Vocation, Vocation, Vocation

 

op·por·tu·ni·ty cost

NOUN

economics

“Opportunity cost refers to a benefit that a person could have received, but gave up, to take another course of action. Stated differently, an opportunity cost represents an alternative given up when a decision is made. This cost is, therefore, most relevant for two mutually exclusive events. In investing, it is the difference in return between a chosen investment and one that is necessarily passed up.” Opportunity Cost

 

Investors will consider opportunity costs when deciding on the best financial vehicle to place their money in. Once the money is placed in stocks, bonds, mutual funds, money market funds, CDs or saving accounts the money does not gain the returns of another opportunity. Investors will carefully weigh financial objectives on a scale of time. We must do the same with our life choices.

When we choose a path and wonder about the path we veered from, we are likely to wonder if we made the right choice. I see this as especially true when our heart wants to go in one direction and we must choose to go in another. We may feel that we have given up on a dream to pursue uninspired options. We may feel “the loss of potential gain from other alternatives when one alternative is chosen”.

Will our speculative investment bring returns that are greater than the investment that we didn’t make? If we choose a so-called “secular vocation” have we chosen a lesser return on investment instead of a greater one? These questions came to mind recently as I reviewed the opportunity cost value of my own full-time work. And that of my father before me.

Early in his career life my father was presented with life choice alternatives or “vocations” as it is called today. Around 1950 my dad and mom attended Moody Bible Institute as married students. (I was born before they graduated. I slept in a crib in their apartment which was located above a nearby Chinese Restaurant.)

My parents attended Moody so that they could go into ministry. After their graduation my dad accepted an offer to pastor a small church located in the frozen tundra of northern Minnesota. The congregation, being just a handful of low-income folks, could not support our family. So, my dad had to work another job to make ends meet. During that time mom gave birth to my brother. She kept us kids from going cabin crazy during the frigid days. She chipped the ice off of the milk bottles that the milk man had delivered to our porch that morning. And, she moved my crib around when the spring thaw delivered leaks through my bedroom ceiling.

I relate these things to show that our Lord has a way of turning us around and sending us in a new direction where unthought of opportunities lie outside of our ministry dreams. This happened to my dad and mom.

After serving in this church for a time my dad eventually brought our family back to Chicago. Economics played a roll in my dad’s vocation change. There were mouths to feed.

I wonder if some weighing of opportunity cost was on my father’s mind in those days. I don’t think it was easy for my dad to leave behind a ministry calling and choose to work full-time to support a family. My dad went on to work in what some have called a “secular vocation”. In doing so he provided for our growing family. He worked and worked hard, and sometimes at two jobs. And yet he maintained his ministry vocation.

My father was a Sunday School teacher. On Saturdays I would see him sitting at the dining room table with the Bible and concordances laid out before him. He was preparing his lesson.

My dad was our church’s chairman for many years. He oversaw the budget and the practical matters of the church. Both him and my mom were also on the mission’s board. They wanted the world to be reached with the Gospel. They invited many furloughed missionaries to our home for Sunday dinner. That is how I learned about the Congo, Ecuador, New Zealand, Japan and many other places

My dad’s opportunity “trade-off” benefitted many. What my dad “lost” in a specific ‘calling’ he gained in a much wider ‘calling’: he was able to support his family and to continue the work of the Lord he so desired to do.

Like my father I chose to go into full-time ministry at the start of my career life. And, like my father, I was influenced to do so by the church. My folks brought me to church every Sunday. I attended a Bible church most of my life. In this environment there were altar calls to “be saved”, to “rededicate your life’ and to “go into the missions” every Sunday. These impassioned appeals became so engrained in me that I attended Moody thinking that I would go into a Christian Education/Music ministry and perhaps the mission field. I ended up in a career as an electrical engineer.

During those early church days, I never gave a thought about going into “secular work”. By its absence from any message or challenge in church I never thought of such work as something to invest my time in.  And, how could anything ordinary measure up to the ‘glamor’ of ministry or the mission field? In my world, import, credence, and “value” were given to being in “ministry”. I heard, “ministry”, “ministry “, “ministry “. I feel now that I was shortchanged by the lack of talk about vocations other than “ministry”.

Looking back over sixty years of church life there is only one time when I heard a preacher say something good about a “secular vocation”. The preacher had learned that my father would run for a trustee post in our suburban village. I heard the preacher endorse my father’s running for that office, as my father and I sat in the pew.

My father won the trustee position. He would subsequently become the village’s mayor.

Where am I going with all this talk about opportunity cost and ministry and vocation?

In churches I generally see social professions blessed. Professions like teaching and missionary work are professions that deal directly with people. But what about someone like me who deals indirectly with people as an electrical engineer? I work in the power distribution industry. I help keep people’s lights on and their heat flowing. What about a geneticist who discovers a gene which triggers a disease? Or, a physicist who smashes atoms to find the beginning elements of life? What about the businessman who provides products that sustains us?

“Secular vocations” go unnoticed in the church. Why? I wonder if the lack of blessing on secular vocations has help create the Bible vs. science warfare? Or, the big business vs. the poor rhetoric? Or, the polarization of sacred and secular? Jesus came to reconcile the two forever.

Now, I do not like the term “secular vocation”. I see all work as a gift of God. In the Kingdom of God on earth, the works of our hands should be an offering to our Lord. 

The Veteran in a New Field 1865 by Winslow Homer

 

What I would like to see happen in the church:

1.       At least one Sunday where vocations are talked about, honored and then blessed. Perhaps the Sunday before Labor Day when everyone is still in town.

2.      I would like to hear STEM careers being promoted in messages and in teen gatherings as vocations that God can richly bless. (I have read the Bible through several times. I attended Moody Bible Institute. And, I am as excited by what God has revealed in nature as I am when reading the Scripture. The study of science has been an enormous blessing to me.)

3.      Perhaps a short bio of a member be put in the church bulletin every Sunday. The bio would provide info of the profession of that member, e,g., “John Doe is a CPA…”

By now I hope you can see where I am going with this. My father and I started in “ministry” vocations, then at a point considered the opportunity cost and switched to less “spiritual “vocations. And that has made all the difference, even for the church.

 

 

 

II. For Commerce and Industry

Almighty God, whose Son Jesus Christ in his earthly life
shared our toil and hallowed our labor: Be present with
thy people where they work; make those who carry on
the industries and commerce of this land responsive to thy
will; and give to us all a pride in what we do, and a just
return for our labor; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who
liveth and reigneth with thee, in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
one God, now and forever. Amen.

The Book of Common Prayer

~~~

The world celebrates vocations. Why can’t the church?

February 11th is International Day of Women and Girls in Science. Here’s someone’s recent Tweet:

The Image Locker

 

“But the Israelites were unfaithful in regard to the devoted things; Achan son of Karmi, the son of Zimri, the son of Zerah, of the tribe of Judah, took some of them. So the Lord’s anger burned against Israel. – Joshua 7: 1

(“devoted things” – The Hebrew term refers to the irrevocable giving over of things or persons to the Lord, often by totally destroying them; also found in verses 11, 12, 13 and 15 of Joshua 7.)  

~~~

What do you covet? What image is stored in your mind for safe-space keeping? Does your mind turn to that image and then imagine the possibilities of its actual possession? Anyone hoarding the desired ‘thing’ in their heart and mind has already taken into their possession what isn’t theirs and what wasn’t meant for them. If that is the case for you, then maybe you already know this: the desired thing — the devoted thing –is the thing you become. Whether it be gold or porn you will become a lifeless object. You have replaced the image of Living God with the image of your inanimate “precious”.

Our days are inundated with images. Images are ubiquitous. They are downloaded onto TVs, Computer screens, and Smartphones. Images are posted on walls, on trains, buses and park benches. Images are engraved into skin. One’s use of encountered images in fantasy plays a role in inordinate desires. Dwelling on fantasy, one loses grip on reality. Achan knew reality and chose fantasy.

I have no doubt that Achan knew God’s commandment, “Thou shalt not covet.” I also have no doubt that Achan knew the Garden of Eden story. I can picture the Evil One talking to him, “Did God really say you could not have those devoted things?”

I have no doubt that most Christians today know God’s commandment, “Thou shalt not covet.” I also have no doubt that most Christians know the Garden of Eden story. They also know the Gospel and the Sacrifice of Jesus which has destroyed the devoted things that once belonged to the Enemy of our souls.

Yet, modern man continues to covet what isn’t his or what wasn’t meant for him. This is particularly true of those addicted to porn. To view his “precious” in secret, the porn addict isolates himself from God and from others. He becomes a “devoted thing” person and disengaged from those around him. If you were to look into his eyes you would see a dull and almost lifeless person, a mere representation of a human.

The porn addict becomes like the images he takes in. The images are impersonal, distant, one dimensional, unreal, emptied of good, full of vulgar suggestions. The addict’s self-degradation continues biochemically through masturbation:

“When one masturbates using the porn image, Dopamine is released into your blood stream. You then feel a flicker euphoria and relief which passes away immediately leaving feeling depleted, irritable, depressed and ashamed when you realize that you became less human by desiring an image instead of the image of God in your spouse.

 “When having sex or watching porn, dopamine is released into a region of the brain responsible for emotion and learning, giving the viewer a sense of sharp focus and a sense of craving: “I have got to have this thing; this is what I need right now.” It supplies a great sense of pleasure. The next time the viewer gets the “itch” for more sexual pleasure, small packets of dopamine are released in the brain telling the user: “Remember where you got your fix last time. Go there to get it.””

Brain Chemicals and Porn Addiction: Science Shows How Porn Harms Us

 

 

Achan buried his stash of “devoted things” under his tent. Men, not unlike Achan, will bury their images under the guise of normal.  But what happens under the “tent of normal” does not stay in the “tent of the normal”. The people around you are adversely affected, just as the people around Achan were affected by his sin. The people of Israel were defeated in battle because God was angry about the sin. From Joshua chapter 7:

10 The Lord said to Joshua, “Stand up! What are you doing down on your face? 11 Israel has sinned; they have violated my covenant, which I commanded them to keep. They have taken some of the devoted things; they have stolen, they have lied, they have put them with their own possessions. 12 That is why the Israelites cannot stand against their enemies; they turn their backs and run because they have been made liable to destruction. I will not be with you anymore unless you destroy whatever among you is devoted to destruction.

 

How do we deal with our own Image Locker? Achan began with confession:

And Achan answered Joshua, “Of a truth I have sinned against the Lord God of Israel, and this is what I did: 21 when I saw among the spoil a beautiful mantle from Shinar, and two hundred shekels of silver, and a bar of gold weighing fifty shekels, then I coveted them, and took them; and behold, they are hidden in the earth inside my tent, with the silver underneath.” Joshua 7:20-21

Be sure, sin’s consequences follow sin, again from Joshua 7:

22 So Joshua sent messengers, and they ran to the tent, and there it was, hidden in his tent, with the silver underneath. 23 They took the things from the tent, brought them to Joshua and all the Israelites and spread them out before the Lord.

24 Then Joshua, together with all Israel, took Achan son of Zerah, the silver, the robe, the gold bar, his sons and daughters, his cattle, donkeys and sheep, his tent and all that he had, to the Valley of Achor. 25 Joshua said, “Why have you brought this trouble on us? The Lord will bring trouble on you today.”

Then all Israel stoned him, and after they had stoned the rest, they burned them. 26 Over Achan they heaped up a large pile of rocks, which remains to this day. Then the Lord turned from his fierce anger. Therefore that place has been called the Valley of Achor[f] ever since.

 

If you are looking for trouble then the Valley of Achor is the place you will end up at. “Achor” means trouble. Continue to covet those things God meant for you to destroy. Continue to view porn. Then, as happened to Achan, you and your Image Locker will be tossed out of your family and your community. You and those around you will be burned and stoned and a huge pile of rocks will cover your charred and flattened carcass.

Or, you can confess to God and to your family about your sin. And, you take the images out of your Image Locker and burn them and then stone them and then bury them under a huge pile of rocks. This may require you to take the TV, the computer and the Smartphone and burn them, stone them and bury them.  Better these things than you. I am not kidding. This is how healing of memories begins: speaking the truth about sin and then dealing with it so as to destroy its existence. Besides, you had been warned about the heat you would incur:

“For on account of a harlot one is reduced to a loaf of bread, And an adulteress hunts for the precious life. Can a man take fire in his bosom And his clothes not be burned? Or can a man walk on hot coals And his feet not be scorched?… “  –Proverbs 6: 26-28

 

I know of a man who was addicted to pornography. This man traveled about 60% of the time for his job. He was alone most of the time. In his hotel room at night, he told himself that he was under a lot pressure to perform. As such, to ‘comfort’ himself, he took in images from the computer and TV. The things he took in were things which should have been destroyed. They are the Enemies’ ‘things’.

After a time, he became depressed and sensed a growing feeling of emptiness and shame. He had put himself under the pressure excuse and now he was covered with dirt and holding onto his “devoted things”. This man finally confessed his sin. He then destroyed whatever image files he had saved to his computer. He then began to use a web browser that wouldn’t allow him to see pornography. He put his TV into a bedroom closet. He took another job where he was around the same people every day. He held himself accountable. But, his response didn’t end there. He knew he had to re-image his mind.

He “put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge in the image of its Creator.” He began to study art. He attended life drawing classes where he learned to see and draw the human figure. He went on to become a portrait artist. He is now seeing the image of the Creator in the eyes and faces of those he paints.

Final word:  Take your Image Locker and move somewhere where you can be in nature. One could become a bird watcher or an astronomer. In other words, begin to fill your Image Locker with “things that are above” the “earthly elements”.

~~~

Here are three quotes regarding the effects of pornography:

“I believe – and research backs it – that material that children see online affects their ideas on sex. Nonetheless this is something that teaches us that we need to react before the damage is done and we need to prevent children seeing something online that might harm them or give them delusions”, explained Dagbjört Ásbjörnsdóttir, a sexologist at the Reykjavik department of Education and Youth.

Tackling the impact of porn on Iceland’s youths

 

“He was close with his family, but as far as friends go — he maybe had those acquaintances he communicated with every once in a while, but he pretty much isolated himself,” a source tells PEOPLE of Salling —Mark Salling’s Final Days: Glee Alum ‘Isolated Himself’ Amid Child Porn Case, Source Says

  

“[Anonymous] made me a more extreme version of myself,” William said. “I used to sleep badly. Now I sleep terribly. I used to be sarcastic; now I can be an a__hole.” He didn’t just “like “tormenting people; he loved it. He didn’t just “like” porn; he looked at it every day. “None of this bothers me, he added. “I don’t care about anything.” William had said in the past that he had no moral code; everything was case by case, his decisions based on gut reaction. Earnest Hemingway had said it best: “What is moral is what you feel good after, and what is immoral is what you feel bad after.”

Jake was nodding. “I have to agree with all of that, “he said. It desensitized me.”Acting out with crowds of people on the Internet had created a detachment from reality and a sense of obliviousness to certain consequences. Anonymous did bad things, but its members were not bad people, per se.” (emphasis mine) —We Are Anonymous: Inside the World of LulzSec, Anonymous, and the Global Cyber Insurgency

Added 2-10-2018:

“Research has found a correlation between pornography use and mental and physical illnesses, difficulty forming and maintaining intimate relationships, unhealthy brain development and cognitive function, and deviant, problematic or dangerous sexual behavior,” Spano said before the House Health & Human Services Committee approved the resolution on an 18-1 vote.
Florida Legislature could declare pornography a health risk

 Added 2-22-2018:
Resources for Combating porn:

Dealing with a porn addiction: Integrity Restored
Internet filter: Covenant Eyes
A book for junior high and high school level: Plunging Pornography
A book for the very young: Good Pictures Bad Pictures

The Search ‘Engine’ Above the Cloud

 

“So if you were raised to life with the king, search for the things that are above, where the king is seated at God’s right hand.” The Apostle Paul, Colossians 3: 1-2 

 

 

Studying Paul’s letter to the Colossian church this past week, I came across the above verse. It is one which is well-known to me. I’ve read it many times. Looking at it very casually over the years, the verse seemed to hold a nice greeting card thought, one that seemed more sentiment than prescription. But this time, words stood out. First, I wondered: what does Paul mean by “search for things above”?

Paul wrote this letter in prison. His limbs were likely aching from the dampness. His eyes, possible bleary with cataracts, saw dark figures of vermin looking for morsels of bread he may have dropped. The torch in the cavern flickered dark images onto the wall in front of his cell. Looking above his circumstances, Paul warns the Colossian church, with words preceding the above instruction, of placing faith in the temporal:

“If you died with the king, coming out from the rule of the “worldly elements,” what’s the point of laying down laws as though your life was still merely worldly? “Don’t handle! Don’t taste! Don’t touch!” Rules like that all have to do with things that disappear as you use them.”

Paul goes on to point out the pretense of these man-made rules: “They may give the appearance of wisdom since they promote a do-it-yourself religion.” Instead of a religion of here-today-gone-tomorrow works, Paul was pushing these Christians to live in the resurrection life they had received. Good works would flow out from them. And he knew that no DIY secular religion would honor King Jesus. So, in order to help them come out from “the rule of ‘worldly elements’”, Paul placed them under the rule of King Jesus.  Paul wrote, “So if you were raised to life with the king, search for the things that are above…”

Two things popped out at me reading the above verse. I mentioned the first. The second:  Paul writing “…where the king is seated at God’s right hand.” Immediately I remembered where I had heard something similar before.

“Look!” Stephen said. “I can see heaven opened, and the son of man standing at God’s right hand!”

These words are found in Acts chapter 7. There we find Stephen forced to address the Assembly of religious leaders. He provides the audience with a marvelous summary of Israel’s history. Stephen ends his discourse with some piercing words and the words above. The crowd would never forget those words, even though they covered their ears and yelled at him at the tops of the voices. So unsettled and angry was the crowd that they took Stephen out and stoned him to death. This was all done before a witness, a young man named Saul.

Who do you think Saul/Paul had in mind when he wrote, “…where the king is seated at God’s right hand.”? We don’t know for sure if Paul was in the Assembly that day Stephen spoke. Even if he wasn’t he would have been very aware of what was said. Paul was the Assembly’s appointed Inquisitor. He was ordered to stop the insurgents called “Followers of the Way”.

Paul, the witness and persecutor, was now Paul the prisoner and fellow sufferer in Christ with martyred Stephen. His relationship with King Jesus had taken him to new personal lows. But, Paul searched for things above and found them. They sufficed. Paul saw King Jesus sitting at God’s right hand.

 

What about our search?

Have you watched the TV series The Curse of Oak Island? Over the many episodes I’ve watched, the Lagina brothers search for buried treasure. In their search they have looked at maps. They have been to the library and to France. They have sifted dirt and information. They found both material fragments related to the historical period of the treasure and fragments of information also related. They have talked to many people who have knowledge of the island and the treasure. And, they dug and dug and dug. They are relentless in their pursuit of the treasure. They have a hope in what they do not yet see but visualize. What they do see are milestones that point in the direction of the fulfillment of their hope.

Have we stopped searching “for things above”? Have we stopped digging deep into the Word? Have we thrown away fragments of our character that would have pointed us to hope realized?

Does our search involve Scripture reading, studying Greek and Hebrew and history, praying and visualizing? Does our search involve hours and days and months and years looking for the pearl of great price? If you are looking at yourself and people’s reactions to you online then you will not find the treasure. Looking at the “worldly elements” won’t reveal it. Searching is lifetime, long-haul hard work. That is the Indian Jones adventure and romance of life. Except, we chose fantasy and the illusory.

In TV commercials one can see someone talking into an impersonal box. The ‘intelligent personal assistant’ box is connected to a search engine which is tied into a data cloud which is linked into a data storage island somewhere. But “the box” does not have the answer to life’s most pressing questions. As an engineer, I hold no grudge against technology. I just know that technology will not “search for things above.” You are responsible for that.

Many will use a search engine like Google to find information related to a certain topic. Now, consider searching “for things above” for answers to all of life’s “topics”. These ‘topics’ would include “Why is there pain and suffering?”; “How do I go on?”; “Who should I marry?”; “What about my wayward son? “How will I afford this surgery?”; What hope do I have when I can’t see things getting better?”; “What is my raison d’être?”; “What is God’s will and how will it be done on earth as in heaven?” Back to Paul and his words to the Roman churches about searching questions and seeing results.

“We were saved, you see, in hope. But hope isn’t hope if you can see it! Who hopes for what they can see? But if we hope for what we don’t see, we wait eagerly — but also patiently.” Romans 8:24-25

So, hope means waiting for what we do not yet see. But, are you uneasy when you can’t visualize the person you are talking to? Then learn to see Jesus sitting at the right hand of the father, with all authority in heaven and earth. Still struggling with searching “for things above”?

“In the same way, too, the spirit comes alongside and helps us in our weakness. We don’t know what to pray for as we ought to, but that same spirit pleads on our behalf, with groanings too deep for words. And the Searcher of Hearts knows what the spirit is thinking, because the spirt pleads for God’s people according to God’s will.” Romans 8:26-27

In prison and on the road, Paul tapped into resurrection life – into “the things that are above, where the king is seated at God’s right hand.” Paul was well aware that earthly and evil forces would love for us to remain in our petty, self-serving and secularly pious ways, embracing “worldly elements.” The Evil One wants us to focus only on ourselves and our material concerns. The Evil One does not want us to look above. Remember Satan’s temptation of Jesus in the desert. The Evil One wanted Jesus to acknowledge him, in effect, as the top Search Engine of the World. A ‘search engine’ that offered the world to his web-surfing devotees.

“Then the devil took him off again, this time to a very high mountain. There he showed Jesus all the magnificent kingdoms of the world.

“I’ll give the whole lot to you” he said, “If you will fall down and worship me.”

“Get out of here, you satan!” replied Jesus. “The Bible says, ‘Worship the Lord your God and, serve him alone!”

The Searcher of Hearts – the only Authoritative ‘search engine’-sits at God’s right hand. We are told to “search for the things that are above”, where our king “is seated at God’s right hand”. What are you waiting for? There’s a seat waiting for you.

 “This will be my gift to the one who conquers: I will sit them beside me on my throne, just as I conquered and sat with my father on his throne.” Revelation 3:21

Pray it Forward

 

“I, Paul, am in prison because I am a missionary for Jesus Christ to you who are not Jews.” Ephesian 3:1 

 

 

1st Century AD. You are in a prison in Ephesus. You long to know how your young children are doing, your young children in the faith. You have been called to preach the Good News and announce the Kingdom of God to the Gentiles. Seeds have been planted but they must be watered and fed and cared for in order for there to be fruit. But, here you are locked up. So, you write letters and pray and pray and pray.

 

“For this reason, from the day we heard it, we haven’t stopped praying for you. We are asking God to fill you with the knowledge of what he wants in all wisdom and spiritual understanding. This means that you’ll be able to conduct yourselves in a manner worthy of the Lord, and so give him real delight, as you bear fruit in every good word and grow in the knowledge of God. I pray that you’ll be given all possible strength, according to the power of his glory, so that you’ll have complete patience and become truly steadfast and joyful.

And I pray that you will learn to give thanks to the father, who has made you fit to share the inheritance of God’s holy ones in the light. He has delivered us from the power of darkness, and transferred us into the kingdom of his beloved son. He is the one in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins.” Colossians 9-14

 

As I read these verses I envisioned Paul sitting in a dimly lit and damp prison cell. He is agitated and fretting. He is deeply concerned for those outside the cell, those surrounded by the power of darkness. Paul is not whining. He is not demanding. He is not writing his bio.

Paul is praying and hasn’t stopped praying for those beyond his cell. Paul is praying that they may be filled with knowledge and that they may be given all strength to use that knowledge to bear fruit. He prays that they will learn to give thanks for the One who transferred them into his Kingdom out of the darkness. The irony that Paul has been transferred to a dank dark prison cell because of the Kingdom does not affect his vision of the Kingdom or his prayer life.

This is Kingdom prayer. The prayer is for others. The prayer lifts others up and reinforces others. The prayer points away from self and toward the One who is able to do more than we ask or think on behalf of others. This is dark night of the cell prayer, where one is alone with God and unable to move but a few feet. Paul’s actions are distilled down to praying verbs: “fill”, “bear”, “grow”, “learn”.

 

 

There are many who are unable to move but a few feet. The elderly, who have been active most of their lives, now sit. Some may even think of their bodies as a prison cell. But, in that “cell” the “wisdom and spiritual understanding” that was prayer directed at them some two millennia before can be applied to their Kingdom prayer now. They can pray for their children and grandchildren and great-grandchildren just a Paul prayed for his children in the faith. The fact that they, two millennia later, have faith means that Paul’s prayer was effective. Some were “filled” with knowledge. Some were “filled” with knowledge and “bore” fruit. Some were “filled” with knowledge and “bore” fruit and “gained” strength. Some were “filled” with knowledge and “bore” fruit and “gained” strength and “learned” to give thanks.

There will always be situations beyond our control. I was reminded this past two weeks of how uncontrollable are the forces that surround me. The weather in the Chicago area has been frigid. I do not remember such cold temps and I have lived in the area for over 65 years.

At 65 years you begin to think about mobility later in life. You wonder, at least I do, about how long your legs will cooperate. So, I see it is time for me to exercise Kingdom prayer with action verbs. It is long past time for me to pray it forward.

 

More Kingdom prayer from prison:

“For this reason, I bow my knees and pray to the Father. It is from Him that every family in heaven and on earth has its name. I pray that because of the riches of His shining-greatness, He will make you strong with power in your hearts through the Holy Spirit. I pray that Christ may live in your hearts by faith. I pray that you will be filled with love. I pray that you will be able to understand how wide and how long and how high and how deep His love is. I pray that you will know the love of Christ. His love goes beyond anything we can understand. I pray that you will be filled with God Himself.

God is able to do much more than we ask or think through His power working in us. May we see His shining-greatness in the church. May all people in all time honor Christ Jesus. Let it be so.”  Ephesians 3: 14-21

Jake’s Midnight Dust Up

 

The last day of 2017 found Jake alone in the empty house. The movers had come and gone. Earlier that day Jake sent his wife Rachel off with their two kids to their new home in another state. Jake stayed behind to clean up the house for the new owners. The house belonged to them at midnight.

Rachel was Jake’s second wife. His first wife Leah divorced him after she found out about Jake’s cheating. And, so that there was no more cheating, child support for Jake’s and Leah’s six sons and daughter was deducted from his paycheck. Jake wasn’t proud of what he had done but he was a survivor.

His mother, though, who had taught Jake from his childhood to “get what is yours”, was proud of him. So was Jake’s manager Aram Fields. Aram liked Jake. Jake’s sales record chart was given pride of place in the break room – on an easel next to the water cooler. During the twenty years Jake had worked for Aram, he became Fields Pre-Driven Cars’ top salesman seven years in a row. Jake became family when he married Rachel, Aram’s daughter.

Jake could pitch like no other salesman Aram knew. And, Jake’s mark-up-the-interest-rate-2-or-3 % financing was his specialty. Jake also knew each car’s history and could promote each one as “slightly used but highly prized by its previous owner”. Jake had a way of convincing people to “get what is yours”.

 

Well, that night, while Jake was in the kitchen cleaning the oven, there was a knock on the front door. When Jake opened the door, there stood a man with a tool carrier.

“Hi…uh…I didn’t call you. I…what are you here for?’

“What is your name?”

“Jake.”

“I’m at the right place.”

“No, I don’t think so.”

“Yes, I am.

“No. I didn’t call anyone. This is still my house.”

“Your house?”

“Yes! Now I have to get back to work. Goodbye…” Jake tried to close the door but the man put his foot in the doorway.

“Hey! Now you are making me mad! Get out!”

“I’m here to fix what is broken.”

“What?! What is broken?”

“Are you sure you didn’t call me?”

“I would know if I called you, wouldn’t I?”

“I have the tools. Let me in.”

“I have my own tools. And, I have what it takes to fix things in my own house.”

“I don’t think so.”

“Hey you! You know what?! My manager Aram thinks I have what it takes. He pays me pretty good to make things happen.”

“You like to be rewarded for your efforts?”

“Yes, of course!”

“I am here to reward you for your efforts.”

“Huh?”

“I can fix what is broken.”

“What?! What is broken?”

“Are you sure you didn’t call me?”

“I would know if I called you, wouldn’t I?”

“I have the tools. Let me in.”

“I have my own tools. And, I’ve been fixing things all my life.”

“I don’t think so.”

“Hey! We just went through all this before. You are wasting my time.”

“I did offer to help.”

“I don’t need help. I am my own man. I’m not just another senior citizen you can manipulate. I’ve been around the block.”

“Look, you bicker with me and you bicker with others. You’re good at bickering to “get yours” and at getting other people ‘theirs’. Tell me your name again.”

“Jake! I told you!”

“I’m at the right place.”

“No, I don’t think so.”

“Yes, I am.

The back and forth between Jake and the man went on for what seemed like hours. Neither Jake or the man gave in. Jake, at last, became exasperated.

“Listen. I didn’t call anyone. This is still my house. I’m in charge”

“Your house? What time is it?

“Time for you to leave! Get outta here!” Jake pushed the door against the man’s foot.

When the man saw that Jake was not going to let him in he grabbed an envelope from the tool carrier and handed it to Jake. Then he asked, “You are Jake Houseman? You purchased 763 Peniel?”

“Yes.”

“Your new property…this is what the bank came back with. You purchased the foreclosure with cash but there is a property tax lien against it.

Jake opened it and saw the notice of notice of lien on his new property. His face wrenched.

“Hey, hold on!” Jake grabbed the man by the arm as he tried to leave. “We’ve got to work this out!”

The man said, “Let me go. I have to be on my way.”

“No way. You are staying until we get this business sorted out!”

“I will work it out. You have my word.” Jake loosened his grip and let go.

“Besides,” the man said, “you are no longer Jake Houseman. You are now Jake Newhouse.” The man winked and then turned and left.

“Hey, what’s your name?”

“I knew your father and your grandfather,” the man called back from across the yard.

The man walked past the neighbor’s house and was then out of sight.

Jake stood in the doorway. The rising sun cast his long shadow onto the floor of the empty house behind him. Jake stood there stunned and tired and hurting. After several minutes of looking at the lien and rubbing his forehead, Jake went back inside. He picked up his tools and cleaning supplies. He placed the extra set of house keys on the kitchen table, walked out the front door and then over to his car.

At the sidewalk, Jake, with his face still wrenched, turned to look back at the house.

“I bought someone else’s lemon. What a ball-breaker that guy is! But, I’ll live. Lesson learned. Goodbye house on Jabbok.”

And so Jake saw the sun rise on another year.

 

 

 

 

 

© Jennifer A. Johnson, 2017, All Rights Reserved

~~~

Chagall – Jacob Wrestling with God

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Schoenberg: Die Jakobsleiter: Friede auf Erden, Op. 13. Orchestral version

Breaking News

Breaking News

By Jennifer Ann Johnson

 

Against a backdrop—indigo and star,

Luminous angels appear before men,

Ancient Wisdom they proclaim near and far,

To shepherds and sheep, to earth and heaven.

 

Luminous angels appear before men,

On a Space-Time night with Tripartite accord,

To shepherds and sheep, to earth and heaven,

“A new and living way” with rights ignored.

 

On a Space-Time night with Tripartite accord,

Emmanuel lay swaddled, veiled in flesh,

“A new and living way” with rights ignored,

In the love of the Father, mankind refreshed.

 

Emmanuel lay swaddled, veiled in flesh,

The babe’s short gasp rouses the dry bones of men,

In the love of the Father, mankind refreshed,

“I, the Lord, will breathe my life into them.”

 

The babe’s short gasp rouses the dry bones of men,

Ancient Wisdom He proclaims near and far,

“I, the Lord, will breathe my life into them,

Like your backdrop—indigo and star.”

 

 

© Jennifer A. Johnson, 2017, All Rights Reserved

The Living Bird is Let Loose

 

“And the Lord spoke to Moses and Aaron, saying: “When a man has on the skin of his body a swelling, a scab, or a bright spot, and it becomes on the skin of his body like a leprous sore, then he shall be brought to Aaron the priest or to one of his sons the priests.  The priest shall examine the sore on the skin of the body; and if the hair on the sore has turned white, and the sore appears to be deeper than the skin of his body, it is a leprous sore.

The above quote is the opening to The Law Concerning Leprosy as recorded in Leviticus 13.

Leprosy: Chronic skin-disease characterized by ulcerous eruptions and successive desquainations of dead skin.

Jewish Encyclopedia

~~~

In Luke’s gospel account, chapter 17 vs. 11-19, we learn of ten lepers who plead for mercy (“Have pity on us!”) at a distance from the crowd. Keeping a distance from others was in keeping with the law proscribed in Leviticus 13. Any leper who was examined after several specified intervals and then declared unclean was isolated, sent to the outskirts of a city. The “unclean” would be required to yell “Unclean!” to any passersby.

Most of us know from a Sunday School lesson what happens in Luke’s gospel account: ten lepers are completely healed by Jesus. The ten are sent by Jesus, in keeping with the Law, to a priest for examination. Only one of the lepers returns to give thanks to Jesus.

The_Healing_of_Ten_Lepers_(Guérison_de_dix_lépreux)_-_James_Tissot_-_overall

The Healing of Ten Lepers by James Tissot

“Is it really the case that the only one who had the decency to give God the glory was this foreigner?”

The healing occurs as Jesus passes along the borderlands between Samaria and Galilee on his way to Jerusalem. The formerly leprous foreigner, and not the nine formerly leprous Israelites, is the one who returns to Jesus to give thanks. Like the Samaritan women who would gladly eat the crumbs under the master’s table, this foreigner knew that Israel’s God was different from all other gods. How different, this foreigner would come to find out. The difference would make his skin tingle.

Jesus made it clear to his disciples that his mission on earth, his vocation, was to his covenant people, the Jews. The Jews were the people God chose to bring light to the nations. But the Jews failed in their vocation. Rebellion, idolatry, stiff necked obstinacy, you name it. The people resisted their calling even after witnessing the extraordinary events of the Exodus – the Plagues, the Red sea dividing, the cloud by day, fire by night, manna on the ground in the morning and water flowing from a rock. The Covenant people resisted their calling even when given a tutor-personal words from God-to keep themselves from sin and sickness and to bring healing to the nations.

One leper returned to give, “God the glory.” Did those hearing Jesus words to this foreigner think about their vocation? Did God’s covenant people, Israel, presume a right to be an entitled people of God’s goodness. Were God’s people like the nine newly restored lepers with a focus on themselves? (Imagine a people focused on a right to healthcare.)

As one can see, the ten-leper account is an analog of the Israel’s history through the centuries. Leprosy is an analog for sin. Sin is that chronic soul-disease characterized by ulcerous eruptions of wickedness and successive offenses and sins of the walking dead.

Early on, Israel was told to eradicate idols from their lives. They were to be a separate and distinct people from the nations around them. When Israel became like other nations and chose to believe that God is not all that He was proclaimed to be, God sent prophets.

The prophet Isaiah, in the presence of God, declared as “the foundations of the thresholds trembled at the voice of him who called out, while the temple was filling with smoke. “Woe to me!” I cried. “I am ruined! For I am a man of unclean lips, and I live among a people of unclean lips, and my eyes have seen the King, the LORD Almighty.” -Isaiah 6:5

In God’s presence, Isaiah was made aware of his and Israel’s’ condition. Isaiah would prophecy against Israel-the Northern Kingdom. Corporately, Israel was rich and prosperous under the rule of Jereboam. But individually, Israel was very corrupt. Israel would be expelled from home. By 621 B.C. Israel would be conquered and carried into captivity by the Assyrians.

In exile, Israel pleaded for mercy (“Have pity on us!”).

 

Let’s return to the ten lepers. After healing them Jesus tells them, “Go show yourselves to the priests.”

The following quote is The Ritual for Cleansing Healed Lepers as recorded in Leviticus 14:

Then the Lord spoke to Moses, saying, “This shall be the law of the leper for the day of his cleansing: He shall be brought to the priest.  And the priest shall go out of the camp, and the priest shall examine him; and indeed, if the leprosy is healed in the leper, then the priest shall command to take for him who is to be cleansed two living and clean birds, cedar wood, scarlet, and hyssop.  And the priest shall command that one of the birds be killed in an earthen vessel over running water.  As for the living bird, he shall take it, the cedar wood and the scarlet and the hyssop, and dip them and the living bird in the blood of the bird that was killed over the running water.  And he shall sprinkle it seven times on him who is to be cleansed from the leprosy, and shall pronounce him clean, and shall let the living bird loose in the open field. He who is to be cleansed shall wash his clothes, shave off all his hair, and wash himself in water, that he may be clean. After that he shall come into the camp, and shall stay outside his tent seven days. But on the seventh day he shall shave all the hair off his head and his beard and his eyebrows—all his hair he shall shave off. He shall wash his clothes and wash his body in water, and he shall be clean…

“Then the priest shall offer the sin offering, and make atonement for him who is to be cleansed from his uncleanness. Afterward he shall kill the burnt offering. And the priest shall offer the burnt offering and the grain offering on the altar. So the priest shall make atonement for him, and he shall be clean.”

Do you see any analogs in the above passage? What is it about the two birds? One is killed and the other set free. And, what about that earthen vessel in which one bird is killed?

 

In Leviticus 13, the priests were required to check the skin of the individual who was observed to have an ulcerous skin condition. The priest did this over several prescribed intervals. Each time the priest would examine the individual to determine if…

“If, after the scales of leprosy have spread over nearly the whole body, a bleeding and scaleless ulcer (miḥyah) is observed, the subject is unclean. Similarly, if the scales, having covered almost the whole body, fall off in one place and uncover an old bleeding ulcer, the subject is unclean.”Jewish Encyclopedia

It is interesting to note that in the next verses following the account of the lepers, Luke 17 vs. 20-21, that Jesus refers to what is observed to answer the Pharisees question, a question which was on every Jew’s mind. He reminds them of what you can see with Kingdom eyes:

“The Pharisees asked Jesus when the kingdom of God was coming.

“God’s Kingdom,” replied Jesus isn’t the sort of thing you can watch for and see coming. People won’t say, ‘Look, here it is,’ or “Look, over there!” No: God’s kingdom is within your grasp.”

In giving the lepers a renewed humanity and by restoring them to their communities and Synagogues from exile Jesus was doing the work of the Kingdom on earth. He hoped the nine of Israel (and the crowd) would have grasped this. We are told that the only one to “give God the glory” was the foreigner. Do you think he kneeled and grasped Jesus’ feet in thanksgiving?

What’s Not to Wonder: All Things Reconsidered

 

He is the image of God, the invisible one,

The firstborn of creation.

For in him all things were created,

In the heavens and here on earth.

Things we can see and things we cannot—

Thrones and lordships and rulers and power—

All things were created both through him and for him.

 

 

-The first stanza of one of the earliest Christian poems as recorded in the Apostle Paul’s letter to the church at Colossae, Colossians 1:15-16

~~~

The thing of it.

I grew up around Sola Scriptura thinking. I attended Bible churches for the first half of my life. I attended Moody Bible Institute after high school. In these institutions the trinity of Scripture, right living and evangelism were constantly posited and deemed to be what mattered most. The rest of the cosmos seemed immaterial, except for the tithe. And, not once during that time did I hear anything about science and the nature of things. It was if nature was to be seen but not heard from. But gnostic thinking didn’t come from Jesus. He offered his body and blood as true food and drink (John 6: 53-57).

It wasn’t until I took a college level physics course which employed a mathematics course I was taking at the same time that I became wowed by the nature of things and the theology of science. When I saw that mechanical forces and properties could be defined in beautiful mathematical terms I knew that God was the Designer. I was wowed into worship. I knew for the first time that every…thing… would lead me back to the Creator in a way that Sola Scriptura could never do.

It was also at that time that I began a career in electrical engineering.  I saw engineering as a place where the material and the spiritual could be fused in a creative process. As an engineer I no longer used my Sola Scriptura-infused right brain to dismiss the left brain and its focus on objects—things–as unspiritual and of no eternal value.

Why study the nature of things and theology of science? Everything in the natural world is a sign, a trace, an echo, an image and a sacrament of the triune God. The goodness of God is diffused into HIs good creation. As such, everything in creation has been given a profound relationality with a space to be and a sense of particularity so that it is encountered and not just used.

RNAScience, and certainly engineering, attends to the particularity of things. Both scientists and engineers must understand a thing and how it relates to other things. Imagine if they didn’t. Imagine if geneticists, physicists, biologists, chemists and aeronautical engineers didn’t consider how things relate to each other. Imagine if an electrical engineer didn’t consider that 3000 amps through an aluminum conductor rated for 600 amps would cause heating and the ultimate melting of the conductor. God gave us Scripture so that we could understand God’s nature expressed in the Word (John’s Gospel chapter one). God gave us nature so that we could understand God’s nature as expressed in things.

 

God creates in particular and yet everything created is related. Electrons are relational to protons and neutrons. The periodic table reveals that relationality.

Exoplanet-A temperate exo-Earth around a quiet M dwarf at 3 & 4 tenths parsecs

Before the elements ever began to appear in Mendeleyev’s table they had been fused together-related-in the nuclear furnace of stars. The dying stars sent the dust off into space, into our space, where the elements are now used by engineers to design airplanes, prosthetic arms, super colliders, diodes, super conductors, …every…thing…known to man.

Why study the science of things? Because God made them to be studied. God made the unpredictability of quantum physics for us to puzzle over, to reflect on and then to uncover its mysteries, e.g., light as both point and wave. That contemplative exercise is necessary for the theology of science. And, it what’s required for our theology of the mysterious three-in-one Trinity.

Why study the science of things? Because nothing is stamped on the bottom, “made by God.” That’s for us to find out. We were created to be scientists.

~~~

The Lord and Creator of the Universe, the One for whom all things were created, the One who has taken on a stardust composite of an image-bearing human is standing on a hillside speaking to a massive crowd of people about his kingdom on earth. Just then, a creation of about 13.8 billion years in the making darts by and lands near an open spot. Jesus then talks about what he values in particular…

Collared flycatcher-Ficedula albicollis

“Don’t be afraid of people who can kill the body, but can’t kill the soul. The one you should be afraid of is the one who can destroy both body and soul in Gehenna. How much would you get for a couple of sparrows? A single copper coin if you are lucky? And not one of them falls to the ground without your father knowing about it. When it comes to you—why, every hair on you head is counted. So don’t be afraid! You’re worth much more than a great many sparrows.”

-the Gospel according to Matthew 10: 28-31

 

All things reconsidered, since Paul’s poem tells us that all things were created for Jesus, then Jesus’ words to us give us a clue as to where his treasure lies: “Show me your treasure, and I’ll show you where your heart is.”

~~~

The Pleaides and Orion by John Michael Talbot

What’s Not to Wonder: Children of the Light

György Ligeti: Lux Aeterna

 

Consider the scientific testimony about light:

-The sunlight whereby you see everything this moment left the sun about 8.3 minutes ago. But there is more than meets the eye. That light is estimated to be between about 100,000 to 50 million years old by the time it reaches your window plants.

The light began as gamma rays in the sun’s nuclear core. The rays headed out and immediately began colliding with matter surrounding the sun’s core. These collisions (think pinball game) slow down and ‘convert’ the gamma rays into photons. When the photons finally make it to the surface of the sun they stream to the earth in no time flat:  8.3 minutes to travel one astronomical unit (see table below).

-Sunlight received is ancient.

-It is estimated that light from the Andromeda galaxy is 2.5 million years old

Andromeda

-After the explosion of the Big Bang space began to expand. “The early universe was opaque because it was so dense: radiation in the form of photons was constantly being absorbed and re-emitted. Only when the universe was about 300,00 years old did it become transparent enough so that photons could travel in straight lines…A billion years or so after the big bang, the first stars and galaxies began to form. Clusters and superclusters of galaxies emerged over time. The universe continued its expansion, eventually reaching its current size.” Dr. Amir D. Aczel, God’s Equation

-Cosmic Microwave Background (CMB) is the afterglow of creation. It is the oldest light we can see, approximately 14 billion years old.

cosmic microwave background dispersion of the universe after big bang

 

“The cosmic microwave background (CMB) is electromagnetic radiation left over from an early stage of the universe in Big Bang Cosmology. In older literature, the CMB is also variously known as cosmic microwave background radiation (CMBR) or “relic radiation”. The CMB is a faint cosmic background radiation filling all space that is an important source of data on the early universe because it is the oldest electromagnetic radiation in the universe, dating to the epoch of recombination.” Source: Cosmic microwave background

-It took about 13.8 billion years for the universe to expand, cool down and then enable and support carbon-based life on earth.

 

In the light of science’s testimony about ancient light consider the testimony Scripture records:

 “There was a man called John, who was sent from God. He came as evidence, to give evidence about the light, so that everyone might believe in him…The true light, which gives light to every human being, was coming into the world.” John’s eyewitness & empirical gospel account 1: 6-7,9

“The light is among you a little while longer,” replied Jesus. “Keep walking while you have the light, in case the darkness overcomes you. People who walk in the dark don’t know where they are going. While you have the light, believe in the light, so that you may be children of the light.” John’s eyewitness & empirical gospel account 12: 35-36

 

 

Consider the ramifications of both testimonies:

Before anyone was born, before anyone began hoping for a “Like” on social media and before anyone decided that light should be overcome by darkness, light began streaming towards you. And that light has been continually streaming towards you.

All the days ordained for me were written in your book before one of them came to be. How precious to me are your thoughts, God How vast is the sum of them! Were I to count them, they would outnumber the grains of sand—when I awake, I am still with you (Psalm 139:16-18).

“He chose us in him before the world was made, so as to be holy and irreproachable before him in love. He foreordained us for himself, to be adopted as sons and daughters through Jesus the King. That’s how he wanted it, and that’s what gave him delight…” Ephesians 1:4

 

It is time for us, like John the Baptist, to give evidence of the Light which has come into the world and to walk in that Ancient of Days light, reflecting “the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus the Messiah.” 2 Corinthians 4:6

~~~

How fast does light travel from the Sun to each of the planets?

Light travels at a speed of 299,792 kilometers per second; 186,287 miles per second. It takes 499.0 seconds for light to travel from the Sun to the Earth, a distance called 1 Astronomical Unit. below I list the light travel times from the Sun to each planet:

Planet           Distance in AU            Travel time

…………………………………………………………..

Mercury              0.387        193.0 seconds   or    3.2 minutes

Venus                0.723        360.0 seconds   or    6.0 minutes

Earth                1.000        499.0 seconds   or    8.3 minutes

Mars                 1.523        759.9 seconds   or   12.6 minutes

Jupiter              5.203       2595.0 seconds   or   43.2 minutes

Saturn               9.538       4759.0 seconds   or   79.3 minutes

Uranus              19.819       9575.0 seconds   or  159.6 minutes

Neptune             30.058      14998.0 seconds   or    4.1 hours

Pluto               39.44       19680.0 seconds   or    5.5 hours

…………………………………………………………..

Mercy Me or Else

 

“Mercy and truth are met together; righteousness and peace have kissed each other.” Psalms 85:10

 

In these days of full grown 60’s love and its love child Ad Hoc Gospel mercy like rights are now demanded. And this “mercy” is demanded of Christians who pose a threat to the LGBT community by not agreeing that homosexuality is accepted in God’s kingdom on earth.

In the domain of “peace and love” LGBT advocacy a Christian saying so is “judgmental” and therefore not merciful. The Christian is therefore deemed unJesus-like. For the advocates, the millenniums-old Christian narrative must be changed, adapted and ’queered’ so that mercy can be given without knowledge of wrongdoing.

No one has to tell me that life is hard. We all look for relief from what life brings us. Yet, those who advocate for mercy towards those who practice homosexuality look for relief for those who bring hardship onto themselves. “But”, some tell me, “they are born with homosexuality. They can’t help themselves. They were born “this way”. So, they want Christians to back off and give homosexuality a pass. And yet, there is no doubt that same-sex attraction is a pernicious addiction that is fostered to full-grown habit by #LGBT advocacy.

Homosexuals “shall not pass” into the kingdom of God. Truth, reason, nature, Scripture (1 Cor. 6:9-11, among other texts) – none of these will give homosexuality a pass. Neither will science. There is no “gay gene.”

Does not the word “mercy” imply a transgression has been committed? The word, “grace”, another Biblical-panacea term is swapped by religious advocates for “mercy” as the means to the same end. These two words are used interchangeably to invoke a softness towards behavior ‘formerly thought’ unacceptable by the ‘unenlightened’.

There will always be a demand for mercy without the truth of the transgression. But for the thief on the cross, his transgression was known. It was nailed above his head and he acknowledged it. He asked Jesus for mercy and received it.

The bad character on the other cross wanted mercy without truth: “Get us out of this!” 

Aren’t you the Messiah? He said. “Rescue yourself-and us too!

But, mercy without truth is actually sympathy for the devil.

“`

One wonders if the flight from woman, the de-feminization and de-humanization of society, toward a cold exo-human reason plays a major role in redefining mercy as licentiousness.