From the Best of Job, originally published in September 2005.
Of deserts dry / Of cool green valleys
Gold and silver veins / Of the shining cities
In this heartland
I took this photo in the winter of 2003, and I took it for a volley of reasons.
It was the first time I ever relented and bought an ice scraper (visible on the hood of the vehicle). For the longest time I viewed those who owned ice scrapers as faint of heart. As flatlanders.
Second, it was -20 degrees.
Third, I thought gas prices were insanely high and should be documented for posterity.
Ultimately it was a bad morning, and I felt the need to record it to make a rosier time later on seem that much more gilded.
But of course its purpose now is to emphasize how naive I was about gas prices, naive to not realize we had it so good. I thought the apocalypse was nigh because gas dared to go over a buck-fitty. Gas prices are insane, agreed. But I found my peace recently and I wanted to share it with you.
I was shopping at Hannaford the other day and purchased a gallon of Snapple for $3.59.
A gallon of gas costs on average (for me) $3.29. For this gallon of gas to get into my Jeep’s belly, it must first be pumped out of the desert (a full 20,000 miles from me), then be piped for hundreds of miles to a port, where it’s loaded onto a tanker and shipped around the horn of Africa and across the mighty Atlantic to New Jersey. At this juncture it is then refined — not a short or safe process — into usable gasoline. Once cooled, it can be loaded onto trucks and delivered to fuel companies with names we know and trust like Mobil, BP and Exxon, then pumped again into tanks below the ground where it waits to be pumped into our various vehicles.
A series of amazing events, from Ahmed in the deserts of the Rub Al Qali to Tonya at the Jiffy Mart, and it costs me the grand total of $3.29 per gallon to power a six-cylinder Detroit engine over hill and dale for almost 20 miles.
Snapple? Some chick in Atlanta scooped some sugar into a vat and sprayed the hose over it for a few minutes.
I found my peace.
I bought the gas and the Snapple.
To live as a Christian, we must be loving.
Romans 12:14 says, “Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse.” This is love, self-sacrificing love that wishes the best for others, even those others that mistreat it. The most perfect example of this love was Jesus Christ Himself, who told his disciples in John 15:13-14: “Greater love has no one than this, that He lay down His life for his friends. You are my friends if you do what I command.” And one verse earlier in the passage he had explained what he meant by that — “This is My commandment, that you love one another.” He modeled this sacrificial love for us, and then specifically told us to do the same.
Another example of the amazing love of God is found in the story of Joseph. Genesis 37 tells the story of how Joseph’s brothers, angry what they saw as his bad attitude and the unfair advantage he had with their father, planned to kill him before throwing him into a pit, and selling him to foreign traders. But even after all this, Joseph was nevertheless elevated to a position of great authority in the kingdom of Egypt, on the strength of his good character and his relationship with God. And it was there in Egypt that he received the opportunity to repay his brothers for the great evil they had done to him.
But instead, in Genesis 45:4-8, he chose to reveal himself to his brothers with forgiveness. “But now, do not be grieved or angry with yourselves because you sold me here; for God sent me before you to preserve life. . . God sent me before you to preserve a posterity for you in the earth, and to save your lives by a great deliverance. So now it was you who sent me here, but God; and He has made me a father to Pharaoh, and lord of all his house, and a ruler throughout all the land of Egypt.”
This is the deep and powerful love of God, the love he desires each and every one of us as Christians to show other people — the love that can cover over assault, attempted murder, and kidnapping, the love that can choose to forgive and save the lives of those who mistreat us, the love that gives the glory to God for giving us the chance to help ones who hated us.
I pray that God will help us lives of love like that. We must learn how to love.
Today’s Ask Bweinh! poll is brought to you by the Seabees, today celebrating their 65th anniversary as America’s “contingency construction force of choice,” and their very first day with a real live Bweinh!tributor in their ranks.
|1.||It Is Well With My Soul||15|
|2-3 (tie)||Be Still My Soul; Be Thou My Vision||10|
|5.||Oh the Deep, Deep Love of Jesus||6|
|6-8 (tie)||How Firm A Foundation; Psalm 23; And Can It Be?||5|
|9-13 (tie)||Softly and Tenderly; How Great Thou Art; O Love That Wilt Not Let Me Go; Jesus, Lover of My Soul; Praise to the Lord, the Almighty||4|
|Other||Come Thou Fount; O Come All Ye Faithful; For the Beauty of the Earth; Holy, Holy, Holy; Hymn to Joy; Rock of Ages; Christ the Lord is Risen Today; Lead, Kindly Light; In My Heart There Rings a Melody; Swing Low, Sweet Chariot; Fairest Lord Jesus; God of Concrete, God of Steel||1-3|
Once I saw a guy on a bridge about to jump. “Don’t do it!,” I yelled, but he responded, “Nobody loves me.” “God loves you,” I said. “Do you believe in God?” “Yes,” he answered.
“Are you a Christian or a Jew?,” I asked.
“Me, too! Protestant or Catholic?”
“Hey, me too! What denomination?”
“Me, too! Northern Baptist or Southern Baptist?”
“Wow, me too! Northern Conservative Baptist or Northern Liberal Baptist?”
“Northern Conservative Baptist.”
“Me, too! Northern Conservative Baptist Great Lakes Region, or Northern Conservative Baptist Eastern Region?”
“Northern Conservative Baptist Great Lakes Region.”
“Me, too! Northern Conservative Baptist Great Lakes Region Council of 1879, or Northern Conservative Baptist Great Lakes Region Council of 1912?”
“Northern Conservative Baptist Great Lakes Region Council of 1912.”
So I said, “Die, heretic!!!!,” and I pushed him over.
How do we live as a Christian? We must be ever-humble. (I had to cheat a little to create my first mnemonic sermon device…I finally succumbed after about ten or fifteen sermons.)
Verse 16 in our text (Romans 12) says to “associate with the humble; do not be wise in your own opinion.”
I graduated from law school this past Sunday, and our class president got up and gave a speech. To be kind, I will tell you her speech was not strong on humility. She said our class had known “for quite a while that our brilliance was blinding,” that our destiny was to “rule the free world,” and that our greatest fear was not that we were inadequate, but that we were “powerful beyond our wildest dreams.” She even stole that from a movie!
These were very interesting sentiments, but frankly, completely false. I looked around at my class, and I took a look in the mirror, and the fact is, most of us are not blindingly brilliant — we’re not even all that bright! Some of us were smart, others were not so smart, but all of us had achieved our degree because of hard work and perseverance, combined with the sacrifice and help of many others in our lives.
But her speech reflects the way of the world, the training we have received to boast in our accomplishments to get a job, a date, a vote. Television is full of people who would like nothing better than the chance to tell you how wonderful they are. But this is not an attractive stance for a follower of Christ, a man who lived a humble and lowly life and called his followers to do the same. If people come to church because of how great you are, they’re going to become disillusioned very quickly — if not by your eventual failures, then when they meet me! Or when they come across any other Christian who is similarly imperfect. Our salvation is only found in Jesus and His sacrifice; this must be our message, not anything to do with us.
There’s another part of ‘associating with the humble,’ and that’s resisting the temptation to believe our trials are somehow more difficult than everyone else’s, or that sinfulness is somehow unusual. You’re not so bad that God cannot change your heart and save your soul! Focusing too much on our weaknesses and flaws, or believing they can ever stop God from accomplishing His work in our lives, is just as much a form of pride as puffing out one’s chest on a stage.
To live like a Christian, we need a balance between the constant knowledge that we are sinful, mortal and imperfect, and the wonderful truth that we are saved, being made holy, and capable of great things in God.
The glory is His; we must constantly remind ourselves to both reflect it from Him, and deflect it to Him.
Last week’s winner was Pharaoh’s Daddy.
Here are the newest proposed band names! The best will move on this Saturday, and next week we will start our Genesis band name playoffs!
This week, Bweinh.com looks at the next four chapters of the Bible, Genesis 47-50.
Jacob gathers his children to bless them and prophesy over them. He removes Reuben as firstborn, giving that right to Joseph and splitting the inheritance between Ephraim & Manasseh, and speaks God’s judgment over Simeon and Levi for the murder they had committed.
The children of Israel are each given a blessing as Jacob nears death.
I look at this passage — particularly Israel’s blessings on the 12 tribes to be — like a cruel fiction writer’s “happily ever after…” before he pulls the rug out from under the reader with another paragraph. In this case, the paragraph is the Israelites’ need for deliverance from their deliverance.
Joseph? Reducing the people to servitude?
And he was doing so well.
I think I always skipped this part when I read the Joseph story; after all, all the action was done with.
The language of these chapters strongly foreshadows the coming enslavement. People right and left are telling each other that they’ll be their servants or slaves, or telling their sons that they’ll end up as slaves.
Beyond the whole “his people surviving the famine” thing, the Pharaoh was much, much better off economically after Joseph.
Jacob instructs them to bury him in the cave of Machpelah with Abraham, Sarah, Isaac, Rebekah and Leah. Rachel, his true love, ends up buried under a tree in the wilderness, and his final resting place is with Leah.
How Jacob in the end is buried with Leah — his “least favorite” wife is the one whom he chooses to be buried near. I also never noticed that Jacob was embalmed in the manner of Egyptians.
Last week at an awards ceremony in a university chapel, I sat near a plain square box with a gold Star of David painted on the front. It was a Torah ark. I hadn’t seen one of those in years, not since I had been to a special shul with my mother, during which graduates of a Hebrew class were honored. My mother was a graduate with her friend Damon, a Messianic Jew who sat beside her with a yarmulke covering his mostly bald head. He sang the Hebrew in a strong and liturgical voice and made me wish I knew how to sing the words so I could join in.
The Torah ark at the synagogue I had attended was huge, painted with rich hues and accented in gold filigree. The wood was carved and the metal molded into complex designs that no doubt told a story I would only understand if I were Orthodox like the people around me. Everything in the decorations had meaning because that is how the Jews look at the world. God created the universe; therefore it is imbued with His symbolic meaning. If we unearth this meaning, we draw a little nearer to God.
The rabbi took the Torah out of the ark for the reading. As he carried it from the ark to the bima where it would be read, the members of the synagogue kissed it as it went by. The part of this that struck me as most profound was how reverent everyone was as the rabbi walked by. This was the Word of God passing through their midst, and their quiet demeanor showed that they would not forget that.
In the Jewish tradition, the old scribes who copied the Torah had certain rules that governed their discipline. For example, they would only write the secondary names of God (El, El Shaddai, Elohim, etc.) with a brand new pen, no matter how fresh the first pen had been. And YHWH, the name God used to reveal Himself, was an entirely different matter. “Before they wrote this highest and best name, [the scribes] rose from their seats and went into their personal quarters. They took off their robes, bathed themselves, clothed themselves with new, clean garments, and returned to their work. There they knelt down, confessed their sins, took a new pen, dunked it once into the inkwell, and wrote those four letters.” (Dr. D. James Kennedy)
Quite a few of my Christian friends tend to avoid the Old Testament. Some of the reasons I’ve been given for that decision include that it’s boring history, or that it’s hard to spot God’s grace and mercy through all the gore on David’s sword. Worse, it has been called outdated, the old law that isn’t important anymore and shouldn’t be bothered with — except for the Psalms, of course, and anything to do with Revelation and/or Messianic prophecy.
But I was enthralled with the Old Testament when I read it. I mourned with Leah over her husband’s neglect and yelled at David for not going to war in the spring, when kings were supposed to go to battle, not play peeping tom. I fell in love with the poetry in Job and sobbed when Jonathan died.
Most importantly, I discovered something that is denied by all those excuses for not reading the Old Testament. I discovered, as we’ve seen in our weekly Bible study, that Jesus was and is everywhere, saturating the narrative with His presence and reaffirming His role as the fulfillment of the law.
“You can tell a lot about a fellow’s character by his way of eating jellybeans.” — R. Reagan
|In this corner, arguing for Superman, is
||And in this corner, supporting Spiderman, is Josh!|
Honestly, let’s think this one through. A man who wears tight spandex, shoots webs, and has a “spidey sense” that “tingles” is no match for a man who wears tight spandex, shoots laser beams from his eyes, can fly, has super strength, and X-Ray vision.
The last son of Krypton, Kal-El, would literally tear Peter Parker a new cephalothorax.
For goodness sake, Spiderman doesn’t even wear a cape! And did you even watch Spiderman 3? I just about died laughing when ol’ Pete started crying like a cheerleader with a skinned knee.
“Mary Jane! Come back to me! I love you!” Boo hoo hoo. Try having your entire planet explode, then talk to somebody about how much it hurts to lose your loved ones.
Superman knows much about teamwork. As a founding member of the Justice League of America, he helped the League defeat giant space starfish Starro the Conqueror, among many other threats to national security. That’s right, nothing quite embodies America like Superman, what with his ongoing fight for Truth, Justice, and the American Way.
Superman received his superpowers, not at birth, but by his transportation to our planet. Here, powered by Earth’s Yellow Sun, his latent abilities as a Kryptonian become useful.
Josh, perhaps you’ve been bitten by one bug too many. If you’re waiting for those cockroaches to transform you into UltraRoach, or whatever you’re hoping, perhaps you should volunteer for the next trip to Beta Centauri. Perhaps the light of the Blue-White giant will enhance your ability to live for a month without your head.
Let’s find out.
Unless your spidey sense is tingling.
In which case, I’ll let you outside.
Just don’t tingle on the carpet again.
I lost the ability to take Superman seriously around the time that Five for Fighting released that terrible song, whining about how much it sucks to be able to fly.
I’m sure the song made a lot of money; it couldn’t possibly have been on the radio more often. But for me, it had the unintended consequence of cementing Superman’s status as the boring hero. He has no flaws. Since there’s nothing he can’t do, there can be no true drama. The only question in every single battle is whether the villain remembered to pack Kryptonite. How many times can we see that same story?
And trust me — I wear glasses. When I take them off, people still recognize me, even if I comb my hair.
Spiderman is the people’s champion. He’s one of us, thrust into the position of being a hero. He has an enviable set of powers — he can climb walls, jump great distances and has increased strength and balance, not to mention his Spidey sense. But he still has enough shortcomings to provide intrigue and require some brainwork, or even teamwork, to defeat his villains. He has to put in work to develop his skill and augment his arsenal. Spiderman has a brilliant and concealing costume and is perhaps the wittiest of all superheroes.
It’s also a far more credible proposition that I could one day be Spiderman. I’ve never been to another planet, but I’ve been bitten by plenty of bugs.
My favorite part about Spiderman is his motto — “with great power comes great responsibility.” Put another way, you might say that from those to whom much has been given, much will be required.
Spiderman learned the same lesson I had hammered into me growing up. I’m not here to jump over buildings, race bullets, or arm-wrestle trains. I’m just here to do my part to save the world.
How do we live like a Christian? We must be holy.
Verse 9 here in Romans 12 says, “Love must be sincere. Abhor what is evil, cling to what is good.” And if you look at what these verbs mean, it helps to elaborate on the meaning of the verse. “Abhor” isn’t a word you hear a lot these days, but it’s a powerful one — it reveals a passionate sort of hatred, a visceral disgust, sort of the way I feel about mushrooms, for instance. If you put mushrooms in my food, I will react with that sort of loathing; I abhor mushrooms. And that’s how we are supposed to react to evil.
On the contrary, that word “cling to” is the reverse, the same passion sent the other direction. Imagine a baby being held by her mother; if you try to take that baby away, she won’t fully understand what’s happening, but she will passionately hold on to her mother. She will cling to what she knows and loves — as we should. To whatsoever is good.
There is a constant battle in our lives between these desires; Paul wrote about it earlier in the book of Romans, in 7:21. The song I just sang mentions it in the last line — “I am full of earth, and dirt, and You.” But there’s another aspect to this tension, and it’s mentioned in Galatians 5:13-14: “For you, brethren, have been called to liberty; only do not use liberty as an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another. For all the law is fulfilled in one word, even in this: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.'”
“Flesh” is “sarx” in the Greek, which simply means “flesh,” meat, the sinew and muscle of the human body. This shows us the biggest problem isn’t Satan, or anyone else, or some shadowy outside force; it’s us, ourselves, from the day we’re born, bent toward sin.
And what is juxtaposed against the “flesh” here? Love, through service to others. The flesh wants to fulfill its own desires; love prefers others above itself. The best way to fight the battle against the flesh is not to sit around and think about how bad we are. It’s not to look for an answer in our mind, or rationalize and explain away our sin. The best way, we’re taught here, to become holy and truly fulfill the law is to SERVE, to love our neighbors in a selfless way that shifts the focus from ourselves and returns it to the outside world. And that’s where it needs to be, centered on the people who desperately need to witness the love of Jesus Christ, put into practice by disciples living a holy life of love through service.
The less we focus on ourselves, the easier it is to correctly orient that passion, fleeing from evil and clinging to good. Christians must live holy lives to have the work of God’s grace manifest in us.
A man walked into a bar. “Bartender, get me a beer, and quick — before the trouble starts!”
The bartender complied, and the man downed it in seconds. “Another beer, please! Before the trouble starts!”
Again the bartender gave him a beer, and again it disappeared in record time. “I need one more — now, before the trouble starts!”
He got the beer, but at this point, the bartender’s curiosity was piqued. “So when’s this trouble going to start anyway?”
The man finished drinking and answered, “Right about the time you find out I got no money.”
I had the opportunity to preach at the Black River Bay campground this past Sunday, opening this summer’s series of services there. I’m going to (very) loosely adapt it into a series of five articles, with one to run each day this week.
Directions are very important.
This past week, I attended a wedding. It was a very nice wedding, with the classic ending, the whole “man and wife” bit and the bride-kissing. But we learned at the very end of the ceremony that because of a closed highway exit, the original directions to the reception would no longer work. And so on the way out of the church, we were handed a new, corrected sheet of directions.
Chloe and I set off, and when we got to the area where we needed to consult the directions, we obeyed them to the letter. “Turn left on Rt. 16,” they informed us, and after about 1/4 of a mile, we would find our next turn, at a “T-intersection.”
And so I turned left, and I drove a quarter-mile. There was no such intersection. “Maybe they meant 1 mile,” I thought. A mile later, there was no such intersection. “Perhaps it was 4 miles?” Nothing. Of course we had to turn around, and when we returned to the site of that fateful left turn, we realized the directions had been completely wrong. Turning right was what had been necessary to get us to the reception. Everything else in the directions was correct, but that one simple error — ‘left’ instead of ‘right’ — made the rest of it moot. Starting off in the wrong direction made it impossible to reach our goal.
It’s the same way with living the Christian life. The text I’m using is Romans 12, and in my Bible, the heading for the section is “Live Like A Christian.” And what follows in the chapter are a series of directions for successfully navigating life as a Christian, with the goal described in verse 21: “Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.” To reach that conclusion, Paul gives us several important directions, and applied to our lives, they’re each as important as that left turn I made on the way to the reception. If we get off in the wrong direction in these parts of our lives, growth as a Christian will be almost impossible.
So what are these directions so key to life as a Christian? I’m going to share four of the key elements of the Christian life that Paul identifies, and to help you remember them, I’ll even use one of those fun mnemonic devices the kids like so much!
And they’ll start…tomorrow!
This and every Monday, the Bweinh!tributors, having convened in secret for hours of reasoned debate and consideration, will issue a brief and binding ruling on an issue of great societal import.
This week’s question — What is the best invention of all time?
The council could not issue a majority ruling on this issue.
Tom offers this opinion, joined by Steve and MC-B:
Without a doubt the printing press impacted the world in the greatest way. It was the first real venue for the shared experiences vital to the nationalism which forged the modern world.
Chloe offers this opinion, joined by Mike and Goober:
The written word. Where would Bweinh! be without it?
Josh offers this opinion, joined by Job:
The invention with the greatest impact is the television. By letting us see the world, it has changed the way we see the world.
Djere offers this opinion:
The number zero. Without it, none of our modern engineering advances would be possible. Most other inventions would be uninvented without zero.
Next week: the country we would choose to live as expatriates!
Today’s Ask Bweinh! poll is brought to you by Memorial Day, the most meaningful secular holiday in America.
“Because of what Memorial Day represents, the rest of the days of the year are our holidays.”
|4-7 (tie)||Hobbit, Leviathan, “Rational Woman,” Pan||5|
|8-12 (tie)||Elf, Phoenix, Cthulhu, Golem, Chicken Cow||4|
|Other||Dwarf, Grendel, Zombie, Loch Ness Monster, Griffin, Pegasus, Vampire, Jackalope, “Yankees Closer,” Quetzalcoatl, Manticore, Medusa, Pollux||1-3|