Wednesday, April 22, 2009

The Full Counsel of Scripture and Spiritual Fitness

I went to the YMCA today to work off some pounds (except the pounds strangely don't seem to work off...) and while exercising there, I thought of many parallels between physical exercise and the exercise of our faith, keeping in mind all the various ways that we live it out. It made my exercising easier as I thought of something other than one motion after another, repetitive and somewhat painful.
I have tried most of the machines in the one exercise room, and have come up with my favorites. I go through the 9 muscle-toning machines in the children's area (they fit me well for height, and they're okay for adults to use if the children aren't kept waiting for them). I don't know how any child would max out on those machines. I started out pretty strong (I usually add about 30 pounds or more to whatever adjustment was there before), and am getting stronger, but I have a little way to go on most of them. Only on one can I go for the full 100 pounds--it's the one for the lower back, and for some reason that part of me must be proportionately stronger than the rest. For a while, after I was done with those machines, I would go to the elliptical machine, or the treadmill, and work off maybe 100 or 150 calories. Lately, I go to the reticulating bike, where I can sit back and read my Bible. I can read about 15 chapters while I work, and work off about 200 or more calories at a sitting while I'm not dwelling on the effort involved. I can't read so well on any other machine there. (The funny thing is, my unbelieving brother Don is the one who suggested that I work on that bike for the purpose of reading. Ha! I don't think he would have for the sake of the Bible, but never mind that. He can be a good influence in spite of himself.)
The funny thing is that while I try to get more fit, and I know I'm exercising more than I have since I was in school, still if I try walking in our neighborhood, I realize that the exercise at the Y does not yet provide me with greater stamina for walking. And I work on so many machines that I would think that I would be working pretty much all my muscles...yet I have noticed a few more machines, upon closer observation, that I know would help me find some new ones.
If I use one machine and go back to another I haven't used for a while, that previous one is harder again to use, as if I'd never tried it (my body seems to have an appalling lack of appreciation for the work I have done). When I'm not using a machine, I don't realize how much my muscles need the benefit that comes from it. That kind of thing is what got me comparing it to the Christian life.
Lately in my reading, I've been reading certain books of the Bible repeatedly for greater knowledge of them and the emphasis that comes through it; I occasionally branching out to others that I haven't read in a while. I know those other books, but being away from them, I get forgetful. It's good to have a reminder; it's like flexing muscles that otherwise stay still. Reading a book repeatedly to the exclusion of others is like using the reticulating bike continually and leaving the other machines alone--I get really fit in one regard but flabby in others. I need the balance of not just reading the Gospel of Mark, but also Genesis here, Acts there, Revelation sometimes too...I need the full counsel of the Scriptures to live my life in a balanced fashion. The books of Paul's life are an inspiration to live fully for Christ; the Gospels are a reminder of Him who I live for, belong to, look forward to meeting...but then Noah and Abraham and Moses inspire me with their persistence, their faith even before the knowledge of our Savior on the cross and His resurrection. The various letters to the churches remind me of the various ways I need to sharpen my obedience, my attitude, my witness, my walk in Christ. To increase my prayerfulness, my Bible reading, how I exhibit the fruit of the Spirit. To understand and remember the reason for our suffering, for our faithfulness, for fellowship, for stay strong all around so I don't have extremely weak and flabby areas, so I don't fall for lies and stumbling blocks and get discouraged. Not all of the benefit of reading is known to me in this life, I'm sure; just like all the benefit of exercising doesn't show on the scale, in the fit of my clothes, or on a walk nearby. The Bible is a God-given, ideal and thorough fitness plan, always waiting, ready for me to apply. Ready for me to get my spiritual muscles pumping!
1 Timothy 4:8 For physical training is of some value, but godliness has value for all things, holding promise for both the present life and the life to come.
New International Version (NIV) Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984 by International Bible Society.

Friday, April 17, 2009

To Live Like Paul, to Live for Christ

Last night at our Bible study in the Gospel of Mark, we were discussing Jesus' statements in 9:34-37 (among the rest of the passage); the subject at hand went through my mind much of the night.
"And He summoned the crowd with His disciples, and said to them, 'If anyone wishes to come after Me, he must deny himself, and take up his cross and follow Me. For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake and the gospel's will save it. For what does it profit a man to gain the whole world, and forfeit his soul? For what will a man give in exchange for his soul?'" At the end of it, Lauren, one of the younger participants in the class, read one of Paul's quotes from Philippians 3, which knit perfectly with our study.
"But whatever things were gain to me, those things I have counted as loss for the sake of Christ. More than that, I count all things to be loss in view of the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and count them but rubbish so that I may gain Christ, and may be found in Him, not having a righteousness of my own derived from the Law, but that which is through faith in Christ, the righteousness which comes from God on the basis of faith, that I may know Him and the power of His resurrection and the fellowship of His sufferings, being conformed to His death; in order that I may attain to the resurrection from the dead. Not that I have already obtained it or have already become perfect, but I press on so that I may lay hold of that for which also I was laid hold of by Christ Jesus.
Brethren, I do not regard myself as having laid hold of it yet; but one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and reaching forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus. Let us therefore, as many as are perfect, have this attitude; and if in anything you have a different attitude, God will reveal that also to you; however, let us keep living by that same standard to which we have attained.
Brethren, join in following my example, and observe those who walk according to the pattern you have in us. For many walk, of whom I often told you, and now tell you even weeping, that they are enemies of the cross of Christ, whose end is destruction, whose god is their appetite, and whose glory is in their shame, who set their minds on earthly things.
For our citizenship is in heaven, from which also we eagerly wait for a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ; who will transform the body of our humble state into conformity with the body of His glory, by the exertion of the power that He has even to subject all things to Himself.

The difference is clear to anyone who has lived long as an unbeliever before coming to Christ. Perhaps the biggest difference is what one dreams of doing with one's life as an unbeliever and as a Christian. Maybe the difference also could be attributed to having been an unbeliever in the younger years, when the dreams are more optimistic and perhaps unrealistic. Still, the unbeliever clings to this life, and as he comes to know Christ, as he gains by increments a hope, an understanding, of the future delight of heaven, he releases his grip on the things of this life, which pale in comparison.
The difference is understandable. For the unbeliever, he will experience nothing better than what he has in this life, and it just makes sense to make the most of it until he has a future hope. You can see that the world is trying to make their earthly experience as heavenly as possible, as if there were any way around the idea that it all will come to an end. For the believer, however, this world is far fuller of trouble and trial and dirt than the future that he realizes is waiting for him, and the best that he experiences here, that which used to be so alluring, grows increasingly meaningless.
Paul knew perhaps best of all humanity what he was living for as a believer; many agree that Paul speaks of himself when in 2 Corinthians 12, he discusses someone who had an experience of being taken up to the "third heaven." Paul lived his life as though understanding just how great his heavenly reward might be. He held nothing back in his service to Christ; he didn't seek to preserve his life, or to pursue worthless and temporal things. It was obvious that whatever he had seen in his heavenly experience, it motivated him to the point that earth and its trappings, and all the learning and acclaim he had so diligently earned in the Sanhedrin, had lost its luster. He now considered it refuse in comparison to knowing Christ.
So in the night, when I was pondering this lesson, I thought of various questions to apply to my life, some of which are convicting to me...

1. What would an outside observer think I was living for, if he could observe my life, based on my behavior?
2. What are my dreams for this life?
3. What upsets me the most?
4. What thoughts consume my idle time?
5. If I were given the opportunity of my dreams, what would it be, and why?
6. When I am disappointed, what thought consoles me?
7. Am I a worrier?
8. Do I hoard things?
9. How big a motivator is money? What is my greatest motivator?
10. How do I hope to be seen by the people around me? How does that affect my behavior?
11. Do I hope that people see Jesus in me, or that they don't?
12. Whose pleasure do I seek?
13. Would I seek to live longer on earth so that I could have some particular dream fulfilled?
14. If I seek fitness, what is my purpose? If I seek a perfectly clean house, what is my purpose? If I seek financial abundance, what is my purpose? In any of my goals that I pursue, whose glory am I pursuing?
15. Do I have an ongoing awareness that God sees my life and knows my heart?
16. How much suffering will I be willing to endure for Christ? Do I think that with His help I can face it?
17. Am I afraid of death? If so, what about it frightens me? Do I feel that I would be ready to face God at any minute?
18. Do I have a true longing for heaven, a feeling that I don't belong here but there as a citizen, a desire to see Jesus face to face? Do I expect heaven to be a relief and a joy? How much do I ponder heaven? Is my longing for heaven more a head-knowledge, or a heart-knowledge?

Our goal should be to have these answers be 180 degrees from where they were before we were believers. I don't suppose any of us can say that we've reached that 180 degrees in this life about any of those questions, even if we come close on some of them. Some of my answers are better than others; some I try justifying somewhat. Probably in any of them, I have to think about how honest I'm being, and since there's always room for improvement, all of them I should pray about, and seek to change my heart.
I can't say that there are many things I hope to do before I die. I don't think I fear death much; in fact, there are times when I long for it (maybe for the wrong reasons!). The main selfish reason I would choose to stay is take part in raising Tim to adulthood; there are other things I would like to do along the way (most of which seem unlikely). Most of them are easy to put aside. I think I look forward to heaven for some of the right reasons. But am I living like Paul lived? No, I know I'm not there; far from it! So I need to change, to improve, to seek His help, because without it that change will never come. I want to live as to say with Paul in Philippians 1:21, "To live is Christ, to die is gain."
New American Standard Bible (NASB) Copyright © 1960, 1962, 1963, 1968, 1971, 1972, 1973, 1975, 1977, 1995 by The Lockman Foundation.

Thursday, April 02, 2009

"Crunching" Some Numbers About Genealogy--or, I Looked Some Stuff Up

Okay, I feel some bit silly going on with this is addictive, and the more you find ancestors, the more ancestors there are to find, which means this might never end unless I exercise some self-control (gasp!). Just how much self-control might I need? Well. Late last night I looked up how many ancestors a person is likely to have. Well, of course, from the beginning of time might be too mind-blowing, especially when you consider the numbers at the time of Charlemagne, who seems to be a person around whom genealogy sort of spins.
You know that little mathematical tidbit that adults use on kids, asking them whether they'd rather have $1,000,000 today or a penny the first day, and that amount doubled each day for a month? How many of us would choose $1,000,000? If I hadn't seen the numbers before, I might be opting for it. I cheated and googled it(1) to get the answer because of course I couldn't remember for sure what would come of doubling the amount starting with a penny for a month: $10,737,418.23 (Note: That math website was wrong...finally realizing that it had to end in an even number and was therefore wrong, I tried it the long manual way and it's actually $4,268,882.52. Ha! So, I'm revising my numbers...don't trust everything, maybe anything, on the a new level of skepticism added...) Math concepts can be amazing. The same concept works on generations and genealogy: each generation back doubles the previous one, so 30 generations brings you the same number as pennies doubled over a month. If there are enough names traced on the internet, I could be busy researching Gary's ancestors, all 426,888,252, forever. Thankfully, I don't think I enjoy it quite that much.
There was a website(2) that approximated how many ancestors a person born in 1975 would have by the time of Charlemagne: (according to their calculations) 1,099,511,627,776. I don't intend to find them all, let me tell you. Another site(3) made the case that while most Europeans are probably descended from Charlemagne, only a very few could truly document it, which casts further aspersions on my research. If you went back to Atilla the Hun (not an ancestor I really cared to find, but it might explain some things), they say you'd have 72,057,594,037,927,940 ancestors--total, not all in one generation (remember to be skeptical!). Which probably exceeds the number of all people of the world since that time, so who knows, we're probably almost all descended from him as well.
At least it gives a perspective of possibility to the idea that most people might find some royalty among their descendants. Royalty was no doubt more likely to track those things than pirates and horse theives might have done, so those lines that are traceable would tend to be the more reputable ones. I have found that there are a number of lines that just can't be tracked past a certain point. Whether there was something to cover up or the people were too busy surviving to keep track of who their grandparents were, or whether no one has expressed enough interest to hunt down the gravestones and church documents and post them on the internet, I have no way of finding out, but what remains "documented" has sparked up my interest in history.
I'm not sure how much I believe in my results, but they're definitely interesting, even though they're on Gary's side, not mine. I've always enjoyed history, especially learning about specific individuals along the way. For example, I've never quite gotten to studying Saxons vs. Normans, and last night I found that one of Gary's purported ancestors, Olaf Sitricsson King of Dublin, Mann & the Isles, died at the hand of Saxons while on a pilgrimage to Rome in 1034. There was another ancestor not so far removed, Aedwine, King of the East Saxons, and they were both great-great-grandparents of sweet little Owain Gwynedd ap Gruffydd (these names are Welsh, just so you know). So all this about Norman conquest over Saxony, you could say, was a family feud...only they didn't know they were to be related until little Odwain was born. How he came to exist? Maybe that stuff that comes along with know. Or maybe it was one of those Romeo and Juliet stories that didn't end up in double suicide. Can you see how interesting it is, and how a person can get hooked even if the actual lineage concept doesn't have so much credibility?
(1) "Doubling Pennies"
(2) "How many ancestors do I have?"
(3) "Are we related to Charlemagne?"

Wednesday, April 01, 2009

If it Were the 1500s, I'd be About Finished...

Today I am 49 years old. I've had forty-nine April Fools birthdays, if you don't count that initial birth-day, and I don't remember not looking a trifle askance upon the fact that it always, invariably happens on April Fool's Day. Even in our Psalm reading, today we will just by God's timing be reading the one that brings some to call April 1 Atheist's Day: Psalm 14. Verse 1 says, "The fool has said in his heart, 'There is no God.' They are corrupt, they have committed abominable deeds; there is no one who does good." All of which makes me look further askance at being born on that particular day. Being called a fool sounds somehow kinder than being called an atheist, because I think of a fool as not having chosen that role--yet Psalm 14:1 makes them one and the same. I'm thankful that being born on April 1 doesn't bind me into such a decision.
I have been doing all of this genealogy on Gary's side, and finding that most lives were fairly short, and I'll bet that 90 percent of them ended in the same town where they started. Very often, I notice, they stayed in the same town, probably the same house, for generations. I can only suppose that most of them never even ventured more than maybe 20 miles from home in their whole lifetimes. I picked a random page of 15 ancestors, and their average age, living in the 1500s and 1600s, was 50 years old. So I could have expected to kick the bucket at just about any time now.
So in comparison, I can appreciate that my life has been very rich. These people, living in one town all their lives and not having access to so many means of communication as we have now, probably knew extremely little about the world around them, about God's creation; they probably knew the same 500 or 1000 people all their lives. They may have stayed in the same church even if they found extreme fault with it, because there wasn't another for miles around.
So I just think of the wonders I'd seen by the time I was seven, when we drove across the country moving from Oregon to Indiana, stopping at various national parks and other scenic stops along the way, and by then I'd already had rich experiences in comparison. The farthest I've been from here in the Northwest is to Tennessee. Since then, I've been as far south as Floritos, Mexico, just south of Tijuana, and as far north as Lake Louise in Alberta. I've seen pictures of the Great Wall of China; just yesterday was sent e-mail pictures of Petra, in Jordan; I've even seen pictures from light years away in outer space. Who could have said that in 1500? Not a soul!
The conveniences we have in our home are things no one from the 1500s could fathom: telephones; electricity; running water; a gas fireplace with a remote (that still blows my mind); a television always armed with movies, news flashes, and obscenities; a computer that connects us to all the world, cds and radio that bring any type of music to please us at any given time; electronic games; a plethora of books; a copy machine/printer; a refrigerator; and a microwave. They may have had wood-burning ovens, but I know none of them had a microwave. Can you imagine bringing one to a king's palace in the 1500s and showing him (supposing electricity was available) how it worked? I think he would have thought it was the work of the devil and sent us to prison!
The best thing about these times, better than the access to travel, to information, and to conveniences and luxuries, is the fact that we are interconnected with so many more people. Maybe at times in a more disposable way, a shallower way, and that may be for the worse; yet if we are in unworkable circumstances, I think we have more opportunity to improve on them because of the way that our society is structured. Because we know more people than we otherwise would, we can share joys and sorrows, struggles and prayer requests more readily, and bear one another's burdens and rejoice with one another so well.
I remember turning about 28, being a working new mom with extreme anemia, and wondering how in the world my grandmother had ever lived to be 90. How in the world! I still wonder at it--she'd nearly died a few times, because of thyroid problems, and a wrong blood type transfusion, and being born a preemie in 1899. She was a survivor. And I have outlived the age at which my father died, by 8 years; the year I turned 41 I remember feeling very mortal, as if it were impossible to pass that age by and live on. I may have faltered along the way, but these days I'm feeling the potential to live a pretty full agespan.
Do I need to live much longer? Not if God wants me to leave. I can be content with the life that I have been given. I hope that if He leaves me here until I'm 90, that He strengthens my frame for it and provides financially; I don't see that I'm up to that otherwise. But life has been so amazing, especially when I compare it with those ancestors who lived in the 1500s. God is great, and we are blessed!
But I have trusted in Your lovingkindness; My heart shall rejoice in Your salvation. I will sing to the LORD, because He has dealt bountifully with me. Psalm 13:5-6
New American Standard Bible (NASB) Copyright © 1960, 1962, 1963, 1968, 1971, 1972, 1973, 1975, 1977, 1995 by The Lockman Foundation.