Blog

Have We Made It Too Complicated?

 

lucas-ludwig-Q6sdzNWsg2o-unsplash
Photo by Lucas Ludwig on Unsplash

 

Century upon century mankind has made one discovery after another, invented new things, created new designs, and developed new ways to live with one another. Each century added to the previous one before it and we called each new discovery, thing, design, or way to live an “advancement.”

 

And here in the 21st century we can see the ways such advancements have changed how we live.

 

Now we walk for exercise or pleasure versus the only mode of going from one place to another. Now we communicate through a wide array of devices from one place in the world to another in the blink of an eye. Now we can enjoy a diverse smorgasbord of foods from other places in our country or world no matter what our growing season thanks to transportation and refrigeration development.

 

We have established a way to govern. Whatever country we are in, there is some established order of governance with laws and some variety of courts to adjudicate and interpret thousands of laws. In the United States the federal level of laws alone falls into five sources: constitutional law, statutory law, treaties, administrative regulations, and the common law which includes case law. And that doesn’t begin to show how  many specific laws are in each category or how many state, city, county, or township laws are on the books.

 

Over time the number and specificity of laws have increased in order to seemingly be clear on what is being regulated and what consequences are appropriate. We hope that works well for both the innocent and the guilty and yet juries and judges often struggle to ascertain despite all this information what decision needs to be made.

 

In our increasingly complex life and laws, have we made things too complicated?

 

Despite our belief that newer is better, are we missing something that ancient laws had inherently?

 

background-close-up-court-1415558Reading a commentary related to Exodus 20 and the nature of biblical law, I learned that ancient laws were of a “paradigmatic nature.” That means they described models of behavior and models of what was prohibited and or punished according to the behavior without a detailed exhaustive description of what was included. As a result, ancient laws were more guiding principles than a complete description of what was governed.

 

The law described in Exodus that we know as the Ten Commandments (actually Ten Words) was paradigmatic. To explain what that looks like, consider Exodus 21:18 that talks about the penalty for hitting someone with a fist or stone. The Israelites or other ancient cultures understood the principle and that if the same person was kicked or hit by a board versus a fist or stone, a penalty was still called for.

 

The commentary by Douglas K. Stuart goes on to say:

 

“Such arguments would have insulted the intelligence of all concerned and make no impact on those rendering judgments.”

 

Today it wouldn’t be uncommon to try to use the more specific statues or the law as a way to avoid punishment for a similar behavior. I can almost hear the defendant’s beginning assertion, “But I didn’t…”

 

This way of looking at the law helps clarify what Jesus is communicating to us in his teaching in the New Testament when He says two laws sum up all the rest in Matthew 22:36-40 (NIV):

 

36 “Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?”

37 Jesus replied: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ 38 This is the first and greatest commandment. 39 And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ 40 All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.”

 

He is speaking in a language they understood by stating the two key paradigms to govern life. If a person loves God then it determines everything about how they behaved and lived, choices they made in every area of  their life.

 

That being said, if he or she loves his or her neighbor as stated, the behaviors, attitudes, and choices will reflect that. All other laws try to detail every possible scenario related to these two perfect primary principles. As a result, some can be missed, and new laws are created. One recent example is how laws are now developing regarding vaping because the laws about tobacco use in the United States said nothing about vaping since it hadn’t been created when the laws were written.

 

Is our complicated legal structure something we should throw out?

 

Hardly.

 

But looking at the paradigmatic nature of ancient laws point to how and why we can use what Jesus taught about the two great commandments because they are so extraordinarily comprehensive in nature.

 

If I reflect on loving God and my neighbor as Jesus teaches in the passage I cited in Matthew and live those out, all other laws will be fulfilled.

 

back-blue-community-service-1498963

 

 

One = A Difference

 

10679673_10154646015890612_5016119632551540232_O
Photo by Rob Blair

 

One.

 

How easy it can be to see that number in a great many contexts and minimize it or give it too much credit. I wonder if sometimes that relates to what we project from within us.

 

If we tend to over-emphasize our importance, knowledge, or skill, we may consider “one” to be much bigger than it is. If we tend to feel we have little that is of value or importance, lack skills or knowledge, we may determine we have little to offer. In the latter case we will often remain silent. In the former case we will jump in without considering if that is what we are called to do.

 

“One” may not be something we want to explore too deeply because it requires self-evaluation and irrespective of whatever group or groups we are in, it results in accountability. Avoidance of it misses a great deal that is important for each of us to be reminded of, I think.

 

You see, “one” always equals a difference. That difference can be positive or negative, now or later, but it will always mean a difference. That suggests that something will be required of each one of us because for whatever we do or do not know, we each know some things. For those things, we cannot plead ignorance nor shift responsibility on to anyone else.

 

755148E18C68979C849EC6F8B8F3908F

It might be tempting to bring up all of our connections or groups and how they influence us, and it is true they exert a level of influence or control on each one of us. But it is our choice about how we respond, and that response can make a great deal of difference to/for us as well as to/for others.

 

One angel chose to esteem himself higher than he was. The difference for him was to be thrown out of heaven and God’s presence. That choice and decision on his part meant that we have had him as an enemy that has shadowed us from the day we first were born.

 

One shepherd boy keeping watch over his father’s flock went to visit his brothers on the battlefield with some extra food for their nourishment. When he arrived, he discovered the army his brothers were a part of were stymied by a giant who was taunting them. This giant was far bigger and stronger than the men of the army and they trembled when they heard his voice.

 

The boy knew that the army of his brothers was on God’s side and he could not believe they were shrinking back from dealing with the giant. He took his sling and a smooth stone and took down the giant in a single attempt. The difference for the boy is that he gained favor from the king of his country. Because he had a heart like God’s, he was later anointed king to replace the king who had favored him. Despite his mistakes, God made a promise to him to honor him forever. That difference resulted in Jesus coming to earth and fulfilling the promise for a perfect king while also taking the consequences for all of us who chose Him as our forever king.

 

Most of you know those stories well as they speak of Lucifer (the angel) and David (the shepherd boy).

 

But that story of the difference of one has replayed over and over countless times throughout history.

 

B0819FD7C0B792E81B348B769B4A4E2B--WISE-WORDS-WISE-SAYINGS

One British politician observed the dark evils of slavery in the British empire and chose to lobby for the abolition of the slave trade for 18 long years. Time and again he introduced anti-slavery motions into the British parliament. He retired from politics without seeing passage of his motions and then shortly before his death eight years later the act to free the slaves in the British empire passed through the House of Commons. What a difference his choice to persevere made in the lives of uncounted numbers of lives and what an example William Wilberforce left for us all.

 

Books have been so much a part of many of our lives that it is hard to envision a world without them. Some of us still prefer them to reading on any one of our new electronic devices. Even so there was a great length of time when news of the day and history was passed along orally. Later when an alphabet was devised, a very few began to write on parchments to communicate and record history.

 

Chinese monks developed block printing as a step to bring books into form, but one German goldsmith in the 15th century (Johannes Gutenberg) invented the printing press enabling the mass production of books and a rapid dissemination of knowledge throughout Europe. That one man, that one invention, made a great difference in the lives of anyone who learned to read. If you are reading this in any format, it made a difference in your life as well since you likely first learned to read with a commercially created book.

 

A fisherman left his nets one day and followed one who was called a teacher whose name was Jesus. He developed a great passion for his teaching and vowed loyalty, but when crunch time came, and Jesus was being tried this fisherman denied him. His mistake left him in shame until one day on the beach Jesus fed him breakfast and Peter was restored and transformed.

 

This same “one” after the shaking on Pentecost preached mightily despite growing persecution and laid a foundation for the early church. The difference flowed down to the present day for any and all who will believe his message. The difference for Peter was that it cost him his life at the hands of the Roman empire.

 

When one babe was born in Bethlehem prophecies of old were fulfilled and his teaching boggled the minds of all who heard Him. When He offered himself in sacrifice for all who would believe in Him, it became the greatest gift. His choice made a difference that has affected every person ever born since that day whether they have chosen Him or not.

 

What about you?

 

You are “one” person unlike any other born and living in this time.

 

What difference will you make?

 

59059-ELIE-WIESEL-QUOTE-ONE-PERSON-OF-INTEGRITY-CAN-MAKE-A-DIFFERENCE

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Tell Me Again: The Gift of Storytelling

 

img_2084

 

My husband is a great teller of stories. If you don’t believe me, ask our grandchildren. He has several stories he has told to each of them over time that were truly of his imagination and he told them so well that when they were very young, they thought they had actually occurred. I chuckle as I recall how engaged they were with the story as they listened and asked questions.

 

The favorite of them all was about a winter when he spent time on his own with the Eskimos. Oh, the adventures he had! He seemed to never tire of creating new little details in response to their questions. Another of the stories that was a favorite of our oldest granddaughter was more of a dramatic play called “Save Princess”. In the story he played both the role of the villain and the role of the hero who came to save her just in the nick of time.

 

A good storyteller knows that a story is not just reporting a sequence of events, but rather the telling of meaningful and often extraordinary actions of the characters in the story that take place over a period of time. Some people say it requires a certain craft or skill. That is likely true, but I think it is most of all a gift.

 

I think my husband has that gift even though he would insist he is not good with words. I think it is a gift because he sees into the character of the people in the stories. The actions in the story flow through them. He managed to get our grandchildren caught up in the story of his life with the Eskimos one winter through the development of his character, what he did, how he felt, and how he responded to the challenges and adversities of the long, bitter, cold winter. img_2085

 

Stories help us to make sense out of our present experiences as well as those of the past while giving us glimpses of possibilities for ourselves for the future. My husband’s experiences as a Boy Scout and his boyhood exploits served as grist for the stories he told as well as how to become an effective problem-solver throughout his lifetime. I doubt our grandchildren will forget these stories because of the memories they created of not only the story, but also the man who told it.

 

The stories we choose to listen to are significant. Each character we meet, each adventure we explore, provides a certain challenge to us and may well change us in some ways we may never even see or recognize.

 

Wayne Booth has put it this way:

 

“The stories we choose to spend our lives with are a reflection of our values and, therefore, our character.”

 

 I think that points to why it is so important that we not allow ourselves to get caught up in small stories. Small stories never seem to reflect good characters or characters of good quality, but rather take us down a yellow brick road away from truth, virtue, and light for the path ahead. Our minds and hearts get caught up in shadow and deception instead of light.

 

I love what Daniel Taylor says in Tell Me A Story:

 

“We will be defined, as individuals and as a society, by the stories we choose to live and by those we value enough to pass on to the next generation. This is perhaps our ultimate responsibility as characters acting freely. What stories will we tell our children and why? What stories will they choose to tell in turn?”

 

Of all the great and gifted storytellers, likely the stories that have stood the longest test of time have been those that Jesus told and left for us during His life on earth. Generation after generation they have been passed on. The characters in the story never fail to point to or show us something about themselves that allow us to learn something about ourselves as well. They challenge us to be better than we would be without them. They inspire us and show us the way to go.

 

Jesus undoubtedly knew the power of stories. He used them often when He was teaching or just hanging out with His friends/disciples. He knew they would be remembered and that remembrance would show us Him long after He returned to His Father.

 

He wanted us to remember. He knew our stories were and would be broken stories that would potentially discourage and defeat us. He came to heal the brokenness of our stories and did so through giving us another story, His story.

 

As I heard a pastor say:

 

“The world says we are defined by our past, but God’s focus is on the future and who we will be.”

 

 That gives us hope and His stories are the ones we should remember and live out.

 

img_2082

Rooted Peace

IMG_6403

 

One day you realize that your boss knows that you may know more than you should. You also feel uneasy around him and wonder if he is far too obsessed with you. Things are making you more and more restless.

 

Sometimes when the job you’ve been working at turns out to be one that crosses the line ethically, it nudges you to chart a new course even though the issues do not stem from you. That’s what Emmaline Bradshaw knows she needs to do even though her parents will never understand the decision to leave the position her college career pointed her to. But leaving would be the hardest thing to do when all she had ever done was try to please them even when it meant a career path that wasn’t her own dream.

 

Her new course takes her hundreds of miles away to Sandy Creek, Tennessee, where she has signed a contract for a “fixer-upper” while she lives off her severance pay and looks for a new job.

 

What she isn’t prepared for is dealing with a “fixer-upper” far beyond her skill and budget that sets up what looks like a defeat to follow her own dreams.

 

Emmaline also isn’t prepared for the gracious kindness of Mr. and Mrs. Summers who have rented her the house. Their warmth, grace, and interest in her are a sharp contrast to her distant relationship with her parents.

 

This kind of relationship leaves her feeling uncertain of how to respond, but that isn’t new to her. She knows relationships have never been a strong suite of hers.

 

Another relationship challenge develops when she meets Ashton, the son of her landlords. She is attracted to him the first time they meet, but Ashton, a Marine Corps veteran, will add to her uncertainty as he struggles to come to grips with his PTSD by returning to his hometown and family.

 

Rooted Peace by M.E. Weyerbacher will quickly catch you up in the story line centered on the Summers’ family, Emmaline, and the people from the small town of Sandy Creek Tennessee. Page by page you will see how each of the main characters discovers that faith can chart the course in their uncertain futures.

 

As the stories intertwine, Emmaline will find love she never thought would come to her. She would discover its power in a myriad of ways.

 

“Loved proved it had no prerequisites.

Love said, “I get it.”

Love showed up.

Love locked arms.

Love listened without answers.

Love didn’t give up when ganged up on by past and present forces — but instead leaned into the hard folds, sharing its very oxygen with the weak.

Love was full of plot twists, ducking and flipping when unnecessary, clutching on for dear life when everything else

slipped away in the current.”

If you enjoy a good story about overcoming love, this novel by Meghan Weyerbacher might be a good choice to add to your reading list.

 

 

 

Age: A New Word to Define It

 

img_2099

 

I wonder how you feel about age or aging. Whether I view it positively or negatively, it will still happen to all of us. As one who is farther along in the process, I can attest there are positives and negatives as well as potential positives and potential negatives. Certainly there are things we may be able to control, but many more that we cannot.

 

I think we are more aware than ever that our choices throughout our lifetime will have a big impact along with those genes of ours that more and more people are trying to learn about through DNA testing. The generation above me knew far less than that and I think they were often more likely to accept it and deal with it as a natural/normal thing over which they had little impact.

 

Most of us are getting the messages about this whether we color our hair or not, wear glasses or contacts, wear a hearing aid or turn up the volume, walk around the block or run a marathon. We get the message that God designed our bodies to move and no matter what our age, the more we move the better our bodies perform. We also get the message that what we put in our mouths has an impact not only on our waistline and hips, but also how much energy we have, how often we get sick, how well we sleep, and how alert and energized we may be.

 

When I look at all of that I am aware that I have some responsibility for what is happening to me at each decade. Sadly, many of us (too many) don’t think about that as much when we are in our twenties and thirties when we can be putting good stuff in our health bank for the future.

 

Another message we hear about what happens with age is the value of relational connections and a spiritual life that enriches us and adds to the longevity and positive aspect of aging.

 

I confess that despite being married for almost 55 years, with two married children, and six grandchildren who are no longer babies or toddlers, I definitely do not consider or feel “old”. (Yes, I do color my hair and wear contacts and am now retired.)

 

This week I discovered a new word that thoroughly delighted me while I was reading Mark Batterson’s book, In A Pit With A Lion On A Snowy Day. Some of you may have read this book that preceded his popular book, The Circle Maker.

 

Clearly the title about a lion on a snowy day is intriguing. If you are a Bible scholar or avid reader, you may know Batterson is referring to Benaniah who became one of David’s mighty men.

 

The word I discovered in this book after reaching the conclusion that I think I am one who is a “lion chaser” is neoteny. As a lover of words, learning a new one always fascinates me. This word derives from the Greek word, neos, which means “new, fresh, or youthful”. Batterson notes that neoteny “is the retention of youthful qualities by adults”.

 

Reading a little further I became aware he was not talking about hair color, walking speed, vision or hearing acuity. He included a quote from the book, Geeks and Geezers, by Warren Bennis and Robert Thomas that I confess I have never seen nor read, but it was so enlightening that I wanted to share it with you here.

 

Neoteny is more than retaining a youthful appearance, although that is often part of it. Neoteny is the retention of those wonderful qualities we associate with youth: curiosity, playfulness, eagerness, fearlessness, warmth, energy. Unlike those defeated by time and age, our geezers have remained much like our geeks—open, willing to take risks, hungry for knowledge and experience, courageous, eager to see what the new day brings.”

 

 If you are in your twenties or thirties, that may not excite you and cause you to yawn in boredom, but if you are in the decades beyond that I am guessing you might be smiling.

 

But there is even more good news!! Batterson reminds us that neoteny is at the heart of the kingdom of God and is, in fact, what God is all about.

 

“He called a little child to him, and placed the child among them.  And he said: “Truly I tell you, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.” Matthew 18:2-3 NIV

 

 If we read Batterson as well as this passage in Matthew, I think we need to consider how often we are encouraged to become more and more childlike in our faith and trust in the Lord.

 

Batterson puts it this way:

 

“Conversion kick-starts two sanctification processes: Christlikeness and childlikeness. Spiritual maturity is becoming more like Christ and more like a little child.”

 

 I am not sure about you, but I want to be as filled with wonder at the Lord and all He has created and done as a child.

 

Neoteny—it’s a good word!

img_2101