lessons from my dog, part 2

I need to be less like my dog.

I envy her life. What does she do? She eats, sleeps, plays, runs, barks, urinates/defacates, and wags her tail. That's it. I look at her and think, "She's got it made. I wish I had life that easy."

But let's think about that for a second. What drives her? Nothing. Her desires are all she has. Instinct, and nothing more. Her body tells her what to do.

Isn't that precisely the perspective that God so vigorously decries? The appetites of the flesh, the love of the world -- these are the things we are to let go if we desire to follow Christ! Why do we idolize the lives of our pets? Our will, self-control, and capacity for rational thought set us apart.

We are much more than the sum of our appetites. But we certainly don't do a good job of acting that way. All we seem to be saying as a society is that we should do whatever we feel like.

To me, that seems the quickest way to... well... nothing at all.

And I don't know about you, but I want my life to mean something.

lessons from my dog

I need to learn from my dog. She can't stand to be anywhere but with her masters. But it's much more than keeping within eyesight. She has to be right in the middle of it all. She's most content in my lap. It doesn't matter whether or not I've just scolded her either. She is beyond loyal. Her example inspires me concerning my attitide toward God. Do I only want to sit in His lap when He is petting me? Or do I love Him after He scolds me?

Who would've thought I needed to be more like my dog?

the fight

So my wife says something very sweet and loving to me.
And then, sixty seconds later, she is infuriated with me about something else.

So we fight. But of course, she was right. And I was wrong. In her anger, she said something that cut to the bone.

But what she said about me was true. And I could not reply. It hurt, but the truth often does.

So, tomorrow morning, I will apologize again. And I will thank her for giving me a pill that was hard to swallow. Because I will have swallowed it, and I needed to. I will tell her I love her.

And she will say that she loves me, too -- faults and all.

After all, that's what marriage is. I will remember this fight very clearly, as raw as it is in my mind, when I perform a marriage ceremony this weekend. And I will love my wife more deeply. I will remember the vows I myself took as I watch a couple declare their love, for better or for worse.

And, at the request of the groom-to-be, I will declare to the witnesses there the promise of Habbakuk the prophet of God as seen at the end of the book by his name --

"Though the fig tree should not blossom, nor fruit be on the vines, the produce of the olive fail and the fields yield no food, the flock be cut off from the fold and there be no herd in the stalls, yet I will rejoice in the LORD; I will take joy in the God of my salvation. GOD, the Lord, is my strength; he makes my feet like the deer's; he makes me tread on my high places."
(Habakkuk 3:17-19 ESV)

And I will remember the words of Job: "We take the good days from God--why not also the bad days?" (Job 2:10, the Message)

God is here, even in times of anger or sadness. Perhaps He is more here then than in times of blessing and joy. And He has reminded me of how much I love my wife -- enough to ask her to stand by me, faults and all.

loving God

how do you love someone as ethereal as smoke?
someone as far from you as the stars?
someone bigger and grander than all the oceans?
someone who knows you more intimately than your own spouse?

the short answer is that you don't.
at least, not adequately.

but you notice Him loving you every moment, in every thing, and you love Him back, as best you can.

soli deo gloria
(to God alone be the glory)



Don't you just love God's paradoxes?

Our righteous deeds are like filthy rags. (Isaiah 64:6)
Faith without works is dead. (James 2:17)

Grace is free, (it is offered to all)
but not cheap. (you must give up your life)

For a branch to bear fruit,
it must be pruned (cut). (John 15:2)

Give God a tithe,
and you will have plenty. (Malachi 3:8)

God loves you (John 3:16)
no matter how much you hurt him. (Matthew 23:37)

less means more

How is it that when I give God my time, I seem to have more to give him? The same is true with money. Give to him first. Then there is more. Whoa.

I know it doesn't make sense, but it has happened to me on a consistent basis. To the skeptic I say, "You may argue with scripture, but it's hard to argue with real events in a real world."
It's happened to me. Money has come seemingly from nowhere, and time has seemed to crawl by while many things get checked off my to-do list.

I don't understand it, but I love it.



Bruce Wilkinson
Secrets of The Vine
p. 69
"I believe that men in particular need a tool like journaling to bring a sense of reality to their relationship with our invisible God."
"To abide, we must act."

Males are creatures of action. We do not enjoy casual conversation as much as women.
Give us something to do. Accordingly, the male's relationship with God is best when based upon action. We are commanded to abide in Christ according to John 15, the passage whose exposition makes up the theme of this book. But that abiding is most effective for males when we act -- when we write.

Therefore, you could say that men need diaries more than women... um... uh... I mean... um... journals... I mean journals. Yeah. Journals. Bound in manly leather. With a manly black or brown. Nothing pink here. No cute locks or feather pens, either. Nope.


my, how times have changed...

Ever uttered the words, "How did we ever live without..."? I have said that phrase, usually adding some techie device I suddenly can't live without, on way too many occasions.

Saved is a new TV series on TNT. A character said, "How did we ever live without experts?" He was referring to a shrink, but I think the premise rings true with many other things. "Doctor" and "surgeon" are nearly terms of the past now. We now have oncologists, psychiatrists, opthamologists, gynecologists, neurologists, gastrointestinal specialists, and many others. And this is only the field of medicine.

There are specializations in auto mechanics. You have to decide whether you need a tire shop, a body shop, a detailer, a transmission mechanic, etc. And let's not get into the fields of theology, home maintenance, lawn care, weather, computer technology -- you need only look as far as your local newspaper to find the many sections that our lives are divided into.

But back to the question. What was life like before experts? I have a very limited answer. I wasn't there. I do know that I am thankful that a specialist is more knowledgeable. This would be especially comforting were I in the hospital.

But I think life is more holistic than that. Let's take the analogy further. Let's say I'm in the hospital with a serious illness. The specialist's expertise can perhaps save me, but there are many, many factors at work. My eating habits, my psychological history, my dependence on caffeine, genetic influence (have you seen those commercials about the medicine for your cholesterol and your genes?), allergies, the fact that I was dropped on my head when I was a baby -- all of that matters. My faith even matters. My mental and spiritual states affect my health and recovery.

You say, "Get to the point, Aaron." Okay, okay. I think perhaps that specialization crowds out overall knowledge in the fight for elbow room within my feeble brain. In other words, I am kind of saying that brilliance in one area crowds out general common sense. I think in years gone by, people generally speaking knew a little about a lot. But with every passing year, perhaps ever-increasing numbers know a lot about a little. That is a scary proposition.

Until I remember that the salt-of-the-earth, common folk still are clinging to their limited knowledge. Their common sense. May I never be "too big for my britches" in the realm of knowledge. May I never trade in common sense (also known as truth) for high-falootin' book learnin'.

No, mom, this doesn't mean I'm going to stop the grad program I'm in. Perhaps all will not be lost in my quest for the ever-elusive Master's degree.



The father looks over at his daughter, who is hard at work. He asks her what she is doing, while already knowing the answer. She says, "I'm doing something for you, Dad." She grins. He smiles back, but with a twinge of sadness in the creases of his smiling eyes. He gently places his hands on top of hers, stilling her movements with a firmness that belied his quiet ways.

She always wondered how he could do that. How can anyone be as gentle as a snowflake and as unyielding as a mountain of stone? He was both a fuzzy, cuddly teddy bear and a fierce, powerful, towering grizzly simultaneously. In his presence, she felt both tenderly loved and fearfully small. He held her hands and turned her to face him. He asked quietly, "Did I ask you to do that?"

She looked at him in bewilderment. "What do you mean?"

He smiled and said, "Did you decide to do that , or did I ask you to do that?"

Now, she was thoroughly confused. "I'm not sure."

Holding her hand, he led her to a nearby bench and sat down with her. He said, "Promise me something."

She loved him dearly, and said without hesitation, "Anything."

"Promise me that you will not work for me."

She was surprised. "But who else would I work for?"

He laughed, and the anxiety she was feeling vanished. He said, "What I mean is this: don't work for me, work with me.

"I am working all around you. In your life, in the lives of people you see every day, in millions of people you don't even know. Stay close, and listen carefully. I'll put you in the right place at the right time -- if you'll let me. Don't get distracted by a project you want to do for me. It's wasted work. I've got plenty for you to do already."

What he said made a lot of sense. Then she thought of her project she was working on. "But..." she began. Before she could argue, he put his finger on her lips.

"No," he said. "Don't use your common sense to argue with me. Never forget how much I value child-like belief. Just say yes. Nothing else is required."

Her objections were stilled. She loved him so much. He knew this, and he also knew that she could never out-love him. They would make quite a team, she knew. She said, "I'm ready."
He grinned from ear to ear and said, "Good. Here we go."


truth is everywhere

i know the Emergent movement has many Christians up in arms, but i wonder if there isn't something to learn from them.

i have not read Rob Bell's stuff, but in a recent podcast, he was interviewed as saying, "All truth is God's truth." i like the sound of that. it makes sense, and it explains some things.

if love is so revered -- as seen in movies, theatre, literature, television, or in all story-telling -- then it is because love's power to change and benefit was set up by God. so there are things to affirm in the "secular" world. i use the word "secular" hesitantly, because this world is God's, no matter whether i believe it or not. therefore, truthfully, there are things from God all around us, even in things tainted by sin.

i think Christians would do well to treat the world around us with the respect due anything God has given us. it's like N.T. Wright said at a 2005 debate at New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary. "The world is God's creation, not to be treated as our ashtray." he was elaborating the point that God's acting to purify his world involve not merely humans, but all of his creation (nature in general). we are guilty of forgetting our first God-given task (Genesis 1:28).

(NIV) God blessed them and said to them, "Be fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth and subdue it. Rule over the fish of the sea and the birds of the air and over every living creature that moves on the ground."

(NLT) God blessed them and told them, "Multiply and fill the earth and subdue it. Be masters over the fish and birds and all the animals."

(the Message) God blessed them: "Prosper! Reproduce! Fill Earth! Take charge! Be responsible for fish in the sea and birds in the air, for every living thing that moves on the face of Earth."

(so the tree-huggers are right, after all. who knew?)

so what's the point? i have things to learn, from those who look/smell/talk/act like me, from those who believe as i do on most things, even from the vilest of sinners, because i am no better myself. do i really listen even to those who hate all that i believe in/stand for?


beauty product for men

ATTENTION ALL MEN: Do people call you Fatty? Baldy? Ugly? Shortie? Stupid? Loser? Are you over 40, or even 70? Worst of all, have the women lost interest in you? Do not despair. Now there is a new "Male Beauty Product" on the market that will change all of that.

Sometimes, email forwards are great.

(The following is an edit that allows me to post my picture's URL for this blog. It has nothing to do with the actual blog itself.)


got the t-shirt

i love debates. and not because they involve arguments. those are not debates in the truest sense. debates involve as little emotionally charged discussion as possible. check out my good friend's post here.

Madison's Agenda: Reformed Reformed: My Reformation

also check out this really cool t-shirt to go along with it. not that it will help at all with the debate. it will only help you say, "calvinism vs. arminianism? been there, done that, got the t-shirt!"


aversion to nature

ever notice our aversion to nature? i was under the carport watching it pour down rain today. i noticed that we build things to withstand nature. they hold off rain, wind, and sun. we carry umbrellas and wear sunscreen.

we could learn a lot from a tree. it stands there, embracing the pummeling rain. it reaches up to meet it. it doesn't cower away from it.

how would our architecture or other things we make be different if they didn't "protect" us from the elements?



family vs. work

i'm really not a guy who rants all the time. i'm actually a very light-hearted kind of guy. but something bothers me, and i'm going to get it off my chest.

if i see one more TV show or movie that shows a character feeling guilty about not spending time with their kids/spouse only to receive a phone call bringing them back to the office, i'm gonna yell.

not that it would do any good.

they always have these bleeding-heart stories of a working man or a woman who is in serious internal conflict over missing their kid's game or not picking them up from school, but their cell phone goes off, and they say, "Daddy's got to go to work now."

come on! you don't have to go back to work. i don't care if you're spiderman! take a night off to spend with your spouse and kids! take a vacation. let the world spiral towards destruction for one evening. it'll still be full of crime tomorrow.

i have seen way too many pastors and/or ministers spend no time with their families. you know what they say about preachers' kids. they're the worst. well, i wonder why? they have to compete for their parents' attention! no child should have to do that.

here's my solution. quit talking about spending time with your family. say no to your job for one measly minute; it'll be there tomorrow. we (ministers) always talk about how our families are supposed to be number two on the priority list, right behind our personal relationship to God. well, talk is cheap. spell love to your family by the letters T-I-M-E.

there i said it. now it's off my chest, and i can go back to being happy again.

and kiss my baby on the forehead.


change vs. ritual

so, i have a bone to pick. are those always-emotional, shock-your-sock-off, make-you-quiver-in-your-boots type of dramas -- the ones that depict teenage kids dying and going to hell -- good for conversions? let me ask it this way. if so many people walk the aisle after those things, why do i feel as if they are going about it the wrong way? and why are they often not at church in a month's time?

i don't believe that Jesus is simply fire insurance. for one thing, if you walked an aisle just to keep from getting into hell, then you selfishly asked God to give you something that you weren't willing to give anything up for. what did it cost you? if it cost you nothing, then there was no transaction (and salvation is a transaction -- but more on that later).

these are the same concepts seen in the cost of discipleship by bonhoeffer. the transaction for following God is simple: you owe a debt you cannot pay, and if you'll give the driver's seat of your life over to the One who can be trusted to drive it better than you can, then He'll take care of that debt and the rest of your life.

but when we "scare the hell" out of someone, they go through a ritual (i.e., walking an aisle and repeating a prayer after someone) that they believe will magically rescue them from eternal fire. there is something about that that rings untrue.

maybe it's just me.


Optimistic Prophecy

Check this out. I've highlighted some verses of what I like to call “optimistic prophecy.” Many times, God’s prophets did not have good news, because God was angry about sin in much the same way as a parent is flustrated (that is not a misprint, it's a combo of flustered and frustrated) with their kid b/c they've told them and told them, but the kid just doesn't listen. But when those same bullhorns of God (that is, prophets) announced good news, it was good news indeed! In an effort to remind ourselves of what wrongs exist in this world, we remember the call of the prophets of what life will be like when that sin is gone. We see a beautiful picture when we imagine a better life – one without the aftereffects of sin. The neat thing about this is that it is said positively. If I can say that I love peace, then aren't I also saying the converse -- that I hate war?

After God judges sin and sets things aright, it will look like this:
Isaiah 11:6 - 9 (NKJV, emphasis mine) “The wolf also shall dwell with the lamb, the leopard shall lie down with the young goat, the calf and the young lion and the fatling together; and a little child shall lead them. The cow and the bear shall graze; their young ones shall lie down together; and the lion shall eat straw like the ox. The nursing child shall play by the cobra’s hole, and the weaned child shall put his hand in the viper’s den. They shall not hurt nor destroy in all My holy mountain, for the earth shall be full of the knowledge of the Lord as the waters cover the sea.”

(Imagine a life with no fear. For students, no fear of bullies, no fear of rejection, no fear of being hurt. For adults, no fear of any bodily harm, no fear for your family’s safety. That sounds like a life that everybody would long for. How exactly does knowledge of the Lord translate into this lack of fear?)

Isaiah 2:4 (NKJV, emphasis mine) “He shall judge between the nations, and rebuke many people; they shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruning hooks; nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war anymore.”

(No war. World peace. I can hear the sighs of relief from the beauty pageant contestants now... .)

Isaiah 60:18 - 20 (NKJV, emphasis mine) “Violence shall no longer be heard in your land, neither wasting nor destruction within your borders; but you shall call your walls Salvation, and your gates Praise. The sun shall no longer be your light by day, nor for brightness shall the moon give light to you; but the Lord will be to you an everlasting light, and your God your glory. Your sun shall no longer go down, nor shall your moon withdraw itself; for the Lord will be your everlasting light, and the days of your mourning shall be ended.

(Sweet! The Son will be the sun. That was pun-ny, huh? You thought that was funny, huh? Get it? "The Son will be the sun." It's a play on words. Get it? It's hilarious, right? You're laughing, right? Well, I thought it was cool.)

Isaiah 65:17 - 19 (NKJV, emphasis mine) “For behold, I create new heavens and a new earth; and the former shall not be remembered or come to mind. But be glad and rejoice forever in what I create; for behold, I create Jerusalem as a rejoicing, and her people a joy. I will rejoice in Jerusalem, and joy in My people; the voice of weeping shall no longer be heard in her, nor the voice of crying.

(No more tears. That'll put Kleenex out of business!)

Joel 3:18 (NKJV, emphasis mine) And it will come to pass in that day that the mountains shall drip with new wine, the hills shall flow with milk, and all the brooks of Judah shall be flooded with water; a fountain shall flow from the house of the Lord and water the Valley of Acacias.

(Wine and milk in the mountains and hills sounds a little weird, but I get it. Abundance. Sounds like the American dream to me.)

That's the funny thing about Christianity. We say some of the same things that sane, loving people say, but we are labeled as lunatics for believing in something bigger than ourselves. But that is talked about in the Bible, too. The world is hostile to God. I just can't wait for that day when that will no longer be so!


How to love others with math.

If I may, I am going to share with you some of my comments from an online seminary class discussion. I have edited the comments in order to make the names of others anonymous, and have adjusted things to fit them into the context of a blog. But the main concepts of my post from that discussion are the same.


In my ADD, my mind often goes to seemingly unrelated topics. But I must comment on Dr. D's words, "The inherent problem of religion in its developed, institutional form is its tendency to bind people to substitutes (rituals, laws, systems, programs) for God rather than to God."

Let us not forget the second commandment. Exodus 20:4-6 (ESV) says, "You shall not make for yourself a carved image, or any likeness of anything that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth. You shall not bow down to them or serve them, for I the LORD your God am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children to the third and the fourth generation of those who hate me, but showing steadfast love to thousands of those who love me and keep my commandments."

Certainly, God does not require my validation of his level of intelligence, but isn't He a genius? He knows that we always manage to turn the symbol into the object of worship -- that we can never seem to quite look past the symbols to He who should be the object of worship. This goes for the calf statue made of gold in the Old Testament and the cross hanging around our necks today. (Perhaps a discussion of the symbol of the cross will come up later. That would be interesting.) I am presuming a bit here, but I suspect there are many persons in the academic realm who worship the Bible as a book more than the God who authored it. I believe this issue (the symbol vs. the object the symbol points to) is connected in some small way to the other discussion of agape and the Theologica Germanica. I believe that religious rituals, the symbol of the cross, the concept of unconditional love, and especially the Bible all point to something else -- namely, God. (By way of background, there had been another discussion about whether or not sinful humans are even capable of loving unconditionally.)

Speaking of the impossibility of human unconditional love, I think of it mathematically. If the number 1 and the number 0 are on a line ( 1-------------------0 ), then I am at 1, and 0 represents God. God expects me to be perfect, and I have seen a real-life example of it in Jesus. (And He knows that I will not be perfect, which makes it slightly more complex, but that is for another discussion). Let's imagine that as I become more Christlike, I am divided in half. With every step I take towards God, I continue to divide in half. Mathematically, dividing myself in half means that I will be moving towards 0 for infinity, while never actually reaching it.

Now, without carrying the analogy too far, it also means that some people are very close to 1, and some are way down the line at 0.000006104 (sorry, I am just nerdy enough to actually pull out a calculator for a theological discussion). And those at 0.000006104 look and act a lot like those at 0.000003052 (because let's face it, we can't tell the difference between those last two on any line, right?!)

So, to pull all of this back from the abstract into reality, if a girl in a church youth group's brother is killed, I believe that the youth pastor would be right in telling the group that there is an obligation to forgive the man that had done it (this happened to an acquaintance of mine). While these words may be theologically true, it may not be realistically possible for 13-17 year olds in the midst of grief and shock to comprehend forgiveness, much less accomplish it. But remember that biblical truth only points to God's will. It makes no apologies for how difficult God's will actually is. But if even one of those students forgives or merely tries to forgive, and if he moves from 1 to 0.5, then God is pleased. Because I believe that while God expects perfection, He is pleased if we are at least moving in the right direction.