The loons have arrived in Northern California. Oh I don’t mean those beautiful waterfowl or the snowbirds that migrate south this time of year. I mean those grey mourning doves that return to our neck of the woods every spring. Unfortunately the mourning dove is a morning bird. That is he perches outside my bedroom window and begins to sing his deep-throated song nearly an hour before the sun rises. At first his “cooOOoo-coo-coo” was a pleasant reminder of spring and new beginnings with the change of season (yes we have seasons in California: tourist season and peak tourist season). But after several mornings of mourning dove solos, I started stuffing tissue in my ears to drown out that bird’s incessant blather while wishing that California Fish and Game would move dove season up to April 1st. I hope that bird finds a mate soon; that’ll shut him up.
That dove reminds me that season’s change no matter what. I’m usually not a fan of spring, mostly because it feels like a bridge season; it is no longer winter but neither is it yet summer. Human beings have an unfortunate tendency to resist certain changes of season in our lives. Perhaps you saw the tragic news recently about the 73-year-old reserve sheriff who shot an unarmed suspect who resisted arrest. The reserve sheriff thought he had drawn his Taser when he had actually drawn his pistol. The suspect died. http://www.wsj.com/articles/police-video-shows-deadly-shooting-of-black-suspect-in-tulsa-1428913303 That reserve sheriff might be a great guy with a pure heart, but I struggle to understand why a 73-year-old is in an active policing role. Granted, some 73-year-olds run marathons. On the other hand, some 73-year-olds spend their days in wheelchairs ensconced in care homes. As we age into the golden years we continue to have a strong work ethic, but our work skills might not keep up.
My wife’s grandmother swore she was a good driver into her eighties … until she had an accident that totaled her car. Fortunately no one was injured. Needless to say we did not get her another car. When my mother-in-law began to demonstrate some scary diminished driving skills, my wife and her siblings stepped in to see that her mother no longer drove. As one might expect, my mother-in-law thought there was nothing wrong with her driving. As we age, acknowledging our diminishing mental and physical agility can challenge our pride and threaten our independence as well as our personal sense of value. We want to stay in the game of life as we have heretofore lived it. But what does God have to say about aging and changing roles. Ecclesiastes 3:1-8 tells us that we can expect a variety of seasons to change in our life. Ecclesiastes presents these seasonal changes as a non-negotiable fact. Numbers 8:23-26 describes a mandatory retirement age for the tribe of Levites who acted as caretakers for the Tent of Meeting in ancient Israel’s place of worship:
“Then the Lord said to Moses, ‘This is a special command for the Levites: Every Levite man who is 25 years old or older must come and share in the work at the Meeting Tent. But when a man is 50 years old, he will retire from this hard work. Men who are at least 50 years old will be on duty to help their brothers, but they will not do the work themselves. That is what you must do for the Levites so that they can do their duty.’”
I am NOT suggesting we must all retire at 50. But I do believe that God prefers that we embrace new seasons rather than cling to old seasons. God gives us appropriate things to look forward to in new seasons. Notice that God did not take the 50-year-old Levites completely out of service. He just reassigned them to a less front-and-center role. If we have a problem with that, it may be due to our pride or our fear of becoming irrelevant. Don’t let pride or fear rob you of God’s gift of having something to look forward to. The trick, of course, is spotting the change of season in our life when it occurs … hopefully before we start screwing things up.
ISIS beheads more innocent people in the Middle East … and people have lost interest.
Marco Rubio announces his candidacy for president … and it hardly gets our attention.
Dzhohar Tsarnaev gets convicted for Boston Marathon bombing … only a few people notice.
But when pretty ESPN reporter Britt McHenry spews her toilet mouth at a female clerk working in an auto impound yard, all hell breaks loose as the video goes viral. Many people rushed to condemn McHenry while some attempted to defend her actions as possibly a one-time lapse in judgment and manners. She later issued a public apology. ESPN suspended her for a week. I hope she apologizes to the clerk without cameras rolling as that would demonstrate character.
I do not know McHenry but I would hate to be forever judged by a momentary lapse of control. On the other hand, if this display by McHenry is indicative of her true character, no amount of beauty treatments and on-air talent can make her a beautiful person. Only God can change what ails her.
We live in a new world where the prolific spread of public video cameras as well as the millions of smart phone cameras floating around has the consequence of capturing us at some of our worst moments in life. Cameras are like little elves watching our every move that they report to Santa when little boys and girls misbehave. You might think this new level of electronic scrutiny would put us on our best behavior, but you would be wrong. It didn’t stop a South Carolina police officer from shooting a fleeing unarmed suspect in the back last week; nearly all of it caught on camera.
At the risk of sounding like the old man who shouts at kids to stay off his lawn, I’ve watched manners and civility decline in America during my lifetime. It used to be unusual to encounter ill-mannered people, and when you did it was said of them that they were not raised right. The community ostracized them. Not so any more. Today the uncouth can rise to the highest levels of society. Apparently we have decided that manners are not as important as in the past. This will have tragic consequences for everyone. How so? Because good manners matter to God … a lot! Hosea 4:1 (NLT) says:
“Hear the word of the Lord, O people of Israel!
The Lord has brought charges against you, saying:
‘There is no faithfulness, no kindness,
no knowledge of God in your land.’”
God made this statement to the society of Israel just before he broke their nation and scattered its people around the world as a consequence of their self-obsessed lives. At that time most people in Israel did not care about anyone else but themselves. History has brought us to the same point in America. There are some deep and errant philosophies and ideologies that have led to this, but needless to say it has arrived.
What can be done about it? The answer is old fashioned but right on: manners and civility has to be taught in homes, churches, Boy Scouts, Girl Scouts, Little League, soccer teams, and schools. If we have not embraced manners and civility by adulthood, it’s never too late to learn. As a society we must stop rewarding poor behavior … no matter how much money uncouth people bring into our businesses, institutions, and organizations. If some people insist on living like animals, then they can do so on the outskirts of society.
Treating people with civility is a herculean task when we don’t feel good or when we feel that someone has screwed us. But that is what Jesus told us to do when he said “turn the other cheek.” The teaching that we turn the other cheek is not an imperative that we never fight back; it simply means we fight back with grace and manners, sometimes by letting the issue go or by actually helping our adversary. Such an approach demonstrates the beauty of the kingdom of heaven because it is in sharp contrast to the way the world does things. I hope McHenry learns it and lives it. I hope we all learn it and live it. We all drop the ball of good manners occasionally, but that’s ok so long as it breaks our heart and inspires us to perfect our manners going forward.
Perhaps you’ve followed the hullabaloo in the news lately about Christian business owners at odds with LGBT activists, the media, the law, and public opinion over their refusal to provide goods and services at same-sex weddings on the basis of religious belief that marriage is designed by God for a man and woman. The state of Indiana also go into hot water for passing a law that would provide some legal cover for people of faith, such as Christian business owners, who feel it would violate their religious beliefs to provide goods and services at gay weddings. Several states have similar laws. Even the federal government has a law that provides protections based on religious belief and practice, though it was originally intended to cover Native Americans who wanted to use Peyote (a hallucinogenic plant) in their religious ceremonies.
LGBT activists have a propensity to label traditional Christians as bigots and haters. They paint Christianity with a broad irrational brush and have recruited many in society to jump on their bandwagon. When Christians tell the gay community and the world that we love them but we do not love their sin, well, that just goes in one ear and out the other.
Should Christians fight back in the legal, political, economic, and cultural arena? Well, allow me to play devil’s advocate here. Christian business owners (such as those who own bakeries, floral shops, and wedding photography studios) might want to consider the stories of Jesus at the Canaan wedding and Lot in Sodom and Gomorrah. How does a straight wedding in Canaan two thousand years ago apply to gay weddings today? Well, Jesus supplied wine at the Canaan wedding … a lot of wine. Maybe you only go to dry weddings, but I’ve been to some wet weddings where some of the guests were not just pleasantly buzzed on a glass of good wine. Nope! I’ve seen guests get hammered, tanked, and falling-down-drunk at weddings. According to the Bible, getting drunk is a sin. Should Jesus have refused to turn the water into wine because some of the guests were sinning by drinking to the point of inebriation? Granted, we do not know for certain that any of the guests at the Canaan wedding were drunk, but it’s a pretty good guess there were some.
Lot was a fairly righteous man who moved his livestock business to the region around Sodom and Gomorrah. You may recall that God destroyed Sodom and Gomorrah because everyone in those cities, except Lot and his family, were engaging in evil deeds all the time. The citizens of Sodom and Gomorrah had become so immersed in debauchery that they could not be redeemed. One of their sins was their enthusiasm for same-sex sexuality. I am guessing but it seems highly probable that Lot bought and sold goods and services with his neighbors despite their debaucheries. Since the entire population of Sodom and Gomorrah was guilty of such sins, how could Lot live among them and refuse to do business with them based on his religious beliefs?
Okay, I am no longer playing devil’s advocate. But the question remains: should Christians refuse to provide goods and services at gay weddings? If Christian business owners were to refuse to do business with all sinners outside the church, there would be no Christian businesses. Yes, situations arise where we need to take a stand based on moral conviction; I get it. We are to be salt in this world, a force that slows the process of decay. Still, I wonder if we are being overly selective about sins that inspire us to apply our principles. Perhaps God puts more emphasis on individual responsibility than we imagine. In other words, when people choose to sin, they own the sin; the person who supplied their tasteful wedding cake does not own the sin.
Apostle Paul has some thoughts on this topic as found in 1 Corinthians 5: 9-13 (NLT):
“When I wrote to you before, I told you not to associate with people who indulge in sexual sin. But I wasn’t talking about unbelievers who indulge in sexual sin, or are greedy, or cheat people, or worship idols. You would have to leave this world to avoid people like that. I meant that you are not to associate with anyone who claims to be a believer yet indulges in sexual sin, or is greedy, or worships idols, or is abusive, or is a drunkard, or cheats people. Don’t even eat with such people.
It isn’t my responsibility to judge outsiders, but it certainly is your responsibility to judge those inside the church who are sinning. God will judge those on the outside; …”
You see, we can’t expect unbelievers in the gay community to comprehend the spiritual implications of sexual sins. That would be like trying to convince Colonel Sanders that killing chickens is an abomination before the Lord. The bottom line is this: taking a stand on sins in the church is a higher priority, according to God’s word, than taking a stand on sins outside the church. This does not mean we should not push back against sin in our secular society. I wholeheartedly support the right of Christian business owners to push back against sin based on their religious conscience. But sin in the church is our first concern. Before a Christian bakery owner refuses to provide a cake at a gay wedding he might want to think about confronting the unmarried worship leader in his church who sleeps with someone in the congregation. I’m just saying.
The center of society in Deer Park, Washington, can be found at the massive Double Eagle Pawn shop where comes and goes a steady stream of hunting, fishing, and camping enthusiasts. Recently, I happened to be in Deer Park to visit family. I like Deer Park. It’s a quiet little town where most of the inhabitants behave like me (think introverts); they’re not exactly warm and friendly, though they usually mind their own business (a character trait that qualifies them for sainthood in my book).
Anyhow, the main tourist attraction (my grandson) was taking a nap, which prompted me to go downtown to check out the Double Eagle. The Double Eagle has an inventory of guns that would turn third-world armies green with envy. I’m not exactly a gun connoisseur, but I do know my way around a Remington 700; having hunted with one for decades. Imagine my delight to see several 700s in stock. I selected one in a caliber I’d been searching for and brought it to the man behind the counter. (You heard that right, the guns are on display for anyone to handle just like lingerie in a department store … not that I handle much lingerie.) I asked him if I could buy the gun and take it home, even though I live out of state. He said absolutely not. I could only buy it through a gun dealer in the state where I live. The gun would have to be delivered directly to the gun dealer in my home state.
Before I go any further with this story, I should let you know that revealing one’s identity as a California resident visiting certain parts of Washington State is like wearing a Giants hat to a game at Dodger Stadium–there are risks. A great many Washingtonians harbor animosity towards California and Californians. One reason we are resented is because many California expats have moved to Washington State and driven up the cost of housing. Apparently we Californians tend to pay more for homes than Washington residents. This drives up housing prices and makes it unaffordable for many locals. There are other reasons as well, but we won’t list them right now.
Getting back to my conversation with the gun barista at the Double Eagle. I told the clerk I know a gun dealer in California who might be willing to work with me to buy the gun. An elderly gentleman overheard our conversation and joined in. Here is how the conversation went:
“Ha, do they still let people buy guns in California?” said the elderly man, eyeing me suspiciously.
“Yes, but they have restrictions on some guns,” I said.
“I have a friend who tried living in California,” said the elderly man. “He wanted to buy a gun there once but it was too much of a hassle.”
“That doesn’t surprise me,” I said.
“You know what my friend says about California now?” said the elderly man with anger smoldering in his eyes. “He says California can go f#@! itself!”
I was taken aback and felt that he was sending me a clear message—you Californians ain’t welcome here. At that the elderly man stomped off before I could assure him that I had no intention of buying an overpriced house in Deer Park. I wanted to assuage any fears he might harbor that I would move to Deer Park and open a yoga studio that would gentrify his rustic little town. I especially wanted to assure him that I was not an elitist who would transform his neck of the woods into a haven for hipsters. If only I could have convinced him that I have little in common with those loons in LA and San Francisco (other than a love for cutting-edge ethnic food). But he was forever gone from my life.
In all fairness to that elderly gentlemen who expressed himself so eloquently, he does have a point. We’re a bit arrogant in California. We have fantastic weather, a massive economy, a gorgeous coast, fantastic mountains, sublime deserts, and chic cities. California is also the creative center of the universe. We attract people from all over the world. We seem to love change, as long as it is our kind of change. We love to build communities that look like photos in Sunset Magazine. When our citizens move to cities in other states, they have a tendency to want to make their new community just like the community they left in California. I’m beginning to understand that this approach might not be the best for locals and expats.
The same phenomena happens in many churches. For example, some churches do not ordain women. They take this stand in good faith based on interpretation of certain parts of the Bible. Yet it is not uncommon for people to join such churches and later on pressure them to change their bylaws to allow the ordination of women. Such conflicts can get out of control and cause tremendous discontent as well as harm the example of Christ’s church in the community.
Need a less contentious example? Most churches do not handle poisonous snakes during worship. As much as I might enjoy such a spectacle, it would be wrong of me to pressure my church leaders to incorporate the handling of poisonous vipers as a test of faith during our Sunday liturgy.
Perhaps mature Christians have an obligation to explore the beliefs and heritage of a prospective church BEFORE they join so that later on they do not feel compelled to take it upon themselves to cause a big brouhaha in a quest for change. Granted, some churches and denominations need to change the way they operate. But I suspect that many people who take it upon themselves to affect change in a church have not been led by God to do so. They do it because some issues get under their skin or because they are passionate about a new way of doing things.
On the other hand, established church members who want to obey God by welcoming newcomers have an obligation to recognize that the influx of new people usually means change will eventually follow. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not one of those guys who loathe all change. I do not think all change is bad. But neither do I believe all change is good … especially if the peddlers of change have not shown respect for things that long-timers on the scene hold dear. I’m just saying!
So how is it that those ISIS dudes manage to recruit thousands of willful followers into their depraved lifestyle? ISIS has a reputation for being astute at wielding technology effectively in the recruitment of their minions (no offense meant to those loveable minions in Despicable Me). But technology and slick marketing doesn’t completely explain why young adults rush to enlist in a crusade of killing and being killed on the basis of religious belief. How do we understand the motives of people who sign up for membership in such a vile gang of terrorists as ISIS? Some of our leaders in government would have us believe that ISIS followers are mostly disenfranchised young men who don’t have jobs and whose prospects in the world are bleak. There might be a shred of truth in the disenfranchisement argument, but I suspect something more is going on inside the noggins of ISIS recruits. I stumbled upon it in a paragraph written by George Orwell during a time when America found itself locked in bitter war with Nazi Germany. Orwell proposed some uncomfortable motives for why the Nazis embraced struggle, extreme hardship, and death. One could draw parallels with ISIS today. Here is what Orwell said:
“Also he (Adolf Hitler) has grasped the falsity of the hedonistic attitude to life. Nearly all western thought since the last war, certainly all ‘progressive’ thought, has assumed tacitly that human beings desire nothing beyond ease, security and avoidance of pain. In such a view of life there is no room, for instance, for patriotism and the military virtues. The Socialist who finds his children playing with soldiers is usually upset, but he is never able to think of a substitute for the tin soldiers; tin pacifists somehow won’t do. Hitler, because in his own joyless mind he feels it with exceptional strength, knows that human beings don’t only want comfort, safety, short working-hours, hygiene, birth-control and, in general, common sense; they also, at least intermittently, want struggle and self-sacrifice, not to mention drums, flags and loyalty-parades. However they may be as economic theories, Fascism and Nazism are psychologically far sounder than any hedonistic conception of life. The same is probably true of Stalin’s militarized version of Socialism. All three of the great dictators have enhanced their power by imposing intolerable burdens on their peoples. Whereas Socialism, and even capitalism in a more grudging way, have said to people ‘I offer you struggle, danger and death,’ and as a result a whole nation flings itself at his feet. Perhaps later on they will get sick of it and change their minds, as at the end of the last war. After a few years of slaughter and starvation ‘Greatest happiness of the greatest number’ is a good slogan, but at this moment ‘Better an end with horror than a horror without end’ is a winner. Now that we are fighting against the man who coined it, we ought not to underrate its emotional appeal.”
George Orwell, 1940
Orwell grasped that not all human beings just want a comfortable life in perpetuity. People will periodically embrace struggle, pain, and death if they have been convinced it will accomplish some greater cause or purpose. But here’s the thing: It has to be the RIGHT cause or it has no virtue. In fact, if not the right cause it is likely an evil cause that envelops all who go down its path so that they experience ever more spiritual darkness. Jesus alluded to this darkness in Matthew 6:22-23 where he said “The eye is the lamp of the body. So, if your eye is healthy, your whole body will be full of light, but if your eye is bad, your whole body will be full of darkness. If then the light in you is darkness, how great is the darkness!”
In other words, if your eye (your mind) confuses darkness as light, you will be in extreme darkness indeed. ISIS followers have come to believe that darkness is light. Many of them, I’m sure, believe what they are doing is the will of God and therefore it is what’s best for humanity. Their darkness is deep.
Some of the ISIS leaders, no doubt, are in it for the power; they want to be the ones wielding great dominion when their caliphate is established. But power is a dangerous desire. Ragnar Lodbrok (the main character in the History Channel’s TV series Vikings) recently said “Power attracts the worst and corrupts the best.” Many who gather under the ISIS banner do so with aspirations of gaining power over others. Some think they will use that power to help people live better lives. Others plan to use that power to enrich their own lives at the expense of others. Either way, power will ruin them because their cause it evil. Even when the cause is just, power is a dangerous tool. Remember that Jesus was also tempted by the allure of power when he was in the wilderness with Satan. Jesus did not permit Satan to distract him with the seduction of power. Jesus stuck to the right cause and finished his ministry well. Human beings often do not do well with unbridled power. We abuse it.
So, should we pray for the deliverance of ISIS followers into the light and truth of Christ, or should we pray for their physical destruction so that they do no more harm to innocent people? Pray that they embrace Christ and the Golden Rule and that God gets the credit for their life-affirming conversion. Pray that ISIS comes to the realization that they are fighting on the wrong side in the great struggle of good against evil. On the other hand, I see nothing wrong with praying that ISIS is stopped in their tracks, even if it is accomplished by military force.
If followers of ISIS can’t be prayed out of darkness, the Middle East will likely be in for a bitter and protracted conflict. I’m no prophet, so I do not know if the evil embraced by ISIS will blossom into the Armageddon mentioned in the Bible or whether it will affect us in a substantial way here at home … but I suppose it could happen in our lifetime. Yes, pray for ISIS to be stopped in their tracks AND for their hearts to turn to the light and truth of Christ. But it is even more important that we pray for our brothers and sisters in Christ who are on the front line in the fight against ISIS. When I say “pray” I don’t mean it in an abstract sense. I mean intentionally pray in church, in Bible studies, in home groups, and in private. Don’t forget our relatives in Christ who are under the shadow of ISIS.
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.