Sunday, August 31, 2014

Random Thoughts, 8/31

Haven't written many random thoughts lately. It's kind of unfortunate, considering I think I have some sort of hole in the bottom of my head and all the brilliant ideas tend to fall out. They don't usually stick around long enough to be remembered. Not that most of my ideas are that brilliant. They're usually pretty stupid.

I have a Seattle Mariners outfielder Dustin Ackley Gnome. (I still owe the kid who gave it to me a bag of peach rings. I even have the peach rings.) The gnome sits proudly on my shelf next to my Matt Kemp bobblehead (LA Dodgers outfielder). I just got a Felix Hernandez Bobblehead to go along with them. Now they'll have more company, as I'm sure Dustin and Matt are bored sick with each other. Lol.

But anyway, back to the gnome.

Of course I keep the boxes and try to maintain the mint condition as much as I can. The gnome box is still on the table in my office (which only seems to accumulate all the piles of junk I am just too lazy to put away. Which is why I intend to simply remove the table and not make it that easy for me to be so lazy.)

I have a TriMet operators' stocking cap.

I didn't steal it. It was given to me by my youth pastor, who found it in the parking lot of our church. It took a year before I got it because his wife wanted to wash it and present it to me so I could see my expression. Unfortunately, the grand revealing never happened according to plan. But I did get the hat.

The hat was in my car, which also tends to accumulate junk until I have to get more people than two in it. Which is what happened when my dad and my friend Lane went up to Seattle with me to get the aforementioned Felix bobblehead. I had some pants stored in the car, since in Oregon you never know if the shorts will suffice or you will need the jeans, or vice versa. But they had been in there for awhile. So I took them out to wash them. I decided to have the hat washed too.

So today I walked into my office and I saw the gnome box with the TriMet hat draped over it to dry. And words came out of my mouth that I wasn't expecting.

"Why is there a hat on my gnome box?"

It struck me funny. It was a strange thing to say. I thought about it and came to the conclusion that that particular sentence was probably never said by anyone ever. It was something novel. It made me feel special because I had the opportunity to say words nobody has ever said before.

I hope I have the opportunity to say words that are special to someone someday that actually have some importance to reality, more than a hat on a gnome box. Like "Jesus loves you" or "Will you marry me?"

But until that happens, I will just be content with my gnome box opportunity.

I also realize I must have too much time on my hands.

Thursday, August 14, 2014

The Christian's View on Suicide

In my previous post, I discussed how we as people can only survive through the pain we face in life if we have the hope of Jesus. As part of the discussion, I asserted that suicide is a choice that only leads to a Christ-less eternity. I was not expecting the firestorm I would get from that assertion. In this post, I will briefly define my position on this issue, but I will also pose some questions that will need to be answered.

My first postulate is that suicide is a choice. Some may argue that it is not that simple. Yet, the concept of suicide is not that complicated. To state that it is a choice is asserting something rather obvious. The only way ending one's own life is not a choice is if a person is forcing someone to do it to themselves, and they can still choose to either concede or fight it. Suicide is a choice because the only one who can initiate it is the person considering it. It doesn't happen spontaneously.

If we bring clinical depression into the picture, it doesn't make any impact on the validity of the previous postulate. Clinical depression is a legitimate disease. People will argue that it is something that can be fixed by simply getting a new outlook on life or just believing in God's providence. They will say that depression is a mindset and that the Christian shouldn't ever have this kind of problem because of the hope they have in Jesus.

This position fails to take into account the fact that our souls and our bodies are inextricably linked while we are on this earth. Mental illness is as real of a problem as cancer or heart disease, and is possibly even more disturbing because of the unique connection to the person's mind that no other disease really has. So depression is not simply a mindset or an attitude; it is a real disease that must be treated with care and sensitivity.

However, even under the circumstance of a person suffering from depression, suicide is still a choice. It may seem like a more reasonable alternative to the hell that the person faces while dealing with the disease, but the choice to end one's life is still a choice.

Now that we have established this as something not relative, let me provide my view on the eternal consequences of suicide. (I do not mean to ruffle feathers, and if you do not want to hear it, do not read on. Just remember that my whole goal is to lead people to committing their lives fully to Jesus.)

I believe that suicide guarantees a person's exclusion from an eternity with Christ. It is a willful act of rebellion against a God who desires that we place everything in His hands and surrender all our desires and our will. It is a final decision to not let Jesus have any more opportunity to be Lord over their lives. Suicide says, "I am going to fix this my way." It is the easy way out.

How can I back this up? This is where I am stuck. You see, I was taught this position by my family and other influential people in my life. It is also reasonable to me. One person has said that there is not one place in the Bible where it says suicide is a one-way ticket to hell. I admit I have never seen a verse about this, and I am one who always desires to base every detail about his theology solely on what the Bible says. I will continue to look into this from a biblical standpoint. I want to get it right.

But let me offer a few reasonable thoughts that corroborate my position:

  1. Suicide goes against the very nature of a relationship with Jesus. Christians are supposed to place their hope and trust in Jesus and refrain from taking matters into their own hands. We submit completely to His leading, especially in the area of dealing with suffering.
  2. Depression is not a sin, but it is certainly an evil tool of Satan aimed to deceive a person from the unchanging truth of God. Seeing it from this point of view, suicide is the desired goal of Satan that takes a person out of eternity with Jesus, which is the desired goal of God.
  3. I can only think of two Bible characters who committed suicide. King Saul fell by his own sword when he couldn't get anybody else to do the deed for him. Judas Iscariot hung himself after he started realizing what he had done, which was initiating the death of the Son of God Himself. The Bible specifically states that the Spirit of God was not in these men, but instead Satan had a foothold. Neither had faith or salvation when they took their own life.
  4. The fact that nothing verbatim is mentioned by any of the New Testament writers about suicide shows me that it is not an option for a Christian. Instead, we are called to "consider it pure joy when we encounter trials." (This is easier said than done, especially for a person suffering from depression. However, God's Word is unchanging and is His truth is not relative.)
But there is one point of argument that has validity: the grace of God. Grace covers all sin for a Christian. What makes suicide, a conscious decision not unlike every single other sin, exempt from this?

And here we are left with still more questions. I hope this discourse has helped you to understand my stance and the reasoning behind it, but I also hope you see that I have not arrived at a hard answer. The way I look at it, a person shouldn't commit suicide regardless of whether it guarantees hell or they can still get to heaven. It's like the question of whether a person can lose their salvation: don't test it!

But again, if suicide is something you are considering, please don't test those waters. Placing your trust in Jesus doesn't mean that everything will be okay. It will someday, but until then we still face the burdens of this life. Just remember: even if you feel hopeless, you don't have to be hopeless. Jesus is the hope that will never fail, the One of promise worth waiting for. He will walk with you through the storm, and will lead you to a place of peace with Him in His time. Leave your date of departure in the hands of a God who fashioned your existence before the beginning of time and has a plan for your life to give you a hope and a future (Jer. 29:11) and to bring glory to God.

Monday, August 11, 2014

The Week of Morbidity

This has been one of the most depressing weeks of news I have ever experienced.

Jennifer Huston, the 38-year old mother from Dundee, was found dead by apparent suicide.

Six-year old Jenise Wright from Bremerton, Washington was murdered. A seventeen-year old boy was arrested and will be tried as an adult on murder charges.

The body Yosuke Onishi of Japan, missing on Mt. St. Helens since November, was found.

Race car driver Kevin Ward, Jr. was killed on the race track after he got out of his car to confront driver Tony Stewart, who inadvertently ran over Ward.

Four people were killed in a Clackamas County crash.

Police arrested the woman who killed her two-year old daughter and injured her other teenage daughter in Cannon Beach last week.

A two-year old reportedly drowned in a Washington lake today.

And of course, Robin Williams committed suicide.

My heart continues to pound thinking about the sadness of all this. All the injustice, the grief, the hopelessness, the lives lost. It makes me wonder how such terrible things can happen. It makes me see how people can ask how a loving God can allow such horrible things.

Now, I know that God does allow these things to happen, but not because He wants them to happen. God has no desire for anyone to hurt. We weren't made for that purpose. But God gave us the will to choose to serve Him or not. Because people don't serve Him, sin is in the world. And because sin is in the world, these kind of tragedies become everyday occurrences.

All these tragedies are stemmed from a choice. Some were specific direct choices that caused the tragedy. Others were choices that weren't meant for any harm. Williams and Huston chose to end their lives, leaving sadness for the people they left behind and securing for themselves an unfortunate eternity. The people who physically hurt other people chose to let evil fill their hearts and act it out on others. Ward chose to get out of his car on a racetrack with fast cars moving toward him. All of these were bad choices which could have been prevented.

But Onishi chose to hike on the mountain alone. He had no desire to die on the mountain, but hiking alone wasn't a very good choice. And the road people in Clackamas County chose not to spend the money to paint a road with lines and put up reasonable speed limit signs. And the driver of the car didn't use the caution one should use when driving at night on back country roads.

Why does God allow us to make such bad choices? He doesn't want anyone to be hurt. He doesn't want anyone to die needlessly. With the anger I feel about the death of Jenise Wright, consider how angry it makes the God who created her. But God wants us to choose Him. He wants us to consciously decide to commit our lives to Him. With the choice to follow Him comes the choice not to follow Him, which leads to the undesirable effects we have seen.

It seems odd that God would create a world knowing that it would be filled with sadness and injustice. He did create the world knowing it would not choose Him, but does that make Him hard and cold about our pain? No! This is best seen in the shorted verse in the Bible, John 11:35: "Jesus wept."

We think of sadness as a bad thing, something that if we were perfect we would never do. But while sadness is certainly a bad thing, it is not something that we experience because we have sin in our lives. Jesus was perfect; He never sinned. But He still cried. He wept because His friend Lazarus had died. Ironically, it wasn't Lazarus's death that caused Him to cry, since He knew He would raise Lazarus to life in a matter of minutes. Jesus knew all the other people He created and dearly loved who weren't going to choose Him. The wailers were wailing away by the tomb, filled with hopelessness and grief. Mary and Martha weren't even walking with faith, even knowing better than most people the power Jesus had.

And in that moment, Jesus may have even seen Jenise Wright, or Jennifer Huston, or Robin Williams, all of whom would go from life to death because of someone's choice. It was not what Jesus wanted. The Bible even says in I Peter 3:9 that God does not want anyone to perish, but instead that everyone come to repentance. But God has allowed people the choice to come to Him or to turn away from Him, which means that people are free to pursue their evil desires, often leading to pain and injustice for those who, while just as sinful, were certainly not deserving of such pain.

But think: if Jesus who knew no sin still felt such sadness about the lives lost while he was on earth, does God in heaven feel the same sadness? Likely, yes. No one sees the injustice more than God, who loves people so much to the point of giving His life for them, both the victim and the person committing the crime. God knew that He would have to experience this sadness if He was to allow us the choice to follow Him, but He also knew that this pain is only allowed for a time. There will be a day when the sadness of this world will be gone forever. No more sin equals no more injustice, no more pain, and no more sadness. And that day will only be experienced by those who have the hope of Jesus in their hearts, who have made the choice to serve and follow God Jehovah.

So if you do not have this hope, come to Jesus right now. Fall on your knees and cry out to Him to give you this hope. Ask forgiveness for the sins you have done and the bad choices you have made, and choose to follow Jesus through any mountain and valley He guides you through. It doesn't matter what you have done; we are all sinners deserving of death, but given life through Christ's love and grace. Life will still be filled with sadness, but you will have the everlasting hope of eternal life with Jesus to help you get through these tough times.

I know that these sad news stories are more commonplace than it seems. And I know that more will come, especially as we day-by-day approach the end of these times. But I have the hope in Jesus to help me see that this world is not all there is, and it certainly is not my home.


(Please note that, although this world is not our home and there is so much pain in it, God still has a reason for you to be here. If you are battling thoughts of suicide, please know that you are loved and that there is so much to live for, both here and in eternity. Pastors at your local churches are available to pray with you. Also, the National Suicide Prevention Hotline is available at 1-800-273-8255. Whichever way you choose, just know that we all love you and never want to lose you. And God loves you and has given His life for you. That's how much you are worth to the God who made you!)

Thursday, August 7, 2014

Oh How Dumb We Are

I constantly amaze myself how dumb I can be. I can go along for an extended period strong and happy, serving Jesus and living the Christian life. Then a strange man in a minivan with tinted windows drives up and offers me candy. Ooh, candy, I think to myself. This sounds like something interesting. And I come to my senses awhile later and haven't a clue how I got to the place I find myself.

Let's be honest. Some people may read this and say, "What a hypocrite he is." But seriously, am I alone in this? Certainly not. Even the strongest Christian occasionally finds himself wondering how he could be so led astray. We fail. We make mistakes. Sometimes these are big mistakes. But big or small, each sin is bad. Each sin is enough to condemn a person to death.

When I think about people, I am always reminded of the VeggieTales episode "Dave and the Giant Pickle." Dave is tending the sheep. But the sheep have a special problem: they fall over. So Dave has to spend most of his time helping tipped-over sheep stand back up.

We are these tipped sheep. We can do amazing things, make great accomplishments, and do great things for society. But then we tip over. We do something so stupid it makes any reasonable person choke. Unfortunately, we are also the reasonable people, which extends the problem even further. We are flawed.

Now, we were not designed to be flawed. We were made by God to be perfect. But we were made with a choice: do what God wants or do what we want/ It was the simplest command: do not eat the fruit of the knowledge of good and evil. Not very complicated. But Satan decided to very sneakily and slyly confuse Eve so she would do the opposite of what God wanted. It was really hard for him to do it, too. He told her, "God lied, eat the fruit." And she did. (Yes, folks, that was sarcasm.)

Funny how the lives of billions and trillions of people were wrecked by one person's silly mistake, and one very gullible husband's 'yes dear' moment. Thanks, Adam and Eve. I don't really have a lot of respect for you two.

So here we are, tipsy sheep. I see idiot drivers risking lives to get to work three minutes earlier. I see scared teenage girls desperately trying to figure out why she had to sleep with that guy and get pregnant. I see the occasional pastor being caught in some adulturous act that makes headline news. I see drunks and druggies sleeping on buses with no better thing to take them out of that endless cycle of pain. And I see me, being deceived by the same stupid lie over and over. I know better. I know what's good and bad. But I slip up. I fail, and I deserve eternal punishment for it. And honestly, I know you all know what I mean. It's not just me.

But I do know one thing: my God knew from before time began that I wouldn't have a fat chance to save myself. I can't cover for my one stupid mistake because another pops up not long after. He sent us the Law to show us that we can't do it ourselves. We can't keep all the commandments, even the simple list of ten everyone quotes. We can't do it ourselves.

Then God breaks through the barrier of our stupidity, obliterating sin and death and all of our errors, past and present, calling us to follow Him. Now we are His children. How did that happen? Why did that happen? What value does God see in me that is worth giving a second of His attention, let alone His very life? I don't see it.

Thankfully, God does. He loves me with a love that never fails, that puts up with my stupidity and tips me up every time I fall over. And He's promised that I am going to be made into a perfectly holy and whole person someday, into what I was originally planned to be. And this is something that He actually wants to do; He doesn't just do it because He has to. It blows my mind.

So if you are like me and occasionally screw up the world, take heart. You are not alone, and you have a Savior who wants to take your brokenness and make you into something worth more than the value of the world. You don't have to understand why He does, but He does. His love endures through our stupidity.

If you want to understand this better, do a study on the book of Romans. It'll rock your world.