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, 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.