Thank God for Prozac!

It’s been a crummy sort of week. I haven’t even felt much like writing, which is not like me at all. A lot of reasons feed into that feeling: my disappointment last weekend, tension over a major test I’m taking next Wednesday, summer heat and humidity, and the ongoing onslaught of bad news about hatred, violence, and other such ugliness. I’m not the only one struggling: some of my friends are describing their struggles as well, both online and in person.

My friends have an additional burden that I have not needed to face this week. Their family members mean well, but they are trying to support my friends with the usual vacuous platitudes that are so popular at times like these. You know the type: count your blessings and you’ll feel better; be more active and you’ll forget your problems; just remember that Jesus loves you and everything will be fine; your problems aren’t real, anyhow—they only exist in your head.

My problems only exist in my head? An inner ear infection might exist only in my head, and that wouldn’t make it less real. Anxiety and depression are not solved by bromides: they need a stronger medicine. We are complex beings, and solutions that help one person will do nothing for another and may even harm a third person. Anxiety and depression are symptoms of some sort of imbalance among my body, my mind, and my spirit. Many things can cause that imbalance. Some are solved by better nutrition and more sleep. Some are solved by prayer or meditation. Some are improved by counseling. Some are improved by medication. No panacea covers all the possible causes of anxiety and depression, but well-meant remarks like those quoted above are almost certain to fail to help.

I am puzzled by people who speak against medications that help battle anxiety and depression. For the most part they accept the need for medicines that lower blood pressure or reduce cholesterol, they will swallow a pill for pain relief or freedom from allergies, and they have nothing but compassion for people on crutches, people in wheelchairs, and others whose problems are obvious. Mention an anti-depressant, though, and they begin to speak darkly of conspiracies between pharmaceutical companies and doctors meant to rob perfectly normal people of their money and their health.

I am not suggesting that any person should be allowed to ingest any substance that makes him or her feel better. I am saying that anxiety and depression are real problems that deserve real treatment. If a pill or two can give a sufferer relief, then who is entitled to criticize them? When Mrs. Dim decides to mow her grass before 7 a.m., and when drivers in traffic are doing fooling and dangerous things, and when my future career is very much in question, I’m grateful that a substance exists that helps me deal with my feelings.

For years I thought feelings needed to be ignored. As courage is not a lack of fear, but is doing the right thing in spite of fear, so I believed that virtue always consisted of ignoring one’s feelings and doing the right thing. Life is much easier now that I’ve been guided on a different path, and trusting a medicine or two to help me handle bad feelings does not mean that I trust God any less. I thank God for helpful medicine just as I thank him for doctors, nurses, counselors, physical therapists, and the many other ways he provides to assist the healing of bodies and minds. Whatever is good, whatever is beneficial, whatever is helpful, it all comes from the Creator of the universe who means it to be used for our benefit. For that, I can only give thanks. J.

 

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Ten Commandments trivia

We have all seen the image of Moses—in paintings, drawings, and movies—carrying the two tablets of stone on which the Ten Commandments were inscribed by God. Like many of our religious traditions, the familiar picture is most likely inaccurate.

The Bible does not record the size of the tablets, although a maximum size is determined by the size of the ark built to contain them. The Hebrew word translated “tablet” (or, in the KJV, “table”) refers to the fact that the material—stone, wood, or metal—was polished; the word could be used to describe any such object, from a plate to a table. Rabbinic tradition says that each tablet was ten inches by twenty inches, which corresponds to similar legal documents of that time. (It’s also about the size of the tablets that people use today.) They also would have been rectangles with four sharp corners, unlike the shape usually shown in artwork. Rabbinic tradition further says that the stones were blue—either sapphire or lapis lazuli—taken from the floor under God’s throne as seen by Moses and the other leaders of Israel.

The Bible indicates that the stones were each inscribed on both sides by the finger of God. Many teachers describe the stones as if some of the commandments were written on one tablet and the rest on the other, but far more likely both tablets contained all the commandments. The two stone tablets were duplicate copies of a contract, similar to the two pieces of paper produced when you use a credit card at a store. The store keeps one copy you have signed and you keep the other copy. Because Moses was acting as a mediator between God and Israel, he was entrusted with both copies of the contract.

When God spoke the commandments from Mount Sinai to the people of Israel, before Moses received the same commandments in writing, he spoke “ten words” according to the book of Exodus. Because Exodus does not enumerate the commandments, different traditions count them in various ways. One tradition combines the prohibition of other gods with the prohibition of graven images; that tradition then closes the Ten Commandments with two prohibitions of coveting. In this tradition the Ninth Commandment forbids coveting your neighbor’s house, which includes any property that is bought with money alone. The Tenth Commandment forbids coveting your neighbor’s spouse, workers, or work animals, or anything that is your neighbors—anything bound to your neighbor by loyalty. (This would include pets and even friends.) Another tradition has a distinct prohibition of graven images—the Second Commandment—and closes with only one commandment against coveting. In the third tradition, both combinations are made, but the first “word” of God is the opening declaration, “I am the Lord your God.” Because of these different ways of numbering the commandments, mention of the Sixth Commandment without any context causes some people to think of murder and others to think of adultery.

When teachers or artists describe the two tablets as if they contained different groups of commandments, they separate the commandments into a vertical relationship—our relationship with God—and horizontal relationships—our relationships with other people. These relationships are summarized in the two greatest commandments: to love God wholeheartedly, and to love each neighbor as yourself. The first three or four commandments speak of other gods, graven images, God’s name, and God’s time; the remaining six or seven speak of parents and neighbors. In my opinion, the commandment to “honor your father and your mother” (as well as others in authority) should be counted with the vertical relationship. All figures of authority are pictures of God’s authority. The way we treat our parents, teachers, supervisors, and government officials represents our attitude towards God’s authority. After that commandment, the Ten Commandments continue with an orderly set of commandments about horizontal relationships, defending (in order) our neighbors’ lives, marriages, property, and reputations. Coveting is uniquely a sin both horizontal and vertical. We cannot love our neighbors while being angry that they have something good that we do not have. We cannot love God when we refuse to be content with the good things he has made available to us.

The Ten Commandments are an owner’s manual for our lives. They inform us why we were made, why we are alive today, and what we are supposed to be doing. When we break any of these commandments, we void the contract we have made with God; we void the warranty he gave us with these commandments. Yet Jesus Christ, the Son of God, obeyed these commandments in our place, setting us free from their burden. We live by them now, not to earn the blessings of God, but to imitate Christ since he has rescued us from the consequences of sin and made us free people, unbound by the commandments. Of course these facts are not trivia: the knowledge contained in this paragraph is the most important knowledge any person can possess. J.

Moses

It’s… complicated

In the last two years I have applied for two jobs—only two. Obviously, I have not been hitting the pavement searching for employment. Nor have I found myself thinking, “I should look for a different job,” while on my way home from my current job.

Last summer I saw a job listing that looked as if it had been written with me in mind. It involved doing the kind of work I am doing now, but on a college campus. This job also included teaching, and it was at a Christian college, so not just anyone with the right training would be considered. The skills, experiences, and attitudes described as the ideal applicant all matched me perfectly. The only discouraging sign was that they preferred a Master’s degree in the field; even so, they were willing to hire someone who would study to earn a Master’s degree while working for them. Best of all, this college is near my childhood home—so close that I had visited the campus often.

I sent them the required information, and they quickly responded. Later they told me that I was on their short list and asked for additional information. In the end, I was not one of the two people they interviewed on campus, but their last word to me was that if the interviews were unsuccessful they would get back to me. Evidently, I missed getting the job by this-much.

This winter my best friend asked me if I had seen a job listing in the publication from Church Headquarters. I had not—most of the mail that comes from Church Headquarters goes straight to the recycling stack. I found the job listing and saw that they wanted someone who could write for the Church Headquarters. The various kinds of writing all appealed to me, so I decided to apply. The process was automated, and after the initial acknowledgement I heard nothing more for a while. I figured that the computer had read my information and disqualified me before a living human being ever knew I had applied. Meanwhile, just in case they were interested, I took the time to familiarize myself with written information coming from Church Headquarters.

Then, months later, I received an email inviting me to interview over the computer. We scheduled the interview—I put on a tie and suitcoat to talk to people on a computer screen. The interview seemed to go well, and they asked me to email samples of my writing. It sounded as though they were hoping to make a decision rather quickly. Weeks went by, and I heard nothing. I asked myself if I had checked the writing samples carefully for grammar and punctuation and spelling. I was tempted to open the email and double-check those things, but I knew it was too late to change anything, so I didn’t really want to know. Last week I finally got a computer-generated email thanking me for my interest and telling me that the job at Headquarters had been filled. (Yes, I am again dropping all publications from Headquarters in the recycling, unread.)

Not long after the interview, while I still had reason to believe I was being considered for the job, I received a phone call. “Hey, J.,” the caller said. (He is someone I have known for a dozen years.) “Would you be willing to let yourself be considered for a full-time church job?” I had held such a job for a while, then dropped back to part-time church work and took a different full time job. Rather than give a quick yes or no, I asked for a day to think about his question. The next day I returned his call and said I was willing to be considered.

A committee interviewed me over the phone the next week. I was one of three they were interviewing for the job. They promised to keep me posted on their decision. They have not done so. At the beginning of this month, I learned from two round-about ways that they had offered the job to another man. That did not mean that the story was over, though, because it was possible that he would decline their offer.

My thoughts dwelt on full-time church work again. I considered how I would tell my present coworkers about the change, and how I would discuss it with my family. I considered creating a Facebook post with a picture of Michael Jordan and the words, “I’m back.” (Sports fans will understand the reference.) Since I am Facebook friends with my present coworkers, I thought that might not be the best thing to do.

In all three possible job offers, I tried my best to pray the words, “Thy will be done.” I tried not to add, “but if you want my opinion, Lord….” Even though I do not have a burning desire to change jobs, any of these three would have been good for me, and I would have been good in any of them. Finally, it was good for me to consider the question, would I be willing to be considered for a full-time job in the church. I am not ready to go looking for such a job, but if one were offered to me, I would very likely accept.

This morning I learned that the other man who was interviewed and who was offered the job has accepted. That door is closed, but I have a suspicion that another door is about to open. J.

 

Petty contempt

The heat has been extreme, even dangerous, lately. Lawn care has not been a priority for me. My work allows me to spend the day in air conditioned buildings. When I get home in the late afternoon, the temperature and humidity are reaching their peak for the day, and I don’t feel like walking around the property behind a gasoline-powered motor with a spinning blade.

When I came home one day this week, I was pleased to see that Mrs. Dim was doing her yardwork in the afternoon. Her habit of running her mower and trimmer and blower early in the morning has not been helpful to my efforts to start the day pleasantly. I thought it would be right neighborly of me to go ahead and shorten my grass the next day so her surroundings would be tidy, consistent with her own property. Meanwhile, as I worked at my home computer that afternoon, I kept an ear open to her work. If she should collapse in the heat, I was ready to be at her side and to call for help. She wisely took frequent breaks, resting in the shade, until her work was finished for the day.

I got home from work the next day and changed into my usual mowing outfit—an old T-shirt, jeans dappled from painting projects, tattered tennis shoes, and a baseball cap encrusted with salt from several years of sweat. Anyone in the neighborhood would recognize my mowing uniform. I filled a large plastic mug with water and went out the front door, heading around the corner to get the mower out of the shed. I filled the gas tank and took the mower to the front of the house to trim the front lawn. As I came around the corner of the house, I noticed that Mrs. Dim was driving away in her car.

This is not the first time this year that she has left the neighborhood while I was mowing. I wonder if the sound of other people’s lawn tools bothers her as much as her lawn tools disturb me. More likely, I think, she cannot bear to watch the quick and shoddy way I care for my lawn. I started the mower and began to work, and then I saw what Mrs. Dim had done.

In the time it took me to get out the mower and fill the gas tank, she had moved her sprinkler to the edge of her property, so that more than half the water it was distributing was landing on the grass I was about to mow.

I considered moving her sprinkler a few feet from the property line at least long enough to finish my work on that part of the yard. However, I was reluctant to set foot on her lawn or adjust her equipment. I try not to give her any reason to complain of my behavior; she complains enough about the things I do not do. Instead, I proceeded with my mowing while wondering what prompted her to move the sprinkler. Several possibilities crossed my mind.

• Perhaps her daily watering of her lawn is on a strict schedule and nothing—certainly not consideration for a neighbor—could cause her to change that schedule.

• Perhaps she was concerned about my well-being in the heat and wanted to make sure I would be cooled with splashes of fresh water while mowing.

• Perhaps it never occurred to her that watering grass and mowing grass are not generally done at the same time (although I’ve never seen her mow and water her own grass at the same time).

• Perhaps she is continuing her canine behavior of marking her own territory.

• Perhaps it occurred to her that putting her sprinkler on the property line while I was getting ready to mow my grass would be one more petty gesture of her general contempt for me and my way of maintaining my lawn.

Does Mrs. Dim have friends with whom she can share stories of her pranks? Do they sit around a table at some fast-food restaurant and cackle together over her amusing accounts of our contretemps? Does she have a blog where she can post descriptions of her behavior to the admiration of her many followers?

If not, I hope she appreciates the publicity that I am providing her. And I am pleased to report that my lawn—not just by the property line, but throughout my property—is as green as the lawns that have been watered daily, thanks to the occasional summer showers we have received this month. A minor vindication of that sort is all that I needed to make my day. J.

The image of God

What makes people different from animals? The first chapter of the Bible reports that the first man and the first woman were both created in the image and likeness of God. “Image” and “likeness” are synonyms in this verse–Biblical Hebrew frequently uses two words to convey the same idea. But what does it mean to be created in the image of God?

Some people believe that the image of God is an immortal soul. They go on to say that animals do not have an immortal soul, since they were not created in the image of God. However, the new creation is described as including animals, such as lions, wolves, lambs, and even snakes. If God can have these creatures in his new creation, surely he can also restore our favorite cats and dogs and horses. Whether or not he will do so remains to be seen, but there is a passing reference to the spirits of animals in the book of Ecclesiastes.

God’s attributes include omnipotence, omnipresence, and omniscience. In other words, there is nothing God cannot do, no place exists where he is not present, and there is nothing God does not know. Men and women do not have these qualities; there are limits to our power, we exist in only one location at a time, and we do not know everything. Like God, though, we have intelligence and wisdom that surpasses that of animals. Perhaps our thinking ability is part of the image of God that exists in us.

God created, and people create. Beings that create have a sense of beauty which is shown by their creations. Beings that create also express a sense of humor in their creations. Beings that create are able to use objects as tools to accomplish their goals. In all of these ways, men and women are more like God than like the animals made by God.

When God created, he spoke things into existence. He said, “Let there be light,” and there was light. God works through words, and men and women also communicate with words. We do not have the power to cause things to happen merely by speaking, but words remain useful, even essential, to our existence.

God is holy, righteous, and just. Men and women also know the difference between right and wrong. We might not always do what is right, but generally we know what is right. Our moral sense may also be part of the image of God that exists in us.

God has power, but God is not power. God has knowledge, but God is not knowledge. God has righteousness, but God is not righteousness. Only one quality of God is described as God, and that quality is love. Twice the apostle John wrote, “God is love.” Love flows among the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Even if God had created nothing, God would still be love because of the three Persons of the Holy Trinity.

To be created in the image and likeness of God, then, means to be created so we can love. We were created to love God whole-heartedly. We were created to love our neighbors as ourselves. All the rest of the commands of God tell us how to love, but the basic command to love teaches us our purpose. When we love, we are God-like. When we fail to love, we fall short of displaying God’s image. When we fail to love, we fall short of our Creator’s purpose for our existence.

The opposite of love is not hate. The opposite of love is selfishness. The more we love ourselves, the less we can love God and our neighbors. True love is sacrificial love. It gives to others and does not demand repayment. True love allows others to be important rather than insisting upon being at the center of attention.

Animals have intelligence to varying degrees. They can solve problems, they can reason, and they can learn. Some animals are creative. Elephants doodle, birds sing, and some fish redesign their environments for purposes of beauty. Many animals create tools out of materials at hand. Animals use language and communicate. Chimpanzees have been taught sign language. Cats and dogs understand dozens of words that they hear men and women speak. Even some insects are capable of passing messages to one another.

Some animals even have a sense of right and wrong. Dogs know when they have done something their owners did not want them to do, and they can express guilt for their wrongdoing. Cats also know when they have broken the rules, although they do not express guilt as frequently as dogs do. Other animals can be trained to do various things, and they know when they have met expectations or failed to please their trainers.

I find it hard to believe that my cats don’t love me. Our relationship is defined by more than food and fresh water. My cats like their people. They like to hear the sound of our voices, even if we are talking to each other and not to them. They like to be pet and scratched, and they have their own gestures to show the love that they feel for their people. If I have been away all day or asleep all night, they greet me when they see me again. We have a genuine relationship based on love, even if I bear the image of God and they do not.

It seems that animals that spend time around people pick up some human characteristics. We teach them to have a moral sense because the distinction between right and wrong is important to us. We teach them to love because love is essential to what we are. When our ancestors were told to rule over the animals of God’s creation, God’s intention was that we be caretakers and not abusers. When we take good care of the creatures entrusted to us, they become a little more like us. That reflects the wisdom of the Creator who put us in charge of his world. J.

The difference between ham and premarital sex

Scholars have observed that in the Torah (the books of Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy), God has given 613 commandments (mitzvah) to his people. Some of these commands are affirmed by Jesus and his apostles in the New Testament, but others are canceled. Students of the Bible wrestle with the difference: why are some things required by Moses but no longer required by the apostles? Why are some things forbidden by Moses but permitted by the apostles? What is the difference between ham and premarital sex?

Let’s take some test cases to examine God’s commands. One of his commands is, “Remember the Sabbath Day to keep it holy.” Under the Law of Moses, the Sabbath was defined as the seventh day of the week, beginning at sunset Friday and ending at sunset Saturday. A few Christians go to church on Saturdays; some of them even call Sunday worship “the mark of the beast.” Some worship on the first day of the week but move the prohibition of any work to Sundays, passing “blue laws” that require certain kinds of business to be closed every Sunday. What does Scripture say? ”Therefore, let no one pass judgment on you in questions of food and drink, or with regard to a festival or a new moon or a Sabbath. These are a shadow of the things to come, but the substance is Christ” (Colossians 2:16-17).

The celebration of the Lord’s resurrection, Easter Sunday, bounces around in March or April according to a complicated formula involving the full moon. Early in Christianity, believers tried to reach a consensus on the day of that celebration. Some of them became so angry about the different formulas that they actually excommunicated each other—saying that people weren’t really part of the Church if they celebrated Easter on the wrong day. What does Scripture say? ”Therefore, let no one pass judgment on you in questions of food and drink, or with regard to a festival or a new moon or a Sabbath. These are a shadow of the things to come, but the substance is Christ” (Colossians 2:16-17).

The Law of Moses made strict stipulations about food, especially meat. Blood had to be drained from meat, so that no blood was consumed by God’s people. Only certain animals were kosher (acceptable as food), animals that chewed the cud and had a split hoof. Pigs were not kosher, nor were rabbits and rodents. Fish had to have scales; shrimp and lobster and oysters were forbidden. A few Christians try to stick to kosher food laws today, at least in part. What does Scripture say? ”Therefore, let no one pass judgment on you in questions of food and drink, or with regard to a festival or a new moon or a Sabbath. These are a shadow of the things to come, but the substance is Christ” (Colossians 2:16-17).

The first Christians, including all twelve apostles, were Jewish. They maintained Saturday worship and kosher food rules out of habit. When people of other cultures began believing in Jesus, Church leaders wondered how many Laws of Moses needed to be followed by the new believers. Must the men become circumcised? Must the families maintain kosher kitchens? Must they refrain from all work on Saturdays? Acts 15 describes the first Christian convention, as the apostles gathered to discuss these questions. They concluded that only four rules needed to be followed by the Gentiles: Abstain from food sacrificed to idols, and from blood, and from animals that have been strangled, and from sexual immorality.

One might expect a few more prohibitions, such as murder and theft and false witness. Evidently the Church leaders thought it obvious that these are not permitted among Christians. It seems strange, though, that three of the four prohibitions are food-related, and all three were later canceled by Paul, in spite of the fact that he took part in this meeting. Paul told congregations in Rome and in Corinth that their members could eat meat that had been offered to idols so long as no one present had a problem with that. He wrote to the Colossian Christians, “Let no one pass judgment on you in regards to food or drink….”

“The substance is Christ.” All the commands of the Law of Moses were pictures of Jesus Christ. Some of the pictures are easily seen, such as the animal sacrifices and the Passover lamb. Others require deeper study, such as resting on the seventh day of the week. Not only did God as Creator rest on the seventh day of the week, but Jesus Christ as Redeemer rested on the seventh day of Holy Week. His body rested in a tomb. His spirit rested in the hands of his Father in Paradise. Christians are free from the Law because Christ has fulfilled the Law for us. The substance—that is, Christ—has come, so we no longer need to observe the shadows. We are free.

Our freedom is not license to do whatever our sinful hearts desire. Our freedom is power to imitate Jesus. As imitators of Christ, we still love God whole-heartedly. As imitators of Christ, we love our neighbors. We respect their lives, their marriages, their property, and their reputations. We act to help our neighbors rather than hurting them or ignoring them. We are content with what God has given us, so we do not covet anything that belongs to our neighbors.

The Church convention of Acts 15 appears to have been studying Leviticus, chapters 17 and 18. All four of their prohibitions are found in those chapters. Leviticus is about purity. It provided the Israelites instruction in remaining pure, beginning with sacrifices for the forgiveness of sin, and continuing with various other rules, laws, and commandments. The Church convention chose those signs of purity that might challenge Gentiles. Anything offered to idols would seem tainted and not pure. Blood was sacred, largely because of the blood Christ shed on the cross. Sexual immorality was a sin, not only against the people involved, but against Christ and the Church, for every marriage is a picture of Christ and the Church.

Ham and shrimp were forbidden to God’s people under the Law of Moses because they were not part of the sacrificial system like the kosher animals (cattle, sheep, goats, doves, etc.). Ham and shrimp are permitted to God’s people today because we are free, thanks to Christ. Sexual immorality was forbidden to God’s people under the Law of Moses because marriage is a picture of God’s love for his people. Sexual immorality remains forbidden to God’s people today because the love of God has not changed. Some Christians have tried to distinguish the prohibitions by labeling them ceremonial law (no longer valid) and moral law (still valid). This distinction overlooks the fact that Christians are free from all of God’s Law. The burden of the Law has been lifted by Christ. The condemnation of the Law has been removed by Christ. We were dead in our sins until Christ rose and we were raised with him. Our sins are forgiven, our debts are canceled, and the demands of the law have been nailed to the cross. Christ triumphed over all our enemies, and we now share in his victory (Colossians 2:13-15).

We are free from the Law because the substance is Christ. Now our substance is imitation of Christ, which is described by the same Law that once condemned us. The Law describes how we are being transformed into the image of Christ. Therefore, sexual immorality (as well as murder, theft, and dishonesty) is avoided as something Jesus would not do. Respect for God—and for his name and his time—is expected, because this is what Jesus would do. The Law does not threaten us, but it does describe us, because it describes Jesus.

The shadow no longer matters, because Christ has come and has claimed us as his people. We rejoice to be his people and to see ourselves transformed into His image. None of us is perfect yet, but the transformation is under way. Christ makes all the difference in the world. J.

God’s Commands

What is the first command from God in the Bible? I don’t mean the commandment to have no other gods; that is the first of the Ten Commandments given on Mount Sinai. I don’t mean the commandment to love God whole-heartedly; that is the greatest commandment of God, but not the earliest.

Some people will guess that God’s first command was not to eat the fruit of a certain tree. That is the first command from God that was broken, but it was not his first command. Others will remember God’s instruction to be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth. That was the first command God delivered to Adam and Eve, but it was not his earliest command.

God’s first command was, “Let there be light.” Because God gave that command, light occurred. Don’t let anyone tell you that words have no power. When God speaks, things happen. The universe is unable to resist the will of God when he expresses it with words. As God spoke, the universe came into being, and it still follows the same rules established by God in the beginning. The behavior of the sun, earth, and moon remains consistent with God’s will, so consistent that the shadow of the moon across the earth can be predicted many years in advance or extrapolated far into the past. Plants grow and reproduce according to God’s command, each according to their kind. Animals exist and thrive on the earth and in the water and even flying through the air, each according to their kind. Physics and chemistry and biology are reliable sciences because everything God made continues to work according to his original design.

Everything except people. Unlike everything else in creation, people are free to obey the commands of God or to disobey them. People are free to love God or to reject him. People were created in the image of God, and part of that image is freedom. God is perfectly free, and the people he made have a certain amount of freedom.

Once a person has rebelled against God, though, that person is no longer free. That person has become a slave to sin and is subject to all the consequences of evil, even death. Every day people choose rebellion and sin and death rather than God and life and love. We are no longer in the image of God, because we have exchanged our freedom for sin and death.

In other ways, we maintain part of the image of God, even though much of it has been lost. God creates, and we are able to create. God is perfectly wise, and we are able to exercise wisdom, to gain in knowledge and understanding. God enjoys beauty and has a sense of humor, and we also appreciate beauty and humor. Most of all, God is love, and we show the image of God when we love him and when we love one another.

God commands us to love, and the rest of his commands tell us how to love. God does not command us because he enjoys his authority over us. The commands of God are like an owner’s manual for our lives. If we all followed God’s commands perfectly, none of us would have any problems. We have problems because we, along with the people around us, keep on breaking God’s commands.

The commands of God are useful, even in a sin-stained world. Parents, teachers, managers, legislators, police officers, and judges all have authority to make and enforce rules because of God’s commands. Even our efforts at self-control and courtesy are based upon God’s commands. Although those commands do not make us or the world perfect, God’s commands make the world and us better than we would be left to ourselves.

The commands of God also warn us that we have a problem, namely, sin. They show the difference between the people God intended us to be and the people we, in fact, are. They show how badly we need to be rescued from our own sins and from the evil in the world around us.

Although they show us that we need to be rescued, God’s commands cannot rescue us. They are good, but they still are no help to people seeking to escape sin and evil. Like the priest and the Levite in Jesus’ parable, they walk past us without helping while we are victims of sin and evil. Jesus can and does help us. He heals and restores us, paying any price necessary to bring us back to the people we were meant to be. He restores to us the image of God which we had lost through sin, although we will not fully possess that image until we rise to life in God’s new creation.

Meanwhile, God is transforming us into the image of his Son. As forgiveness is passive, received by us but not earned by us, so the transformation also is passive. Yet we can reject the transformation or we can cooperate with the transformation. When we love God and try to obey his commands, we are cooperating. When we love the people near us and try to serve God by helping those people, we are cooperating.

The commands of God describe the results of the transformation Jesus works in us. The same commands that diagnosed our sin and prescribed a Savior (because the commands themselves cannot heal us) also assist us to cooperate with God’s transformation of our lives. They tell us why God made us, and they tell us what we are like as the children of God.

All this is preamble to what I really wanted to write. I wanted to address the reason that all the commands of God to Israel do not apply to Christians today. This subject I will address in my next post: The difference between ham and premarital sex. J.

 

It’s a lawn, not a rice paddy!

Mrs. Dim is one of several people in my neighborhood who water their lawns every single day. Since their grass is nice and green and mine tends toward yellow during dry conditions, they of course think that they are right and I am wrong.

They are wrong.

When water is flowing down the street and into the storm drain, they are wasting water. When they water every day, they are training their grass to have shallow roots and to depend upon that daily watering. When they soak their lawns repeatedly, they increase the likelihood of fungus and other diseases in their lawns.

To verify that my opinion is right and theirs is wrong, I did a quick search of lawn watering tips on the internet. Every one of the top hits indicated that Salvageable is right. Among the sites that I read from the first ten hits were Scott, Southern Living, Popular Mechanics, and Green Grass Services. The consensus is that healthy lawns need about an inch of water a week, and that watering twice a week is adequate for a healthy lawn.

Scott recommends one half inch of water twice a week, taking fifteen to thirty minutes, depending upon the watering system. Southern Living says one inch once a week. Popular Mechanics says twice a week, maximum. Green Grass Services says two to three times a week, with a total of 1 to 1 1/2 inches. Several of them recommend using rain gauges or empty tuna cans to measure the water to make sure that the lawn is not getting too much water.

Scott, Southern Living, and Popular Mechanics all say that a healthy lawn can be allowed to go dormant during a dry summer. Scott says the lawn can remain dormant for up to two months. When it rains, the lawn revives. Popular Mechanics notes that the choice of a dormant lawn depends upon use-if people or animals walk or run on the lawn a lot, that could harm the dormant grass.

Experience has shown that my lawn can tolerate a lengthy dormant period. After a decent rain, my grass turns just as green as Mrs. Dim’s grass. Meanwhile she has been watering her lawn every day, cutting and trimming it every five days, working hard to maintain her lawn to her personal standards. Of course she gets up early in the morning to trim and mow her lawn, not caring how much noise she makes while other people are still trying to sleep.

Aside from early morning noise, does the watering of lawns in the neighborhood make any difference in my household? It makes a difference when it takes twenty minutes to fill a sink to wash some dishes. It makes a difference when a shower is nearly impossible due to low water pressure. It makes a difference in the big picture of life, when people like Mrs. Dim waste water because they can, while other people in the country face dire water shortages.

Mrs. Dim is an old dog who will never learn new tricks. It must frustrate her no end when, a day or two after it rains, my grass is as green as hers. It might help if she took the time to check her opinion with research as I have done this morning. Friends, that is not going to happen. J.

Movies helpful to history students

As a history teacher, I often mention movies in the classroom to help the students gain some perspective on events and experiences that might be foreign to them. I’ve found that we cannot discuss the Greek and Persian wars without the movie 300 entering the conversation. To explain the events before and after that battle in light of what they think they know from the movie is beneficial. Once I led a before-class discussion of which war movies were truest to life. Since many of my students have military backgrounds, their perspective of war movies is probably more useful than that of the general population. Recently I recommended 1776 as a way to learn the issues and personalities surrounding the writing of the Declaration of Independence. Although Adams, Jefferson, Franklin, and the rest did not sporadically burst into song in Philadelphia that summer, the movie script successfully reproduces the conversations that happened during that key historic event.

In the coming week, I will be mentioning three more movies to the students. When we are at this part of the book, I frequently want to watch all three movies, even though generally I don’t have enough time for even one of them. Besides, I’ve already seen each of them enough times that I probably could speak much of the dialogue along with the characters on the screen.

Evita (1996) tells the story of Eva Peron, wife of the caudillo Juan Peron. She was part of his message to Argentina that he supported the common people and their goals. (After all, he married one of them.) The movie comes from a musical written by Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice, first performed on Broadway in 1979. (The soundtrack album was recorded and released in 1976.) As is the case with 1776, Evita depicts the principle characters singing rather than talking. In fact, there are very few spoken words in the entire movie. Casting Madonna in the title role was extremely controversial in the 1990s, but it worked. While the movie condenses history and combines events, it reflects the emotions of the time and place in a way that a classroom lecture and discussion cannot replicate. The movie runs two hours and 15 minutes.

Gandhi (1982) won many awards for its biographical portrayal of Mohandas Gandhi, known in India as the Mahatma. Like Evita, it condenses history, combines some events, and skips others entirely. Unlike Evita, the film Gandhi is not a musical. The key events of Gandhi’s life and career are shown within the proper historical and geographical setting. Again, a sense of the flavor of India during the first half of the twentieth century cannot be reproduced in the classroom. The movie runs three hours and 11 minutes.

The Last Emperor (1987) shows Chinese history during the first half of the twentieth century from the point of view of the final Qing emperor, who was only a boy when the rise of the Republic threw him out of power. Later, he naively cooperated with Japanese officials in an attempt to regain some of his lost power. He then is captured by Communist forces, who retrain him to be like everyone else in China. Once again, the film gives context to the historic events, dramatically depicting the way real people dealt with the changes that were happening in China during those decades. The movie runs two hours and 43 minutes.

An odd similarity among these movies is that all of them begin at the end of the life of the title characters (in the case of Evita and Gandhi, with their funerals) and then treat their lives and histories as flashbacks. This allows the moviemakers to make dramatic jumps in time between two events, omitting the portions of history that are less relevant or interesting for the script and the audience.

These three movies are vastly superior to the large number of movies that use history only as inspiration for the story the moviemakers want to tell. Most movies of historical fiction (and even some that pretend to be documentaries) consist of more fiction than history. This phenomenon is not new—Shakespeare’s historical plays were more imagination and propaganda than they were historical truth. (This may be as close as Oliver Stone will come to being compared to Shakespeare.) When I can point to a few helpful movies, though, it may assist at least one student to gain more appreciation of history than can be imparted in the classroom. J.

Dealing with it

First, it’s Saturday. I always have greater stress and anxiety on Saturdays—I don’t know why. Second, it is a hot and humid summer day. Heat and humidity do not agree with me. Third, the neighborhood is noisy. The cause is not Mrs. Dim (for once!), but an airshow at a nearby airport. Fourth, the family desktop computer stopped working last night. (Murphy’s gremlins work extra hard on Friday nights. They must get overtime pay.) Fifth, I am a day away from being told whether or not a certain job will be offered to me.

Since the computer is not working, even though I have work that must be done, I take my work to the place where I work, even though the work I must get done is not related to my job. I’m not on the clock; I’m just borrowing my work computer. Before I do my work, though, I research troubleshooting for my home computer. The most probable trouble is dust inside the computer. I sprayed some air through the vent last night, but when I will go home I will do a more thorough cleaning.

Sixth, on my way home I stop at Walmart. I want to pick up a few items, including a frozen pizza for Saturday lunch. I go to the self-serve register with my seven items, and the second item I scan—a bag of frozen peas—brings up an error message. My peas are a restricted item. I must set them aside and continue scanning my other items. Something about Walmart makes me anxious, especially on Saturdays. I get the attention of a young girl working for Walmart, and she gets a manager, and the two of them agree that I cannot buy that bag of peas. Restricted means I cannot have it. An experience like that is bound to rattle an easily-rattled person like me. I let them keep their peas. I take the rest of my food, drive home, cook my pizza, and eat it.

After lunch, it is time to tackle the recalcitrant computer. I try three screwdrivers before I have one that fits the little screw that holds the side panel in place. The side panel pops off with a clatter and falls to the floor. I spray every surface I can see inside the computer until the dust is gone. Then I have to restore the side panel and the little screw. My hands are trembling. Sweat is pouring off my forehead and my neck. My arms feel clammy. This is anxiety with six triggers activated.

First I have to find the little screw. It disappeared when the panel clattered and dropped. Finally I find the screw—oddly enough, balanced on its head instead of lying flat on the floor. It requires some fiddling with shaking hands, but I finally get the panel aligned properly. Still, the screw does not want to drop into its place.

I take a break and towel my face and neck with a damp washcloth. I take a deep breath and return to the computer. With a little more effort, I get the screw installed properly. I reattach the power and all the other cables and test the system. I breathe a prayer of thanks as the monitor springs to life.

Since the problem was dust, I take some time to redesign the work station. The tower is three feet higher than it was, sitting next to the monitor rather than near the floor. The family will have to get used to the change, because this is better for the computer.

It is still Saturday. The air show is still happening. Mrs. Dim even joins in briefly with her blower, but it’s all good. My stomach is still swirling and my knees are still weak, but the computer is working again. Everything else will fall into place the way things are meant to be. J.