Last week while reading up on the news, I came across the cartoon you see here. It grabbed my attention right away. It obviously plays upon the "Rosie the Riveter" graphic from World War II. We are meant to understand that if we pull together as a nation - like we did to defeat the Axis powers and Japan then - we can defeat SARS-CoV-2 (a.k.a., "the novel coronavirus") now.
It is a striking image as much now as it was then. Now, rather than praising the contribution of women to the production of equipment for the war, the Rosie character praises the many nurses on the front lines of a very different battle. (Of course, we recognize that many men are included among those represented by this Rosie the Nurse character.)
Prominent in the graphic is Rosie's bare, right arm in a position to flex her bicep muscle - easily recognized as a symbol of strength and effective power. "We can do it" is the message, and the means is by our own powerful right arm. It is meant to comfort us - we have done this before, after all. And it is meant to call each of us to do our part for the effort.
This is striking again from a different perspective. We recall that the motif of the "strong right arm" is one prominently used in the praise of the one God and savior of Israel - savior of all, in fact, in Jesus Christ.
Psalm 98:1, for example, calls God's people to worship him, saying, "Oh sing to the LORD a new song, for he has done marvelous things. His right hand and his holy arm have gotten him victory," (NRSV, italics added).
This was an image given by God himself to represent his power to save. When God was giving Moses the message to the Hebrews while captive in Egypt, God promised, "Say, therefore, to the sons of Israel, 'I am the LORD, and I will bring you out from under the burdens of the Egyptians, and I will deliver you from their bondage. I will also redeem you with an outstretched arm and with great judgments,'" (Exodus 6:6 NASB, italics added).
One more example. When Mary praised God that she would bear the Savior, she sang, "He has shown strength with his arm; he has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts...and lifted up the lowly," (Luke 1:51, NRSV, italics added).
The right arm of God is strong to an awesome degree. The One who humbled proud Pharaoh, who provided a path for his own people through the heart of the Sea and destroyed Pharaoh's army by that same sea, is the One who sent the Savior through the womb of humble Mary of Nazareth. Even more, the right arm of God is the one that raised Jesus from three days dead. So, we hope he will raise us, too, when that day comes.
The encouraging message - the intent to comfort, the aim to call forth more help evident in the Rosie graphics old and new - resonates with all of us, I am sure. This is surely a time when these things are needed. If COVID-19 is less deadly in terms of percentage mortality, it is frightening in its exhaustive scope. This pandemic will reach us all eventually.
But is our hope and comfort and calling really in the strength of our own right arm? Have our past national accomplishments successfully tempted us to assuage our fears in the dizzying elixir of "success" and "achievement"? Has our national esprit de corps already forgotten that the inspiring power of our historic greatness has been in trusting the strong right arm of God?
We can do it, as Rosie again says. But we have not done it alone, and we will not do it again alone. Let our faith and hope for positive outcomes and for standing strong together and meeting the COVID-19 array of challenges rest upon the right strong arm - that of God, his goodness and power. Not in our own.
While running for President, Bill Clinton joked that he “didn’t inhale,” when he tried marijuana in his college days. In his pre-presidential memoir, Barack Obama wrote of his marijuana use in high school as normal and as cherished memories. Current presidential hopeful Kamala Harris shamelessly boasted that she did inhale. Politicians may think of marijuana as a harmless issue that may help them win friends and votes. But marijuana is nothing to joke about.
Advocates of marijuana use promise that it is a superior therapy for chronic pain and mental illnesses such as depression. While any drug affects individuals differently, in general, marijuana fails to deliver on any of these promises. In truth, rather than the answer to serious problems such as pain and mental illness, the evidence of many years of research shows that marijuana is a significant factor in making things worse.
Teenagers become three times more likely to develop schizophrenia with regular marijuana use. Anyone who uses this drug has an increased chance to become psychotic (suffering a break with reality). Many people become paranoid as a result of their use of marijuana. As a pain reliever, marijuana is known to not be any stronger than alcohol—certainly nowhere nearly powerful enough to compare with opiates.
All four of the initial states to legalize recreational marijuana use—CO, WA, AK, and OR—discovered by 2017 that murder rates had risen 37% and aggravated assaults by 25% since before legalization in 2014. Those rate increases are considerably above the national average for the same period. Also, multiple scientific studies demonstrate that mentally healthy people who use marijuana regularly become two to five times more likely to commit violence.
Clearly, violence and mental illness are not the result of the blessings brought by the Spirit of God. These are not mere side effects of prescription pharmaceuticals. Something else is happening to users and to our culture as people open themselves to the influence of this deceptive drug.
For details on this, and for further information, see Alex Berenson’s book Tell Your Children: The Truth About Marijuana, Mental Illness, and Violence. Data in this article adapted from Alex Berenson, "Marijuana, Mental Illness, and Violence" Imprimis 48:1 (January 2019): 1-7.
In all sorts of things we want to do it is important to choose the right tools. Old West pioneers could bring down trees for their log cabins by chopping them with an ax. Even better, though, is a saw. Someone trying to fell a tree with their pocket knife, however, may no longer have their right mind.
It is also important that the tools are in good working order. If you are going to need a Philips head screwdriver, it is important that it is not worn down, right? That’s what makes God’s choice of Saul to become the Apostle Paul a bit confusing. Jesus told Ananias in Acts that he had chosen Saul especially for the work of taking the Gospel to the Gentiles. He said,
“he is a chosen instrument of mine to carry my name before the Gentiles and kings and the children of Israel. For I will show him how much he must suffer for the sake of my name” (Acts 9:15-16 ESV).
But even Paul knew how odd a choice this was. It was like choosing a flat head screwdriver that is broken when you need the Philips head. Paul described it this way:
“though formerly I was a blasphemer, persecutor, and insolent opponent,” (1 Timothy 1:13).
The important thing, of course, is that God took Paul who was completely unfit for this work and made him fit for it, “and the grace of our Lord overflowed for me with the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus,” (1 Timothy 1:14).
As disciples of Jesus, we are all chosen instruments of God for good works as long as we live (Ephesians 2:10). We only need to trust God’s choice and His power to form us and lead us according to His will
Who doesn’t like a good game of Hide-and-Seek? Many of us do not play this game anymore, but we have fond memories of doing so. It is a challenge to find new and better hiding places in which to remain undetected until the opportunity comes to make a dash for “home base.” It is a challenge to be “it” and have to explore the nooks and crannies wherever someone may be hiding; then to suddenly chase one who is running for safety. (We played it as a modified game of “tag.”)
Seeking and finding in that game is not difficult, really. It only requires persistence. The person who is hiding will be found, if you just open the right door, disclosing where they are. Or, perhaps they are behind the drapes, or under the bed. Wherever they are, once you come to that place, they cannot remain hidden.
In the Bible, a person’s relationship with God is described as a sort of “seeking” and “finding” Him. For example, in Acts 17, Paul described non-Jewish and non-Christian religions as a form of “groping after” God (v. 27). They were seeking, but not yet able to find God. In another place, God Himself invites people to seek Him, and He promises that they will be able to find Him.
However, we need to understand that finding God is not like finding someone in a game of Hide-and-Seek. God is not anywhere that we can expose Him, forcing Him to come out of hiding. He is not merely behind some door, or up in a tree, or on a mountain, or at the conclusion of a list of religious practices.
God will only be found when He chooses to be found, when He allows us to know Him. So, it is also important for us to understand that God has promised to make Himself known only to those who are a certain kind of seeker.
He has said that He will only be found by those who seek Him in order to know and do His will (Prov. 8:17). If we seek Him for what we already have in mind to do or be, He will withhold Himself still (Hos. 5:6). Only if we humble ourselves, intent on submitting in obedience to His will whatever that may be, will we be blessed to find God.
No. The title of this post is not about the past five months without adding anything to this blog. (But it's ok if that what's you thought! ;-)
Actually, I'm thinking of how dry this winter has been for us out west. Much of the Colorado Rockies are only at about 50% of normal snow accumulation. Just a couple of weeks ago, it was much worse. That means that those of us who live downstream of the rivers and streams that originate in those mountains have a very dry summer to look forward to.
In the desert southwest, such as the Four Corners area where Farmington is, dry conditions are normal, of course. Part of that "normal," on the other hand, is receiving even small amounts of moisture from time to time. Just enough to keep dry from becoming parched, and parched from becoming "tinder box."
It is part of our rhythm of life, then, to experience how wonderful the blessing is to receive a little rain shower, or even a light snowfall. Since we cannot take it for granted, we cannot miss the fact that it might not have rained today at all. Therefore, this rain, whatever day it actually comes, is always a reminder of God's gracious care.
To describe this kind of blessed relief that God brings to those who have been suffering, Isaiah said, "For waters break forth in the wilderness, and streams in the desert; the burning sand shall become a pool, and the thirsty ground springs of water," (Isaiah 35:6-7 ESV).
These drought-relieving rains are an important way that God teaches us to know He really exists, and that He cares for us. As the apostle Paul told one of his early audiences, "Yet [God] did not leave himself without witness, for he did good by giving you rains from heaven and fruitful seasons, satisfying your hearts with food and gladness," (Acts 14:17 ESV).
While the clouds are gathering over us today, we are already thankful. God is so good.
The American West--in fact and in legend--stands as a monument to the triumph of the human spirit. In various ways our popular culture often repeats the lesson learned from this history, "If you put your mind to it, you can do anything!" Or, we might say, "Where there's a will, there's a way."
While we do not want to condone the use of brutal means to tame the West, much was achieved without them. Often, it was the simple stubbornness of the settlers, refusing to give up on their dreams, that resulted in the establishment of civilization from the Missouri to the Columbia to the Pacific. Droughts, disease, failed equipment, and failed water wells regularly threatened the success of settling the West. Whatever challenges came their way, more often than not, those pioneers stuck it out and found a way to make things work. They proved that a determined human spirit--especially in a community with others of that attitude--can overcome almost impossible difficulties.
But that is too simple a view of their understanding. They knew they needed to "stick to it." They also knew that they needed the help of The Almighty, the Creator of all things. Though not all of the pioneers would have been active Christian disciples, American culture was greatly influenced by Christian ideas. So, people knew that God had the power to stop a draught with a rain storm. They knew that God could bless the seeds to germinate and mature to a full harvest. They knew that God could help livestock--not to mention young children--overcome life-threatening diseases that were too common.
Most importantly, they knew that they could not do these things for themselves. Human beings can do nothing to make it rain, or to cause seeds to be abundantly productive, or to make the human body defeat a deadly virus. No amount of stubbornness, or determination, or "want to" could abate these kinds of challenges from the natural world.
Over the past couple of weeks, we have witnessed the devastation of Hurricane Harvey in south Texas and Hurricane Irma in Florida and the southeastern U.S. At this writing, we do not know yet whether Hurricane Jose will also afflict our shores. We do know that all we could do in response to these storms was to do our best to stay out of their way, and to do our best to help each other clean up in the recovery afterwards. There was nothing we could do to stop them or to redirect them. Such storms remind us that our power is very limited--very often much more limited than we like to admit.
On the other hand, in the course of these storms and their aftermath we are also reminded of how good things can be with the blessings of God, the Almighty. In Texas, the resources of the federal government are virtually unnecessary, because the outpouring of support from neighbors across the United States continues. In Florida, the strongest hurricane on record weakened to a category 4 by the time it hit the Florida Keys. It was a category 3 when it came ashore at Marco Island near Tampa Bay. The damage was extensive, of course, but it could have been much, much worse.
Thank God that Irma was not more devastating than it was. Thank God that so much that divides us these days is being forgotten, because so many Americans are still moved by compassion for neighbors in need.
Our state, New Mexico, is famous for--among other things--being the resting place of Billy The Kid. His legend represents a time our culture remembers as "wild," by which we usually mean lawless. The spacious freedom of the new American Republic combined with the spacious lands discovered through westward expansion to tempt people to think there was a similar spaciousness in moral standards. Far from established structures of law and order, it is no surprise that many people challenged the common sense of right and wrong in order to make fortunes for themselves.
In our own time, recent trends resurrect that sense that our American society is quickly losing the rule of law. In various ways, it is evident that too many people feel free to decide right and wrong for themselves, which often ends up injuring the rights and property of others. The riots in Charlottesville, VA just a couple of weeks ago are a case-in-point. This very week, while Hurricane Harvey ravages most of the population of south and east Texas, some lawless people literally took aim at firefighters who were trying to rescue people from the floods. Apparently, they preferred to protect their ability to loot the property of others rather than allow authorities to rescue people from danger. Of course, we can also talk about the relentless efforts on college campuses by some groups to prevent their opponents from speaking.
We could talk about the cities and states that refuse to enforce immigration laws, dubbing themselves "sanctuaries" for people in violation of immigration law. We could also discuss how normal it has become for politicians to break promises made to voters during their campaigns--very recently, Republican senators failed to repeal and replace "Obamacare," which was a promise that had a lot to do with their election to the congress. We could also talk about the trend of lawlessness in movies and television through which viewers fantasize about possible worlds we could live in. For example, Batman, in recent Hollywood productions, is identified as "The Dark Knight." That phrase implies the "situation ethics" axiom that sometimes a person must do evil in order to accomplish a "greater good."
Such lawlessness, of course, is not new to human history. It long precedes the infamously wild American West. It goes all the way back to the beginning of humankind. It is a tendency of the human condition to want to be able to "get away with it." "It" is whatever we have decided we want to do.
This tendency to lawlessness has always made it necessary to have law enforcement structures for societies. In the American West, this was the function of the Cavalry and of local sheriffs and judges. In early Israelite history recorded in the Bible, the people God had chosen as His own began to rebel against Him. This is expressed in one place as, "In those days, there was no king in Israel. Everyone did what was right in his own eyes," (Judges 17:6 ESV). This always led to terrible times for the Israelites, from which God would rescue them from time to time. God always hoped that they would learn their lesson and stop rebelling against what they knew was right.
Disciples of Jesus (that is, followers of Jesus, learning to be like him) resist this lawless trend primarily by being good, and faithfully doing what is right. This is especially powerful when those who observe our behavior know that we forfeit some advantage or profit by choosing to do the right thing. We could make the sale if we left out negative information, or skewed other information in order to maximize the appeal of what we are offering. But that is lying, and lying is not right. We are like every other person, and we get frustrated and angry about injustices in our society today. But Jesus teaches us to know the difference between hating evil and hating the evildoer. It is good to hate evil, and to work against evil by doing good. But it is always wrong to hate the person doing the evil. Rather, Jesus teaches us to love those who are our enemies, to desire what is good for them, and to work for that.
In the midst of a new wild, lawless America, our part as followers of Jesus is to stay within the bounds Jesus has set for that "narrow" path to our destination. He Himself has promised to help us, if we only let Him (read Matthew 11:28-30).
Being in New Mexico, we are heirs of the heritage of many early American pioneers. Thousands upon thousands of people left the relative comforts of the Eastern U. S. for the promise of open ranges, millions of acres of land for homesteading, and - of course - gold. In short, the pioneers braved miles of perilous country for the hope of a better life.
This is a rich metaphor for the life of Christians. There is nothing new about imagining Christian discipleship in terms of "the journey." The very first Christians borrowed the wilderness experience of the Israelites God brought out of Egypt (Hebrews 13:14). In fact, it is a traditionally American way to think about our adventures in this country, from the Pilgrims landing at Plymouth Rock to the pioneers of the Santa Fe and Oregon trails.
In keeping with that tradition - in its Western U. S. form especially - this blog is about the adventure of discipleship today. The goal is to observe the world in which we live and to think about how the life and teachings of Jesus and his apostles call us to live within those circumstances. It is not about withdrawing from society or the culture in which we live. Rather, it is about living within it in distinctively Christian ways.
My hope is that these posts will be encouraging to those of us who want to follow Jesus in today's world. Also, for those who are not Jesus-followers I hope to provide a window into the mind of Lord Jesus, who leads us.
Check back soon!
Nathan Wheeler is the Pulpit Preacher for Eastside Church of Christ in Farmington, NM. Nathan is also a candidate for the PhD in Theology and Apologetics at Liberty University.