I was going to call this one “It’s not fair” – except that it is.

The next working title was “It’s not right” – except that God is sovereign and good.

A friend of mine died Monday. Karen Tracy was about my age. I met her at Hands Against Hunger, and never saw her outside of that context, but we were friends.

She was in good health. She had volunteered at HAH on Thanksgiving morning, and helped decorate Christmas trees at her church on Sunday.

Monday morning, her brother found her body sitting in a chair in her apartment. No idea why she died, and it doesn’t matter.

I’m not arguing that God didn’t have the right to do anything He wanted with this part of His creation. He’s God. He owns everything, and He gets to do that. Six years ago, I died – no heartbeat, no respiration, no consciousness – and God brought me back to life. I appreciate it daily, but I didn’t have anything to do with it. All God.

It’s the case here, too. Karen is in Heaven. I don’t know if people in Heaven know about earth. I would imagine that all of our focus is going to be on worshipping God.

Holy, holy, holy

Is the Lord almighty

Who was, and is, and is to come

Second verse, same as the first. For eternity.

Intellectually, I get it, and I agree. Emotionally, I’m still struggling.

Job 13:15 says

Even though he slay me, yet will I trust in Him

Karen said that, in person, on Monday, and she believed it the day before. And it’s true.

So why do I feel bad? I’m mourning her loss, yes. She had a great attitude, a ready laugh, and a smile all the time. I’ll miss her presence.

I may be mourning my own impending death. “It is appointed unto man once to die” – that day is coming. No idea when, but both of my parents are still living, so possibly later rather than sooner.

And I think I’m mourning the loss of innocence that we had in the garden of Eden. No death there. Unsure if Adam and Eve would have had children, but if we were still there, I wouldn’t be writing this now.

Bottom line is that there is no bottom line. Not in a nihilistic way, but we aren’t promised all the answers here on earth. And I suspect that we won’t care in Heaven.

And God is good.

This is a little talk about economics. But it’s OK.

We had lunch here at the church a week ago. It was a free lunch – for us. But the pizza didn’t just appear like manna – the church paid the pizza company. And where did the church get its money? From us. And where did we get our money? From working. And where did our employers get their money? By selling things, to people who got their money from working.

If you trace it far enough back, you run out of money and get into barter – buying stuff with things or your time instead of cash. You can trace through the process of getting things and having time, and if you follow it all the way back, both things and time come from God. They were a gift to Adam and Eve, and on down to all of us. All the stuff you see – everything you can touch or sense – is a gift from God.

And then we switch over from the physical world to the spiritual world (although they aren’t really separate) and you see that our salvation is a gift from God, in the form of Jesus, who paid the price for our sins. He didn’t need to die for His own sins – He had none. And He didn’t need to die for our sins – my sins, your sins – there was no obligation there. But there was love, from God the Father and Jesus Christ and the Holy Spirit. And that love drove Jesus to pay the penalty for our sins, loving us to His death on the cross.

That is what we are remembering now, with the wafer representing His body and the juice His blood. 1 Corinthians 11:23-26 says The Lord Jesus, on the night He was betrayed, took bread, and when He had given thanks, He broke it and said, “This is My body, which is for you; do this in remembrance of Me.” In the same way, after supper He took the cup, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in My blood; do this, whenever you drink it, in remembrance of Me.” For whenever you eat this bread and drink this cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until He comes.

Let’s pray.

Lord, the physical things we see around us – cars, houses, even our bodies – are all transitory. They won’t survive being ours beyond our death. But the spiritual gifts You have given us – salvation and the hope for a future – are eternal, and were bought with the precious blood of Christ. Thank You for that unimaginable sacrifice, bought with Jesus’ body and blood and anguish. It’s in Jesus’ name I pray, amen.

“The mailings of pipe bombs, and similar activities, have been described as hate crimes. Is that what makes them bad — the hatred? Or is it the way the hatred is expressed?
Might it be okay, for instance, to mail pipe bombs randomly, to people you do not hate, indeed, don’t even know?”
— David Warren

Via

I had the opportunity last night to lead our small group Bible study.  We’re going through Philippians a few verses at a time.  Here is what I presented.

Philippians 1:12-14 Now I want you to know, brothers, that what has happened to me has really served to advance the gospel. As a result, it has become clear throughout the whole palace guard and to everyone else that I am in chains for Christ. Because of my chains, most of the brothers in the Lord have been encouraged to speak the word of God more courageously and fearlessly.


12 Now I want you to know, brothers, that what has happened to me has really served to advance the gospel. The Message: I want to report to you, friends, that my imprisonment here has had the opposite of its intended effect. Instead of being squelched, the Message has actually prospered.

This is not news about his imprisonment.  They have heard about that.  This is news about the impact of Paul being locked up.  And it’s good news!

These are his friends.  This letter is to the Philippians, the people who lived and worshiped in Philippi.  We know for sure that it includes Lydia, the seller of purple.  Acts 16:13-15 On the Sabbath we went outside the city gate to the river, where we expected to find a place of prayer. We sat down and began to speak to the women who had gathered there. One of those listening was a woman named Lydia, a dealer in purple cloth from the city of Thyatira, who was a worshiper of God. The Lord opened her heart to respond to Paul’s message. When she and the members of her household were baptized, she invited us to her home. “If you consider me a believer in the Lord,” she said, “come and stay at my house.” And she persuaded us.

Boom – church planted.  That’s who he was writing to – Lydia and the people who were worshiping with her.  But there might have been two churches – not because of a split, but because Philippi was also where Paul and Silas were imprisoned, singing songs at midnight, when the earthquake came and opened the doors and loosened the chains. The jailer, who had been on the brink of suicide because he thought his prisoners had escaped, was baptized that night, and took Paul and Silas for a home-cooked meal.  That may have been Boom number two – another church.  We aren’t told in the Bible whether the jailer and Lydia worshiped together, or whether there were two house churches.  They both knew Paul, though, and both were concerned about him being in prison.

Sometimes I look at the Bible as if it was me in that situation.  If I was imprisoned, if I was in literal chains, I can see myself saying something like “Oh, no, don’t worry about me – I have the comfortable handcuffs on”.  And I would continue to gripe about the food, the cold, the lack of a good bed, and why aren’t you people doing something about this??  But not Paul – he has the right perspective.  He tells them the good news.  He is in chains – yes – but what he writes is not about himself.  When he says “what has happened to me has really served to advance the gospel”, he means it.  I read in a commentary that Paul was single-minded.  There’s a story about a mule that was put in-between two bales of hay, just out of reach from where he was standing.  And he starved to death because he couldn’t decide which he wanted.  Paul was not that way.  He puts himself in the proper place, which is being a tool of God.  I want to tell myself that the selfishness I see in me is just a symptom of the age – we invented the word “selfie”.  But it was the same way back then – Paul and Silas had been in prison for throwing a demon out of a slave girl, and her owners being rather unhappy about losing their source of income.  It’s been “all about me” for a while.

Romans 8:28 And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose. Paul believed that – and he also wrote it.


13 As a result, it has become clear throughout the whole palace guard and to everyone else that I am in chains for Christ.

Paul is not a political prisoner.  He isn’t a thief, a murderer, or a tax cheat.  He didn’t wake up one day and say “I dunno, Silas, what do you think of trying out prison today?” He is in prison because he is following God wherever it takes him.

And it has taken him to the palace guard – the Praetorium.  This would have been in Rome, and commentaries say there were anywhere from a few thousand up to ten thousand men in this group.  One of them was chained to Paul at all times. At the time of the writing of this letter to the Christians in Philippi, Paul had been locked up for two years.  I’m making some assumptions, but if they worked in 8-hour shifts, that’s three per day.  Two years is somewhere north of seven hundred days.  If everybody did only one shift with Paul, he would have personally talked to over two thousand of the guards.  At the top end estimate of ten thousand, that’s one out of every five of the guards there.

The guards were probably bunked in some dormitory – they wouldn’t have had private rooms.  So in each room, there would have been some number of guards who had spent some quantity time with Paul – and they would have talked.  Other guards would have heard the conversations – and like it says in Galatians 5:9  “A little yeast works through the whole batch of dough.” That’s Paul again, maybe thinking of this situation.

And as guards were transferred in and out of the Praetorium, the word of his imprisonment for Christ would have spread to “everyone else”, whether that meant all of Rome or all the soldiers.

Being “in chains for Christ” isn’t the same as people who crucify themselves at Easter time.  Paul is not trying to make a point, not using this as an object lesson.  He is tied up, a literal prisoner.  But he is using the circumstances that God put him in to preach the gospel.  He was in chains, but in the soldiers he had a captive audience.


14 Because of my chains, most of the brothers in the Lord have been encouraged to speak the word of God more courageously and fearlessly.

Paul is a role model.  Not because of his chains (although I’m sure other Christians faced the same and worse), but because of how he dealt with the situation. He showed what was possible.  Circumstances do not force outcomes.  I think of a little girl in our church and her leg braces.  She’s cheerful – yes, a good mom who loves her and takes great care of her, but also a great God who loves her and takes care of her.  Paul was similar, in that the chains he was in didn’t determine his attitude or outcome.  I think he saw them as a tool, and didn’t let them hold him back.  As others saw and heard of what Paul was accomplishing, they were encouraged.

Notice the root words: “encouraged to speak the word of God more courageously”.  Courage, courage.  Paul knew his Old Testament, and knew by heart the story of Joshua taking over from Moses, how the Lord told him to “be strong and courageous”.  Later, Joshua told the same thing to all the men of Israel.  Then King David told his son Solomon the same thing.  Now, Paul is living it out and people are seeing him, and hearing the words.

“Because of my chains, most of the brothers in the Lord have been encouraged to speak the word of God more courageously and fearlessly.” I find the word “most” to be interesting.  Instead of “all”.  To me, that implies that there were some who were not encouraged to speak the word of God more courageously and fearlessly.  That reminds me of the parable of the sower, where for different reasons some of the growing, living seed didn’t survive.

Paul wasn’t boasting, wasn’t saying that he was so good that he could handle the chains with no problems.  What was he saying?  How does that apply to us today?  Is it easy to do?  Is it even possible?

  • Circumstances don’t matter. Christ matters.
  • Phil 1:21 For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain.

Ephesians 6:19-20 Pray also for me, that whenever I open my mouth, words may be given me so that I will fearlessly make known the mystery of the gospel, for which I am an ambassador in chains. Pray that I may declare it fearlessly, as I should.

And so we should pray for one another.  Who has praises or prayer requests?

I did not see a hummingbird today.

I hope to see a hummer tomorrow.

I have a trick question for you: what was the most important event in Jesus’ life?

The virgin birth?
Leaving His parents to stay at the temple?
His baptism? “this is My Son in whom I am well pleased” – that’s pretty important.
His first miracle, turning the water into wine?
The feeding of the 5000?
The sermon on the Mount, and the Beatitudes?
The Lord’s prayer?
Maybe something more personal – the woman caught in adultery?
His triumphal entry into Jerusalem?
The last supper?
His betrayal by Judas?
His death on the cross?
His resurrection?
His ascent into heaven?
His work now, arguing for us before God the Father? Heb 7:25 says “Therefore he is able to save completely those who come to God through him, because he always lives to intercede for them.”
At the start of this, I warned you it was a trick question. There is no one “most important” event in Jesus’ life. They are all the most important. You can’t take anything away from Jesus’ life and still have Jesus. His whole life – every second of every day – was spent doing His Father’s will. And we are called to do the same. 1 Cor 6:19-20 says “You are not your own, you were bought with a price”.

That price was Jesus. His whole life went to pay for your sins, went to pay for my sins. That is why Jesus said, at the Last Supper, “As often as you do this, do it in remembrance of Me”. Not just events in His life, but the person of Jesus. The man. The friend. Let’s pray.

Lord God, we’re humans, and we can overemphasize the importance of anything.  Help us, as we take the bread and the cup, to remember that You are the most important thing, always. Every moment of every day. In Jesus’ name, amen.

I have dreams sometimes – nothing extraordinary, nothing prophetic.

Last night, though, I dreamed that Larry Niven (writing partner of Jerry Pournelle RIP) was visiting Bettie and I at her parent’s house. Not now, but the way it was back in the 80s.

Bettie, for some reason, needed some space on thumb drives, and was insistent that Larry give her some. I was trying to tell her that Larry Niven’s thumb drives have value above mere disk space, that I would give her my thumb drive but don’t format those!

Larry had tossed a couple thumb drives onto the coffee table (I heard them clatter) and then he said “the password is ‘McGarrity RabbitWhistle BugTussle'”.

Then he wanted me to book an appointment at an interesting fair in California for he and his wife Marilyn (they actually live there – she didn’t appear in the dream).

I was on the phone, he was messing with his phone (Android, in the dream).

Then I woke up, and really wanted to write down his password. Seemed important at the time.

The “don’t do this” side…

This was in my spam folder today.

The mix of “mean” and “dear” struck me funny.

I often find myself waking in the small hours of the morning, unable to get back to sleep. I suppose if I really worked at it, even for a few minutes, I would be able to return to slumber, but I have no real desire – there is a room full of books just beyond the door.

From ISBN 978-0-399-53398-3

Lazarus died. It was over for him. He was dead, in the ground, buried.  He was in the tomb for days, starting to decompose. It’s strange, but I like how the King James records his own sister talking about him: “He stinketh”. Then Jesus arrived, and raised Lazarus from the dead. A miracle.

Let’s think about Lazarus for a moment.  He knew he was going to die, he knew that he had died, and he knew that he was alive again. How do you think he felt?  Let’s take this one step farther: Lazarus isn’t still alive, so at some time later, whether days or months or years, Lazarus died again.  And I imagine that he was a lot calmer the second time he died. He had experience – he knew what it was like. And He had probably seen Jesus’ death and resurrection.

Each one of us is going to face the end of our lives some day. We are going to experience death. We aren’t exactly like Lazarus – we don’t have the personal history of dying and returning to life. But we do have the example of Jesus, who died, was in the tomb for three days, and rose to life, never to die again.

That is what we are celebrating now – the wafer represents Jesus’ body, and the juice represents His blood. And that future experience of resurrection and eternal life is ours right now, through Jesus’ perfect, sinless life, and His sacrifice on the cross.  Let’s pray.

Lord, I thank You for the gift of salvation, the gift of Jesus, the gift of eternal life. Thank You for the reminder that we should do this in remembrance of Jesus. In His name I pray, Amen.

(communion meditation 2018-06-24)