Friday, July 18, 2008

Heaven Has No Lost Opportunities

At the moment, I'm surrounded by change. I'm moving, friends are leaving, and oh, yes, by the way, my wedding is around the corner.

Life is change. Anyone who says otherwise is selling something.

Every day is a passing opportunity. One less Halo match that can be played with friends. One less chance to see the world. One less chance to share a kind word with a friend. (I suppose it's also good - one less chance to disrespect one's friends, but I never keep count that way.) One less day to be young.

Heaven won't be like that. There will always be one more day to beat my friends at Halo, or travel the fjords in Norway, or surprise a long-time friend. In fact, I'll know everyone, eventually. My memory better improve, though, because I'm not very good with billions of names. A thousand or so is about my limit.

It's strange. I hate change, and yet it really helps me reflect on what is important to me: What am I trying to accomplish in life? What opportunities do I have now that won't later?

Monday, June 23, 2008

Financial Stewardship (Conc.)

Well, the saga on finding housing is theoretically concluded (pending, of course, the whole problem that who knows what tomorrow may bring.) The kind leasing office called and offered us an apartment with all the features we wanted at the expected price starting July 1st.

Assuming that we don't hate it when we get the tour, we then get to sign a lease.

I've decided that wedding planning is very, very good for my learning not to worry about tomorrow. It makes me realize just how quickly my mind jumps to worrying about that next thing, and how quickly I let that wreck my contentment. I'm glad to mostly have the whole apartment bit wrapped up and find other ways to practice trusting God - like that logistics like beverages and music will get taken care of at the wedding. But at the moment I'm just appreciative that housing looks like it will work out the way I wanted and that my fiancee and I won't be madly scrambling to find somewhere else.

Monday, June 16, 2008

A Moment of Loss

A few weeks ago, a friend of mine died when Jesus called her home. She handled sticky situations with a pluckiness and grace that made me think "I'd like to sit down with her and hear her perspective and how God has worked in her life through these times." Now that conversation will have to wait for heaven.

I've been surprised by how painful her passing was for how little I knew her. I don't have anything particularly profound to say, but here's some of what's been on my heart.
  • This life isn't fair. It hurts. My political science professor once said (roughly) this:
    "In America, we put most of our effort into putting padding and cushions on the hard edges of life. But we can't always succeed, and periodically we hurt ourselves on life's hard edges."
    Even in America with our technology and wealth, we aren't completely immune to the sorrows of life. Or as a pirate put it:
    "Life is pain, Highness. Anyone who says differently is selling something."
  • Death puts life in perspective: It will end for each of us, perhaps much sooner than I expect. I'm very glad that my friend knew Jesus and trusted in him alone for forgiveness so that I will see her again someday. But not all of my friends and acquaintances have that connection, and I'm way too good at letting the details of life blur that overarching thesis. As Jesus once said,
    "What good will it be for a man if he gains the whole world, yet forfeits his soul? Or what can a man give in exchange for his soul?"
    If I care about people, shouldn't that concern be on the forefront of my mind? (Corollary: If I care about people, I'll find a winsome approach. While a few people may be won over by harsh angry statements almost gleefully attacking them and everything they care about, I'll remember that few salesmen -- or even politicians -- use that approach successfully. Furthermore, enough reported Christians use such methods that those who are won over by such methods probably become devout followers regardless of my approach.)
  • I think one reason I struggle finding heaven soothing is because it seems so impersonal to me. I'm reminded of the story (retold here)
    A little girl woke up with a bad dream. Her mother attempted to comfort her by reminding her that there was nothing to be afraid of because God was with her. The young girl replied, "Oh, I know God is with me, but I need someone with some skin!"
    I'm struck that I'm a lot like that girl, especially about heaven: I tend to view heaven along the lines of Paul's description about God as "the King eternal, immortal, invisible." The imagery conveys power and majesty, but not warmth and intimacy. And Jesus, while human, is still unseen and not skin here and now. And while I miss the people I know who are in heaven, they provide a sense of skin to it that is very encouraging to me.
  • Resume builders are rarely great accomplishments. Among my thoughts at my friend's memorial was "Wow, she did a lot. I wonder if I've done that much?" (This thought was spurred on by a collage about what she'd done during her life.) But as people spoke about her life, most of them talked about aspects that weren't well communicated by the display. Compassionate, merciful, or sacrificial aren't qualities that go well on a resume or collage. But I'd venture a guess that most of us were at the memorial because of her person, not her accomplishments.
  • Corollary: Man looks at the outward appearance. I've been contemplating the story of Samuel anointing David for a few weeks. One for haunting aspects of the story to me is that Samuel -- God's prophet for many years by this point -- goes to anoint one of Jesse's sons. He sees the first one who is tall and handsome and thinks "Surely this is the one that God is going to pick." And God says "Nope, man looks at outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart." And I think: How did Samuel -- aka Mr. Spiritual Dude -- miss this point? I mean, he's been walking with God for years, and yet he makes what seems like such an elementary mistake by judging by appearance.
  • Random rant: I saw recently that Jim Webb (the senator) has a book out titled A Time to Fight: Reclaiming a Fair and Just America. Now I'm all for justice and fairness -- preferably tinged with mercy, but when on earth was America fair and just? I'm grateful for the freedoms and blessings that America offers, but our history is dotted examples of injustice such as slavery, McCarthyism, the labor abuses leading to unions, treatment of native Americans, and so on. Now America has also done many good and charitable deeds, but I'm dubious that just and fair describes America at any point in our history.

Sunday, June 01, 2008

Too Funny

This sample mission fund raising letter is way to funny if one has ever dealt with, well, mission fund raising letters. If one hasn't, then, well, I don't know. It still might be funny.

I wonder if my church would ever have audacity to use it.

Sunday, May 25, 2008

Cool or Outcast

Today I've been pondering how I should expect to be received as a Christian. On the one hand, there are quotes like these:
"A student is not above his teacher, nor a servant above his master. It is enough for the student to be like his teacher, and the servant like his master. If the head of the house has been called Beelzebub, how much more the members of his household!"
"If the world hates you, keep in mind that it hated me first. If you belonged to the world, it would love you as its own. As it is, you do not belong to the world, but I have chosen you out of the world. That is why the world hates you. Remember the words I spoke to you: 'No servant is greater than his master.' If they persecuted me, they will persecute you also." -- Jesus
"In fact, everyone who wants to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted, while evil men and impostors will go from bad to worse, deceiving and being deceived." -- St. Paul
And for me (and many other Christians, I fear), it's all too easy to be a righteous martyr, gleefully suffering as others persecute me for my 'righteousness'. Other food for thought:
  • Jesus was often invited to parties, including many thrown by the Pharisees.
  • Many people came to see and listen to him. He attracted a crowd.
  • People (usually) liked hearing Paul speak. The Roman leaders, the Athenian philosophers, and many synagogues were willing to hear him out.
  • Or as St. Peter says "Who is going to harm you if you are eager to do good?"
There's a strange paradox in all of this. People are both drawn to truth and mercy -- and repelled by it. According to Jesus, even the pagans repay kindness with kindness (and thus the mark of a Christian is to do good to those can't repayl). And yet Christians will be persecuted despite doing good.

My suspicion is that often Christians are attacked because we don't reflect a compassionately humble and sinful person who is deeply grateful that God has reached out to him and offered the gift of life. I mean, what fun is that? I mean, try proclaiming "What a great person I am! I was such a jerk -- I kicked kittens, cut people off on highways, and e-mailed spam, but God was generous to me anyway." It isn't a very spiritual line, though one might get a few laughs if properly delivered. But it's easy to feel superior through false martyrdom -- and a whole lot more pleasant than acknowledging that I'm a world class jerk.

Perhaps Peter sums it best:
"If you suffer, it should not be as a murderer or thief or any other kind of criminal, or even as a meddler. However, if you suffer as a Christian, do not be ashamed, but praise God that you bear that name." -- St. Peter

Saturday, May 17, 2008

Justice, Blind or Otherwise

So lately I've been thinking about the biblical emphasis on justice (yes, my liberal friends will be so proud of me) and whether or not I have any clue what justice is (my liberal friends may be starting to get a little worried about where this post is going).

For example, people have started using YouTube to tell their stories (good) but it also opens the door to malicious slander. What's the appropriate punishment?

A woman impersonated a teenage guy on MySpace to get to know a neighborhood girl. The "guy" then harshly romantically rejected the girl who struggled with chronic depression. She shortly thereafter committed suicide. Reports state the woman was recently charged under Federal laws for hacking because she lied about her identity on MySpace after local officials couldn't find any applicable law to charge her. (No claim made that news/internet reports represent the truth, or even a vague facsimile of it.) What is justice here?

Hebrew law is mostly case-law:
"When you build a new house, make a parapet around your roof so that you may not bring the guilt of bloodshed on your house if someone falls from the roof." [Deut. 22:8]
And then it was up to the judge to determine if the law applied to a particular case. In America, that same law would be epic novel.
  • What qualifies as a house?
  • What if I build an office building?
  • Or a doghouse?
  • Or a tree house?
  • Does the law apply if I build a swimming pool? If the swimming pool is on the roof, does it need a parapet around it, or does the law only apply to death by falling?
  • Am I required to build a parapet if I buy a house without one?
  • Am I guilty if I build a 1' parapet and someone falls off?
  • What I don't child-proof my parapet and then a child squeezes through and dies?
I'm still pondering justice a lot. But two quick thoughts:
  1. I view justice as "Was the law correctly applied?" (e.g. innocent people not imprisoned) rather "What is a just punishment for the crime?"
  2. Material injustice (theft, vandalism) is much easier to settle than emotional injustice. Many of the troubling cases involve emotional injustice, not material injustice.
  3. I ought to study the Hebrew laws again. Especially that long list in Leviticus that I usually fall asleep on.