The Repentance Paradox

Repentance is a paradox. The word describes a change of pattern based upon a change of direction.

The Christian use of the word describes turning away from sin in order to turn toward God. This change of direction is initiated by your human will, but empowered by God.

The change of pattern is another problem. We habitual creatures have a way of returning to our past patterns. And hence the reason why I call repentance a paradox. We make a commitment to God to turn from sin, knowing full well we will continue to sin despite our efforts.

But don’t take my statements as asserting there is a falsehood in repentance. It is a real and necessary part of the Christian experience. We make a decision to turn our lives over to God. God then gets a grip on us. His actions place us into His family and kingdom, but they do not remove our humanity. Our free will is a major ingredient in our humanity so removing it would be making us something less than human.

This paradox is necessary because it is God’s desire to have a relationship with humanity. Not creatures without free will, but real people with all their failings. For this reason the Christian life is more one of grace and forgiveness than the conquering of sin.

Please don’t misunderstand me. I am not saying sin all you want, or sin doesn’t matter. I want you to work hard to battle sin. In this battle you can expect to gain ground. You can expect to prevent sin from overtaking you and robbing you of your freedom or usefulness to God. But you cannot expect to gain absolute victory by never sinning again.

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Economic Recovery

President Obama spoke in the State of the Union as to the good news Americans seem to be overlooking. He lifted up the example of Rebekah Erler. He explains that she wrote him a letter speaking of their economic struggles and how they had to sacrifice to get ahead. Seemingly they were grateful to the policies of the current administration for creating a climate that allowed them to pull out of their difficulties.

What you might already know, and what was never mentioned in the speech, is that Rebekah worked as a campaigner for Democratic Washington Senator Patty Murray. Based on the timing it is likely that this is the job credited with pulling her out of the recession caused by her husband working in the housing industry.

When you know that part of the story it comes across very differently, doesn’t it? Her job, credited to the white house, was campaigning for the Democrats. In fact, this is the same family that he spent a day with back in 2014 to illustrate his compassion for struggling Americans.

The illustration is an example of some problems I believe I see in our president far too often. First he doesn’t care too much about the exact truth of a situation, but instead cares how he can make it appear in the press.

Second he focuses very closely on the moment, not remembering the past nor learning lessons from it. He expects the rest of America to forget as well, or else he would have at least picked a little more random of an example of economic recovery. After all he wants us to believe people moving up economically are easy to find, so he should have a lot of them to choose from.

Violent Extremism

I see in the news that President Obama will hold a summit for the purpose of fighting terrorism. Terrorism is referred to by a pseudonym, ‘violent extremism’.

Renaming it bugs me. Why do we redefine everything? We invent new words for old problems, in order to spin the issue in a new way. Most of the time we really aren’t doing anything different, other than changing the vocabulary to create a different impression.

In this case I can’t help but suspect the desired change is to take the focus off of Islam, to leave the faint suggestion that any belief is dangerous and can become violent when taken to extremes.

Breaking the connection between Islam and terror might not be that easy though. This morning ISIS has released an edited version of a previous warning, calling on Islamic people in in Western democracies to actions, similar to France. So apparently ISIS sees the connection, whether we do or not.

 

American Kestrel

Fisherman have stories about the one that got away. So do birders.

A week or so ago I was doing a few touch-ups on painting a house. I was up on a ladder trying to use a stiff bristle brush to fill the correct color of brown into some deep spots in the stucco. A flash of movement at eye level drew my attention to the side. A kestrel had flown into the top of a short palm in the neighbor’s yard. Thanks to the ladder, the bird and I were at each other’s eye-level.

The bird has been on my list of species I wanted to get a picture of for this blog. I see them all the time, but they are always too high up to get a good picture. They also are too shy, and fly when I try to approach them. Now here I was, up a ladder, with my hands full, and the perfect picture is just 30 feet away. It preened and posed and flashed out its wings in a display—all the things that would have made for a great picture over the next few minutes. I quickly finished what I was doing and started down the ladder, but the bird flew off as I did.

I asked my mom, who is also a birder and who lives in the house, if she had seen a kestrel hanging around. She indicated she had never seen one there, so it was unlikely I would be able to stake out the spot and wait for it to return.

This situation caused me to think about life’s frustrations and disappointments. How do you reconcile yourself to the one that got away? For most people it won’t be a bird but maybe a job, an investment, a moment with our kids, or maybe a relationship we failed to pursue. The experience of looking back and realizing we missed an opportunity is common to us all. But what does that mean in terms of God’s work in our lives?

It would be easy to blame God, believing He dropped the ball. He should have worked out the situation in our favor. At a basic level this reaction is accusing God of not giving us the best.

But in reality He always gives us the best, we just don’t always have the perspective to see it. Opportunities may not be as wonderful as we thought they were from a distance. Perhaps the job would have been beyond our abilities and damaged our careers. Perhaps the extra wealth would have trapped us into a sinful pattern.

It comes down to a trust issue. Do you trust God? Such a hard question to answer! It is easier to lie to ourselves than to answer truthfully. We know we are supposed to trust God so we answer, of course I do. But a more honest approach comes from examining how we evaluate the one that got away. If you trust God, believing that it got away because God had a better plan, then you really are living in trust.

Come now, you who say, “Today or tomorrow we will travel to such and such a city and spend a year there and do business and make a profit.” You don’t even know what tomorrow will bring—what your life will be! For you are like smoke that appears for a little while, then vanishes. James 4:13-14 (HCSB)

Marijuana’s Cost

Recently I saw a news report stating that Oreos could be more addictive than cocaine. Even more recently I heard the statement repeated once again that marijuana is not addictive.

Society is in the middle of a craze of legalizing marijuana. This movement was catalyzed by those who painted it as a miracle drug which is unfairly maligned when labeled as an illegal drug. But other strains of thought are also present. Some thought legalizing it would take a useless burden off law enforcement and correctional institutions. Others felt it was simply a freedom issue and these often advocate legalizing all drugs.

Of course, these ideas came along after a couple of generations grew up with prevalent use of marijuana among young people, movies which glorified marijuana, and politicians beginning to admit to marijuana use.

So all told I have been hearing about marijuana use for decades, with increasingly, the voices singing its praises drowning out those of caution. The road that got us here is likely to be less interesting than where we go from here.

America became great as a land of opportunity. Marijuana use demotivates the user. It may become the single largest force working against America regaining its momentum and strength. It might already be.