Accepting Reality Can Be Hard

Inside, the leading priests and the entire high council were trying to find witnesses who would lie about Jesus, so they could put him to death. But even though they found many who agreed to give false witness, they could not use anyone’s testimony. Finally, two men came forward who declared, “This man said, ‘I am able to destroy the Temple of God and rebuild it in three days.’”

Then the high priest stood up and said to Jesus, “Well, aren’t you going to answer these charges? What do you have to say for yourself?” But Jesus remained silent. Then the high priest said to him, “I demand in the name of the living God—tell us if you are the Messiah, the Son of God.”

Jesus replied, “You have said it. And in the future you will see the Son of Man seated in the place of power at God’s right hand and coming on the clouds of heaven.”

Then the high priest tore his clothing to show his horror and said, “Blasphemy! Why do we need other witnesses? You have all heard his blasphemy. What is your verdict?”

“Guilty!” they shouted. “He deserves to die!”

Then they began to spit in Jesus’ face and beat him with their fists. And some slapped him, jeering, “Prophesy to us, you Messiah! Who hit you that time?” (Matthew 26:59–67)

Why was Jesus’ acknowledgement of being the Messiah and his announcement that he would be seated in a place of power said to be “blasphemy?” Because the religious establishment did not believe he was the Messiah: they believed he was claiming a false status and a false relationship to God. They thought Jesus was from Satan, using Satan’s power to accomplish his miracles. By claiming an alliance with God, he was, in their minds, claiming Satan had allied with God. Their belief that Jesus was a false Messiah—an antichrist—is what led them to condemn him.

The religious establishment looked at Jesus, what he had said, what he had done, and interpreted him in ways that were at odds with reality. It is easy to misinterpret circumstances and words. It is easy to assume the opposite of how things really are. Just as human beings for thousands of years misunderstood the nature of the solar system, imagining that it was the sun in motion rather than the earth rotating. So we must be careful not to misunderstand the words of Jesus, the power of Jesus, and the nature of the circumstances in which we find ourselves.

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Battle

“Simon, stay on your toes. Satan has tried his best to separate all of you from me, like chaff from wheat. Simon, I’ve prayed for you in particular that you not give in or give out. When you have come through the time of testing, turn to your companions and give them a fresh start.”

Peter said, “Master, I’m ready for anything with you. I’d go to jail for you. I’d die for you!”

Jesus said, “I’m sorry to have to tell you this, Peter, but before the rooster crows you will have three times denied that you know me.”

Then Jesus said, “When I sent you out and told you to travel light, to take only the bare necessities, did you get along all right?”

“Certainly,” they said, “we got along just fine.”

He said, “This is different. Get ready for trouble. Look to what you’ll need; there are difficult times ahead. Pawn your coat and get a sword. What was written in Scripture, ‘He was lumped in with the criminals,’ gets its final meaning in me. Everything written about me is now coming to a conclusion.” (Luke 22:31–37)

Most Jewish people believed that the Messiah would raise an army against the Roman occupation. So Jesus’ words about buying a sword would have initially been understood by the disciples in that context. But when Peter told Jesus that they had two swords already, Jesus told him “that’s enough.” Hardly the call to arms that the disciples anticipated.

The interpretation that Jesus literally meant that his disciples should go out and arm themselves with swords stands at odds with everything else that Jesus ever said. When an interpretation creates contradictions or absurdity, that is our first indication that an interpretation is wrong.

Jesus command to his disciples to procure a sword is best understood in a metaphorical sense. Jesus was indicating the need for his disciples to be spiritually armed and prepared for spiritual battle. Consider Paul’s words that “the weapons we fight with are not the weapons of the world” (2 Corinthians 10:4 NIV). Also, consider that Paul said “the sword of the Spirit” is “the word of God” (Ephesians 6:17 NIV).

We do not fight God’s enemies with physical weapons. Instead, we do battle “in the Spirit.” That is, we are called to challenge those who are enemies of God by bringing them the Good News that Jesus died for their sins. We attack the gates of Hell, not with physical swords, but with the Gospel message.

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Encouragement

Write this to Philadelphia, to the Angel of the church. The Holy, the True—David’s key in his hand, opening doors no one can lock, locking doors no one can open—speaks:

“I see what you’ve done. Now see what I’ve done. I’ve opened a door before you that no one can slam shut. You don’t have much strength, I know that; you used what you had to keep my Word. You didn’t deny me when times were rough.

“And watch as I take those who call themselves true believers but are nothing of the kind, pretenders whose true membership is in the club of Satan—watch as I strip off their pretensions and they’re forced to acknowledge it’s you that I’ve loved.

“Because you kept my Word in passionate patience, I’ll keep you safe in the time of testing that will be here soon, and all over the earth, every man, woman, and child put to the test.
“I’m on my way; I’ll be there soon. Keep a tight grip on what you have so no one distracts you and steals your crown.

“I’ll make each conqueror a pillar in the sanctuary of my God, a permanent position of honor. Then I’ll write names on you, the pillars: the Name of my God, the Name of God’s City—the new Jerusalem coming down out of Heaven—and my new Name.

“Are your ears awake? Listen. Listen to the Wind Words, the Spirit blowing through the churches.” (Revelation 3:7–13)

Jesus’ words to the church in Philadelphia were words of encouragement for the trouble they were facing. Jesus promised that he would keep them “safe” during the “time of testing.” That is, they would remain with Jesus regardless of what happened; he would never leave them or forsake them, even in the darkest of times. The open door probably refers to the opportunity for evangelism that they had.

That God would “write on them” and that they would be “pillars” may be an allusion to the Maccabean Revolt. The great accomplishments of Simon Maccabeus during the revolt against the Greek ruler Antiochus Epiphanes were inscribed on tablets of brass that were attached to a conspicuous place in the Temple. For the people of Philadelphia their glory, their victory, was not in mighty deeds, but in bearing the name of God as citizens of the new Jerusalem, God’s eternal kingdom.

Life can be very difficult. But through everything, God never leaves us as grants us opportunities to share the Good News about the kingdom. And our names are forever written in his Book of Life.

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Antique Times

When I first set out to purchase a computer in the spring of 1982, I expected to get an Apple II. But I was put off by its high cost, and even more by the salespeople at CompuStore who insisted that the text analysis I wanted to do with it just wasn’t possible. I knew they were wrong, and so I’ve never paid much attention to the salespeople in computer or electronic stores since. And instead of an Apple II, for a fraction of the price, I got a Commodore VIC-20.

At the time I was in my graduate program at UCLA. I wanted a computer to help me analyze some ancient texts. Having already been involved with converting some of the Ebla texts from Tel Mardikh into formats readable by the computers then available at UCLA, I knew that the inputting of the texts would be labor intensive and time consuming, but in the long run I also knew that once they’d been entered into the machine my life would be much easier. I was in the middle of a class that required me to analyze the Tel Amarna letters—a cache of cuneiform texts from fifteenth century BC Egypt.

The computer I purchased, a Commodore VIC-20, was not a powerful machine by modern standards—but in its day, its capabilities were not significantly less than the old Apple II. It had an 8 bit microprocessor and 5 kilobytes of RAM, though only about 3.5 of that was available for use. It used a cassette tape drive to store programs and data.

My Tel-Amarna letters course concluded before I finished entering all the ancient texts. In that antique period, rather than going out and purchasing programs and games, it was common to find the BASIC or machine code for a program printed in a magazine. Then it was a simple matter of typing the program into the computer, command by command, line by line. This was much less expensive than going out and purchasing a program: an important consideration for a graduate student. Additionally, it made me familiar with how programs functioned. It wasn’t long before I learned how to program in BASIC.
There was a downside, of course. The process of typing in a program was incredibly tedious. Besides the effort of typing code for hours, I inevitably made typos that prevented the program from running—necessitating more hours of debugging and figuring out where I’d messed up. Getting the word processor working ate up so much time that I couldn’t get the ancient Tel-Amarna letters copied before the class ended. So I ended up doing all the textual analysis by hand, afterall.

On my summer break, I filled my days when I wasn’t at work finding games in the magazines and typing them in. One of the first games I copied into the Commodore VIC-20 was a baseball game. It consisted of a diamond with square blocks on each of the four points for the bases. The ball was a round dot that slowly moved from the center of the diamond to the home plate. To hit the ball I had to punch a key on the keyboard just as it slowly passed over the home plate. To make the batter—also a large dot—run for first, I had to punch other keys rapidly. He made a blooping noise as he moved down the baseline.

The computer industry did not stand still; the power of the machines and the complexity of the games increased rapidly. A year after we were married, my wife bought me a Commodore 64 for my birthday: an enormous step up from the VIC-20. Instead of the old cassette tape machine, it came with a five and a quarter inch floppy disc drive. And the programs for the machine got cheaper and better. Instead of spending all my time copying programs, I spent my time performing tasks—or playing games.

My favorite games turned out to be the text adventure games produced by Infocom. And the one I liked best was the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, based on the Douglass Adams novel. The puzzles in the game were notoriously difficult. My wife and I spent hours figuring out how to progress through the story. In fact, we spent weeks on it.

It is now difficult to find any of those old text adventures. Infocom has long since gone out of business. Most of today’s gamers have never even seen a text adventure. But, a couple of months ago, for the thirtieth anniversary of the game’s release in 1984, the BBC put the full Infocom game for the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy on their website, where it can be played for free. It is exactly like it was the first time I ran it on my Commodore 64—except I already know the solutions for all the game’s puzzles.

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Sickness

The Serenity Prayer plays frequently in my mind:

“God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change,
The courage to change the things I can,
And the wisdom to know the difference.”

It doesn’t always help, since my biggest concern is something I have little control over, can’t fix—and yet I desperately hope that something can be done. It’s my youngest daughter’s mental health problems.

My youngest daughter doesn’t seem to be getting better—the episodes of madness, of inchoate and unreasoning rage, remain. The only plus in this is that the meltdowns are shorter now, though no less intense—and thankfully lacking in property damage and physical violence directed at me. Verbal abuse continues, however.

After an explosion, as always, there is remorse. She experiences confusion, sorrow, and she desperately wants the episodes of madness to end—but once an episode begins, the otherwise pleasant, cheerful and caring person utterly vanishes. The person who wants to be there cannot be found.

A simple thing this weekend tripped her into instant, blinding, screaming rage: her laptop computer was out of power, even though she insisted it was plugged in. Of course, the plug was loose. Easily correctable. But for her, the rational person vanished in a moment, replaced by a raging, cursing, inferno that resisted all attempts at solving the problem.

Intermittent Explosive Disorder it is called. IED would be the acronym, which brings to mind the improvised explosive devices notorious in Iraq and Afghanistan that have created such havoc and suffering for our soldiers in those far off lands. But this IED, the IED that has infested my daughter’s brain, that explodes on my wife and I without warning and without obvious cause is described this way by Wikipedia:

“Intermittent explosive disorder (IED) is a behavioral disorder characterized by explosive outbursts of anger, often to the point of rage, that are disproportionate to the situation at hand (i.e., impulsive screaming triggered by relatively inconsequential events). Impulsive aggression is unpremeditated, and is defined by a disproportionate reaction to any provocation, real or perceived. Some individuals have reported affective changes prior to an outburst (e.g., tension, mood changes, energy changes, etc.).
“The disorder is currently categorized in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5) under the “Disruptive, Impulse-Control, and Conduct Disorders” category. The disorder itself is not easily characterized and often exhibits comorbidity with other mood disorders, particularly bipolar disorder. Individuals diagnosed with IED report their outbursts as being brief (lasting less than an hour), with a variety of bodily symptoms (sweating, stuttering, chest tightness, twitching, palpitations) reported by a third of one sample. Aggressive acts are frequently reported accompanied by a sensation of relief and in some cases pleasure, but often followed by later remorse.”

The Wikipedia article certainly describes her symptoms well. As it points out, in our youngest daughter’s case, it is indeed related to her bipolar disorder. If the triggers were predictable, if she always reacted to a problem with an explosion, then it might be easier to handle, easier to cope with, easier to fix. Unfortunately, a word, a phrase, a problem that yesterday she took in stride, today sends her off to kick a hole in the wall while she screams blistering invective and yells that “You’re not my father!” and “You never do anything for me” and “you don’t care about me.”

She has a psychiatrist that she sees monthly, but she needs a therapist on top of that. It has taken us awhile to find a therapist for her, however. Therapist after therapist that we contacted worked only with people who had suffered some trauma—soldiers back from the war with post-traumatic stress disorder, crime victims, those recovering from serious illness or those trying to get past their grief after having lost a loved one. But to find a therapist who wants to work with someone who may take years to improve, someone who has ongoing mental health issues not related to any trauma, was surprisingly difficult. We finally managed it, and so her first appointment is scheduled for the middle of October.

Our goal, the goal of her psychiatrist, the goal of her school psychologist, is that she get stabilized. The current medications that she is on have helped tremendously—but she is not at all stable—not by a long shot. She has returned to independent study at school. Unlike other people her age, she cannot get a driver’s license, she cannot travel by airplane. She has difficulty maintaining friendships, she is largely unemployable, and she cannot enjoy the activities and freedoms of a normal high school senior. She knows that she is missing out and she understands and accepts the reasons when she is not raging. She likes coming to church and she attends prayer meeting, where she regularly and clearly describes her mental health issues and asks for specific prayer regarding them.

Thankfully, our church family understands and accepts the reality of her mental health problems. We are fortunate in that regard. We know a former missionary who faces severe depression to the point that she has on occasion had to have electroshock therapy. She cannot tell people in her church about her suffering; she even keeps it from one of her daughters and her son-in-law. Most of the people in that church believe that mental disorders are not an illness. They believe it is something that people can fix for themselves “if only they prayed more” or “if only they weren’t such a sinner.”

Telling a mentally ill person just to “snap out of it” or “stop acting like that” or “pray more,” or “stop sinning” or “if you just had more faith”—is akin to telling a paraplegic to stop being so lazy and wicked: “Just get out of that wheel chair. You know you can.” Or telling her parents, “if you’d spank her more, then she’d start walking.”

A broken brain is no more your fault than a broken back.

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Siding Spring

Source SPACE.com: All about our solar system, outer space and exploration.

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Source: Sense About Science

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What Matters

The Lord and his disciples were traveling along and came to a village. When they got there, a woman named Martha welcomed him into her home. She had a sister named Mary, who sat down in front of the Lord and was listening to what he said. Martha was worried about all that had to be done. Finally, she went to Jesus and said, “Lord, doesn’t it bother you that my sister has left me to do all the work by myself? Tell her to come and help me!”

The Lord answered, “Martha, Martha! You are worried and upset about so many things, but only one thing is necessary. Mary has chosen what is best, and it will not be taken away from her.” (Luke 10:38–42)

What does Jesus want us to do? Once we know, we shouldn’t worry about what our neighbor is doing or not doing. Just because Jesus has us doing something and just because it is vitally important, doesn’t mean that we need to force someone else to join in our task.

Mary and Martha, with their brother Lazarus, lived in Bethany, a village on the slope of the Mount of Olives, barely two miles east of Jerusalem. They became good friends with Jesus.

But Martha makes at least three mistakes in her relationship with her sister. First, if she wanted something of her sister, then she should have talked to her sister. Why go to someone else? Second, Jesus may have been a man, but he was not Mary’s brother or father or any other male relative. Based on the prevailing custom of the time, Jesus had no authority over Mary’s behavior. And finally, Martha was the one who believed that there was work that needed to get done around the house. Well and good, but why should Mary have to have the same concerns that Martha did?

What was more important than whatever Martha was doing was the guest that she was ostensibly doing it for. Martha forgot that Jesus was more important than the preparations. Mary, in contrast, had chosen to focus her attentions on the guest, rather than on preparations for the guest.

While people might appreciate the meal and a clean place to be, what they really appreciate is the time they spend with us. People matter more than anything else.

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Don’t Be Afraid

The Sabbath was over, and it was almost daybreak on Sunday when Mary Magdalene and the other Mary went to see the tomb. Suddenly a strong earthquake struck, and the Lord’s angel came down from heaven. He rolled away the stone and sat on it. The angel looked as bright as lightning, and his clothes were white as snow. The guards shook from fear and fell down, as though they were dead.

The angel said to the women, “Don’t be afraid! I know you are looking for Jesus, who was nailed to a cross. He isn’t here! God has raised him to life, just as Jesus said he would. Come, see the place where his body was lying. Now hurry! Tell his disciples that he has been raised to life and is on his way to Galilee. Go there, and you will see him. That is what I came to tell you.”

The women were frightened and yet very happy, as they hurried from the tomb and ran to tell his disciples. Suddenly Jesus met them and greeted them. They went near him, held on to his feet, and worshiped him. Then Jesus said, “Don’t be afraid! Tell my followers to go to Galilee. They will see me there.” (Matthew 28:1–10)

The first person to know that Jesus was the Messiah was a woman. Likewise, the first person to know Jesus had been resurrected was a woman. That women are the first witnesses to Jesus’ resurrection is significant. Had the gospel writers been just making up the stories, they would never have chosen women the first witnesses. In the first century, in both Greek and Hebrew society, women were not regarded as reliable witnesses. No man would have ever picked them as the leading characters in the foundational event of Christianity.

It makes sense that the first words from the angel to the two women were “Don’t be afraid.” Everything they thought they knew had been overthrown. They’d just experienced an earthquake that had shaken the land, but the resurrection of Jesus was an earthquake in their souls.

The women left the angel happy, but still frightened. That was when Jesus met them. Suddenly they had not just the words of an angel, but the words of Jesus himself. Any doubts they might have still harbored were gone.

Though the angel told the women to not be afraid, they were still frightened. But when Jesus came, their fear finally went away for good. Jesus can take away what scares us. He is alive again and ever with us.

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Europa

Source: NASA

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