Monthly Archives: February 2015
The high priests of atheism would have us believe that we should not fear the end of life because death simply means shutting off the switch. (Ironically their message frightens me.) Modern day philosopher Stephen Cave believes that being afraid of being dead, or of what’s on the other side, is irrational. He points out that we are not good at imagining ceasing to exist. Cave finds it helpful to think of life as a book with a beginning and end where the characters within know no horizons. They only know the moments that make up their story, even when the book is shut. As a result, the characters are not afraid of reaching the last page. Cave believes this is how we should view life: as the moments in between. He says it makes no sense to fear what’s outside the covers of our book. In Cave’s worldview, the only thing that matters is that we make our life a good story.
What is my opinion of Cave’s metaphor for life? Well, if making our life a good story is the only thing that matters, who is going to read our story and love the characters within after we die and our book is closed and placed on the shelf? If no one, other than a handful of surviving friends and family members, is going to remember our story for a brief time after our book is closed, why does it matter if our story is good or not? Also, what if our individual stories are not books in and of themselves? In other words, what if each person’s life story is like a chapter in a much larger story? Our stories, though potentially powerful, are not enough by themselves to justify our existence. If our story is to have any value greater than a vanishing mist, there must be a transcendent purpose for our story plus a reader who is invested in us and our story. Only God can bestow transcendent purpose to our life stories. The universe does not bestow transcendent or poetic purpose to our life story. The universe constrains us primarily to the purpose of survival and at best provides a forum for us to thrive for a brief span of time. The universe did not create us to love us forever. But God did.
Ecclesiastes 3:11 says God has planted eternity in the heart of humanity. People make a grave mistake when they deny the eternity of their soul. Why? Because denying the existence of our eternal soul does not make our soul finite. Our soul is either eternal or not. Either way, its existence does not depend on our belief or disbelief in its existence. Just because we can’t see our soul under a microscope does not mean it is not there. But if our soul exists and is eternal (and I believe it is), we must choose our eternity. One eternity is with God and the other eternity is without God. Denying the eternity of our soul does not eliminate the choice. In fact, denying the eternity of our soul IS a choice; it is the choice to spend eternity without God. On the other hand, don’t think a person who chooses eternity with God has an excuse to live a lame life in the here and now. In Matthew 18:18 Jesus says “Truly I tell you, whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.” In other words, the things we do in this life (our story) transcend this life in a mysterious way. Eternal heaven makes itself available to us in the here and now and beyond. Here’s the thing: Christ is the key to each person’s part in the story that transcends death. In order to choose eternity with God, we must believe Christ and that he is the only one who can give us the option of eternity with God. Christ is the right answer.
Attempts to explain away our life on earth as a mere story with a beginning and end can have tragic consequences, not only after death but also here on earth. I shudder to think how humanity (which is capable of unspeakable selfish evil) would eventually choose to live if everyone adopted the belief that there is no accountability after this life and the only thing that matters is making your life a good story, however you define it. How depressing to think of our lives as nothing more than tired old volumes of books collecting dust on the shelf of some cosmic library.
In the 70’s, Bruce Jenner was THE man! He was a golden boy athlete who won a gold medal in the decathlon at the 1976 Olympics. The decathlon consists of ten grueling track and field events. Athletes who train to compete in the decathlon must train their entire body and mind. Women adored Bruce, and men wanted to be like him. So what happened to Bruce? Why does he now want to join the women’s team, so to speak?
Does the Bible say anything about gender change? Not specifically as we think of gender change today. But it does say good will be called evil and evil will be called good (Isaiah 5:20). I believe this verse refers to more than issues of morality as in right versus wrong. It likely encompasses a variety of issues that our fallen world confuses in the human psyche. Male will be called female and female will be called male. Intolerance will be called tolerance and tolerance will be called intolerance. Data will be called metadata and metadata will be called data. Death will be called life and life will be called death.
Deuteronomy 23:1 says men were not supposed to emasculate themselves in Old Testament times. (I can’t comprehend such an act, though my neutered dog would say welcome to his world.) I assume Deuteronomy 23:1 still applies today as a warning against tinkering with our sexuality. Thanks to modern medicine, people can alter their sexual organs, but at their most basic level they remain what they were born in terms of gender. Or has science found a way to alter our chromosomes yet? In any case, attempts at gender change reflect a deviation from God’s architectural design for humanity. And what happens when builders deviate too much from the architect’s design? It can result in an unsafe structure which can result in tragedy.
Compassion is essential on this issue. It would be terrible to feel like a woman trapped in a man’s body, or vice versa. (I often feel like an old man trapped in an old man’s body.) The human mind is a complex organ subject to legions of internal and environmental influences, good and bad. Only God knows everything going on inside Bruce Jenner’s head. Granted, every patient has the right to give input into his or her treatment regimen. But in some situations it is best to ask God to heal what ails us, or at least let God help us manage what ails us. Here’s the thing: being an undeceived and fulfilled man or woman involves much more than a change of plumbing can accomplish. It requires a connection to truth, and truth is embodied in a person—Christ. If we strive to know Christ, the answers to many of the problems and ailments that vex us become clear.
For almost thirty years I struggled with not getting enough sleep at night. Oddly enough the duration of this ailment coincides with the number of years I’ve been married. Be that as it may, doctors have, over the years, attributed my condition to a variety of sources such as insomnia (duh!), depression, restless leg syndrome, generalized anxiety disorder, Melatonin deficiency, arthritis pain, poor sleeping environment, and sleep apnea.
As it turns out, my nose was waking me just enough to interrupt my sleep cycle throughout the night. It seems that inside our nasal passages are turbinates (Google “nasal turbinates” if you want more info) that can swell and block off our nasal airway. When this happened at night, it partially woke me up by making me gasp for air. Since the condition didn’t wake me all the way up, I had no idea I was waking up until my malevolent wife got around to mentioning that she had noticed that I partially awaken at night while gasping for breath. (Yeah, some days I do wonder: what’s the point of marriage?) One of the symptoms of this problem is this: when you lay on your right side at night, your right nasal passage gets blocked, and when you roll onto your left side, your left nasal passage eventually gets blocked while the right nasal passage opens up. Only a doctor can tell if your turbinates are large enough to warrant surgery.
To make a long story short, three weeks ago I had minor surgery to whittle down the size of the turbinates in my nose. It has helped improve the quality of my sleep significantly. In the years leading up to the surgery, I was aware of my constantly stuffed-up nasal passages during the day and upon waking in the morning. I used a variety of over-the-counter and prescription remedies. They helped some but were not a complete solution. Still, I thought my sleep problem must be due to something more serious than a chronically stuffy nose. By the way, my doctor did not catch this problem with my nose. I discovered it while doing research on sleep problems. My doctor confirmed that I had the problem when I brought it to his attention.
Sometimes the solution to our problem is right under our nose (sorry, I couldn’t help myself!). Occasionally, almost on a subconscious level, we know what the problem is. It feels like something in a shadow waiting to be fully illuminated. We glance at the problem and the solution from time to time, but we keep looking elsewhere for a different solution. I recently told a friend about my nasal symptoms and the solution that helped me sleep better. He has the same symptoms. He heard my words but I am skeptical that they registered in such a way that he will take action. He continues to suffer quite a bit with sleep issues. Perhaps he has to find his own way to the right solution.
This is often how it is with our spiritual life. We try this and we try that in our efforts to fix something wrong with our soul, or with our way of life, or with some drama in our life. But nothing seems to work. Then one day we stumble upon the right solution. (Either that or God gets fed-up with us and puts the solution directly in our path so we can’t ignore it.)The funny thing about some solutions is that they were there all along; we just didn’t think they were significant enough to heal what ailed us.
When I was a lad, some neighborhood associates and I would often gather in the summer for war games. The battlefield consisted of a three acre field behind our house. The field was covered with large mounds of dirt and sand deposited by a dump truck from a nearby construction company. I had built a tree fort that overlooked the field from our backyard. At the other end of the field, my friends had built an opposing tree fort. We would divide into two teams and attack ear other’s base of operations in our tree forts. Our armaments included dirt clod hand grenades, sling shots, and Daisy BB guns. My mother, on many occasions, had warned me that we could shoot an eye out with such weaponry. Had my father caught me and the other kids shooting BBs at each other, well, let’s just say I’d rather lose an eye than face those repercussions. Be that as it may, it was exciting to sit in the tree fort during the heat of battle and listen to BBs ricochet off the branches and walls of the fort.
One day, the opposing insurgents mounted a full frontal assault. The firefight was intense. With rocks and BBs whizzing by our heads, my team and I blazed away with our BB guns and sling shots at the opposing forces, which were advancing from behind one mound to the next. As they approached the outer perimeter of our defenses, I took aim at an enemy soldier as he sprinted across a short patch of open ground. Leading my target just right, I fired. The BB struck the enemy in the finger. The result was astounding. His scream began low and rose in pitch to decibels almost beyond the range of human ears. I found his caterwauling and gesticulations that followed to be very disconcerting. Needless to say, the battle came to an abrupt end. The other kids vanished like a fart in the wind. Fortunately, I was able to staunch the bleeding and dress the enemy soldier’s swollen appendage. Even more fortunately, I convinced him not to spill his guts about the incident. (We didn’t call it bullying back then, it was just survival of the fittest.)That’s when I realized mom was right—you really could shoot an eye out with a BB gun. (Apparently I was a slow learner.)
When I turned 18, the Vietnam War had recently ended. Naturally, I had paid close attention to news about the war in Vietnam (before the draft ended), and like most young men entering adulthood I became aware that real war is not glorious, romantic or fun. Hence, when the movie American Sniper came out, I was a bit reluctant to see it. But I went. And I’m glad I did. As I suspected, the movie was tough to watch in some places, and heartbreaking. It reminded me that as a nation at war, we have a moral obligation to collectively grieve with the families of our soldiers killed and maimed for doing what our country asks them to do. The movie reminded me what it costs our soldiers, physically, psychologically, and relationally when the public and our political leaders send them off to fight. It’s too easy for us to say yes to war and go on with our lives without much inconvenience. I understand we, as a nation, did not have many options but to fight this war against terror and extremists, but we need to be keenly aware that war costs more than dollars. Hopefully, such knowledge about the human impact will help us demand that our leaders find broader solutions, or change tactics, or do what it takes to win, or end the fighting as soon as appropriate without allowing the military industrial machine to rule the day. War is a complicated mess.
At the beginning of the movie, the main character, Chris Kyle, is a young boy getting instructions about life from his father. His father tells him there are three types of people in the world: sheep, wolves, and sheepdogs. Sheep don’t know how to protect themselves when they get attacked. The wolves are predators that attack the sheep. But the sheepdogs represent people who protect the sheep. Sheepdogs have the gift of aggression and can execute focused aggression when needed to protect the sheep. In my opinion, this is a fairly accurate representation of humanity. Sure, it’s a generality, but it works. Chris Kyle was a sheepdog. When he grew up and entered the military, his primary focus as a lethal sniper was to protect his fellow soldiers. That is what drove him.
I’ve found that, as Christians, we tend to believe we are all sheep. We hear of ourselves referred to as sheep in the Bible and from the pulpit. Don’t get me wrong, I understand that “sheep” are a metaphor for our relationship as human beings with the Good Shepherd, Christ. But not all people are actual sheep in terms of disposition. Some, unfortunately, are wolves. And some are people who have the nature of the sheepdog. I am thankful for the sheepdogs among us. Perhaps the church should help train them to be excellent sheepdogs. By the way, do you believe that followers of God should never be confrontational or aggressive? If so, take a look at 1 Samuel 17:1-52 where young David (who ironically, is a shepherd) kills the giant warrior Goliath. David was a shepherd AND a lethal sniper with his sling. We all know the story of how David dropped Goliath with a single stone to the head. David was a sheepdog who knew how and when to aggressively overcome evil. By slaying Goliath, David brought the conflict to a conclusion and saved the lives of many of Israel’s soldiers.
Here’s the thing: a sheepdog can serve in a role that is more suited to sheep, but the sheepdog will long to protect and serve in a more aggressive role and cause. Let’s encourage sheepdogs to use their skills and disposition in opposing evil in urgent problem areas such as human trafficking, abortion, poverty, hunger, domestic violence, homelessness, addiction, disease, government corruption … there are many causes that need sheepdogs helping out on the front line and advocating for the weak and vulnerable. Maybe our sheepdogs need to be police officers, or battlefield medics, or soldiers, or short-sale investors who root out and expose companies that have fraudulently manipulated their stock to an overvalued price (thinking outside the box). The opportunities are endless … as long as we don’t pigeon hole them into the role of sheep.
CAUTION: American Sniper contains plenty of f-bombs, some sexual innuendo (though no complete nudity), and fairly graphic wartime violence. Viewers with extreme sensitivity about violence towards children should probably not see this movie as there are a couple of scenes where children are harmed or killed.