclamation of Thanksgiving given by the Continental Congress in 1777:

It is therefore recommended to the legislative or executive Powers of these UNITED STATES to set apart THURSDAY, the eighteenth Day of December next, for SOLEMN THANKSGIVING and PRAISE: That at one Time and with one Voice, the good People may express the grateful Feelings of their Hearts, and consecrate themselves to the Service of their Divine Benefactor; and that, together with their sincere Acknowledgments and Offerings, they may join the penitent Confession of their manifold Sins, whereby they had forfeited every Favor; and their humble and earnest Supplication that it may please GOD through the Merits of JESUS CHRIST, mercifully to forgive and blot them out of Remembrance;...

Can you imagine Congress making such a statement today? 
Mentioning Jesus by name?  Shocking!


One of the reasons that I like holidays (a word derived from the phrase Holy Days) like Thanksgiving, Christmas and Easter is that it gives us an opportunity to stop, reflect and celebrate what God has done.  The Jewish people of the Old Testament certainly understood this principle.  
They took Holy Days very seriously and spent weeks at a time on some of them.  
Even weddings were extended celebrations.  
We are missing that in our modern culture.


Unfortunately, I think many of us don't stop.  We actually ramp up into higher gear.  Guests coming over, visiting relatives, dinners to cook, houses to clean, games to watch, presents to buy, etc.  The purpose of the holiday gets lost, stress increases, relationships strain.  Been there?  The only reflecting going on is about how to get home as quickly as possible.  Celebration?  Maybe a nap.


Take this as a reminder, which I think we need to hear every true Holy Day celebration, to pause from activity, truly reflect on the meaning behind the day, put aside differences (you can always be mad at Uncle Joe next week), put effort into bonding rather than repelling each other, and give God the gratitude and honor He is due.


Onward and upward.

Monday, November 21, 2011

Speed of Life


Refine your perception filter.
Slow the speed of life.
Reframe your daily experiences. 

These are the 3 things advocated by the writer of today's AoM blog.  
He claims the third one is the biggest problem for men today, but I think the second is.  At any rate, I'd like to explore that idea a little bit.  

Under the heading 'The deceleration of the speed of life', the writer says the following:


In a modern world, your life is allowed to move at whichever speed you choose for it. And the predominant setting for most men is “fast,” so you’re likely to default there without consciously deciding on it.  But once you’ve adjusted your perception filter to take in more of life, fast becomes incompatible with your new settings. Fast results in information overload and makes it nearly impossible to choose and analyze the most important micro life events that will allow you to make the progress you want.


When you drive through a city, how much detail do you notice? If you were to travel back through on a bicycle, what might you see then? And if you took the whole day and simply walked across it, what kind of relationship would you build with that place that would have been impossible from a car?


The goal now is to place the emphasis of your actions on “effective” over “efficient.” You must give yourself the opportunity to see the right pieces of life to be worked on. When you move slowly, this is easy to do. But if you move too quickly, it’s very difficult because the temptation to “just get things done” becomes more and more pervasive.


In practical terms, this may mean removing yourself from regular social habits and replacing them with solitude where you can reflect on your day. Or it might mean refusing an extra task at work so that you can give your full attention to the project that’s most important to your success.


When life slows down, improvement speeds up.

 The writer seems to be focusing on work tasks but I think this concept applies in all areas of life.  I definitely see the pace of life as being one of the most detrimental factors in a person's life these days.  We all experience it.  We're too busy.  And the things we're too busy for are usually the important things.  Time with our spouse, time with each of our kids, time with God and His Word, time for exercise, time to help someone out that needs a hand, time to rest, time to think, and on and on.  We let our pace of life control us instead of the reverse.  How many times have you heard someone say 'I know I need to do 'X', but....(insert flimsy excuse) and you think - but can't you see that 'X' is more important than most of what you DO spend your time doing?
Maybe we don't say that out loud because we know we're doing it too. 

Solitude is one of the spiritual disciplines.  One of the best and easiest to read books I've seen on spiritual disciplines is The Life You Always Wanted by John Ortberg.  In  there, he talks about the importance of Solitude.  Solitude is necessary, but it's a lost art/science these days.  It's unheard of.  And if you  took a day, or a weekend, to periodically achieve it - people would wonder what in the world is wrong with you.  So we keep up the relentless pace.  Another book related to this topic is Margin: Restoring Emotional, Physical, Financial, and Time Reserves to Overloaded Lives by Richard Swenson.  I haven't read this book, but I fully agree with his view that there is not only a lack of margins in our lives, but we are many times overextended beyond our limits.  

Do you find time to slow down and meditate/contemplate/rejuvenate on any kind of regular basis?  Are you paying a daily price for not doing it?

Related:  Time Matrix

Trouble Commenting Part 2

I'm still hearing stories of people having trouble commenting.  Until I move this to a new site, I recommend the following:  prior to attempting to make a comment, simply type a test word or phrase (like 'test') and see if it appears as a comment.  If it doesn't, you need to sign in a different way until you can get some kind of comment to appear.  You or I can always delete any 'test' comments.  Sometimes 'anonymous' works and sometimes it doesn't.  I think the most effective way to make comments is to have a gmail account.  It's easy to sign up for through the google home page.  Select Mail from the header and make up a user name and password.  You don't even have to ever use the account for email.  I'll be looking at moving to WordPress during the holidays.  Thanks for all your comments, we don't want to miss any of them.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Civil War

Do you have a split personality?  
Are you schizophrenic?  
One of the definitions of schizophrenia in dictionary.com is: a state characterized by the coexistence of contradictory or incompatible elements. 
 
Does that describe you?

Paul, in Romans 7 describes a heated battle going on right inside of himself.  He describes a dilemma in which he wants to do good but can't.  He doesn't want to do wrong, but does it anyway.  He says there is a power within him that is at war with his mind.  It's sin.  
We also call it the 'natural man' or the 'flesh'.
Paul's description of his struggle is so bleak that some have concluded he wrote these words prior to being converted.  I don't think so.
Have you noticed the same struggle going on within you?  Do you ever ask yourself, "why did I do that again"?  Can't I ever get that right?  God must be mad at me, I'm always failing.

How should we deal with this struggle?  Just keep trying to be good?  
Is there honor in the never-ending struggle?  If you didn't care, there would be no struggle.

Also, who is the real me?
Is the real me the 'spiritual me'?  Or is the real me the 'natural me'. Or are they both me?

I tend to think in terms of the real me being the natural me.  It's the part that wants it's own way, is selfish and prideful, dislikes the things of God.  That was me prior to salvation.  Is it still me?  
2 Corinthians 5:17 says I'm a new creature and the old has passed away.  
But I find old desires still present.  Am I a new creature or some kind of hybrid?  Old and new?

In Galatians 6, Paul is writing to Christians.  In vs. 8 he says: Whoever sows to please the flesh will reap destruction, whoever sows to please the Spirit will reap eternal life.  
As a saved Christian, can I sow destruction for myself?

Also related:  What is my standing before God as a Christian who sins?
I've heard it said, and repeated, that Christ died for ALL of my sins.  That includes past, present and future sins.  Others contend that while my salvation is secure, since I still sin I'm in need of forgiveness from those sins.  Ongoing sin is not forgiven.  What is this difference between sin that is forgiven and allows me entrance into heaven and sin that does affect me?  
And how does it affect me?

A lot to think about.  

I think a useful model may be one where you consider your 'natural man' as getting fed all the time from the world, culture and selfish actions.  He's always pretty strong.  The 'spiritual man' needs to be fed and exercised also.  We do this by reading the Word (eating, man does not live by bread alone), doing what it says or applying what we've learned (exercising), and by prayer.  It would be important to keep the spiritual man as healthy as possible in order to be able to effectively combat the enemy within - whatever you call him and whoever he is.
 



Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Insult To Injury

We are going through the book of Romans in class currently.  This past Sunday we began to cover chapter 14.  In that chapter, Paul discusses and contrasts 'stronger' and 'weaker' brothers, freedom and not abusing that freedom, offending and being offended.  
Very interesting stuff.  

Personally, I don't have any problem with the part where we are NOT to look down on others for how they believe they should live their life.  The difficult part for me is this idea of adjusting my life to what is acceptable to others.  It seems to me that it would be very fair to live and let live.  I won't judge you on matters that are 'disputable' or non-essential to being a christian, and you afford me the same respect.  
But that's not what it says.  
Paul states in vs. 15 that I'm not acting in love if I 'distress' my brother with what I'm doing.  He goes on to say that I shouldn't let that which I know is good be spoken about as evil.  Hmmm.  
Vs. 20 - 21 talk about not causing another to stumble or fall.  
So let me get this straight.
I can, by exercising my own legitimate freedom, cause another person to fall because they erroneously believe that what I'm doing is wrong?  Maybe they see me doing what they consider wrong, and are influenced to do the same, which results in their conscience convicting them.  I don't even like to use the word 'conviction' in this context.  I think 'guilt' would be more accurate, and inappropriate guilt at that.  (We can discuss later whether feelings of guilt are ever good)  However, vs. 23 warns that if you have doubts about what you are doing, and go ahead and do it, you're sinning. 

A point was raised that we always, or often, think of ourselves as the 'stronger' brother having to put up with that poor weakling brother.  So maybe I'm just plain wrong, and the one I consider 'weak' is the right one?  Yet, in the context of Romans 14, the stronger brother is the one who doesn't look down on, or condemn, his brother for what he does in these matters.  
By definition, the weaker brother is the one who is offended.

Another point was made that the 'stronger' brother would be the one who gives preference to the one who insists that his way is right.  That seems legit.

I'm no expert on this matter, and I don't have a tidy summary/conclusion.
I'm asking questions.
I hope I haven't offended anyone.

Friday, November 11, 2011

Off To The Races


Is racism alive and well in America in the 21st century?  I think most people would say yes.  Obviously it's not doing as well as it was in the mid-20th century and before.  There are many that would point to a black president as the end of widespread racism in America.  And I do think there's some validity to that point.  But there are still underlying currents of it that show themselves every now and then - in the news, at work, with your friends or acquaintances.

Maybe in our very selves.  

Are you a racist?  At least a little bit?  I think it's possible that racism of some degree is as inescapable as cliques and social hierarchies.  If we dig down deep, do we find that there is a natural aversion to anything that is 'other' or different than our selves.  And if so, then it is perpetuated on both sides.  

I wrote a post recently entitled Politically Correct and out of that came comments regarding the 'PC-ness' of using the term 'African-american' instead of 'black'. It's a sensitive subject - on both sides.  Why does it seem that these topics are somewhat 'taboo' in 'mixed' company?  How do we make progress on this important issue?  I think one way is by having open communication, which is what I'm trying to do here.  The problem is, as I mentioned on the PC post, is that I don't think there are any black readers.  So can we truly have a meaningful dialogue with only one race represented?  I invited a black person, whom I've had these types of discussions with in the past, to view and comment on the PC post.  If they viewed it, they didn't comment.  So, how do we do it?  

A problem with racism is that it lumps people into groups.  It takes the individual out of the picture.  If I have predetermined stereotypes about a race, those will reflect onto the individual and 'color' my attitude and actions.  I hate it when someone tries to tell me about how bad a certain person is before I meet them.  The majority of the time I find that I don't have any problems with that individual, as long as I went in with a clean slate and interacted with that person as though I didn't expect there to be an issue.  It can be a self-fulfilling prophecy.  I'm sure that when we enter in to any kind of relationship with someone expecting there to be problems, that's what we'll get.  The other person will pick up on it and begin thinking the exact same kind of negative thoughts about you.  They will then interact with you just like you 'knew' they were going to do.  A recipe for disaster.

What about the issue of profiling?  If Muslims are the main perpetrators of terror, shouldn't the police pay special attention to those 'types' of people?  Is that racist?  I know doctors who have been detained because of their nationality or name.  Is that fair?  According to Wikipedia, 70% of the prison population is non-white.  Does that mean whites are better people, or that the system is biased, or that social and cultural elements have non-whites at a disadvantage?  

The answer you get probably depends on who you ask, and their own personal bias.





Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Age Discriminations

In a popular Brad Paisley song called I'm Still a Guy, Brad sings, 'I don't highlight my hair, I've still got a pair.  Yeah honey, I'm still a guy'.  Which led me to think about (now that I'm approaching 50 in the next few - very few - years) the difference between highlighting and hair coloring.  One is strictly an attempt at beautification, the other is an attempt at defying age.  
A small difference maybe.  

Obviously many guys feel the compulsion to keep that virile look going by turning their gray hair to dark via one of the popular men's hair products such as Grecian Formula.  It may be partially pride, it may be partially effective marketing strategy, it may be that their wife wants them to.  

I would wager that those of us who are going gray would say that we don't care as much about the color as the presence of hair.  Especially when you can rock the gray like ol' Gandalf here.  Of course, many times going gray and balding go hand-in-hand.  Same type of problem.  Age related.  Cosmetic and superficial really.  The average U.S. consumer spent $616 on personal beauty care in 2008, according to data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics.  If there was even 100 million 'consumers', that would come to over 60 billion dollars.  I know that 'beauty care' covers a lot more than hair coloring, but by comparison, less than 2 billion was spent on all types of cancer research that same year (according to the National Cancer Institute).  Gotta have priorities I guess.  

Going gray can be a distinguished look.  It's also probably the single most visible sign of age.  You can be young and fat, but you're not too likely to be young and gray.  
Proverbs 16:31 says:  Gray hair is a crown of glory; it is gained by living a godly life.
There's also a Greek proverb that goes, 'Gray hair is a sign of age, not wisdom'.

Monday, October 17, 2011

Birthdays

With the advent of  yet another birthday right around the corner, and considering what I would do on that day, I wondered the following:  
When did the custom of celebrating birthdays begin?  
And - What's the point of celebrating your birthday?  

I know many of you are probably saying:  What?  
Of course it's a good thing.  
Nobody better forget my birthday.  

I recall that when my birthday came around in my younger days I was very excited about it.  Just the fact that we were in the month of October was enough reason to celebrate.  Nowadays, it's still nice, but definitely less exciting as I near 50.  Still, what should my attitude be about my own birthday?  Did I accomplish something by living one more year.  Many times I have semi-sarcastically congratulated co-workers in their birthday card for making it another year.  

What should the occasion of another year of life completed entail?
It's nice to have your birthday remembered, to have people honor your birth and show their appreciation of you.  But what should it mean personally?

My work used to give a day off for birthdays.  They stopped that perk a few years back, but I still (usually) take the day off anyway.  Partially to passively protest losing that benefit, but mostly to have time to reflect on another year in the books.  What did I accomplish?  What do I need to accomplish?  I think there is a benefit to this kind of Self Examination.  It allows you a moment to assess where you're at and think about where you need to be.  Not that you can't do that on any other day.  But an anniversary like a birthday seems a very appropriate time to pause and consider just those kinds of things. 

Don't misunderstand - I'll still eat cake and accept presents too.