Sunday, June 29, 2008

Living with Limitations

2 Corinthians 4:16 (NIV)
Therefore we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day.

Living with limitations sounds pretty bad. I think of when I had to use a wheelchair for a while. I struggled to get around. I became aware of so many things that I could not do. Something as simple as a flight of stairs could be a major problem. With knee replacement surgery and time to heal, I can walk farther now than I could for many months prior to that.

However, it is a fact that every human lives with limitations. The man who can dead lift a 1000 pound barbell can lift more than anyone except a few of the billions people on this planet. Yet it might be true that he cannot not swim as fast as his 12 year old daughter. Perhaps he pooped out at Algebra II, while his son has breezed through calculus. His wife might be calm and cool as a public speaker, while he breaks a sweat standing up to announce the church potluck.

A lot of motivational speaking is centered on the idea of helping people enlarge the limits of their abilities. Hyperbole is used help folks see that they can often do much more than they had previously thought possible. Perhaps many of us need to be reminded of our potential. I also think many of us need help living with the fact that we have limitations. Understanding that we have limitations is essential for setting realistic goals or expectations.

When the author of 2 Corinthians wrote "though outwardly we are wasting away", it was literally true for him. He led a tough life. I have led a very pampered and privileged life, but as I am living out the last of my fifties, it is a simple truth that physically I am not the man I once was. I have begun a slow process of decay. I may enjoy respites. I may even reverse some of the damage at times. However, ultimately there are only two outcomes for this body: death or deterioration.

If this life and this body were all I have, the prognosis could never be very good. They are not all I have. There are inward parts of me that can grow and grow until the day I die. I can grow in kindness. I can grow in patience. I can grow in love. Inwardly, I am being renewed day by day. Kindness, patience, and love are vastly more important than how high I can jump, how fast I can run, or how much I can lift. May God grant me the strength to grow where I can, and the humility to accept my limitations.

Saturday, June 28, 2008

Free Will and Bad Choices

I believe we are free to make choices. As far back as I can remember, I have thought so. Before I knew God, before I thought humans have spirits, before I believed in a life after this one. Even then I believed we have free will. I have always been so confident about free will that I find it impossible to understand folks who profess to believe that free will is an illusion. Some claim that all things are determined by physics, biology, a control freak god, random events, or fate.

It seems very strange for some to argue strenuously that all we do, and all they do is apart from any thing like a free will. What do they think anyone might do in response to those arguments, if all we do is what we are destined to do?

However, forget those folks for a moment. Let's just talk among those of us who believe we are free to make choices. Why do we make bad choices? I'm not talking accidentally bad. I mean the kind of choice that you know full well is bad. The choice to eat too much. The choice to spend too much. The choice to exercise too little. The choice to love too little.

I am a sinner saved by grace. Unmerited favor. And it is truly unmerited. Seeing clearly that which is better, I too often choose that which is worse. I can point to influences and circumstances. I can cite temptation and weakness. Yet I still make bad choices.

I wonder if free will is possible absent the ability to choose foolish things. Are there good choices, less good choices, choices that are a little bad, and choices that are a lot bad? Why wouldn't we stick with good and less good?

I do not know why I make bad choices. But I do. It is easier to see in others. But I see it in myself. I talk to God about it. I believe he loves me nonetheless. I have to believe he wants me to make choices that bring about joy and peace rather than pain and poverty. Perhaps I am learning , bit by bit. I really hope so.

Friday, June 20, 2008

What Do I Want?

Oh, there are a lot of things that would be fun for a little while. A fast car, a big yacht, or a 60 inch TV screen with all the DVD's ever recorded. But fun really only for a very little while. What do I really want? What will endure and give me joy for years to come? Loving God and loving others. And being loved by them. Food, clothes, and shelter. Plain or fancy. The freedom to learn and to explore. I have all that I want. May God help me to be content with having everything that matters.

So Far Yet So Near

My family started scattering at least two generations before me. My progenitors left Germany primarily and started a new life in 19th century America. My Dad was born in Kentucky, lived in Illinois, Texas, Florida, and others I can't remember right now. My Mom was born and raised in Fort Worth, Texas. Soon after I was born, my folks moved from Texas to Louisiana. Our final move was to Ohio, just before my senior year of high school. My brothers have lived in various states but have pretty much settled in Reno, Nevada and Littleton, Colorado. Once I was done moving around to Pennsylvania, New York, and California, I settled into Oregon where Barbara and I have lived for 25 years. All of our children were born here. They all grew up in the same house since we haven't changed dwellings since we first moved here a quarter century ago.

Now Julia moved from Canada, to Norway, and finally Tanzania. Pamela has lived in England, Austria, Illinois, and now Nicaragua. Charles has been living in Arizona for a couple of years. Samuel shows all indications of wanting to travel the wide world once he graduates from high school next year.

Geographically my family is scattered farther than I could have imagined until recently. Yet, in many ways, we are as close as ever. Cell phone service and internet connections are available to every member of my family. We call, write, and even see recorded and sometimes live video of each other. It feels odd if Barbara or I haven't at least read an e-mail or had a phone call from one of our kids in a week.

I mentioned this to an acquaintance who was a missionary in West Africa more than thirty years ago. He could only reach family via snail mail. No phone. No internet. He says writing a letter and getting a reply took at least three months.

I can remember that long distance phone calls were a luxury item when I was a boy. So I doubt that my parents chatted up a storm with my grandparents who lived hundreds of miles away. We were able to visit most relatives with a very long day of driving. I didn't fly anywhere until I was 20 years old.

At 57, I have always taken automobiles for granted (not to mention phones). My grandparents could take a train or send a letter. I suppose a telegram was an option in a pinch. There are towns here in Oregon that are a 20 or 3o minute drive from here now, whereas it would have been a day or two of hard travel before autos.

International air fare is fairly expensive for most folks, nonetheless any member of my family can stand beside any other member within a few days of being notified of a reason to do so. Now that we all carry cell phones, the notification itself could usually be accomplished in less than a minute.

So how far apart are we? I would dearly love to hold my grandson's hands as he learns to walk. I would have liked to have been able to physically comfort my daughter when her GI system rebelled at being relocated to Nicaragua. I would like to look my son in the eyes as I pray for him to have peace while tackling an upcoming exam. I thank God, however, that we are as near as we are.

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Guns and Safety

Over and over again, I see this message in media and popular lore:

Fewer Guns = More Safety

Today I read a news account of a deranged young man in Japan who killed 7 and injured 10 on a rampage with a knife . It surprised me that one man with a knife could cause such carnage. In a related article, a professor at a University in Japan is quoted: "However, as Professor Kingston points out, Japan should be grateful for its strict gun control laws. 'If Kato had had an automatic assault rifle the mayhem in Akihabara would have been far more devastating.' "

Although it is reasonable to be glad that the killer was armed with only a knife, is it true that "Japan should be grateful for its strict gun laws"? I was reminded of a killing spree that took place at a church in Colorado Springs in December 07. The church was on alert because killings had occurred at a ministry near Denver the night before their Sunday service. Volunteer security guards were requested to be prepared (i.e. to be carrying guns). The killer did indeed show up and he killed two people in the parking lot before he entered the crowded church. He was armed with an assault rifle. One of the volunteer security guards had heard the shots outside. She took cover and watched the shooter enter the crowded church. She then stepped out, challenged him, and shot him dead. Here is a video of her describing what happened:

I give a lot of credit to Jeanne Assam, the volunteer security guard. Jeanne Assam gives a lot of credit to God for giving her the courage and presence of mind to stop the shooter. How about gun laws in Colorado? Would the church have been safer if the guards were unable to carry guns? I doubt it.

The biggest mass murder by an American, the Oklahoma City bombing, was done with fertilizer and diesel fuel. I quote a New York Times Article :"Mr. Nichols and Mr. McVeigh, who was put to death for his role in the bombing, used blasting caps, fertilizer and fuel to make the bomb that killed 168 people on April 19, 1995." No guns, no knives.

We could implement tight controls on knives, fertilizer, and fuel. Perhaps some of us would enjoy a false sense of security until someone committed murder by driving a car into a crowd or by putting cyanide into Tylenol capsules (yes, both have been done).

I prefer to be ready to defend myself and my loved ones if necessary. I prefer to ask God for the courage and humility to take action if I witness violent aggression. Courage and humility. Patience and wisdom. I also have to be willing to accept that sometimes there will be not a thing that I can do.

Please spare me the lectures about how much safer I would be if all the guns were illegal.

Sunday, June 08, 2008

Why We Keep Struggling

Lately I have learned a lot more about what it is like for many, if not all, people who devote themselves fully to sharing their love of God with others. It is difficult. There are problems.
They may become discouraged.

Even with the cosy little set up I have here in Oregon, I struggle. Friends struggle in the inner cities. Others struggle in poor countries. Why do we keep struggling? Why not give up? I recalled a passage in the Lord of the Rings trilogy where Sam has to encourage Frodo. It works for me, perhaps it will work for you:

Sam Gamgee: I know. It's all wrong. By rights we shouldn't even be here. But we are. It's like in the great stories, Mr. Frodo. The ones that really mattered. Full of darkness and danger, they were. And sometimes you didn't want to know the end. Because how could the end be happy? How could the world go back to the way it was when so much bad had happened? But in the end, it's only a passing thing, this shadow. Even darkness must pass. A new day will come. And when the sun shines it will shine out the clearer. Those were the stories that stayed with you. That meant something, even if you were too small to understand why. But I think, Mr. Frodo, I do understand. I know now. Folk in those stories had lots of chances of turning back, only they didn't. They kept going. Because they were holding on to something.

Frodo: What are we holding on to Sam?

Sam: That there's some good in this world, Mr. Frodo... and it's worth fighting for.

--- Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers

I am a Grandpa