Last minute person? by Gene Watson

Something my dad wrote for his grandpa’s newsletter. Kinda long, but worth the read.

   Some of my children (cannot mention names or my life is in jeopardy) are last minute assignment completing people in college – “all-nighters” are very common. I will still have three in college next year because my oldest, who is a schoolteacher is going for her Masters (another child will have graduated and be a missionary in Kenya) . I am a last minute person (don’t tell my kids) to the extreme also unless I am especially having some especially virtuous day (let’s see, perhaps one or two of those this month). My wife Mari was getting her Master’s degree in social work when she died, she had one course left to complete but she was too sick in her hospital stay. She was a great student, already accepted into that school’s doctorate program, and she always finished her assignments very early, but she was going blind her last couple of years and I had to type her assignment and post them online. She really had to get after me sometimes!!! She was a great student not only for doing things early, but also because as a student, she was a student. I mean she wasn’t a student for four hours on Sunday night to get her homework done (like I might do), she was a student every day, it was a part of her life that was widely spread out in the fabric of her life.   I was also last minute very often with important days in my house. More than a couple times on our anniversary (yesterday would have been our 27th) I was coming home from piano lessons late, or from a Publix grocery store late, or choir practice late, etc., and I while driving I would have this sudden epiphany – it is our anniversary – I had done no planning!!!! I will never forget scrounging around a Quick-Trip convenience store at 11:30 PM that day looking for SOMETHING remotely appropriate for an anniversary gift. Mari was an exceptional person, a loving and wonderful person, or she would have dumped me a long time ago!!!!!I think our Big Boss, Jesus, (EVEN bigger than my wife was) has a few things to say about last minute behaviors and people’s spiritual disciplines that are so fragmented that they can be barely noticeable. In his story of the ten virgins, we learn what can happen with “last minute people.” One day Jesus told a story about a wedding feast. Let’s learn something about Jewish traditions before we hear the story. The Jewish wedding took place in three stages, which might take a long time. The Engagement is said to either have been arranged by the young groom (especially in Jesus’ time), or some think that the parents arranged them even then. There was then a Betrothal ceremony at the bride’s house – they exchange vows and presents. This lasts often a year or two, with no “marriage” activity taking place, and they couple still lives apart. The Jewish marriage took place in three stages over a long period of time. When the couple was still very young, an Engagement was arranged by the parents, sometimes with the help of a “matchmaker”. Then a marriage supper happens, with the groom and his friends coming to the bride’s house. She would be wearing a thick veil. She and her friends would accompany the groom and his friends to his father’s house or maybe a larger hall where the festivities would take place. A contract was signed. After a little time together, the bride and groom would separate for seven days.

In the parable of the ten virgins, the ten virgins were waiting for the bridegroom to come. It is nighttime and they have lamps burning brightly with oil while they wait. They fall asleep one by one, which is not criticized. Five girls had planned ahead with extra oil in their lamps, and they wouldn’t loan their oil to the other five who did not have extra oil. So while the five with no extra oil were out looking for more oil, the bridegroom’s arrival is loudly announced and he and the five girls and the rest of the bridal party goes inside. The five girls come back and they are locked out, and they are not let back in, because the bridegroom, says, “I don’t know you.”

This parable is interpreted many different ways, but most all agree it means we should live our life in such a way that we are always ready for the Lord’s return or our death, that we should be engaged in spiritual preparation for our life here and after our existence here. We should be engaged in spiritual disciplines that keep us in fellowship and touch with the bridegroom (Jesus) and our Heavenly Father – including the disciplines of having extra oil (staying filled with the Holy Spirit), prying without ceasing (not just at the 11:50 PM of our existence), rejoicing always, thanking God in all our circumstances (I Thessalonians 5:16-18), studying His Word daily (including times of meditating on those words), and the discipline of Hebrew 10:25, which is much more about not forsaking fellowshipping with one another than it is about coming to a church building (Ross Rohde translates the verse this way in historical and textual context – “Hey guys, it is great you are out turning the world upside down for Jesus, keep up the good work. However, some of you are so intent on doing good deeds for Jesus that you are in danger of drying up spiritually. You need each other, if nothing more, for the encouragement. Don’t stop meeting together, it isn’t good for your soul.”).

Make the kingdom of God the real center and focus of your life – don’t shove God/Jesus/the Holy Spirit into some small corner of your life “at the “last minute” every day/every week, etc. Like Mari was a real student, be a real disciple of Jesus Christ, enabled by God’s grace.

Note: In Matthew 25:1, many Greek texts have the bridegroom and the bride coming to the ten virgins – Bruce Metzger doesn’t think (in A Textual Commentary on the Greek New Testament – United Bible Societies, 2nd edition, 1971) this destroys the traditional meaning of this parable that the bridegroom is coming is coming to fetch his bride, the church. The bringing of the bride by the bridegroom to his father’s home (or his) was very common in the ancient world. This is where the wedding would take place. A study of this parable, which this short article is not, is very profitable.

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God’s Story

Disclaimer: I didn’t write this. But it’s incredible, from the mind of Jeremy Marshall.

Our story begins with an artist flinging millions of bright dots on a pitch black canvas. 100 billion to be more precise, and that’s in our galaxy alone. Then the Artist did the same thing in 170 billion more galaxies just like ours so that eons later, scientists and philosophers with coke bottle glasses would sit in stuffy rooms without windows and try to work out why there should be so many. It doesn’t make any sense. That’s because the explanation for all the stars and all the galaxies isn’t a scientific explanation OR a philosophical explanation OR a theological explanation. The explanation is about art. Artists create art to express themselves –to say something about who they are. And whether its good art or bad art or big art of small art, all art achieves the goal of reflecting the artist. So when the Great Artist, the First Artist, flung countless stars into countless galaxies, He was speaking about who He is. And His art spoke so beautifully of who He is, He decided to keep going. He painted land and water and plants and birds and animals. All of this art sang of the artist’s skill and heart, but it wasn’t quite enough. The artist had to go further. So the Great Artist painted the last thing you’d expect to end up on a canvas. He painted an artist. It wasn’t enough for the Great Artist to have His art speak of who He was; He desired his art to perpetuate itself. He wanted His paintings to fill the voids in itself, and even the paintings of His paintings would shout out about who the great Artist was.

 

But you know the story. The second generation artists got the idea that their brushes were their own, and they needed to use their paint to touch themselves up. A big black ink blot spashed on the canvas, and just like a pencil eraser that has seen too many days, every attempt to clean it up just smeared it further and ground it deeper. The art was ruined.

 

But the Great Artist had other tricks up His sleeve; he commissioned a whole nation of painters to spread His colors. These little artists will spread My colors to the ends of my canvas, and my art will once again display the heart of the artist. Wrong. The whole army of painters went rogue. It was like a whole town trained by Michelangelo skipped town and traded paintbrushes for spray cans, tagging graffiti on overpasses. Instead of a gentle touch-up job, the Great Artist’s canvas got worse.

 

As a last ditch effort, this mad genius did the unthinkable. The Great Artist painted Himself into His own painting. He entered His own work, showing His art how to truly wield a paintbrush, and making a way for his little painters to paint again. He painted death on Himself to put a brush in our hands.

 

And so here we stand. Artists descended from the great Artist Himself. And for those that have been adopted by this Great Artist, we’ve been given a brush dipped in His blood. The only question that remains, is what we’ll do with the paint. All over the world people wonder how so great an Artist could allow so many ugly paintings in the world. Death, destruction, pain, hunger, envy, strife, abandonment – dark shades seen in hideous blotches everywhere on our earth canvas. The answer to the question lies in recognizing the paint. It’s our paint, not His. His masterpiece was flawless, but it has been thoroughly marred by our own rebellious strokes. The failings of Adam and Eve and Israel and Peter and you and me are the failings of a people who forgot what their brushes were for. We’ve been given the unfathomable honor of painting with the Master. Of taking part in His great art. But more often than not we sit doodling in the corner. We don’t realize that all art that isn’t His art is just graffiti. And the graffiti is everywhere. So the question that lies before us tonight is whether we are content in our lives to keep to ourselves, scratching out sketches not fit for a young mother’s refrigerator door, or if we will recognize the glory of adding just a few strokes to the work of the Master. Many of us feel like we’re not yet ready to join in the art. We’re in college, we’re in training, we’re still learning, we’re still young, we’re inexperienced, we’re poor.

You can finish reading the full post at http://callingallcollegians.blogspot.com/. God is good.

 

My view on Abe Lincoln

If you were to ask even the most ignorant American to name an important president, Abraham Lincoln would surely be at the top of the list. He freed the slaves and ended the Civil War, for goodness’ sake! Why wouldn’t he be the greatest? I mean, President’s Day is half dedicated to him!

Seth Grahame-Smith recently published a novel called Abraham Lincoln, Zombie Hunter, which is currently being adapted for the silver screen. In this novel, Grahame-Smith retells the life of Lincoln, from birth to assassination, supplemented with “secret diaries” of Lincoln to reveal his central role in a world-wide struggle against vampirism. Though this story is fictional, it isn’t too far from the real life of Abe Lincoln.

Thomas Jefferson once claimed, “A democracy cannot be both ignorant and free.” The control that “Honest Abe” imposed upon the press was nothing short of why Americans nowadays cry out against the governments of China and North Korea. If we are to truly respect and honor our right to speak out against the government, if we are to truly be free, we must look back on our leaders who hindered that right and make sure history does not repeat itself. Man should be free to keep his government in check. Unfortunately, the man regarded as one of the greatest leaders in our nation’s history robbed his people of that right. Vampire hunter? No. Rights slayer? Yes.

During the Civil War, Lincoln was praised for leadership in the North, and the Confederate States’ leader, Jefferson Davis, was praised in the South. This war was between the Union and the Confederate States of America, whom Lincoln considered still part of the Union throughout the war. In this line of thinking, Lincoln had his army fight against itself—a snake eating its own body, if you will.

There was virtually no criticism of either leader in their respective “nations.” This is because both severely censored the press. That’s right, good ol’ Honest Abe was only as honest as he allowed the press to say he was. Though he didn’t hunter vampires, he hunted the press with more efficiency than any vampire hunter could dream of.

Wartime censorship has been used to “protect” national security interests. The words “clear and present danger” are the “yardstick” by which censorship rights of government as opposed to the free-speech rights of individuals are measured in such times of crisis.

President Abraham Lincoln first used this type of censorship during the Civil War. First Amendment freedoms and protections were secondary, according to President Lincoln, to the preservation of the nation. Lincoln believed in “the ends justified the means” argument in preserving all the laws. The Civil War alterations to the protections guaranteed under the First Amendment consisted of opening mail and censoring anti-Union newspapers.

This censorship was epitomized in the penultimate year of the war. By May 1864, Lincoln’s patience with the press ran out. Two New York papers published a fake story reported a presidential proclamation that claimed Lincoln was about to draft 400,000 men. Lincoln ordered the two newspapers shut down and their publishers imprisoned. The Independent Telegraph System, which dispersed the story, was taken over by the military.

Another huge misconception of Lincoln is his all-revered Emancipation Proclamation. This document, considered one of the most important in American history, was, for all intents and purposes, a failure. To start with, this document was published two years before the war ended, and proclaimed the freedom of slaves in the ten states then in rebellion, thus applying to 3.1 million of the 4 million slaves in the U.S. at that time. That would be the same as Mexico coming in during the Civil War and freeing the slaves. As The Confederate States of America established its own government and drafted its own constitution, it was considered its own nation, even if unrecognized by the Union. Therefore, Lincoln had no power to free slaves in the Confederacy.  Second, the Proclamation only addressed the South—this left over 900,000 slaves in ownership of their masters throughout the North and West.

The Proclamation also simply freed slaves. By doing so, all Lincoln did was basically declare that slaves are actually humans, not property. It did not address their citizenship status, or what rights they had otherwise. I argue the real significance of the Emancipation Proclamation; it was merely a piece of propaganda that actually freed no slaves.

I question whether Americans truly understand the man to whom they refer to as the greatest president in our history. If we can still glaze over the facts that he fought a war against a nation he didn’t recognize as an independent country, wrote laws that were inconsequential, and tried to destroy the value of the First Amendment, I guess we don’t deserve to be free in our ignorance.

Wordplay II

Preface: this is long.

So after I wrote the original Wordplay post, I went to small group where we talked about 1 Timothy. In 1 Timothy, Paul again talks about the power of words and pointless talk.

At the very end of the book, Paul gives Timothy an urgent command. “O Timothy, protect what has been entrusted to you. Avoid the profane chatter and absurdities  of so-called ‘knowledge.’  By professing it, some have strayed from the faith.”  (1 Tim 6:20-21a)

What is this so-called knowledge? It is the claims certain “Christian” bodies assert. Let’s look at Westboro Baptist Church in Texas, for example. This church is probably best known for their “God hates fags” campaign and their picketing at military funerals, since God hates them too. Is this Biblically accurate? No. Yes, God does despise homosexuality, as it is sinful and therefore abhorred by God (as is every other sin), but in no way does that make God a hater of man. Humans, even members of Westboro Baptist Church, sin in their own way everyday–what makes their sin any different?

Another source that is becoming very popular is Rev. Rob Bell. Rob Bell, creator of NOOMA and the recent hit, Love Wins. Here’s the gist: Hell is what we create for ourselves when we reject God’s love. Hell is both a present reality for those who resist God and a future reality for those who die unready for God’s love. Hell is what we make of heaven when we cannot accept the good news of God’s forgiveness and mercy. But hell is not forever. God will have his way. How can his good purposes fail? Every sinner will turn to God and realize he has already been reconciled to God, in this life or in the next. There will be no eternal conscious torment. God says no to injustice in the age to come, but he does not pour out wrath (we bring the temporary suffering upon ourselves), and he certainly does not punish for eternity. In the end, love wins.

As a Scripture-reading Christian, I cannot believe that. Hebrews 9:27 explains that everyone has only one life in which their destiny is determined. Matthew 25:46 talks about the eternity of Hell. And of course, John 14:6 clearly states how one gets to heaven. So, even though Gandhi was a great man, I cannot be led to believe that (unless he silently accepted Christ on the deathbed) is in heaven, contrary to what Bell would have you believe.

These are things that are important. These are things Christians should debate. There are other things Christians debate, however, that are what Paul calls the wrangling with words in 2 Timothy 2:14.

Put these in order of importance to salvation:

-Sprinkling or dunking
-Observing Ash Wednesday
-Reciting the Nicene Creed

If you can’t, that’s because they don’t affect your salvation, or anyone else’s. Nor do they edify one’s faith in Christ by knowing his nature more thoroughly. Why then, if they have no importance in the life and ministry of a Christian, are they argued over as if they were the difference in heaven and hell?
If an argument has potential to weaken your faith, STOP. If it doesn’t weaken your faith, it still has potential to weaken the faith of those around you. It is senseless. It is stupid.

Lastly, is the purpose of your discussion to show and convey your love for Christ, or is it to show and convey your ego?

This is a struggle I continue to have, as I love to show off just how much I (think I) know about God and His Word. Yet, I am beginning to understand that this is becoming one of the biggest dampers on any type of ministry I could hope God would use me for. Evaluate yourself. Are you so focused on winning a trivial bout with a fellow Christian that you refuse to look away in order to allow God to use you to exemplify His love to the rest of the world?

Wordplay

Nary a day goes by that I don’t attempt to engage in debate. It’s one of my favorite past times. I have learned to gain an opinion on just about everything I can just for the sake of debate.

Yet, I have found that I have no reason for debate. The main reason I debate is to show off my skills, my knowledge, my arrogance. This is not how we are instructed to engage with one another.

Is God omnipotent? Is He outside of time? What does it mean to be the Trinity? Are we predestined, or do we have free will? Or, does this even matter?

To some extent, it is important to debate with one another in order to exchange ideas with each other and tackle difficult concepts, such as the Love vs. Wrath of God. But there is a very fine line between debating the content of God’s character and debating words.

In 2 Timothy, Paul gives stern warning against such talk. In verse 2:14, he says,

” Remind people  of these things and solemnly charge them before the Lord not to wrangle over words. This is of no benefit; it just brings ruin on those who listen. 2:15 Make every effort to present yourself before God as a proven worker who does not need to be ashamed, teaching the message of truth accurately.”

Wordplay causes ruin among people, especially a church. When debate causes division, is it really worth it? Paul argues no. Teachers are to teach; they are to engage those who are confused with love, not with wrath or pride. In this way, God may grant those who have been led astray repentance and escape from the Enemy’s grasp. (2:23-26)

Remember who you are in Christ. You–we– are not made to be an arrogant, knowledgeable, skillful  debater who can tear down an opponent in .72 seconds. Rather, we are to be lovers of God’s people, loving them as Christ loved us. Defeating an opponent out of pride is the work of the Enemy; we are instructed, rather, to lovingly steer our brother back towards Christ.

Proverbs 8:21 reminds us that the power of life and death rests in the tongue. In our words. In what we say to each other. Pride in our words leads to (spiritual) death: slavery to Satan. We ourselves must avoid this death, and we must, at all costs, not be proponents for the death of others.

Bottom line is, debate for the sake of debate is about as useful as wisdom teeth: it’s painful, unnecessary, and is in no way wise to keep.